Editing project – Smashwords’ Mark Coker: Power of passion
I never planned to create the world’s largest distributor of self-published eBooks, but here I am a serendipitous accident.
My story starts with my parents. My mom was a sociology major actively involved in UC Berkeley’s free speech movement. My dad was an electrical engineering student with a passion for problem solving. After graduation, my dad got a job at IBM, where he and some other engineers invented the magnetic stripes that now appear on the backs of credit cards.
Later, my dad quit his job after being promoted to a managerial position. He wanted to invent things, not manage people. Then money became tight for our family. If I wanted to go to a movie, I had to earn the money myself.
We lived in the Santa Cruz [Calif.] mountains near several Christmas Tree farms. So, each year I harvested mistletoe from the oak trees, packaged it in a cute baggie with a candy cane and a printed story of mistletoe’s mythology and sold it alongside the highway for 50 cents a bag to the thousands of people coming up from the valley to buy Christmas trees.
I was the odd kid in high school who read The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Fortune for fun. I was fascinated by what differentiated successful from failed companies and I wanted to pick stocks that would go up. At age 16 (I’m 51 now), I opened my brokerage account at Charles Schwab.
With penny-pinching on my dad’s mind, he was irritated when my siblings left lights on. So, he invented a light switch with a third position that would turn the light off after a period of time; and he enlisted us kids to assemble them at the dinner table, soldering irons in hand.
When other parents were pressuring their kids to prepare for college, my parents told me to pursue whatever made me happy. If I wanted to become a ditch digger, that was fine by them.
I applied to UC Berkeley and put myself through college, working almost continuously throughout school and summer and receiving about $2,000 in government loans each year. I worked as a janitor, a vacuum cleaner salesman, a Dominoes delivery driver, a forklift operator, a shoplifting security officer at grocery stores and as the manager of a 127-resident student housing co-op.
At the co-op, I solicited residents to contribute poems, articles, drawings, gossip or anything else creative to a monthly newspaper and I got local businesses to sponsor it with ads and coupons. The enterprise made money for the co-op. Little did I know, I’d someday go into the publishing business!
During the summer preceding my sophomore year, I enrolled in a marketing class at a local junior college just for fun. I remember learning how when instant cake mixes flopped when first invented and marketed in the 1950s or ’60s, the companies discovered housewives feared their mothers-in-law would frown upon them for not baking their cakes from scratch. So, marketers ran ads showing the wife delivering the Betty Crocker cake to the smiling husband and the mother-in-law standing behind her smiling approvingly. Sales took off.
The class sparked another interest in my sophomore year, I decided to apply for and was accepted into Berkley’s two-year undergraduate business program.
Marketing, finance and economics were interesting to me, and even calculus was kind of fun. One of my favorite classes was on distribution. Who knew I’d become a distributor some day? But the best part of business school was being surrounded by super-smart people. It forced me to raise my game.
In the meantime, my dad sold his light switch-timer company and started a new business. He wrote an e-mail program called PC-Telepost and, on a lark, printed up business cards for me with the title VP of Marketing and Sales.Because I realized our target audience read computer trade magazines to decide which software to buy, I started contacting editors and asking if they’d like to write about our software. I remember Russ Lockwood, an editor at Personal Computing Magazine, who asked me to send him a press kit.
“What’s a press kit?” I said. He said is has product brochures and a press release. “What’s a press release?” I said. He told me.
Read the full story here.