Our Interview with Degenerates John Balkam & James Kirchhoff of the MARK App

Here at QFYC, we love seeing people work towards their dream and doing what they love. What makes that even better? When that dream gives back and helps other make a difference as well.

And that’s exactly what John Balkam, James Kirchhoff, and their team of entrepreneurs is out to do with the MARK App.

MARK App - Degenerate Interview

MARK’s mission is to build tools that make philanthropy simple, efficient and accessible.

In a world where we can now do nearly anything with our phones, it’s amazing to see an app like MARK come into being. You have to love when technology actually helps you to live more intentionally!

We are big believers in the importance of giving back, and we are very excited to share our interview with two of the founders of MARK, John and Jim, below!


You are all very passionate about giving back in your own lives. How did this passion turn into a greater desire to help others get involved as well? How did you know that this was something you wanted to create a business around?

Jim: For years, I have been brainstorming ideas for a social enterprise – a business that is mission, as well as profit driven. I knew I wanted my work to be adding positive social value to society, and I wanted that positive to be a clear, unambiguous positive gain. With MARK, not only is this the case, but we also get use modern technology to make philanthropy sexy and cool.

John: My desire to start a social business was fueled by background in Jesuit education, especially at Georgetown. One of the guiding principles of Jesuit schools is their emphasis on forming women and men for others, and I do my best to live out that principle. As I was taking a course on social entrepreneurship as a senior at Georgetown, I realized that I wanted to combine my interest in business with my personal mission to be a man for others.

MARK App - Quarter for Your Crisis

MARK is a great example of how technology can empower us to have a greater influence on the world around us. How can MARK help our generation prioritize giving back and allow us to have an impact in our communities?

Jim: MARK does two things really well that vibes with our generation: it provides transparency and it is easy to use. A lot of millennials want to be involved and support great causes, but worry about where their money is really going to go. MARK provides snapshots of organizations and campaigns that answer that question. Second, and perhaps more importantly, MARK is an app that sits on your smartphone. It goes everywhere with you and is designed for mobile. It looks good, is responsive, and is ready for you anywhere you have connectivity.

John: Many people our age find themselves asking, “How can I give back?” or “Where can I go to make an impact?” Our aspiration at MARK is to become the central hub for young people asking those questions that will provide concrete ways to improve their community. Our app is built in a way that helps our users make giving a daily habit. We want to help our users feel that they are living a more fulfilling life by using MARK.

MARK App - Degenerate Interview

Most of your founding team members are still working full-time jobs. How do you prioritize MARK and continue to stay motivated to work on your passion project? What advice do you have for others who are working to build their dreams while still working full-time?

Jim: Don’t do it! (laughs) No, it’s incredibly rewarding personally to be able to watch your vision become a reality, but it is not easy. Watching friends go out to the bars or hit the beach on the weekend is tough when you know you need to log hours building a product and a business. Startups don’t work 9-5. They are not easy to plan around. They will consume your spare time, so you have to really believe that you will be successful and that your product is meaningful.

John: The key word here is passion. Because we’re so invested and obsessed with the belief that MARK is filling a tremendous need in the world, it becomes easier to stay motivated while working a full-time job as well. My advice to others going down this path is to make sure you love what you’re doing enough to work long hours on nights and weekends, plus, stay extremely well organized!!

A lot of people in our community are looking to connect with like-minded people. How did your group come together as a team? Do you have any suggestions for others who are looking to find people with similar passions or entrepreneurial interests?

Jim: People’s degrees and passion look great on paper, but with a startup you need good old fashion GSD: Get Stuff Done. Find people you like to spend time with AND who deliver. Having one without the other will be tough. Nothing is worse than realizing that the hours you spent “working” on your idea were in reality just a bro-out session that yielded no results.

John: For me, I was able to connect with Jim and our co-founder Kevin by going to startup events in DC. My suggestion would be simply this: SHOW UP! Honestly, half of the battle is going to events and meetups that interest you and putting yourself out there. It’s amazing the number of doors that will open up for you if you go out and meet as many people as possible.

MARK App - Quarter for Your Crisis

What has been your biggest challenge with building MARK? How have you been able to overcome it?

Jim: Our space has no dominant player. There is no Facebook of mobile giving, so we have spent a lot of time brainstorming creative solutions that will stand out and get users excited where others have failed. We spend a lot of time getting feedback from potential users to try to learn what will stick and provide that wow factor all great products have. We believe this has paid off and challenge you to test our app and let us know what you think.

John: The biggest challenge for me has been juggling all of my commitments while trying to live a fun, balanced life. I’m just transitioning out of my full-time job (hooray!), volunteering as an organizer for Startup Weekend DC (which is such an awesome community – check it out in your area), and spending several hours every week on MARK. Because I enjoy working with Jim and the rest of our team so much, all of those extra hours of work feel less like a job and more like hobby (a really tiring hobby!)

How do your personal values influence your lives as well as what you are trying to build with MARK? What is one thing you do each day to live intentionally?

Jim: I make sure to consciously spend some time every day living in the moment. Building a company can make you so focused on the future that you forget to take joy in the simple things around us everyday. Some days that is as simple as people watching downtown, watching the squirrels run around the park, or kicking back with a brew and just taking it all in. I also am very intentional to make sure I find time to exercise. I always feel better and think more clearly after a run.

John: I did this great exercise in a leadership course at Georgetown (Jordan was in this class too!) where I wrote down my personal mission and vision statements. It didn’t occur to me then, but those statements still guide my life to this day. MARK has become an outlet for my personal mission of being a man for others, and I’m so happy to have an opportunity to align my work with my values. One thing I try to do each day to live intentionally is pray, even if it’s just a short prayer in the morning.

*Note from Jordan: When going through my transition out of Corporate America, I read my entire 30-something page personal development portfolio, the main assignment of the leadership course John mentioned, over and over again. The mission & vision statements have been my guiding light ever since (just like John!) and I’d HIGHLY encourage everyone to create their own personal vision and mission.

James Kirchhoff - MARK App

How can MARK help others to live more intentionally?

Jim: MARK makes philanthropy very personal and very intentional. You can tailor your activities to your personality and beliefs. If you like to give money – do it. If you prefer to volunteer, you can. If you are passionate about a cause, we let you broadcast that to the world and share your passion with your community. It doesn’t matter if you get excited over education, the environment, ending homelessness, or community theater – we have it all. We don’t tell you what to support, we just want you to take ownership of your community and have your voice be heard!

John: People who strive to live intentional and meaningful lives will be able to use MARK to give their time or money to causes they care about. If you look at the apps on your phone right now, they all either serve to entertain you, inform you, or provide you some service. MARK is different because it allows you to find opportunities to serve people in need. Let’s reduce the number of selfies and increase the amount of altruistic giving!

To learn more about MARK, you can visit their website here!

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