Brian Marks

Trusting your gut – 100%. Only you can enact your vision. Others can add to your vision and ultimately add to the beauty of a company or product, but your vision is your vision.


A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, Brian Marks spent a decade in medical device sales before he left to pursue a career in the startup world. He found the pivot successful, building two successful companies.

In 2012, he founded Bonfire, an online platform for designing and selling custom apparel. The company removes the risks and costs typically associated with creating apparel, so that sellers can focus on their community. Bonfire handles everything from processing orders and customer service to printing and shipping, and sends the profits to the creator. Whether individuals, influencers, or nonprofits want to fundraise for a good cause or sell shirts online, Bonfire helps them strengthen and inspire their communities with high-quality, custom apparel.

In 2013, he co-founded Belle Isle Moonshine, a premium moonshine on a path to replace Vodka as America’s clear spirit of choice. Drawing on the rich history of moonshine in Virginia, the company moves past the novelty of prohibition imagery and moonshine in mason jars to spread the good word about moonshine. In the end, they created a hand-crafted, premium moonshine, made using the same techniques passed down through the ages, distilled from 100% organic corn, and made with only the best ingredients.

Where did the idea for Bonfire come from?

Looking back, the whole thing is pretty crazy. In 2011, my alma mater VCU made it into the basketball final four. It was an extremely successful year, and a lot of us were worried we would lose our coach, Shaka Smart, to a richer university.

We launched a website called and created a “Save Shaka 2011” T-shirt. I didn’t just want to ask for donations, so the idea was to sell each shirt for $25 and send $15 from each shirt sold to the university’s athletic fund to fund a pay raise. We had over 300 people pledge to buy a shirt, and got them all printed.

Then VCU got eliminated in their game against Butler, and Shaka re-signed his contract. At that point, only a handful of people came back to actually pay and buy their shirt. We were left with a box of unsold shirts.

Out of this failure, we created Bonfire. It’s a platform where anyone can create a campaign to raise funds by selling custom apparel at no-risk and no-cost to them. We handle everything from processing orders and customer service to printing and shipping with campaign profits going to the campaign creator.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I work really well when I have a system or process that guides me. I have to go to bed at a certain time. I have to wake up at a certain time. And I have specific days of the week for certain types of exercise.

Besides sleep and exercise, which are my biggest productivity drivers, I try to dedicate Mondays and Fridays for my work and projects. Then Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are for meeting with my teams or planning. Lastly, I try to maintain a work-life balance and dedicate most evenings and weekends for my family.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’m an idea guy, so I’ve had to train myself to be careful. It is very easy to start something. Raising that idea and ultimately creating a company is an entirely different journey. I believe you need to surround yourself with people that can support you. Ideas come together and truly change the world when we rely on the strength of the people around us.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I’m super geeked out on the field of human longevity. The convergence of science, medicine, and technology is creating opportunities for healthier, longer lives. I believe that in the next 10-20 years we’ll see humans routinely living into their/our mid-100’s and beyond.

Can you imagine being 70 and feeling like you’re 35 or 110 and feeling like you’re 55? We are close.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Trusting your gut – 100%. Only you can enact your vision. Others can add to your vision and ultimately add to the beauty of a company or product, but your vision is your vision.

I believe we all see the world slightly different, through our own lenses, but the best entrepreneurs trust their gut and bend the world to fit it into their lens.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be present today. Don’t get lost in goals, your to-do list, or thinking about the future. Focus on the time and experiences you are having in this moment. It’s called the present for a reason.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

That I’ll live forever!

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Get outside. It’s easy to get inside your head and stay in the office to get work done. There’s so much nature around us that we tend to ignore in our day-to-day lives. Even something as simple as taking a walk outside can really reset your mind.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

As an online platform, it can be easy to go through the motions with customer complaints. But I’m big on empathy.

We focus on recognizing and remembering our customers are humans. Our team takes time not to just solve a problem but to understand the emotional needs of our customers. We also give our teams the initiative to go the extra mile with customers.

This has led to us get glowing reviews, keep our current customers coming back, and built positive word of mouth referrals that you can’t get in any other way.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I tried to start a company because I had a need, not because I wanted to start and run the company. It obviously failed.

I overcame it through the lesson I learned: There are millions of needs in this world. Choose wisely which ones you want to spend your time working on or possibly dedicate your life to. Honestly, that’s what will happen when you start a company!

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A service that protects a person, especially the elderly and less tech savvy individuals, from being up-sold on useless add-on services or phished/scammed.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

A car dashboard magnet mount that my cell phone can just snap into place when I get in the car. It was $20, and brings me such joy!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

It’s easy to get distracted by interesting articles or pages when you are working on a computer. I really like Pocket to save things I stumble on, so I can read them later.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

On the business side of things, I’d recommend “Anything You Want” by Derek Sivers. And for a more fictional option, I’d say “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts.

What is your favorite quote?

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman

Key Learnings:

  • Surround yourself with people who can support you.
  • Be empathetic and remember that everyone is human.
  • Trust your gut.


Website –
LinkedIn –
Twitter – @bonfire
Instagram –
Facebook –