From Zero to $20M Hero: The Eric Martin story

Howard Marks
Aug 29, 2016 · 4 min read

One of the most amazing stories I read 18 months ago was the Eric Martin story. He is this family guy who one day read about a promotion from a new pre-launch company called and decided to look into it. Here is what is so unique about this story. Eric Martin at the time was not an entrepreneur, he was a hard working American employed with a funeral insurance company, with big dreams; he unsuccessfully tried to run for Congress. He is responsible for a family of four.

The promotion promised 100,000 stock options to the person who referred the most people who registered on the upcoming website. at the time promised to be a lower cost alternative to Amazon. Not too shabby. In fact, the founder of, Marc Lore, is a former Amazon executive and previously sold another business to them.

Back to the core of the story. Eric decided to try it. He signed up his wife and friends and saw his position jump up the online leaderboard. Then he quickly calculated what it would cost to win. With his savings, he made an investment most people wouldn’t do. He took a big risk. Spent $18,000 and won against tens of thousands of others who also entered the competition. The difference here is that Eric Martin was committed and spent more than he could afford for something that was a concept. The idea was one day the stock will be worth something big. Really? Most pundits would tell Eric that he was out of his mind. It is commonly known in the venture capital world that 90% of the startups fail in the first two years and only a tiny fraction make it to become a unicorn: a company worth over $1B. Eric is clearly a dreamer who put $18K of his savings towards someone else’s dream. Yeah great. I am sure his wife and friends wanted to send him away to an institution.

It’s better to be lucky than smart

On August 8, 2016, it was announced that Wall Mart purchased for $3.3 billion dollars in cash. You read it right, three big ones. Not only is this one of the biggest exits ever, this is the largest investment Walmart has ever done. The press quickly criticized the deal because was after all a brand new company losing a whopping $10M per month. However, the real story was the options that Eric Martin won in the contest. Do you know how much he earned ? $20M in cash. Yes, you read it right. He is now a multimillionaire. Eric, welcome to the club. Eric did not need to even start a company and sweat it. He just needed to believe in something he read in the paper- something dismissed by most people. Eric, you deserve it.

I had the chance to talk to Eric last week because I was considering a similar promotion for StartEngine. I did some research and sent him an email. He quickly responded and we talked. Eric is a charming individual, friendly and outgoing. He quickly asked me if I found him because he recently purchased an Elio Motors car. This is the company that raised $17M on the StartEngine platform last January. I told him no, I just read the news he cashed out and wanted to talk to him about helping us. I must admit, this is a fortuitous coincidence. What is the chance Eric Martin purchased an Elio Motors car and then gets a call from the company that helped them get the capital they needed to make it ?

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage — Anais Nin

This story is a great story about courage. Most people, no scratch that, everyone would have dismissed the idea to invest $16K in a contest where you had no guarantee you would win it and the prize was one day, hopefully, going to be worth millions. Yes, send Eric to an institution or give Eric a medal for courage, vision and risk taking. Eric is a hero.

I write stories about entrepreneurship and how hard it is to win and succeed. This is my first story about a gambler who wanted in on the action and piggybacked on another entrepreneur. In reality, Eric Martin is an investor. He made an investment as an ordinary person before the JOBS Act permitted people like him to invest. Today, you can too. With Online IPOs you can go on StartEngine and other such platforms and invest in emerging companies. As it was with his investment in, there is no guarantee of success- in fact,- such investments feature a high degree of risk. However, in Eric’s case it worked. Today, anyone can become an Eric Martin.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of author Howard Marks. Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to:

Raising the Entrepreneurial Boom

Words of wisdom about being an entrepreneur, raising capital and winning in the entrepreneurial game written and published by renowned entrepreneur Howard Marks co-founder at Activision and StartEngine

Howard Marks

Written by

CEO at StartEngine and co-founder at Activision/Blizzard. Raise capital with equity crowdfunding on

Raising the Entrepreneurial Boom

Words of wisdom about being an entrepreneur, raising capital and winning in the entrepreneurial game written and published by renowned entrepreneur Howard Marks co-founder at Activision and StartEngine

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