Going away to college is a life-defining milestone. Balancing academic performance with unprecedented independence is, at best, anxiety-inducing for adolescents shifting into adulthood. The transition has derailed many-a-college-freshmen. For David Bullock, the contrast between high school and college was more extreme than most.
A native Alaskan, Bullock grew up in the most sparsely populated state in the country, with the coldest climate and one of the lowest Black populations. “When I was growing up, I think Alaska was maybe 5% Black. My high school had around two thousand students. Less than 40 of us were Black,” he recalls.
With his Howard University acceptance letter in hand, at age 17, Bullock moved to the most densely populated, sweltering in the summertime, bliggity blackest cities in the nation. The contrast between D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, where Howard’s campus sits, and Bullock’s Anchorage, Alaska origins are as different as night and day. With a transition of this magnitude, it is reasonable to expect a bit of culture shock, especially at such a vulnerable age. But for Bullock, the thought of being intimidated by his new environment didn’t even register.
“When I went to Howard, that was the first time in my life that I had to get injected into a totally new, different group of people,” Bullock told ESSENCE. “It wasn’t a crazy culture shock at all. That may sound weird because I went from one extreme to another, but it felt like I was in the same place.” This kind of confidence and seeming imperviousness to intimidation is a recurring theme of Bullock’s narrative. It’s not arrogance or false bravado but a trait strengthened by years of necessity and intentional practice.
“I was born with a cataract, so I’m blind in one eye,” he shared. Bullock’s parents had the cataract extracted, but the procedure left him with a lazy eye. “The thing is, statistically speaking, people with lazy eyes tend not to be able to make meaningful connections. They are less likely to get jobs and less likely to fit in society because, scientifically speaking, the inability to maintain eye contact affects your ability to connect with people. You have less confidence,” Bullock said. “So I grew up different. And I grew up making friends against the odds. Everything I accomplished was always against the odds,” he said.
Rather than allowing his disability to defeat him, Bullock embraced it. “I compensated. I read books on how to connect with people. I really focused on learning how to communicate with all different kinds of people,” he told ESSENCE. “I looked at it as an opportunity to turn my biggest fear—my biggest weakness into a superpower,” he said. That outlook, honed early, would become a defining characteristic of Bullock’s personality—a trait that earned the marketing entrepreneur a coveted spot on Forbes’ 30 under 30 lists.
Today, the founder and CEO of the 907 Agency boasts a roster of high-profile clients, including Warner Music Group, Spotify, and Nike. The key to his success, he says, is flexibility and his virtual immunity to intimidation.
Here’s how the marketing maven used radical self-acceptance, likeability, and authenticity as superpowers to conquer the marketing world.
David Bullock is a realist and self-proclaimed underdog. While some spend a lifetime building defense mechanisms to mask their flaws, Bullock faces his head-on. In his view, flaws are merely fuel for ambition, a competitive advantage, if you will. “The way that I have such confidence is I embrace being an underdog,” he said. “Nobody expects anything from the underdog. It’s a powerful position because the underdog can’t lose.” If his business track record is any indication, his “underdog theory” has proven true.
By the end of his first year, Bullock was the man on campus, a bonafide Twitter influencer, and a party promoter the likes of which Howard’s campus hadn’t seen in decades. “My freshman year, my two friends and I got called into the administration building. They [Howard’s Administration] had heard about our upcoming party, Project HU, and they were concerned,” Bullock recalled. “They said this is the biggest party they have seen at Howard since Diddy went there—right? And this is my first year in college.”
Bullock’s reputation as the promoter whose parties trended nationally on Twitter got him noticed by the record label representing Wale at the time. The label flew him to South by Southwest where, through networking, he met singer, songwriter, and industry insider, The World Famous Tony Williams, who contracted his marketing services. From there, word-of-mouth spread the news of Bullock’s influencer marketing genius and party-promoting expertise. One opportunity led to another, and by the summer of his sophomore year, he had accompanied Williams’ on Kanye’s Life of Pablo Tour, thrown house parties for Justin Combs, and come up with the marketing for Puffy’s “Combschella” Coachella takeover.
But the wins didn’t stop there. Bullock discovered a procedure that could align his eyes. Although the surgery didn’t restore his sight, it corrected the cosmetic aspect of his strabismus. “Even with getting that surgery, I feel like all those skills I was able to learn, the confidence I built up, and the tools I sharpened really became my superpower in learning to communicate with people and build relationships,” he said.
Bullock is a likable guy. Within 90 seconds of our conversation, conversing with him felt less like a formal interview and more like chatting with family. He has that “it factor”— the sheer likeability that makes you want to root for him. That aptitude for forging meaningful connections is rooted in his empathic ability to sense where people are and what they need. It’s a skill honed by his challenges. Still, effective networking may get you in the room, but excellence keeps you there.
Bullock’s likeability, undergirded with a proven record of delivering excellent campaigns, pays dividends for his 907 Agency. The boutique firm recently inked new deals with major multi-global companies. “Our company drives results by addressing the marketing goals of our clients while simultaneously developing campaigns that are beneficial to the target demographic. And some of the recent additions are Microsoft, Xbox, and The National Hockey Leagues Los Angeles Kings,” Bullock said.
Bullock does not code-switch. He says being his authentic self is the only thing that works. “What is so funny is that in the past, when I have tried to code switch because I thought I needed to, those have been the times that I haven’t been able to close deals,” he said.
For the 907 Agency, Blackness is a competitive advantage.The marketing firm leader encourages his team to bring their authentic selves, their lived experience, and their natural voice to the table. “These companies that work with the 907 agency choose us because they want to expand to new audiences. They want us, they want us to help them to tap into the demographic that we know and can speak authentically,” Bullock said. “My Blackness is a superpower. Why would I mute that?”
Rooted in his radical self-acceptance, an ability to build meaningful connections, and an underdog-winner mentality, Bullock’s profile in the marketing space continues to rise. The 907 agency has some major deals closing in 2023. But none of it would be possible if not for his willingness to bet on himself and take risks. “As an entrepreneur, you have to be prepared to lose everything but hope,” he said.