The Story

Coss Marte is getting ready to pitch his company to a panel of prominent entrepreneurs and an audience of hundreds. He’s competing against five other startups for a chance at $100,000. With this money, Coss hopes to grow his small exercise studio in the Lower East Side of Manhattan into an international fitness brand.

But this isn’t his first experience with scaling up. In his early twenties, Coss ran a business that brought in nearly $4 million in annual revenue, a business that catered to doctors, judges and lawyers. A business that landed him a seven year prison sentence.

This is part one of Coss’s story on his path from felon to founder.

 

Correction: The original version of this episode contained a factual error. It stated that Jose Lallave, or Joey, was the ninth member arrested as part of Coss Marte’s case. Joey was actually arrested in a separate case in 2011.  

 

The Facts

Matthew Boll mixed the episode.

Our theme song was written and performed by Mark Phillips.

The special ad music, Microliters, was written and performed by Build Buildings. 

Additional music from the band Hot Moms Dot Gov.

Our logo was designed by Elias Stein.

 

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Show transcript

LISA: From Gimlet, this is Startup. I’m Lisa Chow.

 

ALEX: And I’m Alex Blumberg. I’m here with you Lisa in the studio helping you open the show because of the way we came to today’s story. It came to us through an ad that we did on this podcast. You know, the way we do those we have our sponsors and we either talk to people who work in the companies or we talk to the customers of the companies and this was one of those situations. I was given this guy, I was like, hey, he’s a client of this company. Then I was like, oh my god this guy’s story is really interesting. He probably deserves more than just the 10 seconds it can get in an ad spot. So I came to you and said hey, you should check this guy out.

 

LISA: Yes, and he is very very interesting so interesting that we’ve decided to do two parts on this guy, so this week and next week we will be exploring his story.

 

ALEX: Yeah. His name is Coss Marte.  And just one note before we begin: there is some swearing in this episode. I feel like we’ve been saying that a lot lately.

 

LISA: Pretty much every episode.

 

ALEX: Yes, anyway. Lisa Chow take it away.

 

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LISA: So a couple of weeks ago, I flew out to Las Vegas to meet Coss.  

 

COSS: So I’m going to read it, just ‘cause I… to refresh my mind, and then… Jenn I’m gonna… I’m gonna pitch you the pitch. Pitch perfect.

 

LISA: I’m standing with Coss and his girlfriend and co-founder, Jenn Shaw, in their hotel room. It’s the night before he’ll take the stage to pitch his fitness startup.

 

He’s at a conference featuring impressive speakers like Chris Sacca—you may have heard of him—and founders of companies like Zappos, Reddit, and Hopstop. Coss is one of six finalists, beating out 300 companies to be here. He’ll present to a panel of judges, Shark Tank style, in front of several hundred people.

 

He’s been practicing the pitch, and things are not going well.

 

COSS: We’ve been… we’ve gained national…  we’ve gained… we’ve gained press and partner… we’ve gained national press and partnerships. What is it? National… we’ve gained… we’ve gained world class press and partnerships…

 

JENN: Okay…

LISA: Jenn listens and gives feedback.

 

JENN: Ooh, that was rough.

COSS: I fucked up.

JENN: So… the same lines are sticking you up as have been sticking you up. Same lines.

COSS: Yeah, it’s tough. I think the lines that are fucking me up is… like our run rate is $300,000. I want to say we have a clientele base of 6,000, over 6,000 people, and our current… yeah, our current run rate is over 300… over $300,000.

JENN: Um… yeah… well I think it definitely is time to like, rewrite.

 

LISA: Coss’s dream, the dream he’s here to pitch, is to become the next Soulcycle, the next Crossfit … the next big name in the nearly 30 billion dollar fitness industry.

 

And his dream comes with a social mission: to employ a population that’s known for tough workouts, but one that few companies want to hire. Ex-cons.

 

Coss can usually count on his business standing out at pitch events like these, because of his mission. But at this particular pitch competition, every company has a social mission. They’re tackling the hardest problems.

 

One company has created a backpack that can treat contaminated water, making it drinkable in 30 minutes.

 

Another company has manufactured a solar-powered light and was featured on the real Shark Tank show. Mark Cuban invested 200-thousand dollars in them.

 

Coss and Jenn meet some of their competitors in person, during a rehearsal in the auditorium … where they’ll be pitching.

 

The other founders have impressive pedigrees: they went to elite colleges, they have careers in banking and finance, patents to their name. They’re all dressed casually, wearing jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies. Coss and Jenn are the only ones dressed up. Coss is in a dark gray suit. Jenn’s wearing heels and a black dress.

 

Everyone’s mingling. Coss and Jenn start talking to a woman named Lydia, from a company called Lucky Iron Fish, which is trying to rid the world of iron deficiency.

 

LYDIA: It’s a good group of people here. This is pretty awesome.

COSS: Yeah.

JENN: Are you doing the pitch?

LYDIA: I am yeah.

COSS: Awesome.

LYDIA: It’s just me no other team members with me. My other team member is off at…  doing a pitch to Unilever and Ashoka right now in Cambridge, and then my other partner is doing a pitch to the Gates Foundation right now, so…  

LISA: Whoa okay. Divide and conquer.

LYDIA: Divide and conquer, absolutely.

COSS: Nice.

LYDIA: Yeah, yeah.

 

LISA: There are a lot conversations like these… people talking themselves up.

 

After the rehearsal, Coss and Jenn grab something to eat and debrief.

 

LISA: Tell me what was it like though meeting the competition face to face

COSS: It was good it was good. It’s just… they’re people and… all white people

 

LISA: Coss is Dominican. Jenn’s white.

 

JENN: No there’s a girl

COSS: There’s that girl

JENN: And she’s like a minority and a woman which you don’t have.

 

LISA: This founder that Coss and Jenn are talking about, she also has an Ivy-League education.

COSS: She’s also a Columbia grad.  I think like, MBA grad. I graduated from like, Rikers Island, like, school of hard knocks

 

-music-

 

LISA: Rikers Island. The Rikers Island where ten thousand inmates live. Which has one of the highest rates of solitary confinement. Named one of the worst jails in the country. And the inspiration behind Coss’s fitness company, called Conbody.

 

Coss has been in and out of jail since he was 13.

 

Pitch competitions like the one Coss is preparing for are typical stops on a founder’s path. But Coss’s path to this stage has been anything but typical. Today on the show, how Coss got here and what a life of crime can teach you about your customers, your competitors, and your investors.  

 

-music-

 

Coss Marte went to prison because of his first business, which he started when he was a teenager living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  

 

COSS: This is actually the block where I sold drugs at, and now where I sell fitness at.

 

LISA: It’s true. If you walk out the door of the space he’s renting, turn left and go a couple of doors down, past a Buddhist temple, a window shop, you’ll come to the spot where Coss first sold drugs, just in front of a small, Chinese-Hispanic grocery store.

COSS: Right there in that corner, I used to sit on a milk crate, 24 hours a day. Non-stop.

 

LISA: Coss started using drugs when he was 11. He lived down the hall from some older cousins, who’d smoke weed in front of him. It scared him, but he felt curious. So when they offered him some, he thought, I can hang, I’m cool. From then on, Coss and his cousins would smoke up, together on the roof.

 

Coss also knew how to hustle at a young age. He collected aluminum cans and cashed them in for nickels. He stole baseball cards and sold them at school. By 13, he realized how much more he could make hustling drugs.

 

COSS: I saw the money in it, I saw the guys that used to, like, deliver to me. I saw them, like, pulling out wads of cash, and I’d seen the guys on the corner like big chains with the girls, and I’d be like, damn that’s what I wanted to do. So as a kid, people would ask me what you want to do when you grow up, and I would tell them, I wanna be rich.

 

LISA: Coss started selling marijuana in his school, then around the neighborhood. It was fast, easy money. Within a year, Coss was selling cocaine as well, because his customers were asking for it. And again, the returns were almost unfairly good.

 

COSS: I took an eight ball—eightball is three and a half grams of cocaine—bought it for 120 bucks at that time, and I made about, like 350… so, yeah.

LISA: So you, like, tripled your money?

COSS: Yeah, tripled my money. And it went quick. And after a while, it just got crazy. From each side of the block it was just like, so many people running up to me, and I was just taking out bags of coke and just, like, delivering…  just, I was like a walking pharmacy. I couldn’t waste a minute without being there because like time is money.  I would even brush my teeth with quart of water, toothpaste, toothbrush, take it out, like still on the corner. There was just so much money that I couldn’t even, like, fold it together, ‘cause I had to stick it in my pocket and stick it into my pocket, ‘cause it was just non-stop.

 

LISA: Coss was selling drugs in the early 2000s, when a lot of the New York market was divided up by turf. Coss inherited his turf from a dealer who was trying to get out of the business. The guy was getting high on his own coke all the time and needed an out. So Coss took over the block.

 

Coss knew another guy selling drugs in the neighborhood: a guy named Jose Lallave Jr., who went by Joey. People also called him The Key, because his last name means “the key”, in Spanish, and because he was a magician when it came to opening car doors.

 

Joey was equally driven and had a way with customers. And Coss and Joey, they liked each other. So one day, they decided to join forces and take their business to the next level. But they didn’t really know what they’d signed up for. I talked to Joey on the phone.  

 

JOEY: We both took blind faith steps into trusting one another and by the day you seen how this just gradually progressed into something really big. You know, we went from making a few hundred dollars to all of the sudden just within a one week, two week period, three, four, five, six, seven thousand dollars a night.  

 

LISA: Their operation took off for a couple of reasons. When they first started, Coss and Joey were largely selling to friends, and friends of friends, people in the neighborhood. But they noticed something. The neighborhood was changing. There were more white people moving in. More suits. And they thought, what if we sold to them? But that meant changing things about their operation. For starters, they had to dress for a different clientele.  

 

COSS: I couldn’t walk with, like, a white person next to me that looked more professional and I’m wearing like baggy jeans, I had like, a triple XL t-shirt, because it would look funny. And I’ve been stopped before because of that, so I decided to go shopping. Get, like, suits and ties and you know, just look more professional. And we were not getting stopped anymore.

LISA: Really? You noticed that overnight?

COSS: Oh yeah, overnight.

 

LISA: It was a double win to dress in suit and tie. It was better marketing for their new customers. But also, the cops just left them alone.

 

Coss and Joey would stand out in front a local bar in the Lower East Side called Happy Ending. It was a spot for a young party crowd to hang, or as Coss describes them, white hipsters.

 

Coss and Joey made 10-thousand business cards. The cards were black, with the name “Happy Ending” and three telephone numbers printed in white. They handed out these cards to everyone they met.  

COSS: That really blew up. There was just so many people going in there, the neighborhood started changing. We were selling to like lawyers, doctors, judges.

 

LISA: The Lower East Side was gentrifying, and like any business in a gentrifying area, Coss and Joey faced a question: Do you keep serving the customers you’ve always sold to or do you chase the new, wealthier people moving in?

 

Turns out, that wasn’t a hard call for them. Joey told me they started focusing exclusively on their higher margin clients: people who could buy a 100 dollar bag or more.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             JOEY: We ended up revamping our whole little system. And we eliminated the twenties and fifties, and we said we’re just going to do a minimum. Because we had so many people calling us that it only made sense to weed and filter out the people that, you know, that didn’t want to deal with… with a quality service. That’s what we were branding ourselves. We were trying to be the Louis Vuitton of… of what we were doing. We didn’t want to deal with minorities or people of our kind. Because, they complained, they knew the game, they knew the manipulation, so we were targeting people that were looking for quality service.

 

LISA: This is how Coss and Joey speak about race … bluntly, in sweeping generalizations.

 

But alongside that, they gave careful thought to which types of people they would pursue. For example, they discovered a much more enthusiastic customer in New York than the typical Lower East Side hipster. They discovered Australians.

 

JOEY: What I noticed from dealing with Australians, they were telling me that the price of what they were purchasing from us was in their country anywhere from 250 to 350 a gram. Now, we all know that Australia’s a continent, but it pretty much is like an island. There is no pipeline or anything that goes over there, so when they would come over here, to them, even though we was charging an outlandish amount of money for what we had, to them… that was like a deal… And they loved our charismatic ways and how we’d hang out with them and how we was always ready to… you know, we was always at their beck and call we was always there, it don’t matter the time. So we ended up building a very great rapport with these people, that everybody that was coming from Australia or was in their circle, they just kept referring everybody.

 

LISA: Talking to Joey and Coss, what’s striking is that the issues they faced as a fast growing drug business sound similar to the issues faced by any early stage startup. Their initial success came by word of mouth, and they had to be scrappy when it came to growing their customer base.

 

But being an underground business forced them to get even more creative with how they marketed themselves. For example, when Mayor Bloomberg banned smoking in restaurants and clubs in 2003, Joey saw a big opportunity with the party crowd.

 

JOEY: These people would come out to smoke. I would get extra cigarettes, and a lot of times these people would come outside with no cigarettes, and they’d be like, “Hey buddy what’s up? Um, do you  mind if I buy a cigarette,” and I’d be like, “No here, take it!” And I’ll engage in conversation, and I might say something to the effect of… I try to do current events stuff, so I was big on trying to talk about a topic of the day or it might be sports or… I don’t know, something to get their attention. And I’ll just… go in to draw them in and I’ll pop the question about, “Hey listen buddy, if you’re looking for any party services, you know I got blow…” Uh…  that’s what I would say, just in case, if they try to, if they’re a cop or something, they’d be like, “But you said blow,” and I would say something, “Yeah, I was talking about… that I’ll blow you.” Like basically, I wasn’t offering drugs, I was offering a sexual favor.

LISA: Right!

JOEY: So—

LISA: Isn’t that illegal too?

JOEY: It is, but I would rather take the lesser of two evils.

 

LISA: These conversations with people on the street helped Joey and Coss get the word out, and pretty soon, their operations had grown to well beyond the Lower East Side. They had built a delivery service that reached customers in every borough of New York. People would call, or text, and a guy would come to their door, with their drug of choice.

 

And this was 2005—still a couple of years before the first iphone was released. Coss and Joey started selling on foot, then bike, then moped. Now they drove BMWs.

 

But that didn’t mean life was easy. They found themselves facing a typical founder’s dilemma.

 

JOEY: You know, I had a life, but I really didn’t have a life. Because everything was dependent on always dealing with the service.

COSS: I was working like 72 hours straight no sleep, and then I would go home and sleep for like 20 hours, and then I would wake up and stay up for three more days, and this was not, I was not on drugs, this was like all motivation, staying up because of money.

 

LISA: This lifestyle, it wasn’t sustainable. Coss was putting on a lot of weight, he was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. He and Joey realized they needed help. They had to start hiring people.

 

But with their richer clientele, Joey says, they didn’t want to recruit the kids who would normally jump at the chance to sell drugs.

 

JOEY: I always would sit down with Coss and strategize and we would be like I don’t know if this is going to be a good fit. ‘Cause a lot of people just weren’t able to articulate themselves the way me and Coss could. You don’t have to have the best vocabulary skills, but you got to be able to rub shoulders with these people in the right way. They might not want you to go to their condo where they live. You gotta look the part.

LISA: They ended up hiring older guys, Puerto Rican guys in their 40s and 50s, who lived uptown, in Spanish Harlem.

 

Coss and Joey looked for people who didn’t have criminal records, because they’d be less likely to snitch if they got caught. And the system would be more lenient on them.

 

Coss and Joey made sure to send people out with no more than 12 grams of coke, so that if they did get jammed up, they’d be charged with a lower level felony.

 

By the time Coss was 23 and Joey was 26, their revenues had grown to almost 4 million dollars a year. And they were employing more than twenty people. They were delivering across all five New York boroughs, the Hamptons, and the greater Tri-state area.

 

And with the margins on marijuana and cocaine being so high—about 3 to 4 times the wholesale price—a lot of that money was theirs. Coss and Joey weren’t paying taxes on any of it, and the way they paid their staff… employees would get a little more than 15 percent of everything they’d sell.  

 

Coss and Joey felt like they were on top of the world. And they acted like it too.

 

-music-

 

COSS: We bought a 1993 Fleetwood Cadillac, which was like a boat with like 22 inch gold rims, pearl white seats, the loudest music system ever. And we just started wearing mink coats, and… we were buggin out, we would like ride down like forty second street blasting, like porn.

 

LISA: One time Coss and Joey rented a horse and carriage from Central Park. They basically paid the driver two thousand dollars to break the rules and take them to the Lower East Side so they could deliver their drugs.

 

JOEY: The streets that we were going down people were actually calling. They were like, “So, what car are you in?” “Like, you’re not going to believe this, but we’re on a horse and carriage. Don’t worry, I’m going to hop out real quick, make the transaction,” and like, “Are you kidding me Jose? You’re on the horse and carriage?” And then as soon as I pull up they’re like “Oh my god, you guys are fucking amazing!”

 

COSS: It felt like i was the president or something, I don’t know. I felt like important. You know, a lot of people looked up to us. Especially the people that grew up in our neighborhoods, we would go in there, and they would be like, yo I wanna be like these guys. You know? I mean, I gives you a sense of like, you made it.

 

LISA: Coming up, at a pivotal moment in the life of his business, Coss decides that he has to get high on his own supply. That’s after these words from our sponsors.

 

-ad break-

 

LISA: Welcome back to Startup. I’m Lisa Chow. When we left off, the business was going well … really well.

 

Almost 10 years into selling drugs, Coss had advanced from his days selling on the corner.

 

Now the business was operating from four different apartments. He’d hired a fleet of drivers and dealers. They had their systems down. And one other thing was different from the early days.

 

COSS: It just stopped being fun. It became.. it felt like a job. It felt like I was incarcerated to this lifestyle. It was this lifestyle that I actually wanted to escape. I don’t know, it was not like the startup-­y lifestyle, you know? It became more like a corporate… it felt like, you know, like you’re showing up to work and it was like, you’re sitting at this desk and…  it just became boring.

 

LISA: Coss considered getting out of the business. His family had wanted him to quit from day one.

 

They were tired of constantly bailing him out of jail, worrying about his safety, watching him squander so much potential. And they knew he didn’t need to chase this lifestyle.

 

Coss has three siblings: two older sisters and a younger brother. The four of them shared a bedroom growing up. And the siblings, they’ve all taken a very different path than Coss.  

 

One sister, Claudia, works as an underwriter at an insurance company.

 

The oldest sister, Carolina, spent ten years rising up the ranks to become an executive director at one of the most prestigious firms on Wall Street, Goldman Sachs.

 

And the younger brother Christopher, he was a model student. At about the same age when Coss started selling drugs, 13 or 14, Christopher started winning scholarships to study abroad. He spent a summer in Japan, then a summer in Hungary. He went on to be president of his high school class and captain of multiple teams.

 

Growing up, Christopher idolized Coss. But things changed when Christopher learned that Coss was selling drugs.

CHRIS:  I had no idea he was doing it until one day me and him were walking in the park. I think he was 13 and  I was around 8 years old and the undercover cops arrested him. And like, me as an 8 year old I’m like, that’s my brother. You know, I was actually wearing a D.A.R.E. shirt, you know, like the drug whatever. So I was, uh—

LISA: You remember that? You remember when—

CHRIS: Yeah, yeah, I remember that clearly. And I think they gave Coss a warning. They called our parents. But I think that was the moment where I realized that he was going down a bad path , and so little by little he just pretty much started disappearing out of my life. You know, he’ll leave two weeks without contact, come back and like pass out for 48 hours, leave again. And I knew he wasn’t doing the right thing. I mean, like, you could see it through my mom’s you know emotions. That’s why I didn’t go down that path.

 

LISA: Their family immigrated from the Dominican Republic. Their mom worked in a sewing factory and their dad was a cook.

 

Christopher says Coss always wanted stuff their parents couldn’t afford. He remembers Coss posting photos of cellphones on the wall next to his bed, photos he ripped out of RadioShack catalogues.

 

As Coss got more wrapped up the drug scene, material things became more important to him and his relationship with his family suffered. Here’s Christopher.

 

CHRIS: I reached a point especially in high school where I never even mentioned I had a brother. I still have friends today that are like, “Dude you have a brother?” Just because I knew, I would say I have two sisters and one brother and someone asked me, “Oh what does your brother do?” And I didn’t want to say, “Oh, he’s in prison,” or, “He sells drugs.”

LISA: So when people would ask you, like, do you have siblings, what would you say?

CHRIS: I have two sisters. You know, um—

LISA: Wow.

CHRIS: Yeah, it’s just like it’s easy. It’s forgettable.

LISA: Did you ever feel guilty?

CHRIS: Um, no. I mean, sometimes a little bit, but it’s just… he put it on himself. That’s how I  always saw it. It’s just, like, you give him opportunities and… and I don’t know it’s like, you have to… you have to… it’s kind of, like, not a reward, but you have to make yourself be my brother. Yeah, I guess by blood you’re always my brother, but I don’t always have to say it, you know? Like, I don’t care if my brother is a janitor or sanitation or like anything… cleaning toilets. That’s fine. But if you’re, like, causing harm and having the past that he had then I don’t… At that point I didn’t want him to be my brother.

 

-music-

 

LISA: It was easy for Coss to forget about his family’s disappointment when he was at work. He was young, respected, rich, and focused on running his multi-million-dollar business.

 

But then something went wrong.  

 

Coss and Joey had hired a full-time dispatcher, put him up in an apartment on the Upper West Side and paid him two grand a week. Two years into this guy’s employment, he started skimming business from them, making sales on the side. And some of those sales, it turned out, were to undercover cops who started tracking the phone line.

 

One night, Coss saw that orders were piling up. Forty-some customers were waiting on their drugs. And he called his guys and no one was picking up their phones. So he decided to make the deliveries himself. He drove up to their stash house in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx, picked up 100 bags of cocaine, and was about to get into his car.

 

COSS: This white guy—you don’t see white people up there—but, uh, he said my full government name. He said, “Coss Marte” and I turn around and he was like “this is detective Joseph King, your whole operation is over.” And I’m like “What?”

 

LISA: Coss says a bunch of police officers tackled him down. They had a warrant for the house. They went inside, and they took Coss upstairs.

 

COSS: They asked me, they was like, “Where’s the stuff? We don’t want to break anything in the house,” and I was like, “I don’t have anything in the house.” And they was like, “Alright don’t lie to us, we know where it is.”

 

So I had about three hundred pairs of Jordan sneakers by the wall, and they went directly to that box where I had, like, a kilo and a half. And they opened it up, they was like, “We know everything.”

 

LISA: Apparently the police had interrogated one of Coss’ drivers for 12 hours earlier that day. They arrested Coss, and drove him to a police station downtown.  

 

COSS:  And when I start walking in, they start applauding, like they took down like a huge guy, and I’m like, what the hell is going on? I see the guys that, you know, work for me. They were all in each different holding cell, and I’m in that cell and I’m like, just like “Shit.”

 

LISA: The police  took his wallet, cleared out all his bank cards, his credit cards. And then they returned it, not knowing what they’d just given him.

 

COSS: My wallet, I had like ten acid tabs—LSD—and they didn’t know cuz it’s like paper blot. And I take all ten acid tabs, and I’m in this precinct and I just start tripping balls, and I see like, the gates opening and swerving, and then they take me to the interrogation room, where they already have like a secret indictment, and the district attorney is in there, and they’re trying to, like, talk to me and I’m just laughing, and they were like, “You know you’re facing twelve to twenty four, and you might be doing life because it’s your third felony,” and I was just like, “Give me twenty four years, let all my friends go, like, fuck you.” And that was it, you know? I went inside, I was like, tripping for like, probably twelve hours, and then reality hit me and I was like shit. You know? It’s really over.

LISA: Coss’s case was considered one of the biggest busts of 2009 for New York City’s special narcotics investigation division. On its website, it reads, quote:

 

Ringleader Coss Marte gave customers ‘business cards’ printed with his phone number and sent text messages to customers to announce weekly cocaine specials.

 

Eight defendants were apprehended on one night in May, including four delivery people who had just made sales to undercover officers…

 

Joey was arrested in another case, in 2011, and is still in prison, serving a nine year sentence.

 

Coss had gotten locked up before but this time, things were different. For one, Coss had a kid now, who was a year old. And second, the penalty would be a lot more serious because of the amount of cocaine the police found on Coss and in his apartment.

 

Coss didn’t end up getting twelve to twenty four years. Right before sentencing, then-New York Governor David Paterson—who’d just taken over from Eliot Spitzer after his prostitution scandal—repealed the mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug felons.

 

Coss was sentenced to 7 years in prison, and he says he felt lucky, but whatever he was feeling, the people at his sentencing, like Christopher, didn’t see it.

 

CHRIS: Me and my dad actually went to the court case where he got sentenced and… it was… I don’t know how to describe it they were looking at him he had just a stone cold face with no emotion. He wasn’t really human he was just like, whatever. And me and my dad we were just sitting there in the back and just like, alright, this is… I guess this is where he’s gonna be for the next seven years.

 

LISA: In prison, things did not go well for Coss. When he first arrived, doctors gave him a physical. They said all his extra weight was putting him at severe risk for a heart attack. If something didn’t change, he would die in prison.

 

He had lost his business, his lifestyle. He was far from home. It was about as low a point as you could imagine. And then, things got worse. He was put in solitary confinement.

 

Coss told me how it happened. He was waiting to take a random drug test. The officer on duty said, “I’m in bad mood. Don’t fuck with me,” and clapped Coss on the back of the head. Coss’s glasses flew off and when he crouched down to pick them up, the officer thought Coss was bending down to charge him. The officer sounded an alarm and a bunch of guards tackled Coss to the ground. For 30 days that summer, Coss was in the box.

 

COSS:  It was over a hundred degrees. So it’s just like, it’s super scorching. And I had, like, the June bugs because they leave the light on the whole time. So I had these buzzing bugs, it was like probably a hundred of them crawling, like, under my cell door and flying over my head, I couldn’t sleep because it would be like bzzz and I would just like, kill one and a just a thousand more would come. You know how it’s just annoying, bugs crawling all over my bed and I’m basically naked because I couldn’t put clothes on because it was just so hot.  

 

LISA: But it was here, in this place, when things started to change. When Coss came up with the idea for his next business. What happened in that prison cell, and what his idea became, that’s in the next episode of Startup.

 

Coming up, we’ll have scenes from the next episode of StartUp, and an update about a previous episode, after these words from our sponsors.

 

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LISA: In next week’s episode of StartUp: when you’re an ex-con in a business that employs other ex-cons, where do you draw the line when it comes to hiring?  

 

LISA: So, sex offenders you wouldn’t hire?

COSS: No.

LISA: Someone who’s charged with murder?

COSS: Yeah. I would.

LISA: Really?

COSS: I’ve met so many guys that’ve committed murder that I would be willing to hire within a second.  

 

LISA: That’s coming up next week.  

 

One more thing: In our last episode, we heard two founders of an on-demand food company called Bento working out their company’s problems in real time.  

 

There’s been a development since that episode aired. You can find out more on our website: GimletMedia.com/StartUp. Go to last week’s episode, and you’ll find an update in the show notes.  

 

Today’s episode of StartUp was edited by Alex Blumberg, Peter Clowney, Kaitlin Roberts, Molly Messick, Bruce Wallace, Luke Malone, Simone Polanen, and Eric Eddings.

Mark Phillips wrote and performed our theme song. Build Buildings wrote and performed our special ad music. Additional music from the band Hot Moms Dot Gov.

 

Matthew Boll mixed the episode.   

 

To subscribe to the podcast, go to iTunes, or check out the gimlet media website: GimletMedia.com. You can follow us on twitter @podcaststartup. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.

 

 

 

We do our best to make sure these transcripts are accurate. If you would like to quote from an episode of StartUp, please check the transcript with the corresponding audio.

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StartUp producer @bwallace in his legendary boots. Loved by pigs all over Guatemala.