Little did Jessica Marking know that a birthday gift she created for her dad a few years ago would one day turn into an idea that would go viral on social media. It began four years ago when Marking and her sister, Angie, made a travel map of the United States for their father out of foam core using an X-Acto knife. He could then affix vacation pictures onto the states to which he had traveled.
But cutting the individual states out of foam core proved to be extremely time-consuming. So Marking thought it made sense to have the individual states cut out of wood for people to easily fit together like a puzzle and use it to create various do-it-yourself (DIY) designs. She contacted Routed 4 U in Sun Prairie to laser cut the wood for her.
In the first few years, she sold just 15 sets, but that changed this past May when one of her earlier customers had designed a creative display of the travel map and shared it on Facebook. The woman lived in Texas but the post appeared in Marking’s sister’s Facebook newsfeed. By that time, it had been shared over 50,000 times and had over 30,000 comments, Marking said.
Marking reached out to this person to ask if she could use her travel map design to promote the map on Etsy. Not only did she comply, but she also offered to share Marking’s Etsy link on her Facebook page. By the time Marking went to bed, 10 orders had been placed, and in the morning, a dozen more.
“What I had done in three years I had done overnight,” Marking said.
By the end of the week, 600 orders had been placed and by the end of two weeks, 1,600. To date, approximately 1,900 maps have been sold. Packaging all the orders was a family affair, with her parents, Conrad and Susan, amongst others, helping her every night. The travel maps have been shipped all over the country, including to Alaska.
“I’ve become best friends with the Waunakee Post Office,” she said with a smile. In addition, Marking has also launched a map of Europe and is working on one of both Canada and the Caribbean.
Marking grew up in Waunakee and graduated from high school in 2003. While there, she was the student council president and part of the One Act theater group. She went to UW-Milwaukee, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Acting and then moved to Chicago. She considered acting, but instead worked for a few breweries, including Revolution Brewing, for several years as an event planner, as this allowed her the flexibility to work on other projects that interested her.
She moved back to Waunakee in 2014 to be closer to family and now works for WPS Health Solutions as an events planner. She continues to enjoy side projects, especially those that allow her to advocate for women and girls. While in Chicago, she was a director with Mary Kay, Inc., and here she leads a Girl Scouts troop, a girls’ youth group at her church, and is involved with Project Girl in Baraboo, which focuses on media messaging and girls. Additionally, she is working on a project to bring English-style pantomime acting (slapstick comedies played during the Christmas season) to after-school programs for students to learn this type of theater.
She loves thinking of new ideas and does her best thinking while driving. If her boss asks her to come up with an idea, she will say, “Let me drive home and I bet I will have it by the time I get home, and then I do,” she said.
Outside her work and side projects, she enjoys tap dancing, playing the piano, writing business plans, and spending time with her friends and family, including her niece and nephew.
Although she has found much success with the travel maps, she acknowledged that she has worked on other projects over the years that haven’t panned out. But being persistent has paid off.
“I think I’m a bit of a serial entrepreneur,” she said. For more information about the travel maps, you can visit: https://www.etsy.com/listing/239724323/marking-maps-usa