How “80 people to change the world” got started…

the magical framework your dream deserves.

Fourteen years ago, my friend Sylvain and I were starting a project of a “round the world” trip that we had dreamt about all our teenage years. We had met a year and a half before at a restaurant of São Paulo — where we lived at the time — thanks to a common friend. Destiny had it that our first subject of conversation was about this common boy dream of taking a year off to travel.

In spite of becoming close friends, we almost never touched the subject during the following year up until our respective contracts for French companies were about to end. Then this conversation happened:

Sylvain:”What are you going to do next year, go back to France and send resume to work at La Defense?”

Me:”No f***ing way”

Sylvain:”And what about your dream of travelling the world?”

Me:”Yeah, still have it… but having lived in Brazil we’ve had our share of beaches and exotism, right. I need to find a purpose to it, what do we want to travel for?”

Sylvain:”The thing I like most in travelling is meeting people”

Me:”Me too… What if we could find a way to meet our heroes? Like Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the microcredit movement ?”

Sylvain: “And why would he want to meet us…”

Me:”You’re right, we need to be creative on this one…”

And there it was. We had designed a sketch of a project. The name came almost right after : “Le tour du monde en 80 hommes” A Jules Verne inspired trip to gather life stories worth following. We would interview them and tell their tales to whomever find an interest in our prose.

And then you think, that was it. The plan was set.

You would be wrong.

First we had to define what kind of heroes we had in mind, “The Muhammad Yunus of the world?”, pretty vague… Second we needed a good excuse to have them meet us. tricky… How could two 20-something non medic, non engineer, non famous be of any help?

With those doubts in mind we met with a fantastic lady called Edwige Blanc and had THE epiphanic discussion. Edwige helped us structure our dream / energy / desires into something that we could work on. And she gave us the magical formula which I’m about to reveal (watch out, it’s got unicorn and rainbows jumping out of it…).

She told us to answer three simple questions : what was our vision, our mission and our ambition. VMA, if you’re into acronyms. That’s it.

Easy ? No. It took us a week off to properly answer them, but then… Well magical it was. To the point that I consider the rest was just a fun execution of what Sylvain and I had defined during this very week.

For “80hommes”, our vision would be that Sustainable Development was an important subject that got everybody depressed because 95% of the attention was focused on the issues. (And only 5% on solutions, mostly poetic non significant ones…). We also had the vision that “Setting up an example is not one way to convince, it is the only one” (but never found who said it). So no boring business model canvas and solar panel blueprint, but the compelling personal stories of the people behind the idea.

Then our mission got easier since we would be giving well deserved media attention to those forgotten modern heroes {that was bluff, our site had 30 visits a day, half from my mom}. We would talk about the men and women behind the innovative solution and discover how they overcame the status quo and came up with their new idea.

Lastly, our ambition would be to be recognized for the quality of our selection and writing hoping to reach the maximum audience with the whole thing.

Those three fundamental questions stood with me ever since. I became addicted to it and cannot think otherwise whenever I start a project. That is why I’m officially transmitting this magical recipe to you now. I hope it helps as much as it did for us.

For the record. The website 80hommes.com went from 30 visits a day to 100 at the end of our trips (youhou ! I hear you sing sarcastically… ). But then something magical (again) happened. Laurent Laffont, the French editor who had convinced Muhammad Yunus to publish his first book in the 90’s heard about us thanks to an article by Patrick Fauconnier in the Nouvel Obs. And he decided to publish us! (less sarcasm now, I bet…). He then said he would print 2000 copies to put in bookstores all over France (our respective families and friends would sum up to 300 top, we were very worried about that number…). But the book became a huge success.

It sold more than 80 000 copies (80, symbolic right ?) and got translated into 9 languages (no english though, but who reads English anyway?…) and got us to to talk about it in hundreds of different conferences…

All of this thanks to the magical VMA framework. I’m telling you.

Use it wisely.

Dream often, dream big, but dream structured.

www.80hommes.com if you’re into antique (it uses a Flash carousel !!!).

www.lewagon.com/sp if you wanna know what I do now.

xoxo (is xoxo still a thing ?)

Mathieu

PS: To this day the thing we’re most proud of is the initiatives born in the mind of early readers like www.makesense.org ou www.ticketforchange.org

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