On adventure and reaching out
I’m currently sitting in my new apartment, watching the sun rise over the monstrous Andes, warming up with a fresh cup of coffee, and wondering how the hell I ended up over 8500 kilometers away from home with a $40,000 grant from the Chilean government. Prior to this adventure I had never been to South America, my Spanish was mediocre at best, and the closest thing I knew to Latin culture was grabbing a breakfast burrito from the local taco stand in my small hometown in Southern California. I would like to believe that I ended up here by my own doing, like some sort of fearless pirate whose crew had abandoned him. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The reason I’m here has little to do with my own intelligence, grades, or luck. I wouldn’t consider myself a smart person. My grades are pretty average, and the best luck I’ve recently had was finding 100 pesos on the ground, which at today’s exchange rate could buy me a lollipop. The real reason why I’m here is because of the wisdom, encouragement, and patience of those that I have luckily found myself surrounded by. Steve Jobs put it best when he said “You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards.” So, that is exactly what this post aims to do - connect the dots and make sense of how I ended up here, and hopefully encourage a few others to expand their horizons because it has never been easier.
“Where our potential network of friends was once dictated by the number of people that lived in our home town, it is now relative to the number of people on the internet.”
We happen to be living in very exciting times. The public World Wide Web recently turned 20 years old, we found out the United States has been spying on us for years (read: Edward Snowden), but even more exciting, we know that there are more than 2.7 billion internet users worldwide. It has never been easier to connect with anyone in the entire world. Where our potential network of friends was once dictated by the number of people that lived in our home town, it is now relative to the number of people using the internet. Where we once had to send a letter, or make a phone call to connect with those outside of our friend circle, we can now send an email, post a tweet, write a Facebook message, comment on tumblr…and the list goes on. The point is that in today’s connected world there is no reason you shouldn’t be talking to the people that inspire you the most. Over the course of the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking hard about the decisions that have had a large, positive impact on my life. I never thought a bunch of extremely talented developers writing code far superior to mine would be more than willing to take time out of their day to share a beer in their office and discuss how I could improve my programming techniques. I never knew that the answer to a difficult problem, no matter how simple the solution, was just a tweet away. But most of all I never understood what the word networking meant. The word still brings to mind images of young adults in suits flaunting leather resume holders, grinning and agreeing with everything the speaker at the job fair happens to be talking about. Call it networking, making friends, or just a step closer to another reason to have a beer with someone, but reaching out to others is one of the most powerful actions you can take to get to where you want to be.
“Armed with an internet connection and a little curiosity it is possible to reach just about anyone in the world”
Andy happened to be publishing some pretty interesting posts on his personal blog. These posts covered anything from a quest to find his new favorite beer to how bodysurfing and success follow a similar pattern. After following his blog for some time I decided I needed to get a hold of him if even to just see if he would respond to a 19-year-old beach bum from Southern California. So, about a year ago I sent Andy a simple email asking for some book recommendations. To my amazement I opened my inbox a few days later to see a new message with a complete list of books to read and some words of encouragement. Why would such a busy guy go out of his way to respond to an email from me? I’ve never had a Forbes column and I have never been a part of an acquisition, let alone two. It turns out that most people actually want to see you succeed. They have been in your position and have no problem sharing some lessons learned along the way. This single email opened up an entire new world to me. Armed with an internet connection and a little curiosity it is possible to reach just about anyone in the world.
“Start today because everyone knows the best time to start was yesterday”
Spring semester was quickly winding down and I needed to figure out what I was going to do for the next few months. Once again I turned to those who had been there before and sent Andy another email. While I didn’t get a list of books to read I did get some more words of encouragement and an email introduction to a friend of Andy’s working on a cool project in Chile. A few weeks later I would find out that I needed to hop on a plane to Santiago, Chile. Myself and two co-founders had been accepted into Startup Chile’s 7th generation and granted a $40,000 equity-free grant to relocate to Santiago and work with teams from 28 different countries to work on launching a product, while helping the country achieve its goal of transforming itself into the technology hub of Latin America.
Since then I have made it a routine to reach out to those I find most interesting and encourage you to do the same. If you try a product and like it tweet at the creators and tell them what about it you enjoyed. Likewise, if you try a product and don’t like it let those involved know what you think could be improved. Find yourself checking someone’s blog every day and really relating to the content? Email them. Tweet them. Message them. I guarantee that the majority of the time you will get a thoughtful response. The only way to get better at something is to practice. So start today because everyone knows the best time to start was yesterday.
Feel free to start now @askwheeler