Two hours into the trek, I was covered with sweat and my legs felt like rubber, but I was loving it. My teammate and I had decided to hike the tallest peak on the island and the path led us right through the middle of the jungle.
At one point it hit me; never did I imagine I would be hiking through a jungle in distant southeastern Asia. I mean, this thing looked like I was in the Jungle Dome at Henry Doorly Zoo. It was crazy. I was really in the middle of the jungle. And did I mention this trip was entirely free?
Steve Jobs said in a speech, "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future."
I thought about this quote as I was hiking through the jungle. How did the dots connect for me so that I ended up here? It started with a flier on the wall. I had been working with my teammates for a couple months on a new project called FarmAfield. We thought there was a way to create a new marketplace in agriculture to let people from all over the world invest in farms. While we were working on this, I was on campus, passing through the Gaughan Center when a flier on the wall caught my attention. It was from the Thought for Food Challenge, a startup contest focused on companies that innovate in agriculture or food.
I didn't know anything about the contest, but after digging into their website, I found that the finals of the challenge were held in Switzerland, and I thought that was pretty cool. So I put together an application in two days and sent it in. I had read that over 400 teams apply for the challenge from around the world, so I thought little of ever hearing back from them.
Then I get a very unexpected phone call in my dorm room inviting FarmAfield as a finalist. I'm pretty sure it woke me up from a nap. Our team flew halfway around the world and we met outstanding entrepreneurs from many different countries all working on startup companies; it was crazy (we even went skiing in the Alps afterwards)!
We didn't win the contest, so when we returned home, we all thought we were pretty much done with that adventure. The Thought for Food Organization had some contacts with a few online news sites, and asked if one could do a write up on us. We agreed and a short article was published by the Food Bytes website describing our marketplace. It was very nice for the organization to share the article, but we never thought it would go anywhere.
And then I got a sketchy-looking Facebook message from some guy named Chai from Thailand. He found our article in a Google search, liked what we were doing, and invited FarmAfield to speak at the first annual Smart Startup Thailand conference. I was convinced this was one of those 'Nigerian Princes asking for me to wire him some money' or "join this pyramid scheme"' type of things. My friends told me I would most likely be kidnapped if I went. However, I did some more research and was about 80% sure that it was real.
That being good enough for me, a teammate and I jumped on a plane, flew halfway around the world again, and ended speaking at a startup conference in Thailand. Afterwards, we visited a few beautiful islands and finally went hiking in the jungle.
The path to get to the jungle seems somewhat unreal to me. Just that Chai from Thailand found us in a random Google search is astounding to me. The lesson here? Always be building something.
When I look back at how my dots have connected thus far, I realize that none of these would have happened without first starting FarmAfield. I never expected to be traveling the world when we started building our business, but because we were building something, the opportunities showed up, and I'm confident that as we continue to build, more opportunities will show up.
You have to be building something to start seeing those opportunities. You don’t have to have all the answers, we sure didn’t and still don’t. You don’t have to have the expertise or knowledge. You don't have to have a special connection. You just need to start building.
Then, maybe you'll end up halfway around the world talking about an enterprise you are passionate about. I've got some suggestions if it takes you to Thailand.
Just start building and get ready for the adventure it takes you on.