Being an ambitious trout has one main advantage: random opportunities.
You may have heard the word serendipity before, but probably think of a yoga studio. It’s much more than just hippie commerce.
I define serendipity as: “finding something wonderful while looking for something else”.
Enter something wonderful…while looking for something else.
In 2007, I co-founded a company importing industrial LED lighting. I was the sales/sourcing guy. We were bringing in some crazy stuff. Things you’ll see in 20 years, never realizing the billions of dollars of savings and environmental impact they had. You know about Zeppelins, we had Boeing 777s.
It failed, but I made millions in experience.
Let’s learn how this fits into serendipity…
This story begins at Messe in Frankfurt, Germany for a week-long trade show. I was 5 days into a 3-week round-the-world jaunt. Iceland (seriously), China, Taiwan, and Japan were all waiting.
Then I got hit by a train.
A train-shaped stomach flu, as it were.
Puking in my hotel room eight stories over Frankfurt, I had to call an audible. No amount of drive could salvage this trip. I was toast. $6,000 of round-the-world airfare was toast. It was time to go home.
From my hotel room, I booked a return flight. Frankfurt to Heathrow to Minneapolis. One-way: $834. Round-trip: $812. (or something like that)
“Round trip it is!”, I said to myself. I booked the return leg for the following September, 8 months away. WTF, I’ll never use it. (or so I thought…)
I tried not to puke in the cab. Cabbies aren’t janitors. Mission accomplished. A quick skip from Frankfurt to London, then over the Atlantic.
I was wearing a suit jacket and jeans as I shuffled through Heathrow airport in London. I looked like a cross between Alf and Joel Goodson in “Risky Business”. Risky business, indeed.
Maybe it was my green complexion, the suit jacket, or the wink to the boarding attendant. “Excuse me, sir. You’ve been upgraded to First-Class.” A quick swap of boarding passes and the roll through the gate now stopped in seat 4A. My new neighbors were wealthy Saudis. I slept flat across the Atlantic.
Serendipity at work.
Maybe it was the wink, perhaps the suit jacket; but try both when you fly. I have since, and results trend toward favorable. Suit coats and smiles. Always.
I returned home, slept for four days, and made it into the office the next Monday, to a few surprises.
Sales are easy. Profits come when you actually deliver product. Sales, Product, Paid. That’s the typical sequence. All or nothing.
Our orders weren’t getting fulfilled. Problem.
My first day back, one of my co-founders (the financier) broke the news that he was getting a divorce and that our cash and credit were effectively frozen.
No way to get product to fulfill orders. The delays made sense now. Facts weren’t being shared.
Don’t cheat on your wife. Duh.
In the mad dash to line up new financing, our customers were wondering where in the hell their product was. The import-export game is not a simple process when you’re transporting millions of dollars of physical goods halfway around the world
The writing was on the wall.
I probably first saw the writing when I borrowed my co-founders car three months earlier. A love note tumbled down from the sun visor. Not from his wife. I wanted to get some burritos, not un-earth secrets.
He didn’t know I knew. I knew. “None of my business”, I told myself.
Your co-founder may as well be your spouse. Remember that.
It all came full-circle.
Great outcomes in business only occur when you’re 100% infatuated with what you’re doing. Whenever serious doubt creeps into your mind, a psychological seed of dissent has been planted. When that seed grows to a sapling, you need to cut it the fuck down or move on to another forest.
I had checked-out mentally. We all agreed to pull the plug.
I slept for another week. It was March.
Summer came round, and one of my college roommates called. We swapped stories about life, women, and business. Jay was a veterinarian now, living in Wisconsin making sure its cheese-producers stayed happy. Happy cows may be in California, but they’re also wherever Jay is.
Jay mentioned a break-up. I mentioned similar. We needed to go do some stagging. As European mutts, we knew what we had to do.
Oktoberfest in Munich. The real one.
I ended up using that ticket to Frankfurt after all. Serendipity at work.
After 27 hours in München focusing on Bavarian dirndls and drinking, we jumped a train to Austria.
Winding through the Alps in southern Bavaria, a little mountain town appeared ahead. An inner voice spoke, “Stop here. You have something to see”.
“Let’s jump off for a bit”, I suggested.
“OK”, Jay replied.
The train station was deserted, and we wandered into town. It was a Saturday. The locals were walking towards a gondola base station at the edge of town.
“What’s the big deal at the top of a ski hill in October?”, I thought aloud.
“I dunno, let’s go”, Jay felt it too.
At the summit, this is what we saw. Press the play button.
Serendipity at work. It was all worth it.