Meeting my cofounder in Antarctica

As a result of this story, I’ve come to be a big believer in the notion that doing interesting things that I like generally end well, even if they at first glance appear to have nothing to do with the rest of my life.

This particular story begins when a mentor of mine from the Thiel network that I had just met mentioned offhand that he was putting a trip together to go to Antarctica, ostensibly because it was Antarctica and why the hell not. Unfortunately, the trip was full, he lamented; otherwise, it would have been cool if I came along. I thought much the same thing and thought nothing more of it.

A couple days later and I met him again for whatever reason. This time, he told me that someone had just canceled the trip last minute and he’d be able to give me their spot, but I’d have to decide right then and there to go. Made a split-second call, thought about it - when would I ever have a chance to go to Antarctica again?, and decided I’d sign on board. A sizable check later and I was on my way.

At the time, I justified it because he mentioned that one of the people on the trip was a VC and had been an earlier employee at Nextag, and as I was at the time involved in building an ecommerce startup in the same space, it seemed like a great connection to make. At least, that’s what I told everyone who asked was the reason why I was going. But I think it was pretty obvious that the real reason I was going was because it was, fuck it, Antarctica.

In any case, my buddy organizing the trip was nice enough to room Deven (VC/Nextag guy) and me together. I think we talked about ecommerce exactly once on the trip, and that was only by way of introduction. Pretty much after that, we started to realize that we were exactly the same person in every way possible - we read the same books, thought the same things, wanted to climb the same 7 summits, decided to be antisocial at the same times, and even had the same camera and floss (Panasonic Lumix GF1 and Reach Total Care).

At some point I’m pretty sure talking became relatively pointless because we knew exactly what we would say. By the time the trip was over, we’d already decided we wanted to climb the 7 summits together. Since we were both tragically skinny fat, we concluded the best way to go about the 7 summits would be to start at the very bottom with Mount Kosciuszko in Australia, which is more like a cute gently rollicking hill than a mountain.

So we both flew to Australia in February (that’s another story in itself) after knowing each other for about ten days in Antarctica and climb this mountain (aka take a ski lift up and down after convincing a taxi to drive us ~200km there, wait for us while we climb for ~4 hours, before driving us ~200km back).

During this process, I inadvertently managed to play a small part in inspiring Deven to quit being a managing partner at his VC fund and become an entrepreneur. This thus began the remarkable process spanning over a year that ultimately culminated in us eventually coming together to work full speed on Sprayable Energy, from completely and utterly unrelated beginnings.

Thinking back about it all, I’m actually completely mystified how this all worked out the way it did. None of it makes any sense - and yet at the same time, it seems intuitively to make perfect sense. I think it’s because we didn’t really do any of this for ‘logical’ reasons - each individual step may have been somewhat logical, but the whole of it was simply because we connected on some deeper level than just the present pursuit at hand.

Anyway, this strange and entirely remarkably seemingly serendipitous turn of events really got me thinking. I had just gotten out of a cofounder relationship that totally did not work and was pretty much the worst thing ever, and that had come about as a result of actively pursuing that relationship for the direct purpose of having a cofounder. And here, I somehow managed to stumble into another partnership that worked incredibly well without any of the artificially imposed structure I had previously thought was necessary in a cofounding team - which was absolutely not my intention at all. So what happened here?

My conclusion is that it wasn’t as serendipitous as it first seemed. Put in the right context, it actually made a lot of sense. Of course a dozen startup meetups probably wouldn’t be as beneficial as one trip to Antarctica for me. Because what kind of person would also go to Antarctica on a whim just for the hell of it? Probably someone pretty similar to myself. And I’d probably get a lot more out of the close connection with the very similar people on this Antarctica trip than a hundred dissimilar people at a random meetup.

So potential moral of the story to be taken with a grain of salt (hard to extrapolate from just one data point): do what interests us, even if no direct value seems apparent. This generally tends to end well.


Now read this

Connections Don’t Build Things

This is a rebuttal to the oft-repeated notion that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. I’m going to make the somewhat scandalous point that no, it is in fact what you know. Connections are great. But they’re worthless without... Continue →