By: Michael Youngblood, Co-Founder, Unsettled
This past week, I was invited to give a talk in Vail, Colorado about my personal entrepreneurial journey and what I’ve learned from it. There is an endless amount of practical advice that I could give to an aspiring entrepreneur, and while I find this kind of tangible advice valuable, I took the opportunity to weave together a narrative that’s part my journey and part something I hold very closely: anything in life, even something as complex as founding a breakthrough idea such as Unsettled, is at its best when it’s understood as a process. Thus, I presented my entrepreneurial journey as a process. One that can be studied, understood and applied by just about anyone on earth.
Follow along my slides below to see what I mean.
First, though, let’s start by watching how Unsettled rose to the moment in a short video, and then I’ll share my personal background that has led up to this:
Slide 1: As you saw in the video, we founded Unsettled based on asking questions (more on that below). So think about this question for 30 seconds. What comes to mind? Write it down or hold onto it. We’ll come back to it.
Slide 2: In October of last year, we got a phone call from the United Nations and they told us we were in the final round of the largest competition ever held in the travel and tourism sector.
We did not even know that we had entered that competition! My co-founder Jon and I asked each other, “did you enter it?” “No.” “Did you enter it?” “No.” So let’s just say it remains a mystery. Nonetheless, to both of our surprises, they invited us to present at the final round and we ended up winning first place in a competition we never knew we were in.
Slide 3: As an entrepreneur, you learn to celebrate the “highs” like when you win an award from the United Nations. You celebrate them because there are far more moments when you’re struggling, not knowing what to do next, trying to fix a self-inflicted problem, and trying to lead your team into the unknown. This is what the 24 hours looked like behind the scenes leading up to us winning this competition. This…this is the rollercoaster ride of entrepreneurship.
Slide 4: So what is the idea that’s had the biggest, positive impact on humanity in the last 1,000 years?
In my opinion, the biggest breakthrough idea of the last 1,000 years of humanity is the scientific method. It’s probably what lead to your answer on slide 1. The internet, check. Modern medicine? Yep. The moon race? Definitely…
When you breakdown the scientific method, it is nothing if not a process. It is a process that nearly any adult with a high school education, anywhere in the world, can learn, understand, and apply. That is the beauty of a methodology that can be universally understood, applied, and shared.
I believe that entrepreneurship is also a process. One that can be understood, learned and applied as universally as any process can be.
Here are my 6 steps for my own entrepreneurial process…
Step 1: When I was 10, my parents took us to Colorado on summer vacation. I fell in love with the mountains and travel. I began to expand my horizons and started to think about spending a lot of my future time traveling. If you asked 10-year-old Michael what he would be doing 25 years later in 2019, he would have told you, running a travel company and probably living in Colorado. So step 1 in my entrepreneurial process is to develop and hold onto your visions.
Step 2: Entrepreneurs are a little crazy by definition. Think about it. They believe that their ideas are better than an entire market of ideas that are already operating efficiently and at scale. It’s pretty crazy to think that your idea and your ability to make it a reality, is better than what’s already out there.
When I was in my senior year of high school, most of my peers thought I was crazy because they went off to college and I took a gap year. I grew my hair out and flew to Europe with my bicycle and rode and rode. That trip cemented the idea in me about how travel is a transformative experience.
Step 3: I got lost. Well not only on that bike trip in Europe but also in my career. Like many of my peers, after I had been working for about a decade, I lost sight of where I was headed and why. Jon and I started Unsettled when we locked ourselves into my apartment in Colombia for a week. For 5 days, we asked:
What values and principles ground us?
How will they guide us through life?
And where do we want them to take us in the next 5-10 years?
These are the questions that Jon and I asked ourselves when we started Unsettled. Unsettled started in the British Virgin Islands as a question and these were the questions that created it.
Step 3 is: discover and follow your true north.
Step 4: As I showed earlier, failures are a daily practice as an entrepreneur. Yet, they are also some of the greatest lessons in life. When you study how you react to them emotionally and rationally, how you work through them, and what led to them, you can uncover some of life’s greatest lessons.
So as an entrepreneur, I don’t care if you fail fast, fail often, or fail at all (or whatever lame advice you get from a VC on stage). All I care about is recognizing failures as the greatest opportunities to learn about you.
Step 5: In the first two years of Unsettled, this is what our business looked like:
- Our location in Mexico City was hit by the largest earthquake they’ve had in at least 30 years.
- Our location in the British Virgin Islands was destroyed by the largest hurricane they’ve experienced.
- Cape Town was approaching what was known as day 0. The city was experiencing the worst drought of maybe any modern city and was on the verge of running out of water.
- Barcelona was experiencing a political crisis.
- Nicaragua was at the brink of civil war.
- A Volcano was erupting in Bali.
Do you get the idea?
This is the uncertainty that we face as a business, but it’s not unique to our business or to entrepreneurship. As social, cultural, and technological change increases exponentially around the world, I truly believe that the ability to navigate uncertainty and change is the most important skill set in the 21st century.
Step 6: The difference between the scientific method and the process that I proposed today is that the scientific method is empirical, observes the physical world, and remains the same across time and space. Whereas entrepreneurship is a process of radical self-discovery.
That is to say, the process that drives entrepreneurship is different for every person who applies it. It is built on you, the founder, and your ability to navigate uncertainty and build your idea into a business. The important part here is to understand entrepreneurship, your work, or life in general as a process that can be understood, studied, written down, and improved upon.
If you do that, I believe you will experience your own revolution as the world continues to experience the scientific one nearly 1,000 years after that process was discovered.