Entrepreneurs are a crazy breed. They work hard, have grandiose visions, have amazing tenacity and lots of scar tissue. After they have made it, they want to relax, meet their brethren, but keep pondering what is next, and worry about what their purpose in life is.
The annual TiE Charter Member retreat is a celebratory event for the global congregation to get together once a year at different locations around the world, to meet old friends, make new ones, enjoy beautiful locales, get re-energized, contemplate on what more good to do collectively and philosophize. Croatia, where the event was held this summer, had it all.
The highlight of the trip especially for history buffs like me, would be the Walls of Dubrovnik . In life, every now and then you encounter something truly remarkable – in either a work of nature or a work of man. Entrepreneurship is about building something of substance and sheer enterprise. When you look at these still-standing walls built in the 7th century, you can’t help wonder how they did it! That must have been some entrepreneurship and some enterprise.
The vision, building & engineering expertise, courage, teamwork, leadership and the sheer willpower – sound familiar ? yes, the same traits required to build a lasting business – that would have gone into this wall build is incredible!. And it was 1300 years ago, before the age of cranes, excavators, and other technologies. Truly a result of entrepreneurship and enterprise.
That said, yet another perspective is the inevitable question that comes to mind. They were building walls then, in 7th century to protect the city and keep foreigners out. Centuries later and fast forward to 2019. We are still building walls. One has to wonder – has humankind progressed much ? Will leave that question for your dinner debates.
Talking about dinner, the reception on the evening of the arrival was by the seaside, followed by music by a couple of extraordinarily talented musicians – Talvin Singh and Gurbaksh Singh. The mellifluous, divine and sensitive music had a transformative power (though fleeting) on listeners. Grounded in the rich traditions of Indian classical music, with successful alternative careers, Talvin and Gurbaksh are pursuing their passion for musical adventures. Being able to improvise and cater to different audiences is yet another skill often needed and appreciated in entrepreneurs.
While the leadership discussed the future of TiE the previous night, the sessions the next morning started with an amazing presentation by Massimo Tammaro . A former jet fighter pilot, and a Ferrari car designer in his previous lives, he is now pursuing art, (yes art), restoring ancient artwork in castles he buys!. For the first time someone articulated beautifully the synergies between engineering, business and art – about the detail and techniques that go into creating beautiful art – someone with an engineering background would normally not be aware of. But far more significant than any of the colorful aspects of his life was what he talked about – values – values that has stood him by over the years – honesty, trust, respect and compassion. Probably clichés but it was interesting to hear that these were ultimately more important to him than other aspects of his extraordinary journey.
The picturesque countryside that we took a tour of later that morning, makes one almost forget the travails this part of the world has gone through over the ages with wars dating back to the medieval times, through the two world wars and more recently with the Yugoslav-Serbian conflict of the 90s.
The fact that through all this turmoil, the city has survived and become a tourist mecca now speaks to Dubrovnik’s resilience. Our tourguide for the city tour next day had poignant memories of the troubles she and her family had gone through during the war years of 1990s, when she and her family had to be in a bunker/shelter for 6 months at a time with little money, food and other necessities. Puts our own struggles and challenges we go through every day in our lives – personal and business, into perspective!
The pride with which the staff at the Minnesotans owned Korta Katarina winery we stopped at talked about the art and science of wine making taught some of us less-knowledgeable about this, the time and patience it requires to make good quality wine (with wine just sitting in barrels for months, aging in front of us), in some pretty expensive wooden barrels ($5-6K / barrel). Making good quality anything takes time and patience, and needs good ingredients!
The evening was a celebration of the success of various TiE chapters around the world across various initiatives – the Angel Program, the Young Entrepreneur Program and the Women’s Network.
With Massimo and the legendary Kanwal Rekhi who started it all with TiE in the early 90s and doesn’t miss reminding everyone through words and actions what entrepreneurship is about – wealth creation – but how at the same time, this goal can be pursued with simplicity and selflessness.
Next morning was a treat from yet another entrepreneur Matt Rimac who chased a childhood dream to build race cars to end up building the world’s fastest electric car and how he struggled, survived and now is flourishing. And he did this sitting in Croatia – with barely any ecosystem for entrepreneurship, no VCs, no incubators, no mentoring.
The evening cruise on a galleon ship (a replica of medieval age’s pirate ships) reminded us once again about the power of human ingenuity, creativity, and art.
Finally, coming back full circle – the thing everybody was / is searching for – what is next for each one of us at this stage in our lives. That entrepreneurship has a spiritual side to it, was brought forth eloquently in the presentation by our good friend Saumen Chakraborty who runs Sumeru Venture and who had the courage to connect the two topics. All the great inventors and entrepreneurs – Da Vinci, Jobs are ultimately philosophers seeking enlightenment. Most of us have gone through a life journey of going to school, learn the trades, make a living, love, marry, raise children, build businesses and then the question of – now what – hits us. We all deal with it differently. We continue down our chosen paths, go to retreats like this, come back reenergized, go through our normal lives, until it is time to go to another one!. And so on until it is time to say bye (yes, we do think about our mortality and our legacy). As someone once told me – you came into this world alone and you are going to go alone, irrespective of what you may have achieved, and how many zeros you may have accumulated in your net worth. While that may sound depressing, the gratifyingly important things are still the basics – family, love, duty, values and how much positive impact you had on the people around you – your family, your near and dear, your employees, your customers, your society and the world.