High-Hanging Fruit

ZICO Coconut Water Founder on How Great Ideas Are Sometimes Right Overhead [Book Excerpt]

The following excerpt from “High-Hanging Fruit: Build Something Great by Going Where No One Else Will” was selected exclusively for StartupNation readers, and shares Mark Rampolla’s inspiring story to reach higher in order to build a profitable business that benefits the world around you:

“How flexographic printing is changing the world” was the name of the seminar I was sitting in on at a conference on printing and packaging in Miami, Florida, the winter of 2003. I was still a young mid-level executive with International Paper and bored stiff by the presenter, I wondered what I was doing with my life.

That night before I flew back home to El Salvador in the morning, I had dinner in South Beach with David Andrade, who worked for me as Controller for one of the five IP beverage packaging plants I ran at the time. We sat at one of the swanky restaurants on Collins Avenue, enjoying the ocean breeze.

David and I ordered martinis and talked in Spanish about the conference and work in general. On the second round, we talked about our families and friends. On the third, we opened up and began to really talk about life, our hopes and dreams. At the time, I wouldn’t usually have conversations with employees that were so personal and revealing (now I regularly do) but David had become a good friend and would soon move on to a job in the U.S. so I felt more comfortable being honest. No doubt the three martinis helped loosen my tongue as well.

“So Mark, everyone knows you’re not gonna stay in El Salvador forever,” David said to me. “You’ll get promoted or recruited by some other big company but what I want to know is this—have you ever thought about leaving and starting your own business?”

The truth was that I had thought a good deal about joining a startup, probably as the General Manager or CEO who took over from an entrepreneur with a brilliant idea. Over the last ten years I had become confident in my business skills. I was the guy who could build and lead teams, develop strategies, execute plans, reach goals, get things done. I could see myself taking a company from $1million to $10 million, or $10 million to $100 million, or maybe even $100 million to $1 billion. But in those dreams, I never cast myself as the founder, the person who had come up with the new idea.

“I’m not really the idea guy,” I said looking out toward the night sky. “I’ve got friends who are always coming up with new products or services. That’s not me. But I would love to find someone with an idea I can believe in and passionately get behind. Assuming we can find the money we need, I could figure out the strategy and scale it.”

When I looked back at David, he had a funny expressionless face as if I just said something idiotic. “Mark,” he said, gesturing around at the lively South Beach social scene, “the only difference between you and an entrepreneur is an idea and you are as capable as anyone of coming up with an idea.”

Despite the effects of three martinis, David’s simple statement hit me like a lightning bolt. Why had I been telling myself that I wasn’t creative or smart enough to come up with an idea?

And when exactly had I convinced myself that creativity and follow through were mutually exclusive? As a kid and even a teen, I had thought of myself as creative. In fact, one of my declared career goals, when asked, was to be an artist. My family had often referred to me as “project boy” for all the little creative projects I pursued. But somewhere along the way I had persuaded myself that I was a left-brained thinker: a doer, not a dreamer. But was that just a stereotype that I had imposed on myself?

With David’s simple observation, I had been given permission to ignore the story I had been telling myself for decades and began a new one of possibility. A switch flipped in my brain, and I couldn’t turn it off even if I wanted to. I suddenly couldn’t stop thinking of new business ideas.

Excerpted from “High-Hanging Fruit: Build Something Great by Going Where No One Else Will” in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Mark Rampolla, 2016.

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