As an entrepreneur, coming across bumps in the road is just part of building a business. When you are sick, managing an overflowing inbox, overwhelmed with more sales calls to make, and have unexpected crises popping up every which way, it’s easy to think you should give up. Sometimes life just throws things at you that you’d never expect. Having the courage to take on big endeavors and push through tough times is critical to building your business. Embracing the bumps in the road and getting up after falling is essential to keeping things on track. Pushing through leads to the most rewarding and satisfying experiences. It’s that light at the end of the tunnel.
“Pushing through leads to the most rewarding and satisfying experiences.”
A few weeks ago, a terrific group of entrepreneurship students from Medgar Evers College in New York City toured Glue Up’s China office in Beijing. We had a great time discussing Chinese business culture, building a business in Asia, as well as what it’s like to be a lifelong entrepreneur. Their visit inspired me to share some of the messages that I gave to them about my entrepreneurial journey and how I move through challenges toward achieving my goals. Especially one experience that I will forever treasure.
Start of Entrepreneur's Journey After the Graduation
Just out of grad school at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY, I moved to Beijing to start my own business at the suggestion of one of my business professors. In 2002, being a foreign entrepreneur in China was not especially common. Once on the ground establishing connections with other like-minded entrepreneurs was essential for getting my first business going.
Founding China Entrepreneurs in 2003 was a real highlight during this time. However, despite my newfound business relationships, my entrepreneurial life wasn’t starting off like the way I always imagined. I had some successes—navigating my business through the 2003 SARS epidemic for one—but I also made a lot of mistakes as any 22 year old without business experience would in a market that has its unique set of challenges. So, I was on the lookout for new opportunities.
As this desire to do something different came to fruition, a friend approached me with an invitation to travel the Silk Road as Marco Polo did. He told me he and a group of people were going to travel from Beijing to Venice by bicycle. I thought, “Whoa! This was travel—no, adventure!” We assembled a team of seven cyclists with a plan to retrace Marco Polo’s journey across Asia. Our team spent 12 to 15 hours a day sketching our route and laying out logistics in the run up to our expedition. After countless efforts procuring sponsorships, and trainings for what would become an adventure of a lifetime, our aspirations became reality on September 7, 2004.
Pushing Through Alone
Once we departed Beijing, during the first part of our trip, my knees ached non-stop, my entire body was sore from this experience that you can’t really train for and pushing through the pain became a mind game. But, the team started to disassemble for various reasons and thirty days in, my last cycling companions and I parted ways. I cycled alone for the next seventy days.
Cycling alone was hard work, but also getting up with the sun became a habit. Telling myself I had to get back on the bike for another grueling day of cycling was tough, but exciting. Each day required riding for eight to nine hours a day, oftentimes through treacherous terrain and even more treacherous weather—windstorms, sandstorms, blizzards, and torrential downpours. But, each new day brought new experiences, whether it was great food, great people, or just some amazing historical sites that I may never see again.
When the First Difficulties Arise
It wasn’t until I was in Central Asia that I faced my first major challenge. After days of dirt roads and potholes, I came to the border between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Upon arrival, I learned the border crossing was closed to international citizens for an undetermined amount of time at the suggestion of our President George W. Bush to prevent terrorists from crossing the main border bridge (so, I was told).
Frustrated, I turned around and started my journey north—100 additional kilometers more to go. After just one kilometer into my detour, a group of military soldiers with AK-47s stopped me and searched everything I had. They made me unpack my belongings, went through all the pictures on my camera, and confiscated my winter pants. Without knowing any Tajik or Russian it was next to impossible to figure out why the border officials took my winter pants. But I could guess someone was cold!
In the Midst of the Disarray
Shortly after I continued on my way, however, it started raining. And within minutes, it was pouring. Torn up roads, potholes, rocks, mud—kilometer after kilometer became draining. Though in the midst of this disarray, I passed by a beautiful, quaint farm on the right-hand side of the road. I began to slow down as I saw a dog running toward me. I soon realized not only was it running toward me, it was barking—running at me full speed. Chasing me as if I was red meat! The rain, the mud, the rocks, the potholes, and now this crazy dog. The next thing I know I’m two feet down in a ditch. My bike toppled over, my gear shifter broken, and now a dispirited owner of a new one-speed bike. Utterly drenched and covered in mud, getting back on the bicycle seat was my only option.
It took some serious time to get back up after that fall. And riding on, it was difficult to stay positive. I knew I had people relying on me to complete my journey. I had sponsors (Nike, Philips, MapInfo, and others), I had a family, and I had friends who all put their confidence in me to achieve what I said I would achieve. I had to get up. I had to keep moving forward.
Good People Along the Way
Later that day, I came to a tiny town and parked myself under a bus stop canopy. A couple people walked by, staring at me, curious what I was doing there. Then ten minutes later, one of them came back, he approached me and put an entire bushel of grapes in my lap. He didn’t know who I was, why I was there, and didn’t speak a word of English. Immediately, my day turned around as a result of this act of kindness.
Within minutes, a crowd had gathered. An English-speaking university student who on break from school was found in town by the others. He began translating my conversation with the crowd and started asking me questions about my journey. After no more than a half an hour, he insisted that I join him and his family for dinner. He hosted me overnight after what had been one of the worst days of my journey.
“I had to keep moving forward.”
I found kindness in the most unexpected of places along this entire journey—kindness that helped me get out of my own thoughts and change the way I think and act on an everyday level. I reflected on my challenges and learned what it meant to power through overwhelming physical and mental fatigue. As a budding entrepreneur, I powered through tough times and had a lot of potential to capitalize on my strengths. I learned I had the stamina to make it no matter what obstacles come my way. I could trust that I would meet all kinds of people who would be there to support me. Even if I wasn’t expecting it.
Continuing the Journey as an Entrepreneur
Seventeen countries and one hundred days later from the start in Beijing, on December 14, 2004, I was met in the morning by members of Pedale Veneziano—the oldest cycling club in Italy for the final ride to Venice. We arrived into San Marco Square like Marco Polo had left, on a boat. The sense of accomplishment after completing my journey was tremendous. I still appreciate everyone that helped me along the way. And knowing I had outwitted myself was beyond gratifying. Given half a chance, I would do my trip all over again. Now, 12 years later this month, I’m proud to be on the journey of building Glue Up. Working with our great team of talented individuals as we move towards our own “Venice”.