Johnny Miller, a co-founder of the site Maptia, explains how he and some friends made the leap from dreamers to a working start-up.
After graduating from university in England, corporate grad schemes held no allure and we set out in search of adventure. Our minds were still curious and we were had an itch to explore. Dean and Dorothy went off climbing mountains in South America whilst Jonny picked up a job as a surf instructor in Morocco.
We bonded over our shared obsession with travel and fear of finding ourselves stuck working 9-5 on an uninspiring career path.
Instead, we wanted to pursue our passion for travel and to capitalize on our eagerness for a real challenge, on our own terms. So, together we hit upon the crazy idea for Maptia. It would be the world’s first discovery engine for places. We decided to call it the most inspirational map in the world.
This single decision set in motion what has been the most incredible and intense year of our lives. It began when we were accepted into the Start-Up Chile incubator program (where we had a fantastic experience) to being accepted into TechStars, one of the world’s top start up incubators. This adventure took us from our homes in London, to Santiago for 7 months and then onto Seattle where we are currently preparing for the upcoming TechStars Demo day pitches.
This time last year if someone had told us what to expect in the next 12 months we never would have believed them! We have learnt many important lessons along the way – mostly that you never stop learning important lessons! It is a long process of ‘unstupidification’ and we know that we still have a long way to go!
Here is some advice and curated wisdom that we would like to share with anyone who is uncertain about what to do with their lives beyond graduation…
1. There’s nothing you can’t learn and no new problem you can have.
Our collective start up experience was limited to a small student travel magazine, which Dorothy and I ran whilst at university. But through seeking advice both on and offline we have picked up the necessary design, marketing and coding skills to build the foundations for Maptia. Chances are that you’re only a couple of google searches away from finding an answer to 99% of the hundles in your way!
2. The world is a book and those who don’t travel read only one page
It’s a cheesy cliché but it’s so true. Travel has the potential to change your life in ways that you could not have previously imagined. Travel keeps you young. It does this by simply putting you in situations that make you feel like a child again. It opens your mind to new experiences, different cultures and teaches you things that you never would have learned inside a classroom and it’s almost always possible to travel for less than you imagined.
3. Naivity is a good thing
Author Neil Gaiman said in his inspiring graduation speech:
‘When you start out on a career…you have no idea what you are doing. This is great. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don’t know it’s impossible it’s easier to do. And because nobody’s done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone doing that again, yet.”
This most definitely rings true for us. Looking back we were hopelessly naïve at the time, we barely knew what the term start up meant. But in light of Neil Gaiman’s advice perhaps this was a good thing, if we’d known how tough the journey was going to be we might not have thought ourselves capable in the first place.
4. Set yourself a challenge you are likely to fail.
I borrowed this one from keen micro-adventurer Al Humphreys – who reasoned that he would never know what he was capable of unless he attempted something he was almost certain of failing. He ended up cycling around the world, 60 countries, 46,000 miles over a period of 4 years.
5. Don’t be afraid to relentlessly do what you love
Philosopher Alan Watts famously asked his students ‘what would you do if money was no object?’ In his words: ‘If you say that getting the money is the most important thing you’ll spend your life completely wasting your time, doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing and that is stupid!’.
Dennis Crowley loved snowboarding and was a snowboard instructor for some time before he became the founder of Foursquare. For me being out in the ocean surfing is where I feel most alive. On a side note – I have a pet theory that the principles required for surfing are highly transferrable to startups.
6. Finally…begin it now
‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
– W. H. Murray