Potential – Realize your full potential & never accept failure

Francis Pedraza – Potential – How to realize your full potential and never accept failure. 

So my story is intertwined with the stories of others. My parents and my upbringing really shaped who I am. And I’ve only begun to understand how fully that’s true. As a child, you go through experiences that you don’t really have the vocabulary or language or experience to unpack. And when you’re older, you look back and you’re like, wow. That helped make me who I am.

So my mother’s family came from Iran after the revolution. My mother was already here. She met my father at the University of Chicago. She had to drop out of school because all of a sudden she lost her financial support. And she started a company. So she was an entrepreneur. She was like, how am I going to make rent next month? And she goes to this trade show in Chicago and meets these Japanese household goods retailers that were making homemade ice cream makers and stuff like that. They didn’t have distribution in the U.S. So she helped them get into Sears and Crate n Barrel.

And then she became entrepreneur of the year in the state of Illinois and spoke at Harvard business school. She came to this country without even speaking English, and she made it. 7 years after getting married, she had me. Unexpectedly. It wasn’t really planned. She decided to sell her life around. She sold her company to a supplier and they moved to southern California so I could grow up around—she was the eldest of five brothers and sisters. So, you know, I have all these aunts and uncles, and I was the oldest cousin. So I’ve got like, 10, 11 cousins? And they all lived within an hour’s drive.

Several of them were entrepreneurs, actually almost all of them are. And they all have this very similar story, and it’s the American dream story. We came to this country, we lost everything where we were. We had everything in Iran, we lost everything. We came here with nothing. We worked really hard. We taught ourselves. We either went to school or self educated to learn what we needed to learn. We were curious. And this is a country that like welcomes and accepts people. And rewards are work.

And so, my uncle for example, is a hero for me. He was sixteen when the revolution happened. When he realized his parents couldn’t pay for school anymore, he decided to go to North Dakota, and he worked in the oil fields for two years. In order to save money, he only had one meal a day at a buffet. Which he thought was the greatest American invention—you can eat as much as you want. It’s probably not good for him, but he would send home whatever he would save back to his mom and dad back in southern California. And then two years later, came back, and he got an ice cream truck. And now he runs the largest ice cream distribution on the west coast and one of the largest in the U.S. he’s got like, over a hundred people working for him.

So I think—without being told this, the implicit message to young Francis was: this is a land of freedom and opportunity, where anything is possible. And you have so much potential as a human being, and life is full of both sorrow and joy, but the question is, what are you going to do with your life? What is your story going to be, and that’s up to you.

It’s funny because I realized about—it was only six months ago, or a year ago, when I realized, oh my gosh! That’s what my product is all about. Everest is all about what are you going to do with your life. It’s almost like a mirror that shows you not who you are, but what you could be. And saying, okay, how do you go do that. You have so much potential, this is a place where things are possible, you know, what do you need to do? What are the steps you need to take, who are the people you need in your life, blah, blah, blah.

So that’s sort of my upbringing. I also had a really informative experience throughout my education. I studied history primarily in college. And I think one of the that I think history teaches you is to look for trends and understand how individuals can shape them. If you think about, as one person, you are totally powerless. There are six billion people on the planet. You’re like a speck. So how is it that anyone ever changes history or makes a difference or does anything that is significant?

There’s sort of two schools of thought in history. The one school thinks that basically history should be written as a story of impersonal forces. Like, class structures and money flows and power structures and things like that. Things that really matter. And basically the individuals are someone insignificant. Could’ve been somebody else, it would’ve happened the same way. Roughly the same way. The other way of telling stories in history is there are actually these individuals who are great men. Like, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, napoleon, Steve Jobs, right? Who somehow managed to impose their will on the universe and made something happen. And so which of these two ways of thinking about the world is correct? And I think that it’s probably a paradox. Both are true.

The way to resolve the paradox is understanding that an individual, like Steve Jobs for example, in the 1970s is able to walk into a lab in Xerox Park, and see these huge computers that are taking up whole rooms and see some prototype stuff of visual interfaces and just, light bulb! These huge things that basically can barely do math, and are so expensive, are going to become smaller, more capable, more personalized, and are going to gobble up all these analog devices, like that clock over there. And they’re going to have different form factors, and they’re going to change everything.

This is a mega trend. It’s not just a trend. It’s a mega trend. And in the world today, there’s a very large number of trends. Some of them are more important, some of them are less important. There are usually one or two mega trends, they’re like tsunamis. And they’re not going to last for year or two, they’re going to last for a decade, they’re going to like for multiple decades.

And if are a surfer, you know a surfer can’t control the waves, can’t control the ocean. But if you can learn how to ride the wave and sculpt it, you end up becoming an agent of that mega trend. You end up putting the stand on what it looks like. And I think, would I have this today, would I have a Smartphone or a laptop or a tablet without Steve Jobs? Absolutely, yeah. So to an extent, he didn’t really matter in that way. But what he did do is he gave us Apple. And with its particular artistic aesthetic take on what technology should look and feel like. That’s a little twist, a little mutation that propagates over time.

I think the question for us today is one eye on the past, one eye on the future. As a student of history, I was thinking, golly! I’m reading one story after another about how these people made a difference and decided what they should do in their time, in their generation with what they saw. And they sort of inserted themselves at their point of maximum leverage and put their stamp on events. What is the most important trend today? How do I understand today’s world?

So there was a bit of an intellectual journey that led to starting a company, and I think that’s important. I’m talking in the abstract now, but I think that as an entrepreneur, there’s the biographical story, there’s the story of my parents and my upbringing. There’s the story of what I value. There’s the story of how I ended up Silicon Valley, but there’s also this story of in a world with infinite opportunity costs, where I could be doing anything. I could be working in any company or starting a business that’s doing any number of things, why am I doing this thing? Why is this the answer to the options?

And I think that, for me, this is what I thought. This is what I realized. I guess I realized that… let’s say business is about creating value and capturing some percentage of the value you create. That’s how Peter Gill defined it, and I think that’s a good definition. Then what is the greatest business? The greatest business is the business that helps each individual create as much value as that individual is capable of creating. And then find some way to capture some of that value.

I think that one lens to look at the economy through is through untapped resources, right? Airbnb is all about the untapped resource, the wasted resource of your spare bedroom. Or of your couch. Or of your place when you’re gone during vacation. So that’s a great business, because it’s creating efficiency around this untapped resource around spare rooms.

Another untapped resource is the oceans. You have this planet that’s covered with water, and yet, we have limited drinking water. The Sahara desert could be this agricultural farmland if we came up with energy efficient desalinization. That would be a revolutionary technology. You could think, yeah I should start a business that should tap that untapped resource.

Or solar energy. There’s a business called Planetary Resources which is building spaceships to go mine asteroids to bring platinum back to the earth. Untapped resources, right? There’s lots of untapped resources.

I think the biggest untapped resources by far is what human beings are capable of. I look at Leonardo Da Vinci and what he was able to accomplish in 60 years. And I think it forces the realization that if this person is a human being, I’m a human being. You’re a human being. He’s not an alien. But he was a consultant to kings, he was an inventor of military technologies, he was a painter. He was actually a chef. He was a cartographer, he was a botanist, he was an animist. So if he was capable of that, maybe not everyone is capable of the same level of genius, but everyone has a genius. And I think on the nature vs. nurture debate, I am so strong on the nurture side.

I think that in the 21st century with all of our resources and opportunities, every single individual on the planet is capable of living this magnificent life. And so the question is like, why aren’t there more Da Vincis around? I think the answer to that is there are two underlying reasons.

People don’t achieve all the things they want. I guess the question, before I get to these two reasons is, are people achieving what they want? Do people even want to realize their potential? I think the answer is yes. If you talk to any of your friends and ask, what are all the things you want to do in life, and you have a dinner table conversation with this, they are going to blow your mind. They have so many places they want to visit and skills they want to master and adventures they want to have and impacts they want to make and things they want to create. So people have things they want to do in life. They just don’t do it.

The reason why is theres a lack of organization and a lack of support. So if you ask that friend after you get them to tell you all these things they want to do. Have you written these things down? Do you know what steps to take? Are you planning or tracking your steps? Do you have a way to fit these steps in your busy lifestyle? No, no, no. Are you sharing your progress? Are you sharing the things you want to do with other people? Are you sharing your stories when you succeed so you can inspire other people, so you can learn from other people who have done similar things, so you can get encouragement, so you can get a nudge when you need some accountability? So that you can do things together with people? No, no, no, no, no.

People are just not doing any of these things. They don’t have a tool and they don’t have a community. And those are the two design parameters for Everest. It’s like, can we unlock the value in people? The potential in people? By helping them, by helping me, with two things I’m really bad at. Organization and support around achieving my goals and the things I want to do in my life. So those are the two design parameters for Everest.

How that thought process took a long time. It took a long time for me to like, understand what the product basically needed to look like. What the iPhone app needed to look like, what the web site needed to look like. And just on the basic feature level. And we’re still iterating on this. And my cofounder Victor, and the whole team has actually been—I am definitely never going to say Everest is my idea, at all. This is the sort of idea that is—its like Sir Francis Crick discovering DNA. He didn’t invent DNA. He just like… there’s this thing here and I’m trying to figure out what is it. And sort of, you eventually get there. And we’re still getting there. We discovered it, but do we understand DNA fully? No.

I think this is sort of like… if we can figure out how to split the atom on this, like that’ll be really exciting. It’s a problem worth working on. It may be such a big problem that we don’t—it’s a hard problem. This is the sort of thing I’m ready to spend the rest of my life on. I’m ready to run out of money and keep going. I just basically won’t accept failure. As long as there’s breath in my lung, they’re going to work on this, because it’s just that important to me.

And so that’s one narrative I can give you. The actual biographical life story is I went to college, I tried to do so many different things. I was on the crew team, I was in ROTC, I was writing for the student newspaper. I joined a business fraternity and was thinking about going into investment banking and hedge funds. I ended up basically starting a business with my best friend in high school, which was a design firm. And that sort of is what lured me into entrepreneurship and technology. I was motivated to make money so I could travel and live the life of my dreams. And this is way before I had ever thought about Everest.

I just wanted to—I was so excited about life. Life is an intoxicating thing. It’s so exciting and beautiful and amazing. And I also wanted to realize my full potential. So it started with me having this desire, and then realizing there wasn’t any product to help me do this. But this was still years before Everest. I ended up consulting for this Swedish technology guy and entering a Google. I’ve been doing a project, my last year in school, that sort of… I won’t go ahead and describe it, but this project sort of started me on this path of deciding not to go back to Google and come to Silicon Valley.

And then I came here right after graduating in June 2011. And for six months, I was meeting people and trying to find cofounders and investors and advisors. And then, through some guy on an airport. I ended up meeting my first investor. It was January 2012. And New Years day. This investor was like, all right. I’m in. go get the rest. And we ended up breaking up a small angel round. Which allowed me to move to the city and sort of get an office and hire a first couple of engineers and build relationships with various brands. And then we raised like 1.2 million on top of that to go build a full team. Five engineers, a second designer, and a project manager. And we launched this New Years, January 2013. For six months, we’ve been in the U.S  pretty much, and we’ve sort of have, without any PR, any marketing, anything, have just grown to this very large community of users. And have, like, so much that we’re about to launch and release that’s new and exciting.

And I’ve never been more excited about the road map on a vision. And you know, the amazing thing about the journey is that we have an incredible… I am honored… and humbled, to work with the people I work with. To find people who—so cute. To find people who care about this enough to quit their jobs and work late into the night and to fight for it is so rewarding. And then to see the stories of—like, we had an intern over the last 3 months who did nothing all day long other than look for stories. Just write down the stories of the things people were doing on the platform, because there’s so many things people are using Everest to accomplish, and like, there’s gems in there that were just not surfacing. And it’s amazing to think that this thing we pushed out of the world is sort of touching people’s lives. It’s sort of helping to remind them of this sort of thing.