I remember being a young man, full of excitement when I finished high school. My friends and I had our own ideas about how we were going to make it big in the world. I was a young entrepreneur with big dreams of making millions with technology. Brimming with new ideas, I had an app for whatever problem you could think of. I was enamoured with the idea of creating the next unicorn while saving the world. Moving from one idea to the next, every exit would take me a step closer to billionaire status. It seemed so simple, but as the years went on, I realised that Silicon Valley wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
In 2050, the world is now a vastly different place. We are still trying to undo much of what was in the making decades ago. If only we paid more attention. The tech boom of the early 21st century created a culture of instant gratification, where success was measured in billion-dollar exits and sky-high valuations. But at what cost? People just didn’t care. It was almost as if they were brainwashed to ignore the subtle changes that would blemish their very existence. I guess people don’t really make a change until they are faced with something very traumatic – or very touching.
For me it was a little bit of both. I had finally taken a vacation to Bali, forced upon me by my doctor after my third burnout. It wasn’t something I had been planning, but I decided that if I was going to go on vacation, it might as well be a good one. My grandfather, who is from Bali, had often told me stories about his life on the island and what it was like growing up there. I was excited to visit some of the places that were tied to him and kind of pay homage to his legacy. When he was home with us, we often went to the beaches nearby that reminded him of home, but he always remarked how much he missed the waters back home, that were filled with beautiful corals and all kinds of fish we would never see here.
When I got there, things were not what I was expecting. There were so many people. Instead of a peaceful island getaway, my senses were assaulted by a barrage of noisy tourists and all the sights, smells, sounds and irritation that comes with that. I made my way to the hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon at my hotel, grateful to catch up on some much needed sleep.
The next day, I arranged for a tour of my grandfather’s old neighbourhood ending with some snorkelling at the beach. Again, nothing was peaceful or charming about it. There was so much dirt everywhere. Everything was sold in little plastic packets that just ended up on the street or in the ocean – even my chicken satay. I guess this is not something you would notice when you were buying the thing. But, when I went to the beach, to see where my grandfather swam in his youth, the place he longed for most of his adult life, you could see the impact like a tsunami of trash.The beach was more of a wasteland filled with rotting flesh and rubbish than a magical paradise filled with ocean and shore life. It was heartbreaking.
My grandfather would be devastated. The beach was a wasteland and the village he lived in was now almost submerged by water. The people had long left their homes behind in search of safer ground and their community had vanished entirely. As I stood there, on the beach, looking around me at all the remnants of the unconscious consumer culture that had brought this beautiful place to its knees, something grazed my toe. I screamed like a girl.
As I jumped up to get out of its way, I saw something black come out of the sand. I thought it was a crab but on closer inspection, it was a little turtle that had just hatched and was trying to find its way to the water. It was the cutest thing I had ever seen. I picked the little guy up and turned around to take him to the water. When I looked at the water I thought to myself, “What possible chance of survival is he going to have?” There is no way he would survive all this rubbish and be able to swim freely in the ocean. I kept thinking about the turtle the entire time I was in my hotel room, and even after I got back home.
Something kept nagging at me and I could not ignore it anymore. After a while, work seemed increasingly meaningless for me.I started to feel disillusioned with the way things were done here. The constant pressure to achieve unicorn status, the endless pursuit of profit and growth, seemed like it was at the expense of everything else. Nobody cared about turtles or plastic packaging or anything else for that matter. I was beginning to see the cracks in the system, the negative effects it was having on communities and the environment.
I realised that the reality I was living was far from my original vision of making a difference. The businesses I created were not truly serving the community, we were only serving our own interests. My investors were only interested in when I would be able to pay them back – with a profit. How and what I did to get there didn’t really matter. I was putting my all into these businesses and getting not a lot of satisfaction out of it. It was a lot of endless nights and nonstop hustling. By now I could have had a family and something to go home to besides Netflix, but I didn’t have the time to even have a decent meal let alone meet anyone new. The nagging deep down didn’t stop. Something wasn’t right about this path.
That turtle inspired me. Struggling through this wasteland, I wanted to build something that would truly make a difference to the world, and I also wanted my life back. That’s when I decided to make a change. I sold my tech startup and used the funds to move to Bali and start a new business – one that was vastly different from the ones I started building before. This time, I was determined to do things differently. I had to take a long time to reassess what was important to me and what really mattered in life. It was a lot of soul work and taking a deeper look at myself and my life.
At first people were skeptical of my drastic changes. Not long after, I had started to lose many of the friends from my previous hustle-culture life, but I also started making new ones. The longer I walked this path, the more people I met who were also tired of the fast-paced, money-driven culture of the tech world, and they were looking for something that would last.
Eventually, we started a co-operative and that is where it all began. Today we have five different operations that work with local artisans and designers to create sustainable products and help clean up the ocean at the same time. It’s not about mass production, but this work is my passion. With every item we create, we know we are adding value to the world around us.
Some thirty years later, looking back on my journey, I was reminded that success can take many forms, and that sometimes the greatest rewards come from taking the road less traveled.