“Damn dude, you look like a drug lord.” It seemed my v-neck shirt, linen pants and sunglasses were making a statement in Rio de Janeiro that they didn’t seem to make back in my hometown of Seattle, Washington.
“How do you know I’m not?” I responded with a slight smile. A slight smile was about all I could manage. After twenty hours of travel and little sleep, I was exhausted. Inside the hotel lobby the sunglasses’ sole purpose was hiding the huge bags under my eyes.
‘A drug lord’ I thought, and looked around the room. The metaphor may have been apt. This lobby was the reception area for Startup Weekend’s 3rd Startup Weekend Organizer’s Summit. The (nearly) annual summit brings together members of the Startup Weekend community from around the world. This includes places like Iran, China, Kenya, South Africa, Costa Rica, Canada, and Argentina. The list goes on.
In my sleep-induced detachment, the metaphor stuck. We are a cartel, I thought. Through our efforts, we created the single largest starting point for entrepreneurship in the world. We didn’t traffick in narcotics. We trafficked in change. This group of people changed lives. They changed communities. In some cases, they were even beginning to change their countries.
No single person had a monopoly on the mission, the tools, or the collective dedication. Each paid their own way to Rio from points around the globe. They were here because they knew that, like all cartels, they were stronger together than they were apart. Together, they had a network with distribution and shared resources that no independent community would have on its own.
I scanned the room through my jet-lagged daze. Everywhere I looked, I found familiar faces. These were people who I saw rarely or had only interacted with on Twitter or Facebook over the past year. They were all leaders, people who had inspired me to become better and to give more to my community and ask more from myself. (I’ll spare them the embarrassment of naming them.) We were somehow together again, for a brief moment in time, to continue the work we started years ago.
I looked down at the agenda in my hands. It included talks from Brad Feld, Dave McClure, and the clothing designer, Marc Ecko. These people who care deeply about our mission and value the impact we’re having. They were here to help, to guide, and to inspire us for our next round of work.
Over the next few days, we’d have the opportunity to relax together, to plan the future together, and to party together. Exhausted, hungry, and thousands of miles from Seattle, I felt at home.
I turned around to drop off my bags and found myself face to face with an old friend. Without hesitation or self-consciousness, I smiled and gave him a huge hug.