Jumping from Space

This is singlehandedly the most amazing picture of 2012.

Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian expert skydiver (coolest title ever), jumped from the edge of outer space yesterday, and became the first person to break the speed of sound unassisted by mechanical force. It was just Felix and gravity.  He jumped from 24 miles above the earth’s surface and ended up falling at over 800 mph. The Red Bull Stratos project inspired the world yesterday.

Surely such a feat of human engineering was directed by NASA or the federal government. The entire thing was brought to you by… an energy drink? In what has now set the bar for the greatest marketing effort in history, Red Bull shot for the stars with this one (bad pun intended) and funded the entire mission, from research and preparation, to execution and broadcast. To say it paid off is a massive understatement. Companies today pay millions of dollars to broadcast or print advertisements for a few seconds that most people ignore. Over 8 million people around the world directly participated in the event – and had to make an effort to do so – that had Red Bull logos everywhere and reinforced Red Bull is more than a company or product, it is a lifestyle that you want to be a part of.  For a company with the slogan “Red Bull gives you wings”, is there any better marketing stunt? Best of all, not one part of it felt forced.  It is a part of their DNA.  Can you imagine if Chevy did this? It wouldn’t feel authentic.

There are some great lessons that can be gleaned from this experience, for all companies, as Web Smith points out. While Red Bull spent a fortune on this, it was in such a pioneering way, the return on investment is far greater than an equal, or greater, sum spent elsewhere. They were also certain to prime the (worldwide) audience for a long time leading up to the event, ensuring maximum exposure. As tired of a cliche “think outside the box” is, imagine the conversation within the halls of Red Bull the day someone suggested having someone parachute from 24 miles above the earth to break the speed of sound unassisted. Most companies would have put that person in the “crazy” corner, or ignored him or her altogether.

My First TEDx Talk

What an absolute honor.

I had the privilege of speaking at TEDxSMU Hilltop in September. The theme of this year’s TEDxSMU is reThink.  I’ve dreamed for many years about speaking at a TED event, of any kind, and I finally feel like I have something worth sharing on such an amazing stage.

The idea I shared was simple: above money, power, connections, or even luck, what turns an idea into a reality is an unwillingness to accept no as an answer, from others, and perhaps more importantly, from yourself. I highlighted examples of amazing accomplishments in the face of a stream of naysayers and doubt, like Peter Thum’s Ethos Water and Fonderie 47 and Harvey Lacey’s Ubuntu Blox. I also talked about men who have pulled themselves out of incredibly difficult life circumstances and turned into titans of industry, such as Daymond John and Robert Herjavec. While I called these examples out to demonstrate known success stories, I also discussed the never ending hurdles I’ve faced in launching my own company, Mizzen+Main.

It has been nearly a year’s worth of work to bring Mizzen+Main to life, and we’re really only just starting. I have heard hundreds and hundreds of “no’s” – but it was never a question whether I would keep going. Please check out the talk below and let me know what you think by connecting with me on Twitter @KevinSMU.

Jen Blackman Lavelle: The Triathlete

My amazing wife, Jen, continues to be that much more amazing every day and inspire me on a daily basis.

While many people have a hard time in challenging situations, Jen is one of those people who thrives when challenged, personally and professionally, and seeks challenges out. Triathlons are grueling, both physically and mentally, but Jen couldn’t be happier out there training and competing.

Jen competed at the Stonebridge Playtri Triathlon this weekend in the sprint triathlon event.  She was out of the open water swim a full minute ahead of the next fastest woman and about 8 minutes faster than the average time in the event. Not only that, but she got out of the water looking fresh and ready to press on while everyone else seemed to get out thanking their lucky stars they survived the 750 meter open water swim!

Jen has been a swimmer her whole life.  Her parents incentivized her when she was young with ice cream.  The need for ice cream quickly faded, and she found herself swimming hours a day, improving and competing all the time. Before too long, she was at Highland Park High School and a 16 Time Texas State Champion. Continuing her career at SMU, she didn’t stop racking up awards and accolades:

  • Former American Record Holder (800 MR Freestyle)
  • 6 Time NCAA All-American
  • 2008 Olympic Trials Competitor
  • 2008 SMU Women’s Swimming Captain
  • 2008 US National Champion (400MR Freestyle)

I started out talking about Jen challenging herself, and clearly, she is a phenomenal swimmer, so what am I talking about here? Two weeks before her first ever triathlon, I was doing drills in the parking lot with Jen teaching her how to ride a bike. Seriously. I watched her topple over several times (she made me stand back and have her do it on her own, I’m not a bad husband, I promise!) Fast forward to this past weekend, and she won her age division and placed 5th overall in the triathlon! This is a woman who challenges herself… and will not take no for an answer, from others or herself.

Driving up to the race, I said (in the most reassuring voice possible) “Just finish – get your first triathlon under your belt.” When I told her twin sister my advice to Jen, she laughed saying “Right. Jen didn’t hear a word you said. She’ll win – just watch.”

And we did.

I’m so proud of my wife. This was her first race, and she’s only going to grow from here, never stopping when it comes to challenging herself.

A picture from the race this weekend – with Jen not only doing great on the bike, but smiling!

Choosing What Defines Us

Jonathan Wentz passed away this weekend due to complications from cerebral palsy, and this world lost a truly inspirational figure who chose to define his life in his own terms.

I met Jonathan at TEDxSMU Hilltop, where he and I both were honored to speak to the SMU community about our experiences.  Jonathan had just come back from the 2012 Paralympics in London where he narrowly missed a medal in the equestrian events.  He said it was the most amazing experience – and not just the Olympics itself but the entire journey – one for which he was incredibly grateful.  The fact that Jonathan was able to call himself an Olympian (which I remember him proudly saying despite not winning a medal, “once an Olympian, always an Olympian”) is actually not the most amazing thing I saw in him. We got to chat for a few hours after the event in which he described to me his journey through life, not just to the Olympics.  The most amazing thing Jonathan told me about himself was that he should not even be able to stand up, let alone walk around and control a thousand pound animal in equestrian events on the world’s greatest stage for athletics.  The most amazing thing I saw about Jonathan from the outside was that while some may see his life defined by his significant disability, something he did not get to choose, he chose to become an athlete at the highest level, a scholar (with a triple major), an advocate, a teacher, and an inspiration.

Jonathan described to me just how amazing horses are to those with disabilities. Riding a horse allows those who cannot walk to “learn” how to walk with the rest of their body by mimicking the gait of walking normally and teaching the body’s others muscles to walk.  Jonathan’s experiences as a child actually helped push forward the use of horses to help those with disabilities. He told me how tests on his muscles show that he should not be able to stand up at all – but his years of effort and hard work have him standing, walking, and competing in the Paralympics.  There’s a lot more about Jonathan’s story on his website.

Here is Jonathan’s TEDxSMU Hilltop talk:

Jonathan was not dealt a “fair” hand and didn’t get to choose his life circumstances – but he chose not to let that define him or what he was capable of.  He was a triple major at SMU and wanted to go into politics. He was an Olympian (and always will be). He was a staunch advocate – petitioning Congress to support American Olympic athletes (the United States is basically the only country in the world that expects its athletes to win gold and honor but tells its athletes they are on their own, effectively sentencing its athletes to never ending fund raising and having to work full time side jobs to afford living and training). He helped others with disabilities to ride and change their lives. He worked with horses and was a teacher. Most of all, he was an inspiration.  He is an inspiration.

Jonathan achieved greatness in his far too short life. Some may see Jonathan as disabled. I only knew him a short time and immediately saw that Jonathan was defined by so many other amazing things – things that he chose to define him.

If you would like to make a donation in Jonathan’s honor, details are below:

USPEA
Jonathan Wentz Scholarship Fund
3940 Verde Vista Drive
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
*The USPEA is a 501(c)(3) and all donations are tax-deductible.

You may also donate through the USPEA website atwww.USPEA.org by clicking the red “Donate Now” button at the bottom of the page. Please specify that the donation is for the Jonathan Wentz Scholarship Fund. Any questions about donating can be e-mailed to donate@uspea.org