20/06/12 Speech by José Mujica (former President of Uruguay)
Born in Argentina, my family faced the challenges of a military dictatorship.
Childhood brought a love for broadcasting and journalism. I co-founded a football website and learned web development.
School years included attending various institutions with historical significance. My teenage internet pioneer days led to emigration struggles, eventually landing in Germany. Online marketing became my focus, with experiences alongside influential figures. Entrepreneurship led to success with Findasense, navigating crises and an acquisition.
Meditation and psychedelic exploration brought spiritual growth. Ventures in biotech startups and wellness followed. With a lighthearted spirit, I embraced life's unexpected twists and turns, finding humor in visa rejections and academic mishaps. Through it all, resilience and passion shaped my journey, ready for the next chapter.
Oh, the riveting tapestry of life that began to unfold in April 1980, when I first blinked into existence in the vibrant city of Buenos Aires! Argentina was then under the iron grip of a military dictatorship, a somber history that swallowed up 30,000 souls. My lineage reads like an engaging novel, with roots reaching out to the distant lands of Germany and Ukraine. My paternal grandfather, a survivor of the brutal labor camps of Nazi Germany during the climactic moments of World War II, while his cherished mother succumbed to the darkness of Theresienstadt.
Under this historical canopy, my parents emerged as the heroes of my tale. My mother, an empathetic soul with a keen intellect, pursued a career in psychology and coaching, even obtaining a Masters in HIV/AIDS prevention. As for my father, he breathed life into raw wood, transforming them into remarkable pieces as a professional woodworker and entrepreneur.
My journey of self-discovery took off at the enchanting "La Aldea" kindergarten, a colossal colonial mansion nestled in the heart of Belgrano. It was a playground of dreams, a blast from the past, equipped with sulky and an antique car. Little farms teeming with chickens, rabbits, and ducks, alongside a gigantic sandbox, promised an adventure every day. It was a gallant attempt to reclaim the essence of childhood — a simple, organic life that the urban jungle had snatched away. This sanctuary offered me my first taste of identity, belonging, and autonomy.
For my primary education, I stepped into the hallowed halls of two esteemed state-funded institutions, Pablo Pizurno and Casto Munita. Both named after illustrious figures in Argentine history who championed education, these schools also hold a nostalgic charm as my maternal grandfather once roamed their corridors. They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and I'm proof of that, following in his intellectual footsteps.
At the tender age of 10, my voice rang out through the make-believe airwaves as I played "broadcast radio", passionately "calling the game" of football matches, as a seasoned sports commentator. By age 11, my precocious mind had already ventured into the world of journalism, thanks to a two-year program for budding young journalists organized by the renowned newspaper Pagina/12. It was an early peek into a world of storytelling and fact-finding that would remain a significant part of my life.
1991 marked a milestone in my life. My mother, the eternal adventurer, packed our bags and took my sister and me on an unforgettable trip to Los Angeles and San Francisco. I recall my tiny face pressed against the airplane window, my eyes wide with wonder as I exclaimed, "look, there are the consumers!"
The cities, especially the charming towns of Tiburon and Sausalito in Marin County, left an indelible mark on my soul. Just like the vivid "core memories" in the Pixar film 'Inside Out', these places sparked a love for travel and exploration that, 23 years later, saw me emigrating from Spain to make my home in San Francisco.
The following year, I visited my extended family in the bustling city of Mexico, courtesy of my globetrotting father.
From 1993 to 1998, my academic journey continued in a unique setting. The halls of the private Technical ORT School, an institution with a rich history, became my second home. ORT, an acronym deriving from the Russian expression "Obshchestvo Remeslennogo zemledelcheskogo Truda sredi evreev v Rossii," which translates to "Society for the promotion of trades and agricultural work for Jews", was born out of an earnest cause in 1880.
Under the Russian Empire, in Saint Petersburg, ORT was conceived with a profound mission: to offer vocational training and job placements for Jews who had been marginalised and denied professional opportunities. However, since the Czar's permission only extended to the formation of a Jewish organization for education and job training, raising funds became crucial. Out went letters to 10,000 Jews across Imperial Russia, and in came a generous sum of 204,000 rubles. This money acted as the seed capital for the first ORT schools, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Over the next quarter-century, ORT flourished, successfully raising a whopping million rubles. With these funds, they empowered 25,000 Jews scattered across 350 towns within the Russian Empire. Then, as the flames of World War I engulfed nations, ORT was compelled to extend its reach beyond Russia's borders.
The World ORT Union was conceived in 1921, during a pivotal conference held in Berlin. However, the Nazi regime cast a shadow over this beacon of hope, suspending its activities in 1938. It was only in the aftermath of the Holocaust, amidst the rubble and survivors in the Displaced Persons Camps, that ORT's work was urgently resumed, marking the beginning of its global expansion.
Fast forward to today, and ORT is now a global force, touching lives in nearly 60 countries and providing quality education to a staggering 300,000 students. In Argentina, it has emerged as a trendsetter in teaching with new technologies, providing training to other educational institutions both domestically and overseas.
My graduation from ORT, with the title of Technician in Mass Media Communications, was a landmark moment in my life. Those years were a hotbed of creativity, where my imagination ran wild.
I distinctly remember producing a short film - a tragicomic story about a middle-aged singleton still living with his mom and working tirelessly at a job, eager for a promotion. His coworkers, aware of his aspirations, decided to prank him, leading him to believe his promotion would be granted to another. Overcome with resentment, he plotted a sinister revenge, poisoning a box of tea intended for his supposed rival, only to find his dear mother sipping the very same tea as she celebrated his promotion. A twisted tale indeed, but boy, was it fun to create!
Our hands were never idle; alongside film production, we were dabbling in radio and conducting investigative journalism, delving into a major propoleo poisoning crisis in Argentina.
We explored the realms of advertising, graphic design, and more, even immersing ourselves in computer science. The digital tool Avid was our trusted companion during post-production, but creating our film was a labor of love - countless hours spent perfecting it the old-school, analogue way. Every moment was a lesson in creativity, collaboration, and the boundless possibilities of storytelling.
Right around 1995, I became a trailblazer in my classroom - the proud owner of a dial-up modem at home. As I dove into the exhilarating world of the young Internet, my mind was captivated by the limitless possibilities it presented. My fervor for my beloved football team, River Plate, led me to an intriguing website, hosted on the servers of the University of Arizona. Its creator was Gabriel, a fellow River Plate superfan, born in the US to Argentinian parents.
Our shared passion for the team ignited a lively digital correspondence and eventually blossomed into a partnership as co-founders of riverplate.com. This venture sparked a journey of exploration and learning. I dove headfirst into HTML, honed my skills in audio encoding, and even dipped my toes into the groundbreaking world of live radio broadcasting over the internet. Our website was on the cutting edge - to the best of my knowledge, we were the pioneers in bringing this innovation to Latin America!
We christened our website "La Pagina Millonaria", a nod to River Plate's nickname "Los Millonarios" (the millionaires). This moniker dates back to the 1930s when professional football took root in Argentina. River Plate was quick to seize this opportunity and made headline-grabbing moves in the transfer market.
In 1931, they made a splash by signing Carlos "Barullo" Peucelle, a gifted right-winger and a mastermind behind River's triumphs in the 1930s, for a staggering 10,000 pesos from Sportivo Buenos Aires. The following year, River Plate broke the bank (and a world record) by roping in Bernabé Ferreyra from Tigre for a jaw-dropping fee of 35,000 pesos. Bernabé proved his worth by netting a remarkable 185 goals in 200 games for the club. These astronomical transfer fees were unimaginable for any other club in Argentina at the time, cementing River Plate's status as "Los Millonarios".
The cherished memories I have of running riverplate.com are innumerable. It opened doors to meet all my football heroes. I would spend my Saturdays at the stadium or the hotel where the players were sequestered before their Sunday matches, armed with my friend's laptop. We'd organize online interviews in ICQ chat rooms with fans across the globe, fostering a vibrant global community.
Among my most treasured encounters was meeting the renowned Uruguayan footballer, Enzo Francescoli, popularly known as El Príncipe (“The Prince”). Recognized as one of the top 100 living footballers, meeting him was truly a moment of starstruck awe!
During my school days, I had the privilege of being friends and classmates with the son of Maradona's manager. It was a unique connection that brought me closer to the world of a football legend. I vividly remember those moments when "El 10" would come to pick up his daughters from a nearby school, just a couple of blocks away.
Meeting Maradona was nothing short of a divine experience; it felt like encountering a deity in human form. Despite Diego's affiliation with Boca Juniors, the archenemy of my beloved River Plate, my adoration for him knew no bounds.
However, a slight shift occurred in my perspective when, in 2022, I witnessed Argentina triumph in the World Cup held in Qatar. It was an unforgettable moment that solidified Lionel Messi's position as the greatest football player of all time (though, of course, second only to Diego!).
The sheer exhilaration of watching Messi's brilliance on the grandest stage left an indelible mark on my heart. It was a testament to his exceptional talent, unwavering dedication, and the immense pride I felt as an Argentine. Messi's remarkable achievement added another chapter to the glorious football history of our nation, reaffirming the eternal legacy of Maradona while propelling our beloved sport to new heights.
Post high school, my life became a whirlwind of unique experiences. I found myself in various roles, including cataloguing hundreds of VHS movies by meticulously scanning through the credits. I was also part of the trailblazing team behind a nautical e-commerce site, ambitiously aimed at selling yachts online. Further, I served as an assistant for a language study abroad travel agency. It was there I met Martin, a visitor from Germany promoting his school. We struck a chord and eventually, Martin played a crucial role in securing me an internship in Frankfurt in 1999.
At just 19, I found myself in Germany, learning the language and immersing myself in a new culture. When I wasn't busy, I'd strap on my backpack and traverse the length and breadth of Europe, drinking in the rich history and vibrant landscapes of the old continent. Those were carefree, exhilarating days, my spirit as boundless as the adventures that awaited me!
Upon my return to Buenos Aires from Europe, I found my first girlfriend - my first love - had moved on with someone new. It was a heartbreak I had never experienced before, plunging me into my first bout of depression.
In 2000, I had the chance to work at the Ministry of Education for about a year. I started as a Web Content Manager, assisting the Scholarships program. However, due to a regrettable incident where I took a phone call during a one-on-one meeting with my boss, I was let go after a few weeks. Nonetheless, I quickly transitioned to a different department within the ministry, where I continued my work. It was a valuable experience that taught me the importance of professionalism and accountability in the workplace.
After high school, I was in a state of uncertainty. My heart was drawn towards journalism, but it felt too narrow a field to truly quench my thirst for understanding the world. So, I gravitated towards sociology, enrolling at the Social Science faculty of the University of Buenos Aires. My time there was more than just an academic journey. It led me to activism and I became a part of ATTAC Argentina.
ATTAC, originally known as "Action for a Tobin Tax to Assist the Citizen", started as a movement demanding the introduction of a tax on currency speculation, the Tobin tax. However, as time went on, ATTAC's scope broadened. It became a watchdog of sorts, monitoring the decisions of global organizations like the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As part of ATTAC, we made our presence known at G8 meetings, with the goal of influencing the decisions of policymakers.
While ATTAC has been frequently misunderstood as anti-globalisation, it was always against the neoliberal ideology that seems to dominate economic globalisation. ATTAC stands for sustainable and socially just globalisation policies. Our slogan, "The World is not for sale", was a staunch denouncement of the "merchandisation" of society. "Another world is possible" encapsulated our belief in an alternative globalisation that puts people over profit.
ATTAC was founded to promote the Tobin tax, an idea proposed by the Keynesian economist James Tobin. Tobin, a recipient of the 1981 Nobel Prize in economics, made key contributions to Keynesian economics and was known for advocating government intervention to stabilize output and prevent recessions. The "Tobin tax", aimed at reducing speculation in international currency markets, has been widely recognized outside academia.
By my second year of college, Argentina's socio-economic situation was reaching another crisis point. I remember expressing to my classmates, “the destruction of education will cause damage to our society that will affect our development for the next 40 years”.
I watched in despair as my beloved country teetered on the brink. Our professors were forced to conduct philosophy classes in the streets. In the midst of all this, I was engrossed in the works of German philosophers, including Karl Marx, Max Weber, Engels, etc. One day, it dawned on me: “why am I reading translations? I should go to Germany to read them in German”. However, my German language skills were rudimentary at best, having only studied the language after school for six years at the Goethe Institute. Despite this, I held onto the idea, little knowing the adventures that lay ahead.
One beer with my friends was a pivotal moment in my life. I remember looking at them and saying, "I think I should move to Germany." There was a blend of surprise, shock, and, eventually, support in their responses. It was a big decision, but the circumstances surrounding me seemed to be pointing towards this path.
Argentina, the country I loved and called home, was spiraling into a devastating economic crisis. It was December 2001 and the situation was worsening. There was a partial deposit freeze, a partial default on public debt, and we had to abandon the fixed exchange rate. These events led to a collapse in output, a massive spike in unemployment, and widespread political and social turmoil.
The situation was even more complicated because it was happening under the close scrutiny of an International Monetary Fund (IMF)-supported program. Questions about Argentina's relationship with the IMF started to surface, and rightfully so. The IMF had been engaged in Argentina since 1991, when the "Convertibility Plan" fixed the Argentine peso at parity with the U.S. dollar in a currency board-like arrangement.
During the 1990s, Argentina saw strong growth and very low inflation. However, by 1998, the country was in a deep recession. The rigidity of the convertibility regime had tied our hands, limiting our ability to use standard macroeconomic policy tools to work towards recovery.
The economy was slowing down, and international investors were getting nervous. Argentina's external debt was already high, and as the situation worsened, our debt service burden grew. It reached a point where the debt became unsustainable. I was witnessing the downfall of a nation and I had a decision to make. I chose to explore the wider world, an uncertain future in Germany, over an all-too-certain crisis in my homeland. It was a choice born out of necessity, but one that would shape the course of my life in ways I could never have anticipated.
The Argentinazo, as we came to call it, was a pivotal moment in Argentina's history, and my own. The sheer force of people's discontentment with the government was overwhelming. We rallied behind a single unifying chant, "¡Que se vayan todos!" - "All of them must go!" The public outcry was too immense to ignore. Our president, Fernando de la Rúa, was forced to resign. His departure marked the beginning of a turbulent period of political instability during which five different government officials attempted to perform the duties of the Argentinian presidency.
This wave of civil unrest was not without reason. The tipping point was the government's imposition of "Corralito" policies. At the behest of economic minister Domingo Cavallo, these measures severely restricted people's ability to withdraw cash from banks. This attempt to control the economic turmoil instead ignited a spark of fury among the citizens.
Riots and protests erupted on 19th December 2001, following the president's declaration of a state of emergency. De la Rúa's resignation the following day did little to quell the anger and frustration. In the next twelve days, the presidency changed hands again, with Adolfo Rodríguez Saá also resigning due to mounting pressure.
The events of December 2001 were a severe blow to the legitimacy of the Argentine government. The aftershocks of this period of extreme instability reverberated for years to come.
The protesters were people like me - unaffiliated with any political party or organization but united in our discontent. The protests were met with a disturbing level of violence. Police and security forces killed 39 people, including nine minors, most of them during the sackings in provinces governed by the Peronist opposition. This repression was a stark reminder of the lengths the government would go to suppress the protests.
Looking back, I remember feeling a mix of emotions - anger, sadness, determination, and above all, a sense of urgency to escape the chaos and make a future for myself elsewhere. Despite the turmoil, my decision to leave for Germany was solidified by the state of affairs in Argentina. The unrest that gripped my homeland, however, left a mark on me and influenced the path I would take in the years to come.
Moving to Germany was a test of my perseverance. Despite numerous rejections from the German embassy, legal complications concerning my parentage, and the overwhelming process of proving I had sufficient funds to live in Frankfurt, I never lost sight of my goal.
My persistence finally paid off after I sent a letter to the ambassador, expressing my frustrations about how I was being treated at the embassy. Finally, in January 2002, with a heavy heart but a flicker of excitement, I bid farewell to Argentina.
Upon my arrival in Frankfurt, I moved into my aunt's house in Niederursel. There, I reconnected with my friend Martin from Sprachaffe Reisen, who helped me secure an internship back in 1999. Despite the illegality of my working status, I joined the company, specifically to optimize their Spanish website for search engine results.
Over the next three years, I rose through the ranks to become the Director of Online Marketing, managing a team of 14 people across multiple countries. During this time, I honed my skills as a digital marketer, learning the intricacies of Google's PageRank algorithm and training under experts like Jakob Nielsen and Don Norman in Amsterdam. Nielsen, a renowned Danish web usability consultant and co-founder of Nielsen Norman Group, was instrumental in shaping my understanding of human-computer interaction. Meanwhile, Don Norman, an acclaimed American researcher and author, helped shape my understanding of design and usability engineering.
During my time in Frankfurt, my activism continued to thrive as I became involved with ATTAC Germany. I actively participated in protests against racism and even traveled to Berlin to join the demonstrations against the war in Iraq. Berlin holds a special place in my heart, evoking strong emotions due to its rich and deeply personal history. Interestingly, it was also a city where my father had worked when he was just 18,
adding another layer of significance to my connection with the vibrant German capital.
In Frankfurt, I had the pleasure of forming meaningful friendships, particularly with two remarkable individuals. Cynthia, an incredibly talented architect, brought her unique perspective and creativity into my life.
Additionally, I had the privilege of meeting Tomas Saraceno, in my opinion one of the most important Argentine artists today, whose work is showcased in renowned galleries and museums worldwide. His amazing works include floating sculptures, international collaborations, and interactive installations that challenge the norms of the Capitalocene era, where human impact on the environment is prevalent.
For over two decades, Saraceno has been actively engaged in projects that foster ethical collaboration with the atmosphere. Among his notable endeavors are the Cloud Cities sculpture series (2002–), which envisions new forms of urban habitats, and the Museo Aero Solar (2007–), a community-driven initiative that repurposes discarded plastic bags into airborne aerosolar sculptures. My friendship with Tomás, accompanied by our engaging conversations and memorable times partying in Berlin, has consistently sparked a systemic perspective within me.
In the midst of my professional development, I pursued academic endeavors as well. I attended intensive German courses and was eventually accepted into the "Studienkolleg", a preparatory university course designed for foreigners. Although the course was set to last two semesters, I found it unsuitable for my academic level. I had already attended college in Argentina, and the course wasn't as challenging as I had expected.
Taking matters into my own hands, I approached the director with a request to take all the exams without attending the classes. To my surprise, he agreed. I threw myself into studying, collecting used books on philosophy, sociology, and history from a flea market by the Main river. Balancing work and studies, I managed to be admitted to university (again) after just one semester with a 2.7 GPA.
Following this, I enrolled in English and American studies, honing my language skills and developing a passion for theater. However, when the time came to pursue Sociology, a misstep led me to accidentally enroll in a Sociology high school teaching course. When I tried to rectify the error, the university bureaucracy stopped me in my tracks. This unfortunate turn of events marked an unexpected end to my academic career, but it opened up new paths for my professional life.
Rejection, although disheartening, only spurred me on. Despite facing setbacks from applying to different jobs, including Google in Dublin, I didn't let myself be deterred. An offer from 24/7 Real Media saw me relocating to Madrid, Spain, where I took up the role of SEO consultant for Europe in 2005. I also got the amazing opportunity to work during a few months in Japan.
The company was later acquired by WPP, which led to the departure of all my directors. Recognizing the uncertainty, I took a leap of faith and embarked on a freelance consulting journey. It was during this time that I had the opportunity to work for KROLL, providing their analysts with training on alternative online search methods.
In 2006, my career took another exciting turn when I became the Country Manager for Myvideo, the first clone of YouTube. The platform was later acquired by the media conglomerate ProSieben. Alongside this, I was writing about search marketing and co-organizing the first conference in Spain, with Google as the main sponsor.
During this time, I also became a member of the Information Architecture Institute, formerly known as the Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture. It was here that I met Peter Morville, one of the "founding fathers" of information architecture and co-author of the best-selling book in the discipline, Information Architecture for the World Wide Web.
My time at the institute, coupled with my consultancy work for renowned brands like IKEA, Vodafone, and Expedia, only further enhanced my skills and experience in the field.
My journey took another interesting turn when I met Rafael at a conference at the Madrid headquarters of Microsoft. Our meeting would pave the way for the creation of Findasense, a consulting firm specializing in search and digital marketing. We started humbly, using the lobby of the Hotel Me in Santa Ana square as our base.
We bootstrapped the company from there, and it grew to boast 12 international offices and more than 350 employees. Findasense, originally known as "Findability Strategies", was named in honor of Peter Morville's book "Ambient Findability", paying homage to the influence he had on our professional journey.
Rafael and I embarked on an exciting venture as partners and content directors for OMexpo, Spain's largest online marketing exhibition, which drew over 14,000 attendees. Our professional sphere also expanded as we joined forces with renowned technologist, journalist, and entrepreneur, Danny Sullivan. Danny was a pioneer in search engine marketing, and we collaborated to launch the Search Marketing Expo in Spain and Latin America.
In the world of startups, survival rates can be grim. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 25% of new businesses make it past 15 years. It's humbling to acknowledge that Findasense survived the first five critical years and even thrived past the 15-year mark, despite early struggles with cash flow and the global financial crisis of 2008.
Yet, during these early years, we lacked a concrete vision, mission, and strategy to guide us. It was when I discovered Harvard Business School's Owner/President Management Program, a 3-year executive education experience, that I found the tools necessary to navigate Findasense towards success.
2011 was a landmark year for us, as we successfully pitched to transform Coca-Cola's call center into a multi-channel marketing hub, known as the Consumer Interaction Center. This innovative approach earned accolades and was adopted by The Coca-Cola Company worldwide. The strong rapport we built allowed us to expand Findasense across most of Latin America and extend our reach to India and China, serving notable clients like Lenovo.
Findasense was on the cutting-edge, providing open-source intelligence services for online and social corporate reputation management, just as Big Data analytics were becoming indispensable. The renowned IESE Business School, renowned for its excellence in business education, recognized our company's achievements and chose us to develop a compelling case study. We take great pride in being the trailblazers of Holacracy, a self-management process, in Latin America.
Our commitment to innovation and progressive organizational practices has been duly acknowledged, and as a testament to our dedication, Findasense has earned the prestigious distinction of becoming a B-certified company.
Our odyssey with Findasense culminated in its acquisition by Majorel in September 2022. Majorel is a global leader in customer experience boasting 80,000 employees.
Over the course of our journey, we employed over 1250 associates, many of whom have gone on to work at some of the world's top tech companies. We conducted numerous experiments, learned from our failures, and are proud of the unique culture we built at Findasense.
Meeting Tina in 2009 at an after-conference party was a turning point in my life. We got engaged at Burning Man in 2011 and married the following year at the same location.
Going to Burning Man for thirteen transformative journeys was like stepping into a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors that forever changed my life. The sheer magnitude and creativity of the art installations engulfed my senses, immersing me in a world where imagination had no limits. Each structure, towering and awe-inspiring, painted the desert canvas with hues that defied imagination—blazing reds, electrifying blues, and radiant purples, forming a breathtaking symphony of colors that left an indelible mark on my soul.
But it wasn't just the art that shaped my experience—it was the ethos of the community that breathed life into the desert landscape. Guided by principles like radical self-expression, communal effort, and civic responsibility, the Burning Man community was a tapestry of diverse souls woven together by shared values. From spontaneous dance parties under the starlit sky to heartfelt conversations around bonfires, I forged friendships that transcended the boundaries of time and space. Each connection was a vibrant thread, weaving a vibrant fabric of love, acceptance, and support, forming the very essence of the Burner spirit.
In this desert utopia, a profound sense of freedom enveloped me. Stripped of societal expectations and embraced by the playa's embrace, I discovered the liberty to explore and express my true self without judgment. The audacious costumes, the wild revelry, and the uninhibited dance moves unleashed a symphony of liberation, painting the desert with shades of pure authenticity. This freedom extended beyond self-expression—it was a liberation of the spirit, an invitation to challenge my limits and embrace the unknown.
Tina, who was working for Google in Madrid, and I decided to ask for a transfer to the San Francisco office in 2014, along with our chocolate labrador, Tikka. Our move to California wasn't just a geographical shift, it marked a significant turning point in our spiritual growth.
As an entrepreneur, my life was chaotic and often marred by anxiety and depression. In an attempt to combat these feelings, I turned to meditation, facilitated by various apps and wearables. My journey led me to a Vipassana retreat, where I experienced a 10-day silent insight meditation retreat. This was a transformational experience for me. I discovered that while pain is inevitable, suffering, born out of desire and attachment, is optional.
This newfound understanding of the nature of reality equipped me to better navigate life's challenges. Tina and I were introduced to the teachings of spiritual guide Ram Dass, and his book "Be Here Now" had a profound impact on us. We even visited his "Open Your Heart in Paradise" retreat in Maui. Inspired by these experiences, I formed a group of fellow Vipassana meditators, or Satsang. This group evolved into a team of consciousness explorers or psychonauts, venturing into the realms of ancestral plant medicines and mind-expanding psychedelics.
This spiritual transformation fundamentally changed my perception of life and death. The fear of mortality dissipated, replaced by a deep understanding of the world's oneness and life's interdependence. I realized that we, as humans, are not separate from nature but an integral part of it. This echoes Spinoza's pantheism philosophy, which posits that everything that exists is a manifestation of a single substance - God, or Nature - hence everything in the universe is interconnected and interdependent (hello quantum physics!).
The year 2017 saw me attending the Psychedelic Science Conference, the biggest congregation of researchers devoted to psychedelic-assisted mental health therapy. The conference, organized by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a non-profit that has been working towards this cause for over 35 years, left a profound impact on me.
I found a role model in MAPS founder Rick Doblin, who's been instrumental in advocating for the legalization of MDMA-therapy for PTSD. I firmly believe his commendable efforts deserve recognition through a Nobel Peace Prize. His work led to the establishment of the first-ever Public-benefit pharmaceutical, which is on the cusp of obtaining FDA approval for the mass production of MDMA.
This newfound passion and my journey of self-exploration inspired me to take a 12-month sabbatical in 2018. Upon my return, I conveyed to Rafael my desire to exit Findasense, the company we had built together. The sale of the company, however, was delayed due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
My life's journey eventually led to the creation of Oneness Ventures, an angel investment firm with a firm belief that human health is synonymous with planetary health, and vice versa. This is a belief I consider paramount, given the prevailing climate crisis. I founded Oneness after a chance meeting with Diego Saez-Gil in Boulder Creek, amidst the redwood rainforest of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Tina and I, inspired by our experiences, decided to buy a property amidst nature, with the vision of creating a meditation retreat and an artist residency program. In 2019, we launched our first six-week artist program in collaboration with the California Institute of Integral Studies and Building 180, an artist management agency. The residency hosted three remarkable artists who explored the intersection of consciousness and technology, posing the intriguing question: "What Happens When a Cyborg Drinks Ayahuasca".
My friendship with Diego blossomed and as he embarked on his startup journey with Pachama, I made my first-ever angel investment. Pachama's mission - to restore nature to mitigate climate change, using AI to monitor reforestation and forest conservation - resonated deeply with me. The company managed to secure $55 million in funding from influential investors like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. However, the 2020 wildfires tragically razed Diego's house, further underscoring the urgency and relevance of Pachama's mission.
Oneness Ventures has invested since in several pioneering biotech startups in the psychedelic space. These include Mindbloom, a trailblazer in at-home Ketamine-assisted therapy, and ATAI Life Sciences, an innovative German biopharmaceutical company that leverages a decentralized platform approach to incubate and accelerate the development of highly effective mental health treatments that address the unmet needs of patients. More recently, I became an investor in two very promising startups. Healers & Teachers, a marketplace for wellness practitioners, was founded by my best friend Ravi.
In 2020, I began writing a book titled "The Leader's Trip," which I'm still in the process of editing. Right before the pandemic began, I completed my 200-hour Yoga teacher certification in San Francisco, a skill that greatly contributed to maintaining my mental health during the trying Covid-19 days. In 2021 and 2022, I took part in the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification program offered by Jack Kornfield (Sam Altman, the founder of OpenAI, is one of his students!) and Tara Brach.
Diego introduced me to Kwiri Yang, an extraordinary entrepreneur hailing from Taiwan, who is the visionary behind the renowned Second Time Founders community. In my role as an advisor and Chief Ambassador, I had the privilege of supporting Kwiri in various aspects, ranging from honing the product-market fit and formulating effective go-to-market strategies to navigating the intricate world of fundraising.
At its core, the Second Time Founders community firmly believes that fostering a sustainable environment for entrepreneurs can yield exponential positive impact on the world. This remarkable initiative came to life with invaluable support and investment from esteemed billionaires Bo Shao and Oleg Gorelik through Evolve Ventures.
Recently, I rekindled my passion for music and embarked on a journey of learning electronic music production and DJing at Pyramind San Francisco. If you're curious, you can explore some of my Orbital Gaucho DJ sets on Soundcloud. While my style is eclectic, I tend to gravitate towards digital folk, downtempo, and organic electronica, occasionally venturing into the fusion of cumbiatronica and other captivating genres.
Additionally, my wife and I took a leap of faith by launching a transformative meditation retreat tailored specifically for founders. Recognizing the challenges and pressures that come with being an entrepreneur, we acknowledged the detrimental effects that our lifestyle choices and ceaseless working hours can have on our overall well-being and performance. By intentionally slowing down and creating space for introspection, we enable ourselves to overcome the stifling influence of our inner critic.
Through facilitated personal retreats and empathy-assisted meditation, we take the crucial first steps toward cultivating self-compassion—a fundamental ingredient for heightened creativity and visionary thinking. Embracing self-compassion allows us to detach from our ego-driven ideas and attune ourselves to our intuition.
Moreover, it breaks down barriers that impede our ability to love and empathize with others. As we increase our capacity for love and empathy towards all our stakeholders—be it our cherished families, supportive friends, dedicated employees, valued investors, or loyal customers—we evolve into conscious and compassionate leaders.
Currently I am advising another startup, ComplexChaos.ai, a groundbreaking platform designed to tackle the intricate challenges of our interconnected world. By harnessing the power of AI, multidisciplinary human expertise, and complexity science, ComplexChaos's mission is to empower organizations to generate innovative solutions through collaborative, cross-disciplinary exploration.
My story is an ongoing journey, constantly evolving and unfolding with each new chapter. In sharing this narrative, I hope to offer you a substantial glimpse into my past, present, and future.
As my story continues to unfold, I eagerly embrace the unknown, fueling my inquisitive nature and zest for life. I am committed to making a difference, both in my personal endeavors and the lives of those I touch. Each day brings new opportunities, and I am excited to explore uncharted territories, embracing the challenges, celebrating the victories, and leaving an enduring legacy of positivity, growth, and humble resilience.
And so it concludes my first 43 years of adventures on this planet. As the saying goes "to be continued..."