“Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.”—Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science
I will never forget my 33rd birthday. It will be tough to ever top October 26, 2011. The day started off with a sunrise in Jackson, Mississippi—just Marv and me in a Wal-Mart parking lot! I’d found the rest stop on my drive from Austin, Texas to Bessemer, Alabama, where I was leaving Marv for some work with Alabama RV.
My birthday fell on the final day of a twelve-day road tour with Marv. I won’t elaborate too much here, but getting Marv, a 1973 GMC RV, to this point has not in any way been an easy task. We have faced our fair share of challenges on the road, continually seeking expert advice on how to keep Marv in tip-top shape. But twelve days, here we go!
Departure day is never easy leaving the family, however, this trip started with a picture to keep me inspired the entire way! These thumbs up and smiles from my crew were an incredible way to begin.
The first day of the trip, like the last day, was just Marv and me. I had plans to pick up Marisa in Nashville the next morning, but after grabbing my brother’s drum set in Cincinnati, I made an impromptu trip to northern Kentucky, where my family (all but my sister, Jessica) was having dinner. By some crazy twist of fate, my sister, who lives in San Francisco, was in Nashville for a friend’s christening. I made it to Nashville around 1 AM, after a quick drive down Broadway, and crashed on my sister’s friend’s couch. What a Sunday morning wakeup call! After seeing Jessica and my 1-year-old niece, my parents and two brothers the night before, I had the feeling that things were clicking, that something special was happening on this trip.
Days 2 – 8
Early Sunday, I found Marisa at the airport and caught up with her at Waffle House. Marisa was a tour guide and student leader at the University of Vermont during the time I managed the tour guide program. A few months back, she reached out about getting into admissions again, and I shared, “Have you ever considered joining a start-up?” Thank God she said Yes, as she has brought an amazing energy to our team and helped immeasurably in both New Orleans and Austin.
Check. Tip. We’re off to Memphis. Or so we thought. But sometimes Marv thinks differently. Sometimes he makes his own schedule. This trip, his detour of choice happened about 20 miles outside of Nashville, in Fairview, Tennessee. We pulled off the highway onto back roads because he was hesitating; he just wasn’t feeling it. So what’s it going to be, Marv? He decided to stall out in front of a Tractor Supply store. Done. As the traffic was building behind Marv, I tried several times to restart him.
Always the wayward RV, four hours later Marv is running like a dream.
We made stops at two of our early partner schools, the University of Central Arkansas and St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. We also made impromptu stops at Texarkana College, after they reached out to Marv’s twitter account, and the University of Memphis and Texas Christian University. We met with the guidance teams at Conway High School and North Little Rock High School in Arkansas, and were invited to speak at the American Marketing Association HEMSA (Higher Education Marketers) San Antonio chapter event. The smiles, laughter, and genuine engagement at these visits were off the charts. Neither Marisa nor I could put words to our experience after these visits. Just, “Wow.”
Days 9 – 12
The HighEdWeb conference in Austin is unique in that it features one of the most social media active communities in all of higher ed, a community of ceaseless ideas and passion for higher education. If you follow twitter, check #heweb11 to get an idea of what I’m talking out. And what can I say about Austin? Since SXSW this past March, I knew I had to get Marv down there. Somehow the red sunsets and bright nights were confirming that decision. This was going to be a week for Marv.
And so it happened, Sunday night, Marv was invited for his first media interview to be streamed online with HigherEdLive and host Seth Odell. Nearly fifty people came to watch outside the conference hotel, where Marv put on a demo of how we are using an RV to engage high school students on the importance of college visits and help colleges engage with high school students in a brand new way. Seth called Marv, “Arguably, one of the coolest and most innovative things he has ever seen a company in higher ed develop.“
Monday was better still. We finalized details with our friends at SCVNGR to release news of our partnership at our co-sponsored event later in the evening. This was huge for us in our efforts to continue to engage our users in new and mobile ways. Teaming up with an incredible location-based gaming tool like SCVNGR opens a ton of opportunity to continue to revolutionize the college visit experience.
Then, just a few minutes before I was to present my session for the conference, I received the following text from Arundi Venkayya Cox of the Dayton Daily News:
I about lost it at this point. So many incredible things were happening at once, all while preparing for Marv’s party that night. Insane! Now we’d celebrate Marv’s trip to the HighEdWeb Conference and our being selected for SXSW, the largest interactive festival in the world…in Austin!
And celebrate we did, in epic-fashion. The lodge of Buffalo Billiards was filled to capacity. HighEdWeb launched Link, Seth Odell interviewed the winners of this past winter’s Mercedes Benz tweet race, each earning a trip to the Super Bowl, and Marv jammed outside while You You’re Awesome rocked the lodge. Flying in my brother, the drummer of You You’re Awesome, was the best decision I’ve made in a long time. Sharing that night with him was over the top.
Post party we drove Marv around back and Todd Sanders, aka @TSand, organized a pork-grilling event with Marv. We had close to 75 people stick around for more music, bacon, and engaging with Marv.
The icing on the cake was the sudden dance party at a Shell Gas Station in Shreveport, LA on my drive home from Austin.
A group of high school students asked about Marv while I was fueling him up. After a moment’s hesitation, I decided Marv could always make more friends. On switch. Minutes later, complete strangers from two local high schools were engaging with Marv and with each other. “This is the most amazing thing I’ve seen all year!” I heard as others walked up. (I never get tired of hearing that!) About an hour and a half later, I was back on the road.
I finally made it to Bessemer to get Marv settled in with the RV legends at Alabama RV. They brought me safely to the airport to make my flight to Dayton to spend the last few hours of my birthday with Megan and the kids.
We’d made it through another adventure. We’d made another step in this startup’s growth. And we celebrated with birthday cake.
“We need you to stand up and be remarkable. Be human. Contribute. Interact. Take the risk that you might make someone upset with your initiative, innovation, and insight - it turns out that you’ll probably delight them instead.”—Seth Godin - Linchpin