Am I crazy? Am I crazy not to get a job in consulting or banking, earning nearly six figures straight out of graduation as many of my classmates are? Am I nuts for moving a hemisphere away to city where I haven’t spent more than a few weeks? Am I insane to have no certain means of supporting myself in the near future?
The most delusional part is I’m running a travel business in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, notorious for their drugs, violence, and poverty. I’m also living in these same places, known as favelas in Portuguese.
Most people think I’m pretty crazy. On the last day of Entrepreneurship class, my professor announced that I was a “freak” for what I’m doing. To be fair, he meant it in the most endearing way. Even my own father pleaded with me to, “get a job, any job in the United States!” That’s understandable, considering my education through college cost a half million dollars. What’s the IRR on that investment?
Before you put me in a straitjacket, allow me to plead my case.
As I see it, I have 10 to 15 years during which I’ll have no spouse, children, or mortgage. This is the only chance I’ll have to pour my soul into my ambitions without risking ruining relationships or watching my house foreclose. Really, what’s the worst that could happen? In a year, I could be 24, broke and unemployed. That’s not nearly as bad as 44, broke, unemployed, with no credit, and a family that hates me. And even that’s not nearly as bad as 44, a lucrative yet demanding and unfulfilling job, and a family that hates me.
Many people say they want to be entrepreneurs someday, but an entrepreneur’s greatest asset is time. Time allows you to fail and learn, providing more opportunities for success. Moreover, I know I’d become complacent with the false sense of security from a good, steady paycheck. It’d be so much harder to suddenly fall from that lifestyle to an entrepreneur’s lifestyle than to just be an entrepreneur starting now.
Did I mention I’m trying to save the world? Or, at least a small fraction of it to begin with. As someone who won the genetic lottery of skin color, birthplace, and chromosomes, I wonder, “What did I do to deserve this?” Though it’s a distant reality, I believe in equality of opportunity, so I want others to have the chances I’ve had. I also believe business approaches have the greatest potential to solve the social problems that cause inequality of opportunity.
That’s why I’ve come to Brazil to grow a business that can generate livelihoods for at least dozens, maybe hundreds, and hopefully thousands of people. Favela Experience, my venture, provides authentic homestays and apartment rentals for travelers in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, doubling the income of favela host families. Our guests experience the vibrancy of under-appreciated favela culture alongside locals while hosts earn more money to invest in their families’ health, housing, and education.
We’re not a charity because as a for-profit we’ll have more incentive and possibility to scale our impact. We make money by charging a minority of booking fees, and our hosts don’t receive handouts but rather earn by providing a valuable service to guests. Still, we unabashedly believe we also can and should make a good living doing this.
It helps that I absolutely love what I’m doing in the world’s most beautiful city. However, this will be by far the most challenging and educational endeavor I’ve ever attempted.
Am I scared? Absolutely, but my fear ensures me this is worthwhile. When all is said and done, I’m proud to be a freak.