TEAM BUILDING

Extreme Vacations: The Benefits of Doing Something Dangerous

A nice week on the beach? Not for these guys. Here's why they prefer to risk their lives in their free time.
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You might have seen Channing Tatum gush recently about his newborn daughter on The Late Show With David Letterman but a year ago he was thinking about how to stay alive, not about changing diapers.

Tatum and fellow actor Adam Rodriguez, along with a pack of Harvard alumni, had set off for Guyana on the northern coast of South America for a 12-day survival course rife with so many hazards they each had to take out special insurance to cover the cost of a helicopter evacuation if they were badly injured.

The only thing is the jungle was so thick "you'd actually have to dynamite [it] to be able to get out because there's nowhere a helicopter could land," says Patrick Salyer, CEO of Mountain View, California-based Gigya, a sart-up that provides the tech infrastructure for social logins, plugins, and gamification for half of comScore's top 100 U.S. websites.

Not only did the eight-person group have to get themselves and their gear across a raging river home to piranhas and anacondas using only a rope and help from each other, they also repelled down a 200-foot cliff, made their own shelter every night by chopping plant materials down with a machete, and caught, harvested or hunted their own food.

Mostly it was fish since, as Salyer says, "We were pretty bad with the bow and arrow so let's just say we didn't have huge opportunity [to kill animals]." Though they also ate maggot-like bugs they found in seeds.

Getting lost was a big peril. "If you wander off and it's the middle of the night, you can get lost forever because everything looks the same. That was something that you had to be pretty cautious of," Salyer says.

But why go through the trouble? These guys aren't hurting for money and could easily vacation nearly anywhere they want.

According to Salyer, solving problems is what entrepreneurs like himself do all the time, but surviving in the jungle means doing it at a more intense level.

Here's how he says surviving in the jungle relates to succeeding in business.

The cliché is true: It really is good for teamwork.

About crossing that infested river (which was 150 feet across), Salyer says they did it with a 60-lb. packs and no boat or wading.

"There's a technique for it which is extremely scary, which involves basically streaming a rope across the river, tying off that rope, filling your pack with air, strapping your pack on the rope and trying to figure out how to get across without being swept away or pulled underwater," he says. "You have to do that with your partner or there's no way you get across."

In business it's the same thing, he says.

"If you think about how we service clients... [there's an] engineer, a project manager, a designer--all these different aspects--and unless these people work together we're not going to give the client a good experience.

Success is about the journey.

Surviving in the jungle comes with unceasing challenges--not unlike the life of starting up a company.

Salyer says Gigya's ambition is "to be a huge public technology brand that everyone remembers." No big deal, right?

While getting your first 100 customers or launching your first product are great accomplishments, the work doesn't stop there. Soon your sights are set on getting your next 500, 1,000, or 2,000 customers and launching your seventh product, he says.

"So you really have to be focused on the day to day and just enjoying the challenges," he says.

Humility is a virtue.

Salyer says his jungle experience humbled him because he realized how much he needed to rely on other who knew more than him.

"I think in business you should always be humbled as well because there are always people you can learn from, there are always going to be new experiences," he says.

The group is planning its next adventure, which will take place within the next six months. Possible destinations include a desert trip to the Middle East, a winter survival expedition in the Arctic, or something that may include scuba diving in Southeast Asia.

Stretching yourself can change your outlook.

"I think it gives you perspective. It shows that you can accomplish a lot, things that you wouldn't normally accomplish from day to day. There are different types of challenges in life and I think that showing yourself that you can take on these different challenges and actually accomplish them is pretty meaningful," Salyer says.

Surviving can lead to a blissful denouement.

Near the end of the trip the group was hanging out with some locals who surprised them by knowing who Channing Tatum was. Even though the village was remote and barely had a road leading to it, they had seen his Step Up movie thanks to satellite Internet and were thrilled to not only meet him but breakdance with him in the flesh.

"That was a pretty good moment," Salyer says.

IMAGE: Flickr/Krhn313
Last updated: Jul 1, 2013




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