While in San Francisco I was helping to run a conference www.sanfranciscosummit.com the objective was to showcase a selection of Scottish start-up businesses to US investors.
The keynote speaker at the conference was Eric McAfee, a highly motivational self made billionaire. Eric spoke about inheriting debt and having no option but to make money and figure out a way to pay the debt off. I really liked Eric’s attitude, he believed that nothing was impossible and that with sufficient determination one can achieve anything.
At the end of his presentation we gave Eric with a bottle of single malt scotch as a thank you present for coming to speak. This gestured slightly backfired as it turned out Eric had never had an alcoholic drink in his life! However he appeared unphased and after the conference invited myself and Bruce Walker, the conference founder, out for dinner!
A couple of days later Bruce and I hitched a train ride down to Palo Alto to meet with Eric at one of his favourite restaurants. We were joined for dinner by Nurzhas, an incredible guy from Kazakhstan, who was simultaneously studying at both Yale and Harvard!
Dinner was delicious, the only thing better than the food was the conversation. It was fast paced and fully engaging. We harassed Eric with a barrage of questions.
I was most interested by how Eric built his core team. He stressed the importance of letting people know how valuable they are both financially and by giving them respect. He also proclaimed that in the long term you should only work with people who excel in their field of expertise!
While the conversation was focused on business it was refreshingly ethical. Eric spoke at length about business being a tool for creating change and solving problems in the world. When the subject turned to increasing revenue in traditional high street shops Eric revealed his true nature. He stated that he didn't see this as a problem that needed much attention and he implored us to thinking bigger and better. He impressed me by talking about his abhorrence for female genital mutilation a practise that still affects hundreds of thousands of women every year. This was, in his eyes, a relevant problem.
Dinner with Eric restored my faith in capitalism, I see it as a system that should utilise resources to solve problems. We need to collectively educate future generations of entrepreneurs to see business as a tool to create, accomplish and innovate rather than simply as a way of getting rich.
While I can't remember what I ate, it was a meal I will never forget! My time with Eric made me question my direction. It inspired me to think outside of the box, looking at how I could work on meaningful projects and not be daunted by their scale.
I'm already looking forward to the next time I get to dine with Eric.
I'm also excited to announce that the trip to San Francisco will be run again in 2015. There are a number of place to be won by UK start up businesses. To find out more visit - www.sanfranciscosummit.com