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  • I was dying and needed a cure.

  • I was 27 years old, my body was falling apart,

  • and my mind was screaming for help.

  • I was a real estate loan officer.

  • I had everything I was supposed to have wanted.

  • But I was miserable.

  • I had tailored suits, this beautiful tie collection,

  • a personal shopper, I even had a driver.

  • And when I'd wake up, in my million dollar penthouse,

  • slip on my Ferragamo loafers, and walk to the window,

  • I'd call my driver and I'd let him know,

  • "Hey, Tony, it's OK man, if you're a few minutes late."

  • Because that would give me another couple of moments,

  • to bask in the sunlight of that window,

  • before heading to the office.

  • We called it "the bunker" --

  • it was a complex maze of glass walls without windows.

  • I'd spent 11 hours a day in the bunker,

  • selling loans on the phone -- like this one, to qualified buyers.

  • And I would spend my time --

  • building these relationships,

  • investing all my time and my passion

  • into building these relationships,

  • but they were relationships that I couldn't keep,

  • because as soon as they were approved,

  • they'd be sold to the bank.

  • Then I'd just start over again, for the next month,

  • building new relationships.

  • I felt like Sisyphus,

  • who's that Greek king with the eternal punishment

  • of rolling this immense boulder up a hill,

  • only to watch it roll back down again,

  • repeating the process forever.

  • I would start relationships that I couldn't keep

  • -- it was a zero-sum game.

  • I was spending my time for money,

  • and that just wasn't enough, so --

  • I quit!

  • The realization came

  • while I was standing with my cousin Brandon,

  • overlooking the San Francisco cityscape from our balcony,

  • when he said something to me that I will never ever forget.

  • He said, "Hey Brad... Bro, is this view really worth a million dollars?"

  • Then he went on to tell me,

  • "I was enjoying my life more when I was living

  • in this shoebox apartment in The Tenderloin,

  • and, even though it was a shoebox,

  • at least I was able to spend my time how I'd wanted.

  • At least I was able to spend my time playing the sax.

  • And at that moment, I thought, "That's it!"

  • I was trading my time for the very things that I'd wanted back.

  • I was trading my time for time,

  • which is exactly what I wanted.

  • So I have a question for everybody out here in the audience --

  • How many of us out here, want our time back?

  • Want to own our time to do the things that we want to do?

  • I see most people raising their hands now --

  • You want to spend your time in the way you want to --

  • And that's how I felt,

  • so the next day in the office,

  • as I was packing my desk into a box on the ground,

  • my boss Mikey walked in with three leads,

  • and he said, "Hey, Brad, I have three new leads for you, man --

  • I picked these out, handpicked them just for you."

  • Now, Mikey is one of the most generous,

  • interesting, totally awesome persons that I've ever met,

  • but I looked at those three leads,

  • and I thought, "These are three relationships

  • that I'm going to build, but I can't keep."

  • So I gave my boss Mikey a hug, I grabbed my box,

  • and I walked down that long corridor

  • of glass walls without windows for the last time.

  • And I was very inspired at this time, because I'd learned something

  • that was incredibly valuable.

  • I'd learned that --

  • "You can spend your time making money,

  • but you cannot spend your money making time."

  • It's a one-way street -- Right?

  • And so, the time I was investing

  • and the relationships that I was building

  • were more valuable than what I was getting in return.

  • So I quit my job.

  • However, I felt trapped.

  • I felt trapped because the life I was living

  • cost me 11 hours a day inside a windowless bunker.

  • The things I was buying and my monthly condo payments --

  • were preventing me from doing the things I'd wanted to do.

  • But I knew there had to be a way out.

  • I realized that, instead of possessing my possessions,

  • my possessions were possessing me.

  • So I started looking at advice

  • from the persons that were living their lives around me.

  • Now, at the time, my cousin Brandon and I,

  • we had our condo, he owned nightclubs and --

  • He had great hair!

  • Really, great hair!

  • And he used to tell me, "Hey, Brad, I'm going to tell you a secret --

  • If these clubs ever fail, my fall back plan

  • is going to be as a hair model." (Laughter)

  • And he was serious and --

  • and I always thought that was funny and --

  • from an outsider's perspective he had a fantastic life.

  • But, in reality, he was just as miserable as I was.

  • Because he was spending all his time in the clubs,

  • instead of spending his time doing what he'd wanted to do,

  • which is playing the saxofon.

  • Now, this was in stark contrast to my cousin Matthew,

  • who was a produce buyer of real food

  • a local organic food store.

  • He would buy clothes second-hand, mend them himself,

  • spend his time doing, well --

  • basically anything he wanted to do --

  • riding his bicycle, hanging out with his friends.

  • I was standing at my luxury penthouse, and I was like --

  • "Man, this guy has exactly what I'm looking for!"

  • Matt owned his time,

  • and he owned his life.

  • Having autonomy and owning your time

  • are the most valuable possessions you can ever have.

  • And I knew at that moment,

  • that if I was going to buy my life back,

  • I would have to sell my image.

  • So I packed my winter clothes into trash sacks,

  • and dropped them at the shelter before heading to the airport.

  • We were in the dense jungles of Panama,

  • heading south from Guajaca, Mexico,

  • through the tropical rainforests

  • on this crazy wilderness expedition.

  • We're searching for something from memory,

  • something that we once had,

  • but it had been taking away from us.

  • These was our family's farm at Washington State.

  • I remember visiting my cousins in the summers,

  • and helping out on their gardens.

  • Always searching the swamps in the forest for that perfect tree,

  • in order to build a tree house.

  • But then the developers came,

  • they cut down the forest, they filled in the swamp,

  • and they tore down the house that my dad built.

  • But we were making something that would not be torn down.

  • It'd be built from the blueprints of nature,

  • with cornerstones of community

  • and sustainability.

  • We'd stick together as a family,

  • we would grow food from the land,

  • we'd invite expats down to come,

  • live in our tree houses and enjoy a simpler way of life,

  • together, in our Eco-Village.

  • And in the furthest country south

  • after 9 months of this arduous trek

  • through every country of Central America,

  • we found exactly what we were looking for.

  • They were the coffee farms of Boquete, Panama.

  • And they were an ecological paradise.

  • Their operations were built like the systems of a living organism.

  • The fields, where they would grow their coffee,

  • were in the forests themselves.

  • And they would use every part of the coffee plant

  • in its own production -- there was no waste.

  • For generations --

  • for generations, they've been working together as families,

  • growing their coffee, living from the land.

  • And for a moment, as adults,

  • in this far, far away forest --

  • we were kids again.

  • But it wouldn't last.

  • Because their farmers were in danger too.

  • Apparently, getting expats to come visit paradise

  • is not the hard part.

  • It's getting them to leave! (Laughter)

  • So they're coming down by the hundreds,

  • and they were buying up the land,

  • and building their houses for retirement.

  • So that night, in Mr. George,

  • this local's bar in Boquete, Panama,

  • we made a plan,

  • that we'd bring back home with us from paradise.

  • That night in Mr. George,

  • Bicycle Coffee was formed.

  • This is our family's company.

  • So, we landed back

  • in a cold and windy San Francisco

  • and, even though this idea of Bicycle Coffee,

  • and this mission that inspired us was keeping my heart warm,

  • I wished I had kept at least one of those sweaters,

  • because San Francisco is way colder than Central America.

  • My cousins were crashing on a couch of their friend's house,

  • we were roasting coffee with a wok and a wooden spoon.

  • Right?

  • "Roasting", but actually, we were just burning the coffee. (Laughter)

  • That's really what we were doing.

  • And, even though we were burning the coffee,

  • with each batch we learned.

  • And, if we made a mistake, it was just a few burned beans.

  • And, in the past, this is where I'd had trouble starting on my goals

  • because, looking at the big picture,

  • my goals always would seem so distant and overwhelming,

  • I'd be frozen before even starting --

  • But, together, as a crew, as a tight group,

  • we looked at this, instead of --

  • the entire race, or a whole marathon,

  • it was just a hundred yards at the time.

  • We're having fun, and focusing on making small improvements,

  • and then we share them with our local community.

  • After the wok and the wooden spoon, we made this major upgrade --

  • those stovetop popcorn maker -- these little hand-crank Whirley Pop.

  • We're roasting like 6 ounces at the time,

  • we'd hand-grind our beans,

  • and then get them ready for our first cafe.

  • First cafe -- It was a German utility cart

  • that we converted into a mobile bicycle coffee shop.

  • We'd ride it around the neighborhood, giving out free coffee,

  • and telling our story with every single cup.

  • People loved what we were doing,

  • they enjoyed our story,

  • and they wanted to support us.

  • But we needed exposure and we had no money.

  • So, we launched our zero-dollar marketing plan, and went rogue.

  • We took that cart,

  • parked it across the street from our favorite farmers' market,

  • posted a sign, and then posed it up, waited.

  • And then something amazing happened.

  • People came.

  • And then we came back the next week.

  • We had a line.

  • My friend Anuk once said to me,

  • "Brad, you will work for your network,

  • and then there is this point,

  • where your network will work for you."

  • Well, we experienced that the next week, because we had a line here, and a line here --

  • and we knew that little hand-cranked Whirley Pop

  • was not going to do it for us anymore.

  • And so --

  • We added three carts,

  • built a new roaster from a little four-pound drum

  • made it into a barbecue roaster --

  • I remember sleeping outside with my cousins in shifts,

  • just to make sure that the coffee would be roasted on time.

  • And, any time we hit a wall,

  • we would think, design, and then build through it.

  • There's our cart.

  • So, today, we have Bicycle Coffee.

  • That's probably from one of the farms

  • that we visited on our trek together.

  • We roast coffee on our own twenty-pound roaster

  • that we built ourselves.

  • Just in these little batches --

  • small batch by small batch at a time.