Person: Bo Fishback
Drink: Regular coffee in a Kansas City coffee shop
Bo Fishback is the self-proclaimed luckiest man in the world.
By age 30, he had found his dream job. He worked as the president of Kauffman Labs for Enterprise Creation in Kansas City, Missouri where his main task was allocating $100 million dollars a year to various entrepreneurial projects. It was a job that was easy to love and one he saw himself in for another 20 years.
Then one Monday in February, he walked into work and announced his resignation—effective immediately.
The news came as a shock to Kauffman. It probably came as a shock to Bo too—when he left work on Friday he had every intention of returning the following Monday. But life intervened.
At the insistence of his good friend, Eric Koester, Bo went to Los Angeles where he competed in a 54-hour Startup Weekend Event where he pitched an idea that had been rolling around the back of his mind for a while. It was a last minute choice to pitch and the decision paid off—not only did Bo’s team win, they attracted the attention of investors (including Ashton Kutcher) and raised nearly a million dollars overnight.
He explained this as we sat sipping coffee at the coffee shop in Kansas City, which is a five minute walk from the headquarters of Zaarly—one of the fastest growing, most-talked about startups of the year. In just seven months, they’ve scaled their product, assembled a dynamic team and left a noticeable impact on cities nationwide.
According to CrunchBase, Zaarly is a location based, real-time buyer powered market. Buyers make an offer for an immediate need and sellers cash in on an infinite marketplace for items and services they never knew were for sale.
The format for a Zaarly is: I’d pay ____ for ____.
- I’d pay $30 for someone to mow my lawn.
- I’d pay $45 for a ticket to this weekend’s Tigers game.
- I’d pay $600 for a treadmill in good condition.
The idea is to build a marketplace where people acquire goods and make money using technology and the communities around them. The young company has already generated over $3 million dollars in Zaarly transactions.
It could, in theory, change the way business is done—become the next $50 billion dollar company.
That is Bo’s vision and the reason he could walk away from the greatest job in the world without second thought. He didn’t want to watch someone with the same idea make it big while he sat on the sideline and watched.
Now he and his team are working around the clock to make it happen. And from the looks of it they are succeeding.
It helps that Bo (and his two co-founders) are no strangers to the entrepreneurial world. Bo has two successful startups under his belt: Orbis Biosciences, a drug delivery and particle fabrication company, and Lightspeed Genomics, a next-generation genome sequencing company (source: CrunchBase). In addition to these two companies, Bo has served as anadvisor, board member, and angel investor to many other ventures.
Bo always knew he would start a company. When he was four years old, his father—and role model—left his job as at a hospital to start his own company selling respiratory therapy supplies. As Bo grew so did the company. By the time he was 18, his father sold his company and retired comfortably. Watching his dad run a business instilled the entrepreneurial bug in both Bo and his brother who is also a successful entrepreneur.
However, at age 18, Bo didn’t expect he would be in the position he is in today. Bo grew up in a small Georgia town where he drove 50 miles to and from school. By the time senior year rolled around his top concern was finding a school outside of Georgia where he could play basketball (he’s 6’8”) and meet girls. He ended up at Southern Methodist University and while his basketball career was short-lived, he did meet his wife (and now mother of their newborn baby boy).
After earning a degree in Medical Biosystems, he went to work for a corporation that basically gave him a budget and said go start a new branch for our company. He met their expectations. By the time he left, the team he built had over 200 employees. He then started his own company that (in what he calls a complete stroke of luck) sold within eight months. He decided to pursue an MBA and headed to Harvard Business School where he once again rolled out a successful venture. That’s how he garnered the attention of Kauffman and landed a job helping other startups.
His motive for serial startups is simple, “I just like to build shit”.
And he gets lucky. “I’ve had so many experience where luck was on my side, I’ve reached a point where I just assume I’ll be lucky.”
Of course, the harder you work the luckier you get. And Bo works hard.
Although you wouldn’t know it if you met him—he’s easygoing with a propensity for fun. He’s also tall, charismatic, optimistic and a visionary.
That combination creates a rare ability to attract talented individuals and motivate them to accomplish a common goal. He’s so good his inbox is filled with hundreds of resumes applying for jobs that don’t even exist. One guy actually offered to pay to work for the company (it worked, he now works at the San Francisco office—and gets paid).
In all honestly, after Bo took time out of his busy schedule to sit down and have a genuine conversation with me I could have been convinced to relocate my life to KC and join the team.
I wouldn’t have been the first MSU kid to do it. Zaarly worked its magic on my three of my close friends (which is why I was visiting Kansas City in the first place). In March, my friend Eric met Bo through a project—Bo left a big impression on Eric and eventually offered him an internship at Kauffman. When Bo left Kauffman for Zaarly, it was easy to convince Eric to follow suit; he knew working with Bo would lead to something big.
When they company needed more interns it wasn’t hard for Eric to recruit his MSU classmates. Bo could offer them something that is hard to find: a chance to create something meaningful. If Zaarly works, it will change lives around the US and possibly the world.
It’s a big vision—and Bo thinks it’s going to work—but even if it doesn’t, it will have been an incredible ride; an exciting chapter of life they can look back on as a reminder they were willing to take a risk to create something great.
I took a lot away from Cup 46—but what I will remember most is Bo’s optimism and vision.
Everyone is capable of finding that once-in-a-lifetime idea or opportunity that captures their heart and changes their life (and the lives of others). That risky idea that somehow doesn’t seem risky at all. An idea they can’t get off their mind. An idea that creates meaning and purpose.
But sadly, not everyone knows they have this capability.
Bo says he’s lucky—but it takes more than luck to stumble into a dream job, twice. I asked him what made him different from those that don’t find meaning.
“I surrounded myself with good people”.
Coffee with Bo was fantastic from start to finish, but this part of the conversation really hit home. The night before, Eric and I were talking about how lucky we were to be pursuing exactly what we wanted to be pursuing when so many of our former classmates were finding themselves in lackluster jobs. When Eric found Zaarly he knew with 100 percent certainty it was the right choice for him. That is how I felt when I decided to go to Europe after graduation. We couldn’t explain the logic that led to our the decisions, but we both had a gut feeling that told us it was the right thing to do.
I told Eric I wished more people realized how much potential they truly have—realized they could be doing exactly what they love.
My conversation with Bo helped me see that we need good people in our lives to help us discover our potential.
I had to have coffee with two dozen people before I believed I was capable of spending two months in Europe post-graduation. Eric is more efficient. It took him one conversation with Bo—a man for whom he has great respect—to realize he could have a great impact on Zaarly if he relocated to Kansas City and joined the team.
In this crazy world of expectation and uncertainty it is way too easy to get caught in a maze of self-doubt and insecurity. That’s why it’s vital to find positive people that help us navigate our way through it.
Bo, who is incredibly talented, succeeded because he found people that helped him maximize those talents. That’s why he’s the luckiest man in the world. It’s also why he’s devoted to Zaarly. It’s a platform to inspire and create meaning for others—to pay it forward.
Cup 46 a testament that that a life filled with meaning, laughter, love and fun is possible for everyone. It takes a lot of work to make it happen, but it’s possible.
If you don’t believe that, surround yourself with people that do. Their contagious optimism and support will lead you to that dream job.
Then when you find it (and don’t settle until you do) reach out and help someone else. Whether it’s being a mentor to a young college student or a co-founder of a company that starts a movement.
Or better yet—both.