The question was simple, “If I could have a beer with anyone, who would it be?”
I remember being a young teenager and frequently asking “what if” questions with a friend. I think we can all go back and think of questions we’ve asked ourselves. We have all started a question with, “What if…” The beauty of it, is that the rest of the question is entirely customizable to your imagination, personality, and interests.
Let’s try it out. Just fill in the blanks below.
“If I could have a _____ with anyone, it would be with _____.”
Now that wasn’t so hard. But how often do we actually pursuit these hypothetical questions? And what’s to stop us from making it happen?
In 2010 I launched BeerWithBranson.com as a New Years resolution to have a beer with Richard Branson. He’s the eccentric British billionaire who founded Virgin Records, Virgin Airlines, Virgin Mobile, and the list goes on. Perhaps you’ve heard about his private tropical island, Necker Island, located in the British Virgin Islands.
I first heard about Richard Branson as a teenager and was fascinated with his entrepreneurial endeavors and his adventurous spirit (he’s had to be rescued from the ocean four times). He has broken the status quo of corporations and billionaires. He has a history of taking crazy ideas and making them a reality. His latest is Virgin Galactic, taking people to space. Though most of his time now is spent on humanitarian and social issues worldwide.
The concept began as a social media experiment, hypothesizing that with today’s technology the concept of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” is fewer than six. I set out to see if I could make a connection with Richard Branson, and held onto the possibility that maybe there is someone close to me that has a direct connection with Richard Branson, and I just don’t know it yet.
In the first quarter of 2010 I made several fun connections. I spoke with people who had been to Necker Island; a Brit who delivered pizza to Richard Branson decades ago and now lives in Detroit; a Richard Branson look-a-like contest winner, and others. These people were all just three of four degrees away. However, I just didn’t seem able to make a connection that would make Beer With Branson a reality. With a new job and changes in my personal life that spring, Beer With Branson got moved to the back burner and I moved the project to a lifetime goal.
Though I made a few updates over the years, it was a pretty quiet project until early 2014. That’s when I saw that Richard Branson would be coming to Grand Rapids to speak at the Grand Rapids Economic Club.
Not only would this be a great chance, but the perfect scenario to promote Michigan its growth in entrepreneurship and the brewing industry.
In spring I relaunched the campaign and made another social media push. Once again there was good buzz, but no promising contacts. That’s when I reached out personally to whomever I knew in Grand Rapids. One of those people was Grand Rapids legend, RobBliss, who I had met a couple of times in passing. Rob lead me to Steve Zaagman, who lead me to Lorna Schultz, the executive director of the Grand Rapids Economic Club. My theory proved to be true, just three degrees of separation between myself and Richard Branson.
With one beer from Keweenaw Brewing Company and one from Founders, I was able to pour a beer for both Richard Branson and myself and ask a couple of questions. The moment was brief, but theresponsewasoverwhelming. And let me tell you, his flowing hair is even more amazing in person.
What amazes me today is that anybody is just a few connections away. And no matter the scope of your project, hard work, persistence, and maybe a little patience will go a long ways. One thing I know for sure, if I never made the effort, it would have never happened.
Next, I hope to make a series titled Things With People. While the next project is in planning, I can’t say what or who it will be just yet.
Stay awesome and I’ll see you out there.
Justin “Bugsy” Sailor is a 40 Below member. He owns and operates YooperSteez and works at ElegantSeagulls. Bugsy is a native of Baraga and graduate of Michigan State University. You can see all of his projects and get in touch with him at www.bugsy.me.