We’ve had our eyes on Jon Modica for a while. We’ve always been impressed with his talent on the water, but more recently we’ve grown curious about his interest in innovation and his entrepreneurial spirit off the water. When he’s not fulfilling his pro team responsibilities for Cabrinha, Jon’s business is technology. His mission is education. He’s the founder of a small tech company currently at work in an accelerator in NYC, and he’s surfing the waves of today’s startup world. We think there’s a lesson or two to learn from Jon’s business experience, so we caught up with him last week to talk shop and witness a young tech founder at work in the trenches. Read on.
The personality type of an entrepreneur and kiteboarder are one and the same. The sport and also any startup requires constant iteration – constant effort that is learning by doing and constantly failing, then overcoming failure – over and over – until it works right. Entrepreneurs and kiteboarders are not afraid of failure and are the type of people who ‘hang in there’, living for that one moment where it all comes together and they succeed in their startup or in learning a new trick. — Bill Tai, Co-Founder of MaiTai Global
You built and launched your own business while maintaining a pro kiting career. How have the two things supported one another over the years?JON MODICA: I never would have thought a career as a professional kiteboarder would support a startup tech company. Who would? It didn’t just support it though, kiteboarding (and the people I’ve met through it) made Nutmeg Education possible. Both kiteboarding and Nutmeg Education are indispensable to me…I can’t have one without the other.
Several companies have formed in the last few years and use kiteboarding as a catalyst for business networking. What’s particularly unique about kiteboarding that lends itself to this type of activity? Why choose kiteboarding instead of — say – golf?
JON MODICA: People love leveraging activities to get to know one another; activities like golf are just a relaxing way to break down some barriers and get to know someone. Businesses are made through building relationships and really getting to know someone quickly. Kiteboarding is a trying sport for most. Seeing how someone deals with the failures, the triumphs, and everything in-between, gives someone like me a great deal of insight into a person that I might/might not want to work with. I feel kiteboarding just reveals so much more about a person then golf!
Most kiteboarders are male, aged 35-55, and upwardly mobile, earning $75K plus a year. How have you leveraged this audience to build support for your mission-driven, technology start-up, Nutmeg Education?
JON MODICA: Lucky for us, many kiteboarders also have kids and are therefore intrinsically motivated to support a startup like Nutmeg whose mission is ultimately to help students. We launched a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo.com that has already raised several thousand dollars (mostly from the kiteboarding community). Our real support, however, comes from several individuals I’ve met through MaiTai. For the sake of their privacy I won’t name them, but they have been extremely helpful in guiding me through the startup world. You know who you are! Thank you!
What is it about kiteboarding that attracts so many entrepreneurs?
Entreprenuers are experts of risk management. You know, the “identification, assessment, and prioritization of risks followed by coordinated and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor, and control the probability and/or impact of unfortunate events or to maximize the realization of opportunities”…… also known as kiteboarding.
Tech entrepreneurs and investors are drawn toward innovation. Kiteboarding is in a very innovative phase currently. It’s also a sport that requires the operator to navigate a large number of variables – wind speed and direction, constantly changing currents and water surfaces, and innumerable combinations of kite shapes and control mechanisms – very similar to the massive multivariate equation that is embodied into any startup. Entrepreneurs live their lives taking on challenges and kiteboarding is a natural fit as a result. — Bill Tai, Co-Founder of MaiTai Global
What personal characteristics do you think entrepreneurs and kiteboarders share?
I’m sure there are better answers, but personally, I feel that one of the things all entrepreneurs have in common is a need for constant change. If there is one sport that represents constant change, it’s kiteboarding. We can’t sit still, we’re always thinking, always adapting, and always re-inventing.
What advice would you give young, entreprenuerial-minded kiteboarders? Suggestions for maintaining a balance between work and play?
Work hard, play harder. Work even harder, play even harder.
The MaiTai events are designed to be ‘active gatherings’ that require attendees to participate, and in the process, let go of their egos and their fears. The activities create a deeper bond than typical conferences that are usually built around a ‘broadcast’ model of a single presenter on stage addressing a mass audience in a room. At a MaiTai event, the action and learning happen on a very peer to peer level. — Bill Tai, Co-Founder of MaiTai Global