1958 was his year.
After slaving away in his tool shed-turned-laboratory cooking his way into the food business, Momofuku Ando invented instant ramen and shook the 3am college dorm food market (kidding, way more than that), turning it into a company worth billions. He was 48 years old.
Ando’s tale, which I first read about in this Quartz article by Nathan Kontny, CEO of Highrise, consumes you as instantly as one would consume ramen. It’s a unique story — albeit unpalatable at times — that bears a taste of universality.
His story is riddled with failure. After building a clothing company at age 22 and selling slide projectors and air raid shelters to the Japanese military, Ando spent 45 days in jail for probing into an accounting problem with one of his companies.
He then pulled himself back up and built a real-estate empire and a bank, only to fail again, this time finding himself in jail for much longer on charges of tax evasion.
What was the secret sauce to his unlikely success? Not persistence, according to the article, nor was it the mysterious concoction that induces ramen cravings at 3am.
If you wanted the punch line this early on, it’s this: people matter. A whole freakin’ lot.
Every step of the way, Ando found himself asking for help. It made all the difference. Take the first time he was in jail. He developed a close relationship with a fellow prisoner who was released before him. Ando asked his friend to get in touch with a lieutenant in the Japanese Army, who was then able to get him released.
If it weren’t for that prison friendship, Ando would have probably remained in prison much, much longer.
Whether it was his wife pushing him to create a food experimentation laboratory, or a fellow entrepreneur telling him to purchase all the cheap real estate at the opportune time, Ando leaned on his network earnestly and consistently.
“Ando’s persistence didn’t come from individual suffering. It came from the people he surrounded himself with.”
It was the community he surrounded himself with that enabled him to keep going.
Networking & relationships, one in the same
We talk a lot about networking at Conspire. Its professional use is well recognized, but there’s a deeper merit, one that can only be understood in hindsight. One that makes it an elusive concept, but nonetheless necessary.
On a personal level, we vastly underestimate the power of our social networks. That’s because when we endure struggle and finally crawl our way out of the trough of sorrow, we find ourselves falling back into its inevitable trap, this constant cycle that runs startup life. Entrepreneurship can feel like a lonely experience.
As a startup founder, it’s difficult to pause, turn around, and reflect on how you got to where you are. The constant pressure to look forward causes you to lose valuable perspective on the people who helped get you there. Only then will you realize that your success was never just your own.
You may not even realize that the person you sat down with for coffee years ago could propel you into your next big gig. In some sense, you’re not meant to realize that (hence the elusiveness). A similar experience happened to Kontny:
“Years later, I was trying to figure out my next project. I remembered chatting with another friend, Andrew Wicklander, about how much we missed a now-defunct software program called Writeboard. That gave me the motivation to commit to an idea that became a pretty successful software project. And it was only successful because a lot of other loose connections and friends helped me spread the word.”
Or take Ryan Hoover, founder of Product Hunt, who early on applied for a position at Monkey Inferno and through the hiring process developed a close relationship with Shaan Puri, the CEO. He didn’t get the job, but maintained contact with him over time. Then, when it came time to launch Product Hunt LIVE, they were brought back together. Puri’s company was working on a platform to host live-video conversations, which was exactly what Hoover needed.
“As Shaan and I worked together on this partnership, we shared nostalgic banter about the time I applied to join his team. This is a great example of how important it is to never burn a bridge in Silicon Valley (or anywhere, really). Product Hunt LIVE VIDEO is happening because we stayed in touch and genuinely liked each other.”
The sooner you realize that networking and developing relationships are one in the same, that the line between professional and personal is blurring, and will continue to blur, then the deeper, more supportive your life becomes. You can soon cultivate mutually beneficial friendships that will last a lifetime. The key is to develop real connections with people.
Surround yourself with great people. Share your struggles. Seek help. You’d be surprised to see who’s there for you. You’re invincible not because you never fail, but because you fail with a community to help you get back on your feet.
“It took 48 years of my life for me to come up with the idea of instant noodles. Each and every event in the past is connected to the present by invisible threads.” — Momofuku Ando