Touching RVA Experiences: The Importance of Being a Welder

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The rambling that follows is a true RVA story, related by Morgan from Gift Pinpoint. Morgan was emotionally touched by this incident. The following stream-of-consciousness is merely Morgan trying to make sense of an emotional experience that resonated deeply with him, and he begs forgiveness if the following doesn’t make much sense.

Who would’ve ever thought that you could find meaning — that elusive quest that keeps us searching for something, our entire lives — in an RVA talk? That’s like getting an Ave-Palta sandwich at a Jaivas concert: it’s not what you came for, but if you happen to find one, it’s a wonderful surprise!

I arrived first at The French Chilean Institute, followed soon after by Bunbury (a.k.a. Jennifer Blumberg 8.1 but renamed Bunbury after the central character in The Importance if Being Earnest). I expected the Institute to be a fountain of French luxury in Santiago. It wasn’t; it is spot dedicated to social missions much greater than eating croissants and debating Derrida. It teaches skills to those who need them most. But not “skills” in this abstract, pretentious, and meaningless sense that you’re so used to hearing — “The University of Chicago teaches doesn’t teach you skills, it teaches you meta-skills” I remember 20 different recruiters for the most depressing school in the universe once telling me, all of whom failed in their recruiting mission — but real, practical, useful skills. Like, for example, welding.

These welders. I’m going to drop all euphemisms: they were lower-middle class, humble and eager men and women, mostly in their low 20s, who were trying hard to make it. It was a vision into my own family’s past, reminding me my own grandfather (a portero, a super-intendant!), my own father (first person to go to school in his entire lineage; excluding a bunch of insane rabbis, of course), and myself (first to WASP-ify himself, in the great assimilist German tradition). It was powerful talking to them, listening to them, seeing them: they are working hard to make their welding dreams come true. The Chilean dream!

Bunbury and I, along with two Argentine men much smarter than we are (or at least I am, since I won’t speak for Bunbury’s IQ, possibly in the MENSA level), taught a class to the welders about how to start your own business.

Now, this doesn’t sound particularly exciting, teaching some welders the 101 of business. Almost makes me want to snore. But this class had precisely the opposite effect: the room lit up. The tips about starting and running a business that are the most obvious to me (having been doing this for a decade) were not only new and revolutionary to them, but, they internalized the lessons and, it seems, they will likely make much better and smarter business decisions as a result.

In other words: most people sleep through any class. (At least I do; therefore, I assume everyone else does, too!). In one ear, out the other. But these guys had the wonderful combination of both, really being into it, really listening — and, the advice actually having the ability to have a profoundly positive effect on their life.

It almost makes me want to be a teacher, Stand-and-Deliver style. Almost.

Let me give you an example. My group was trying to figure out how to start a welding business. I posed the question to them of, “who is your target market?”. They had some not-useful ideas (“people who need welding”), and eventually I made a critical suggestion to them: people with money. I mean, if I’m going to sell welding services, I’d rather do so to someone who could afford to pay me, right?

They were blown away by this idea. But it gets better: they couldn’t figure out how to reach rich people, since they don’t know any. Here was my suggestion to them: whenever something in my apartment breaks down, I ask my portero for a suggestion on whom to call. So why not, invest in the cost of one bus ticket to go to Las Condes, and just go building by building, and meet the portero in the lobby, befriend him, and tell him you’re a welder focused on repairing metal in apartments in Las Condes. If you’re friendly, nice, dressed well, and look competent — he’ll probably recommend you every time. And the portero, unlike the rich men and women who live in the apartments, is someone whom you can easily relate to, befriend.

This advice wasn’t “pivoting” nor “A/B testing user acquisition methodologies” nor “Integrating marketing initiatives into a dashboard.” It was back to the fundamental basics. And these basics, can help those who most need it, to transform their lives and create self-sustaining, profitable lives for themselves. They wanted it, they listened, and I think this will help them become self-made businessmen. I’m a cynical New Yorker, so I rarely feel like I accomplished good to help the world; but in this time, I really felt that, deep down inside. They all had that knowing look on their faces, that look you get from total comprehension, the “aha! I get it!” feeling. Well, most of them.

And getting to the basics, in a way that is clearly understandable to everyone, is hard. Not as hard as welding, though. We ended up choosing the example of starting your own orange juice stand as the constant metaphor throughout the entire class — and such a clear example resonated with everyone. I even made a recommendation to dye all your orange juice blue, as a competitive differentiator, and tell everyone that blue orange juice is a hit in the USA — everyone will buy that up! I still think that’s a great idea but, alas, not a great idea for a welder. If one of my amazing readers wants to start that business, all I ask for is 1% of the equity for the inspiration!

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