Philip James, Founder of online wine retailer Lot18, has worked with startups his entire career. Recently, he embarked on a trip westwards around the world, from New York through Siberia and Asia to Europe, then Africa. By motorcycle, Philip raises money for Wine to Water, supporting clean water projects in 15 countries. Read about the trip and donate here. Philip has been a FoundersCard Member since 2010.
1.) Tell us a bit about your background, and how you eventually became involved in the startup world?
I grew up in the UK and after Oxford, have worked in and around startups my whole career: from advising them, to eventually, starting and running them myself. I moved to New York to go to Business School, and started Snooth, my first company, soon after.
2.) What were some of the bigger challenges that you encountered when launching and scaling Lot18?
The hardest part in the online wine industry has always been that so few people have gone before. I’m an explorer by heart – my hobbies show that! – and its the discovery of the unknown that holds my attention. At Lot18 we broke so much new ground, from defining a new business model in the industry, to creating never before seen standards in logistics, to working with regulators to help clarify outdated laws. Thats always been the excitement and the challenge.
3.) You’ve recently embarked on a worldwide tour. What prompted you to move on from Lot18, and travel the world on a motorcycle?
I worked with the board to identify and train Lot18’s CEO, Jay Sung, and we overlapped by a year. I’m still on the board, but my day to day work at Lot18 was done. I last traveled the world in 2003, the year of my ill fated Everest expedition, it was time to shake things up and take on something new and scary. I had never ridden a motorcycle prior to this year, and only passed my test in March. A round the world trip seemed like a logical next step.
4.) How did you get involved in Wine to Water, and what is the primary goal of the trip?
Wine is the ultimate luxury good, but there are billions of people struggling to find clean water, who can’t even conceive of such an indulgence. We’ve supported water charities throughout Lot18’s history, but I felt myself drawn personally most directly to Doc Hendley’s mission [Note: Doc is the founder of Wine to Water]. After reading his book, I knew his charity was one that I wanted to support.
5.) How can one contribute to the Wine to Water cause?
There are donate links on my blog, or you can donate at Wine to Water directly.
6.) What equipment are you traveling with, and what are some of the preparations that you’ve made for the epic journey?
Firstly, I learned how to ride a bike! And then, the 6,000 mile trip across the US was good training. The one essential device that I travel with is my Delorme InReach, which is a satellite GPS and texting device, so I can send and receive text messages anywhere in the world, and my family can track my location exactly.
7.) Briefly describe your first-hand experience climbing Mt. Everest, and how that experience has contributed to your business acumen.
I grew up rock climbing and hiking, by the time I went to university that had evolved to alpine climbing in Scotland and larger mountains. After climbing to 23,000 feet in the Andes, Everest was my next and biggest challenge. I was 23 at the time, and if I had summited, would have been the youngest Briton to climb the North Face of the mountain.
Instead no one on our expedition made it, some of us turned around due to weather and cold, but the biggest problem occurred when my climbing partner fell and broke his leg near the summit ridge. It took 5 days to get him down, during which time one friend lost 3 fingers to frostbite, and 2 people died when the rescue helicopter crashed near base camp. At the time it was the highest altitude rescue ever. Nothing has been remotely as hard since.
8.) Where does your mind wander when cruising the bike for hours on end?
All over the place! I think a lot about why some places are rich and other’s poor, and how entrepreneurship can help all these people improve their lives. Mainly though I’m trying to stay in the moment and enjoy the ride.
9.) Have you brought any literature along for the ride?
Too heavy! I have digital versions of the Lonely Planet guidebooks for the regions I’m traveling through and I subscribe to Audible for audio books and have a few about each region I’m visiting. Jack Weatherford‘s revisionist book about Mongol history, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, has certainly been the best.
10.) Any inclinations to join a gang, now that you’re a full-time motorcyclist?
We’re all members of a gang or tribe of some sorts, right?
11.) What is one startup that FoundersCard members should keep an eye on?
I’ve been having fun with Tripline, which allows you to create an animated travel maps and embed them into your blog.
12.) Who do you recommend following on Twitter?
I haven’t had an internet connection since May, I’m probably not the best person to ask. At this point I’m most interested in hearing how my family and friends are doing.
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