Ari Iaccarino, Co-Founder of Ridj-It, About His Relationship With Books
Ari Iaccarino and Rik Ganguly are the founders of Ridj-It, an adventure-based carpool platform that connects people with a passion for outdoor activities, such as hiking, skiing, biking, climbing, kayaking, tubing, horseback riding and others.
It was a business born out of their own needs: they are both avid hikers who suffered from the limits of transit connections between Boston area and all the great places. People either lack a car, or are in need of companionship for their favorite outdoor activities.
They named Ridj-it after an eight-hour hike together at Franconia Ridge, a collection of three mountains that are connected by (obviously) a ridge. It’s now their mission to connect urban people to the outdoors and offer them great opportunities to get out: “Be outside so that you may feel great inside. Exercise, learn, and feel connected to a community beyond yourself”.
Ridj-it also connects adventurers to small businesses for guides and other events. 500+ users, 400 trips, and over 1,000 cars taken off the road later, they’ll be expanding beyond Boston to D.C. come Spring.
I read their story a few weeks ago, on Indie Hackers, and couldn’t help thinking what a great idea it is and how I wish we had a similar platform in Romania, my home country. I (Cristina, that is) try to spend as many weekends as I can out of the concrete jungle and go in the middle of the nature, usually participating in trail running competitions – but that’s just an excuse to get out. Something like Ridj-it would make things a lot easier.
Ari Iaccarino accepted to share with us details about his relationship with books, what particular genre captures his interests, why he detested compulsory reading, but also whose words played an important role in helping him decide to become a teacher (Ari is a university and public school educator for ESL).
What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.
My favorite business book is Marketing Outrageously by John Spoelstra, as he talks about his time being the Marketing Director for various sports teams and the philosophy of courage when it comes to even being a small company. We are not Coca-Cola – we don’t have the name they do, so why would we think investing money via social media or Google AdWords would ever bring us any results based on our mostly non-recognizable brand? One quote in particular about this helps guide me along when a Google Account Manager tries to get us to purchase more ad credit: “If you run ads only to build identity, you’ve got a lot of cute little ads, but they’re very difficult to measure…However, if you ask the ad to build identity and buy now, then it’s easy to measure.” This idea is fairly fundamental now, but back in 2001 when he wrote the book and internet was starting to become a mainstream household item, that was a big deal. Be brave – and branding for the sake of branding is a waste of money for startups.
I have no favorite book, but I can tell you a particular genre that continues to capture my literary interests: metacognition. Books like The Tao of Physics, Everyday Zen, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Buddhist Biology, Zen and the Brain, and The Physics of Consciousness all run the gamut of challenging and considering to think of how we think. The books we choose somehow relate to our lives (although it is quite challenging to separate the book from the life at times). When I was about eight I would think about what it would be like to be dead, and for me that basically meant a total absence of thought. So to get to that point I would lie still in my bed, slow my breathing, and begin to “blackout.” Nothing. No color. No sound. No thought. The first time I did this I became incredibly scared and snapped myself out of it by jumping from my bed and breathing like a madman although I did not feel short of breath. I don’t know why an 8-year old would be interested in this, but as an adult I appreciate the books that have stemmed from that experience.
You can tell from the booklist that the integration of Western science and Eastern thought is a common theme, and much of that focuses on the illusion of individualism Western forces perpetuate. A majority of the DNA in your body is not human, so what does it mean to be a person? Just by observing a phenomenon you are changing it (the observer effect), so what does it mean to be objective? 90% of our time is spent thinking about the future or past, both of which have no inherent reality, which means we spend most of our lives not living something real and becoming entrapped in fake substance. A particle can be a wave at the same time, so how do we live a life with two things being contrary to each other while at the same time being true? Okay, okay. What does all of this mean for having a company? 1) You cannot divorce success and failure from your other team members. 2) Save your thoughts of the future for financial projections and deadlines; live now for the challenges and successes at hand. 3) People can be both right and wrong at the same time; come together to make something beautiful and functional out of this contrast rather than wasting the energy. 4) Never underestimate the power of your own individualistic ego to damage your relationships with partners and colleagues.
What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)
The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse played a pivotal role in helping me decide to become a teacher and in further pursuits afterwards. There are various interpretations of the text and many conclusions I could personally draw from, but the general theme entails following the life of a man in an institution of academic-like monks who study various subjects for the sake of knowledge itself – nothing done for money, “progress”, or technological advancement. In an age where academics is constantly pressured to lead students towards a job, I found that to be refreshing for me, especially as I had been living in Spain post-college trying to find some purpose beyond teaching English. Learning to learn is beautiful and meaningful by itself, and in terms of how that relates to Ridj-it, this attitude has helped me to engage with the company in finding it to be rewarding for what it is, not because it serves some other external purpose. Investors don’t want to hear that, nor does anyone else relying on your existence, but thinking as such helps defend against dwelling on future scenarios and thoughts that inherently have no reality because, quite honestly, they don’t exist. The consequence of this commitment to the “now” is focus on the task at hand and the inevitable quality that follows. I’m not sure if I could have personally gotten to that point if I hadn’t committed myself to education via Hesse’s book.
What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)
None. You’re already on the path if you’re reading this. Have a goal in mind instead – from there, pick what skills you need to succeed, and find reading material that relates to those endeavors. I’ve detested mandated reading material ever since I was young; I hate having people telling me what to read. The Scarlet Letter, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Chicken Soup for (whatever) Soul, and many more pushed me farther away from respecting literature as a subject and any value in appreciating the context of time and place. Look at section number one about my favorite book and why; do you think you would ever broach those topics to begin with?
I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?
I’ve started to read less since having my company. I haven’t yet imposed strict limits on when I access social media (which I wish I could burn if I didn’t rely on it), so consequently my focus on reading something like The Devil by Dostoevsky is severely limited by the Instagram, Facebook, and other social media distractions. My ideas and thoughts are fairly relegated to my past reading, which might be making me a bit stale.
Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?
I’ll generally highlight like a monster and then have a text-to-computer scanning pen which can put all of it on a document for me. Marlboro college, where both Rik (Co-founder of Ridj-it) and I studied, required us to write a small book in order to graduate. Mine was 144 pages, and all of it required note-taking in English and Spanish multidisciplinary fields, and I would do the same process of highlighting but then inputting text into the computer manually. Some of the text might not have ever been used, but if I needed a key word or concept, I could use Ctrl+F and find those targets in an instant.
How do you choose what books to read next?
I’ve been on a Russian Classics reading whirl the past two years, and that was inspired by reading a six-book series named “My Struggle” by Norwegian essayist Karl Ove Knausgaard. He is the definition of a masterful writer in that almost everything he discusses is of the most mundane nature; shopping at a grocery store, dealing with crying children, and the awkwardness of just being alive. Yet at the same time his wordsmithing brings an aesthetic so realistic to the mind that you feel you are living in Kristiansand or Bergen, throwing glass bottles around, being hit by an abusive father, eating weird spreads and drinking beer throughout dark winter months. His use of quality inspires me with Ridj-it in that even our most mundane processes should be thoughtful, meaningful, and beautiful (although many are not), because in a lifetime generally dominated by mediocrity, you can choose to be a beacon of light, or be another startup trying to just collect a bunch of services together into one platform or another referral company. There’s room for that, and you can make a bunch of money appealing to the most basic desires and thoughts of the populace and market. However, reading pieces like My Struggle reminds me that in the one life we have to live, I’d rather work to make something new, something that brings quality in the form of access to nature, human experience and relationships, and the potential for satisfying the insatiable sense of adventure that only a book can fulfill sometimes. I’m still very much trapped between being an educator and entrepreneur where one purpose that has kept me going has been my desire to expand consciousness both personally and for the people around me.
Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?
I’m currently reading The Devils by Dostoevsky, and I expect to glean absolutely nothing from it but the pleasure of disconnecting from any other literature that requires me to learn a skill for the company. The overburdening characters and plethora of words for something that could otherwise be said in an instant is a type of therapeutic brain massage in an environment where saying as little as possible with maximum effect is the plow that tills the soil in startup atmosphere.
Links related to Ridj-it:
All the books mentioned by Ari Iaccarino in this interview: