Paragliding the Matterhorn - a Startup Allegory

Continuing my week through Italy for ATP Finals, I started in Venice and worked west. At the ATP NextGen in Milan, it showcased the top young stars (aged 21 and younger). Happily, it concluded with our hometown hero and San Diego Open champion's victory - Brandon Nakashima.

Waiting to go to Turin (or Torino), I had a couple of days before needing to arrive for the ATP Finals.

Paragliding and the Matterhorn. Soaring through Zermatt for the first time. 

Startup's Journey

"No matter what you do, building a start-up will be a very challenging journey…if you don’t start with enough passion, you won’t get to the other side. If you don’t fall in love with the problem, you simply will not be able to get through the journey.” 
- Uri Levine (Co-Founder of Waze) "Fall in Love with the Problem" (releases 1/17)

Trying to decide where to go next, I scanned the map and then the weather forecast. November is known for rain and cold weather in that region's shoulder season. Not yet cold enough for snow, yet too cool for most fairweather tourists. Near the Italian/Swiss border was a lifetime bucket list. Marked with a heart on my Google Maps was a mountain called the Matterhorn.

Clear weather to see the mountains

The key luck factor was the weather forecast. It was nothing short of a miracle in November to get clear skies and 50s a high temperature! With just a 48-hour window, it was time to go. Let's do this!

Eagle's Nest

I booked a small AirBnB suite that only crazy backpackers or last-minute cowboys like me even consider. With this once-in-a-lifetime chance, the detour is the adventure. The Obstacle is the Way.

Instead of going South back to Milan, I would detour North to Switzerland. A taxi took me from my Italian castle to the Stresa main train station. This would be the first leg of many to reach Zermatt (basecamp for the Matterhorn). Several trains, buses, shuttles, and lifts later - I would reach the snow.

Lost in Translation

Nobody was working at 6:30 AM, so I only had the option of using the automated Italian train ticket system. I entered my destination, "ZERMATT," and the error screen flashed back several times. "No route found." Uh oh.

I pulled up Google Maps again and saw I'd have to make a few transfers. Reaching Zermatt would take a few different modes of transportation (Italian Train, Swiss Train, Bus, then shuttle).

I ate a quick cafe breakfast and waited outside for the train, faced with 2 platforms - A and B.

Again, there's still no staff at the station. Nobody is working at the window counter. So I ask one lady waiting that looks like she's a local. Was this the platform for the train to Brig?

Brig? No, I think you need to take the other platform.

Unfortunately, the "other platform" was for regional trains. The 30 Euro ride I was supposed to take was an express one to connect directly, but because of rail delays, it was actually 15 mins behind.

When I crossed over, I checked the train schedule signpost, and Riga was listed with the departure time being +/- 3 minutes from the ticket.

I hopped on, but immediately I should have noticed something was off...Getting on, the creeky rail car doors were so old, it barely even slid open as one rider was getting off. It was nearly empty inside, with dusty windows and all adjacent cars empty. I quickly realized that this regional train would have 8 stops and take 30 minutes longer.

Accepting my fate, I enjoyed all the little towns along the way. Minutes later, I finally saw my express train whisk by. An elderly gentleman on board kindly explained that I would have to rebook when I arrived at the town of Domodossola. After showing him the translation, he verified my best hope was at the main station.

Switzerland's Ski Resort towns

After my transfer from Brig to Riga, I noticed a big contrast between the surroundings and passengers. This was ski country and early season, so many were going there for a weekend getaway. The Swiss trains were noticeably cleaner, quieter, and better staffed.

On the train, I received an Airbnb text from my host after I told him I'd be behind an hour due to the transfer. He texted back, "no problem - hey, do you want to go paragliding?"

He knew a local guide who could often take his guests up if the weather was clear and the winds were favorable. Apparently, fate wanted me to go fly that day.

Scaling the Matterhorn is a Startup's Journey

Anyone can pay for a postcard at the tourist shop. The rich come to the ski resort town of Zermatt and take a lift to the top. Reaching it on foot, as one of my Stanford mentors did as a youth, is another matter. Fundraising angel or seed capital takes enormous perseverance in facing repeated hurdles, uncertainty, and rejection.

With group vacation planning over the years, I've wasted so much time talking and trying to persuade others to bring them along. Most desire the glitter of glory but have no appetite for the grind.

IG travelers can live vicariously through other photos or videos. But to truly separate between the hype and the reality requires you to put boots on the ground with due diligence.

CES 2023 Eureka Park - Gallery of Flops - the Startup Graveyard

In the Cold Start Problem, Andrew describes the hundreds of thousands of startups in the US annually, How many actually can get the funding they need to launch? Even pooling the "easy fruit" among the 3 F's: Friends, Family, and Fools, relatively few make it out of the base camp.

How many strangers or VCs will take the plunge with them? Less than 10% can get sustainable funding. Much rarer to hit the critical 5x, 4x, 3x in the first 3 years of Unicorns.

Everyone will tell you that your idea sounds good when you're presenting. Nobody doubts your conviction. But when it comes to crunch time - how many would put down their own money to go on that one-way ticket with you?

Don't listen to the naysayers and fearmongers.
Anchors are everywhere, ready to ground you to their level.
Always ready to tell you no or what you can't do.

What you need to find are the light feathers for Wings.
Build a solid team that reinforces the other like bonding glue.

It takes weeks, months, and even in my case, years just to map out the route and get close to VC investing. The "small fortune" you need to spend just to arrive is an obstacle for most and a barrier to entry for all but accredited investors. Sifting the wheat from the chaff.

"The door is going to open for a slipt second. Whether you choose to jump through it or not, it's not going to be there very long." 
- James Cameron (MasterClass)

ATP NextGen Finals Milan

 Italy and Switzerland (Part 1) - November 2022

Why should we make our cages bigger?
When we can make this world smaller.

Swiss Air - Full Moon in Zurich

Venice - gateway to the East, the land of Marco Polo
City entrance - Bridge of Lights
Ancient Venice Armory Port

The Eastern Edge of Italy - a beach resort in the Summer on the Adriatic Sea

Milan's Duomo - Flight of the Pigeons

ATP NextGen Finals - Milan

I attended the Brandon Nakashima match at Cloud Allianz stadium. A San Diego native and ATP 250 winner, he won the tournament to become the 2022 ATP NextGen Finals Champion.

Last year, it was an 18-year-old named Carlos Alcaraz, now the youngest World #1. Even the finalist, Holger Rune got into the Top 10 this year. The new generation has finally arrived.
Lots of Italian kids were in attendance, and many of them cheering for their trio of Italian stars. They played using modified rules with "Fast 4" scoring, a sped-up shot clock after aces, and unreturnable serves.

If you enjoy good visual theater, there are a lot of spotlights and dramatic movie THX sound effects with flashing billboards everywhere. I imagine it must be hard to concentrate between points as the actual tennis players. The stadium resembles a large high school auditorium, so every seat is pretty close. Outside are a few vendor booths and ping-pong tables for kids needing an energy outlet break.

Hemingway's Italy - Stresa and Isola Bella

Airbnb - Italian Castle at Stresa, Italy
After the tennis, I took an hour's train ride North to visit the Italian Lakes near a town called Stresa.

On 11/11 @ 11AM, all was quiet on the western front. Nearly 100 years later, we remember Armistice Day or Veterans Day here in the USA with the end of WWI.

On that day, I chose to stay on the shores of Lake Maggiore, where Hemingway wrote Farewell to Arms. It was a peaceful town with a boat ferry system to the islands on the lake. Both Lake Como and Lake Maggiore areas are magical!

Isola Bella

The crisp Autumn views from my bedroom window

One important AirBnB selection note for tennis fans - please choose carefully. My Stresa rental was amazing and scenic, the interior decorator was an artist and photographer like me.

However, the Airbnb for ATP Finals in Turin (about a 10-minute walk) had a "nightmare bed".
Find out in the next chapter why I had to spend 2 nights sleeping on the floor to save my back!

FYI - in the end, Airbnb Cover could only refund me 10% off the first night. Caveat emptor: learn what are the red flags you should check *before* staying the 1st night anywhere.

This blog covers the full spectrum of both the highs and lows of Real Tennis Travel stories :)

The Legend of Pinocchio

Pinocchio - Italian Wood Craft Shop

Watch on (Disney+ with Tom Hanks) or Guillermo Del Toro's version on Netflix (Dec 2022)

My interpretation of the tale of Pinocchio is a tale about a single father raising an adopted son alone with Autism. Asperger's is also known as "other World syndrome".

Viewers may note his inherent difficulty expressing emotions as a real boy. He struggles to learn them. He faces challenges in dealing with lying, trusting his own conscience, and misleading selfish cons. Friendship, love, and loss. In the end, he is acoustically isolated as a hostage inside the giant whale, trying desperately to find his father and a way to escape their prison.

A total of 3 versions were published in 2022! I also enjoyed the 2020 version while flying to Europe. A beautifully relatable tale that takes on new meaning when traveling through Italy.

Next Stop - Switzerland and the Matterhorn!

Had a few extra days. Decided to go hiking. Then paragliding.
All before attending the ATP Finals at Turin!

Made it there to meet up with my friend from ATP Rome. We had not seen each other since 2016! I was so happy to share a souvenir shirt I brought with me from my own San Diego Open tournament.

Bridging global tennis from my home to hers in Torino.
Proving that COVID-19 was just a comma, not a period.
Roll with the punches. Our exciting tennis tour continues!

Are you a bird? Or are you a man?

Bounded inside a clear cage
Would you really know the difference?

It is only you who allows another
To tie down your Wings of God.