Bottling Amazonian Wisdom with Tyler Gage, the Co-Founder of RUNA

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Welcome to the Innovation Ecosystem. With me today is Tyler Gage who is the author of a fantastic book called Fully Alive and also an entrepreneur and founder of a company called Runa, a tea company. So, welcome to the show, Tyler.

Thanks so much, Mark. Great to be here.

So, let’s start with the beginning of your story. How did you end up going to the Amazon in the first place?

Well, it definitely wasn’t a linear approach by any means. I ended up getting recruited to play soccer in college and during my freshman year of school I was very interested in peak performance on the one side but also really struggled with anxiety and depression, and I read about one of the most successful triathletes of all time, a guy named Mark Allen, who won the Hawaii Iron Man seven times, and he talked about certain lessons and tools that he learned from an indigenous elder in Mexico and that those mental training techniques were the edge that tipped him over to be able to win the Hawaii Iron Man seven times. So, I reached out to Mark, ended up spending a bunch of time the summer after my freshman year with him and then used that as a jumping point to go down deep into the jungle. I felt like there was something there for me that I really couldn’t have explained much at the time, I think it was partly looking for a deeper connection, a deeper awareness to parts of myself that I felt were there, but I didn’t really have access to and that was the original jumping off point.

And how much of it was trying to tap into raising your game versus trying to resolve some of the some of the anxiety issues? Was the energy equally balanced across those two spectrums, if you like?

Yeah, I definitely felt like there was something there for both sides and it’s something that I learned quite a lot in the Amazon was that the tools and practices they use for healing patients who are sick are actually the same for apprentices training to be healers, so the sort of spectrum they look at is consistent, in that, for anyone looking to gain more power, more awareness, more wisdom, from whether it’s a depleted or sick state or from a healthy baseline state to a more empowered state, the tools for doing that and the types of awareness and inner strength access are the same. So, I think for me it really was a combination of the two and feeling like there was something unique and very animated and very confrontational to the traditions in the Amazon that spoke to me. In the jungle, these people live in one of the most lethal ecosystems in the world, quite literally in every sense of the word, so they’ve had to be, in my experience, very sophisticated, and I use that word very intentionally, in their approach to living in a very multi-layered environment and have developed particularly subtle degrees of awareness to understand types of communication that I think in our more blunt technology dominated world we’ve lost the ability to relate to.

And you talk about the lethal environment, often, life in the rain forest can be romanticized a little bit but let’s not kid ourselves – infant mortality, crop loss, disease, even being driven out of their homes by some of the extractive industries – these are realities that people are facing and I guess I’m curious because the subtitle of your book is ‘Using the Lessons of the Amazon to Live your Mission in Business and Life’. I’m curious – maybe a couple of examples that you were able to extract from that experience and apply into your business life around how do they deal with these these volatilities in their world, in their ecosystem?

Yeah, and ultimately the parallels on some level might seem very strange, the concept of Amazonian wisdom to modern business and entrepreneurship, but the specific reality of what it is like to navigate an unclear, challenging environment or something that anyone who’s in business can relate to, where you don’t have a lot of knowledge, there are certain levels of uncertainty, there are lots of moving pieces, literally, that’s what a jungle is, what these people navigate physically, but when it comes to the practical realities that all of us live in and deal with on a daily basis, that core navigation is very similar and what it requires for us as humans in ways that we as people can navigate challenging circumstances and environments are very parallel, so that really to me was the bridge, drawing from those lessons in the Amazon, my studies of the indigenous plants and languages and how that’s enabled me to build a business on those principles. A few core touch points to the bridge – the first is a foundational perspective of looking to obstacles as teachers. These people have a very refined sense of this line between what’s a poison and what’s a medicine, and their philosophy and healing is most often healers become healers after going through some sort of crisis or something that pushes them basically to the edge of death, or something close to it, and it’s through those experiences that they feel like it’s an invitation to dig one layer deeper for resourcefulness, insight, wisdom, strength to then overcome those things, and a lot of that it’s just a re-framing, where I think so much in life we have these twenty-first-century black plagues now of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, of these influences of challenges. They don’t have resolution points or integration points, and so much in the Amazon is, when there’s a challenge, distress, something not working right, there is a fundamental perspective from what I saw of, how do they learn from the situation? How is this an invitation to be resourceful or creative or pay attention more to find a solution? One of my favorite entrepreneurial parallels to that is from the book, you know the book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things?


Yeah. He, in the book, talks about how in entrepreneurship you need to believe in calculus and not statistics, in that you need to believe that there is an answer and you will find it, and definitely building a business, it’s an experience that I can intimately relate to, and in the jungle it’s a similar perspective. You know, they believe every disease has a cure. It’s almost axiomatic in the nature of life that if there is a disease, there is a cure, so I think that perspective is one of the most fundamental things.

And so, for the folks who haven’t read the book, the back story, you came back from the jungle, went to Brown University, did an entrepreneurship course and decided to set up this business, Runa. Is that, in a nutshell, the bridge from your experience into your entrepreneurial life, right?

Yeah, exactly. I had zero interest in ever becoming a business person, but I really fell in love with this one particular leaf from the Amazon, it’s a very highly caffeinated leaf that had never been commercially produced called guayusa. So, I wrote a business plan in my last semester at Brown, I moved back down to the jungle two days after graduating and built the world’s first supply chain for this ingredient, and then what’s one of now the fastest growing beverage companies in the US based on this leaf.

And let’s not kid ourselves, this is a hyper-competitive segment you’re going after, up against companies like Red Bull and Monster, you’ve got Coca-Cola and Pepsi with integrated supply chains and all that, so how did you navigate that? The book is full of late nights and early mornings and challenges with local elders around how you put this in place, but what was it that sustained you on that journey? How much of it was this sense of purpose because this is a social impact business as well as profitable business? I’m just curious about where did you find the energy and the drive to achieve a pretty remarkable feat?

Definitely as you noted I’m doggedly committed to our mission and the opportunity to bridge worlds between the worlds of the Amazon and the modern world was incredibly inspirational and this idea that we could transition from environmental values or moralistic ideals around saving indigenous people, to basically use economics as our fighting ground, and this opportunity to make it more profitable, to sustainably manage land using the sustainable farming techniques that we use to grow the tea was really a powerful potential to shift a lot of big dynamics in these areas and provide income to these farmers who have struggled for quite a long time. So that definitely is the foundation. And in terms of actually navigating, building a brand new supply chain in the middle of the jungle and then as you mention competing with the beverage juggernauts, two things that we really leaned into, the first was acting like students. So, when we got to the jungle we realized that we could either pretend we were business people, which we definitely were not and would have failed miserably, or we could really lean in to what we were which was students and we took what we called a liberal arts approach to business in that we spent the first six months talking to every single person we possibly could from the government, from the nonprofit sector, from indigenous federations, to really learn intimately about the challenges, the opportunities, the needs, and the shared vision to make this a reality, and I think in the business world it’s something that’s often overlooked and I talk a lot about in the book, this idea of discovering strength in vulnerability and I think this, similar to the looking to obstacles as teachers, when we can admit that we don’t know things, it is a portal to learn and a portal to get support, so I think we often feel like we need to pretend that we know things that we don’t, given especially in cutthroat corporate environments but in our experience, we found that it was admitting that we didn’t know, we didn’t have answers, that gave us the openness and the ability to attract the support, the ideas and the community to really make this possible.

It’s interesting, because we do a lot of work with people, part of the unlearning for a senior person who’s got twenty-five or thirty years of experience and a track record to go to the next level, they need unlearn certain things and often it is actually about being comfortable with not having an answer and instead focusing on asking a question and pausing and being open to the series of answers that might come towards them, which is very, very hard for a lot of people because, obviously, in business school you get trained to analyze and come up with answers very quickly.

Absolutely, and relating it back to this idea of an Amazonian perspective, you think about how people down there get food. They don’t drive in their car to a supermarket that’s always there and go to the same part of the shelf where they know that the peanut butter is, they have to go in the jungle and hunt, and hunting is first and foremost about listening, it’s about tracking, it’s about very refined awareness of the landscape, and I think for a business executive or an entrepreneur that’s the mindset. Any challenging business circumstance or problem isn’t cut and dry, there’s no clear solution, it’s not the peanut butter on the grocery store shelf, it’s the jungle, and it requires a lot of listening to really track, perceive, locate, and act in a more refined and present way.

So, one of the things that comes out of the book, obviously the scrappiness of the entrepreneurial venture, of putting things in place, but there comes a point when you were able to attract people into the business with track records in the corporate world, for example, Tim Sullivan who ran global logistics for Pepsi Co. I’m curious, how did you manage that, the process of integrating your learnings from working in the jungle, the themes of listening to, for example, and integrate that with bringing on a serious credentialed executive to help build a business? How was that process managed by you and by Tim, for instance?

In many ways I feel like it was a seamless evolution in the sense that we were never asking questions and listening just in a vacuum, this wasn’t to write some sort of research paper it was to get actionable advice and steps to push the business forward. So, when we found people who resonated with our values and who could help us in very tangible and concrete ways we were very eager to bring them in and leverage their support in any way that we possibly could, and I think in this idea of an ecosystem approach it was that. We knew that our job was to learn just enough about every area to understand how to set someone else up to do that job effectively, so we didn’t need to become the pros in operations, marketing, sales, distribution, imports, exports. We needed to learn just enough to understand the game and then bring in someone who could do that job exceptionally well. So, I think that framework made a lot of sense to us. I think it definitely parallels Amazonian farming and agroecosystems and I think that served us quite well. Of course, we made some terrible hires and some great hires and all the rookie mistakes that came with starting a business at age twenty-three, but that basic perspective was very useful.

Yeah, and you talk about the ecosystem, and one the things that I said earlier, you make it clear the link between shamanism and entrepreneurship, so you were tapping into this source, you were extending your ecosystem by going down to Brazil and accessing a very fresh perspective, a different perspective. Where else do you get these multifaceted perspectives? How do you continue to expand your ecosystem today, because you’re based, I think in the Northwest of the US? How do you remain fresh and open to new sources of knowledge and wisdom and insight, if you like?

Absolutely, and it’s one of the things I think is extremely applicable and relevant and translatable for really anybody, and in the book I talk about it as this idea of ‘clearing your filters’, and especially in our very compressed work schedules and lives the amount of time that we take to decompress and wipe our lens of perception and intuition, even just so we can digest the amount of information that we process, I found to be extremely critical in the first place, so that idea of clearing your filters, great tools, meditation, yoga, going for a walk in the woods, exercise, basic tools that we have at our disposal and I think many people would relate to a lot of those practices as things that help us create space for alternative perspectives and digesting even current information. For me, in terms of other approaches, unique sources of insight wisdom, I look a lot to the yoga traditions, I practice yoga quite seriously, and in pretty stark contrast to the Amazonian traditions where there’s no written text, there are incredible written traditions from the Vedic and the yoga schools and I find that their refined mind-body understanding, I find it extremely fascinating and great for interpersonal relationships and awareness of myself. I also enjoy hip hop music. I find musicology of hip hop and pop music to be fascinating as well as a sort of completely alternate spectrum of insight but a lot of my business game and even my business ventures it’s all about branding and talking to consumers and I think I tend to study and appreciate pop culture for its genius in many ways of, I think, resonance, that kind of inexplicable often illogical resonance of why brands and artists have had that kind of pop and have that kind of value, so I guess pop culture is another seemingly strange contrast to the Amazon of where I look for insight.

Obviously, Runa is a tea company, you’re on the board of a publicly quoted tea company, and we had this conversation before we came on, we both read this book The Republic of Tea: Letters to a Young Entrepreneur. What is it about tea do you think that actually attracts or brings forth this diversity of perspective and specifically, I suppose, the Zen traditions, the yogic traditions? Is there something special about tea that you think attracts these kinds of approaches to business?

I do. I definitely think there’s something about food and beverage writ large that has a unique potential for connecting people and storytelling beyond other types of businesses. Quite literally, we’re taking physical leaves from the jungle or if there’s another tea business, from India, Thailand, China, and given to consumers who put them in their bodies, and there’s a certain level of intimacy and connection, aroma, taste, sensuality that comes along with that form of storytelling. It’s a really embodied, tactile, tangible way to tell stories and connect people across the world. I think in that spectrum, tea is particularly unique given the reverence, the cultural associations, the mindfulness that’s often built into tea traditions around the world and I think that’s attracted a certain vitality in the entrepreneurship around tea.

Interesting. I was in agriculture and as you know I’ve been involved in an agricultural startup and I’ve seen it in coffee as well but to a lesser extent in some of the more mainstream crops, obviously wine, there are great stories, olives as well, it’s fascinating, and I hadn’t made that connection until this call today. So, Tyler, the book is obviously a journey, a personal journey, a business journey. It starts with you being accused by a board member of being ‘a fucking pompous child’ – it’s lovely, there’s a lot of vulnerability in the book which I really love. Now, you are now on the board of a public company several years later – what’s changed?

So much has changed. So much has changed, so much hasn’t. So many of these experiences have given me a really fundamental appreciation for the value of healthy communication and I think particularly in the world of business that I deal in with this whole social impact, social responsibility space, I’ve come to see that the courage and willingness to be in sensitive spaces in business is something I’ve come to immensely respect from business leaders around me and do my best to embody. So, it’s not the, ‘Hey, I care about X’ or ‘These are my values’, it’s pretty easy to state what people care about, but when it comes to those difficult moments when it’s like, ‘I don’t really want to have that conversation’ or ‘I could just let that slide and see what happens’, it’s the people who say, ‘No, there’s an issue there, I’m going to sit down with the person and tell them in a respectful way, “Hey, I think you’re making a big mistake here” or “Hey, let me give you some feedback that might be hard to hear but let’s talk and let’s create a space to share and listen”’, it’s that kind of courage that I have learned so much about from a lot of my mentors and people who I really admire in business and have done my best to bring to the board that I sit on, to the companies I invest in and I think it’s something that I appreciate being able to bring is a certain level of value around candor that comes with committed respect. 

And I think you mentioned earlier on in the conversation, this is something that you learned in the jungle, very, very subtle forms of communication. Is that where that risk, where that understanding comes from?

Yeah, I think it’s a mix of that but I think in the jungle there’s a certain amount of tolerance that you develop, I’m not sure tolerance is the best word but something in that vein given the rigors a lot of their challenges. I’ve spent multiple days by myself in the woods with no food no water. There are certain trials and training like that that once you go through certain other parts of life just don’t seem so bad in your ability to sit with discomfort and lean towards it in a productive way and get lessons from it I think goes up, so I think some of those practices and experiences, I feel like it’s given me certain levels of ability to say, ‘Hey, you know what, this is probably going to be kind of uncomfortable’, and partly human nature, I would prefer to do something that was more comfortable but I have more of an experiential reference point for the value that comes from turning towards a discomfort, leaning into those uncomfortable situations, and addressing them with my whole self and my heart.

And with sensitivity but also bringing, I suppose, other tools that you’ve learned to the table as well around moving through the discomfort to a solution.

Yeah and that’s one of the things I deeply value and I think is often overlooked in this intersection of quote spiritual things and business things is that invariably it needs to be a meeting of the two, so I’m never a fan of the, ‘Oh, we don’t have to do rigorous analysis, let’s just follow our gut and trust it’. That doesn’t really work very well the vast majority of the time. In a similar sense, pretending that, especially, in business where there’s lots of difficult decision making, where there is never going to be enough information, it’s never perfectly clear, and that pure analytics and logic can get to the best answer in every situation is also grandiose and inflated so I think it’s valuing the spectrum of ability we have from logic, intuition, sophisticated analysis, all the way through the more subtle parts of ourselves, and intuitions and dreams and just gut level hits on things and really valuing that as tangible important information when making decisions, and I think if you talk to a lot of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world they cite their intuition which I think in entrepreneur speak is often praised but I think we get into what that really means, it is a certain level of trust in subtle and unusual ways of experiencing the world so I think that is something that in the Amazon they’re very attuned to, is that combination of more subtle intuition with more refined logic and analysis.

One of the questions I was interested in exploring a little bit is, what you learned at Brown in your program, I guess, would have been pretty hardcore, ‘This is how you set up a business, write a business plan, do the analysis,’ and again that’s an assumption versus what your experience from living with shamans in the Amazon which is a very different body of knowledge, and it sounds like you’ve found a way to fuse those two sorts of disciplines or those two experiences to create something far more valuable. 

Yeah, and I very strongly believed that there’s so much more fulfillment and, I think engagement and fulfillment is something that particularly in my generation, the millennials, are desperate for and I think it’s a nutrient that’s very absent in our world, so when we as businesses can find ways to bring certain levels of purpose, certain levels of connection into our work environments, I think it creates that much more enlived of cultures, that much more employee loyalty, engagement etc., and I think the synthesis that we have in the Runa business, although it’s abnormal for most businesses with the taproot we have in the Amazon rain forest, I think there’s so much potential for businesses to find whatever taproot that is, their meaning, their purpose, the reason for being and bring that forward and.

I love the use of that term ‘taproot’ because it’s an agricultural term but it also it gets almost to your wellspring, to your center gravity in life and I think it’s a powerful term. Runa is, I don’t know how many employees there are now but it’s obviously far bigger than when you started, how do you continue to do that as a new hire comes on board to connect that individual with that taproot?

Yeah, we’ve been about seventy employees as of late total between the various countries we work in and some of things we’ve done, one of the favorite things that I set up with our employees was that anyone who’d been with us for a year we sent on an all-expenses-paid trip to Ecuador for our US team, so they can actually get up in the morning, drink guayusa tea with the farmers and get that lived experience of the culture around this leaf in the jungle. We’ve also set up certain practices in our team meetings to bring in some of that Amazonian culture of gratitude, of vulnerability as well. We’ve done this practice called I call ‘popcorn appreciations’ where at the beginning of a team meeting one person will share a personal high in their life, a personal low, something good, something bad and then will appreciate someone else on the team for a special contribution they made to the team, and there’s something about this sort of awkward vulnerability of being publicly appreciated by someone else on the team for something you did that’s really beautiful and it creates a certain cohesion in the team and then the person who got appreciated shares a high, a low and then appreciates someone else until it all popcorns around, and that’s been a very simple practice which isn’t obligated that creates a certain level of connection and realness in the environment.

Well also, we’re very hard on ourselves in personal lives and in business lives and often we don’t celebrate enough either and that’s the other thing that you’re calling for in that process, right?

Yeah, exactly.

Brilliant. So, final question about the business. As we said earlier on, it’s a competitive industry that you’re in, how are you innovating? What processes do you use to ensure the business, the brand, the product remains fresh and you’re innovating versus just executing the current plan? Any lessons from your ecosystem, from the jungle, any processes that really resonate there or would I recognize this as a traditional company that is driving out process using traditional approaches?

Per our prior conversation, it really is an integration of both. Around a specific topic though, I often go back to a piece of advice that entrepreneurship author, Doug Hall touts, we were turned on to him from our professor, Danny Warshay, at Brown University and he talks a lot about the importance of what he calls your ‘dramatic difference’, and this idea that it’s not just about some minor improvement on a current product or something slightly different but really thinking about what is dramatically different about whatever product, service, campaign that you’re going to put out in the world, and that has been one of my staples for our innovation at Runa, the innovation at the other companies that I work with, and for us that led to the creation of what we call our clean energy drinks, which is our fastest growing line and the most explosive part of our business. With that, we have an energy drink that’s made from a leaf and not a lab. It’s a 100% organic energy drink made from these Amazonian leaves that has more caffeine than a Red Bull from the leaves, tastes fantastic, it’s very smooth, very clean and sells at the exact same price as a traditional energy drink. So, this dramatic difference from artificial chemicals and macho agro branding in a can versus an organic product made from a leaf was our insight that came to that product line which is really becoming the shining star of our business. 

Yeah. I remember that in the book. In the book, the concept of being really clear and aggressive around your source’s differentiation, and it’s a lovely dramatic difference. So, Tyler, before we get to the final question, what next, because you wrote this book at the age of, thirty-one, thirty I think, right?

Thirty, yeah.

And it’s a dramatic title, Using the Lessons of the Amazon to Live Your Mission in Business and Life, but many of our listeners will think, ‘Well, he’s only just started.’ What’s next for you?

Yeah, and definitely this idea of being fully alive is not some sort of high minded attempt to be perfect and spiritual in our lives. The definition of the word, Runa, the name of our business means ‘fully alive’ to the indigenous Quechua people, and for them they say that this approach of being fully alive is about being humbly intimate with our fears and our weaknesses and that’s actually the main defining characteristic of where life comes from, by looking at obstacles as teachers, that that’s really where strength and connection and the animated forces of life come from. So, I think in the book I lean very heavily into stories of blunder and failure and where the lessons have come from and I don’t expect that life will be perfect or shiny any which way but I think that path of learning from the challenges and being open to them should serve me well. So, yeah, for right now, I’m spending a lot of time with our foundation, with Runa foundation, we’re doing some really cool work around innovating with new ingredients down in the Amazon. We’re building some new value chains, doing a bunch of really cool research to bring some other ingredients to market. We also helped create a pioneering indigenous healing clinic in Ecuador where there’s a tribe called the [inaudible] who has been using Amazonian plants to treat modern people with anxiety depression so we help fund a clinic for them in Ecuador and are putting together some cutting-edge research programs to try and test and understand the efficacy of these plant-based treatments for some of these modern challenges and diseases. Yeah, on top of that I’m doing some investing, some advising, I sit on boards. It’s been amazing to get to go back to very early stage startup stuff and then all the way through multi-hundred million dollar companies and get to learn a lot and share a lot and spend some time there.

Exciting. Well, you sound energized by it despite the fact that it’s late at night for you and early in the morning for me here. So, the questions that I sent across, Tyler, a couple of days ago. First one – what have you changed your mind about recently?

One specific thing I was thinking about with that question is, you know the last five or ten years having been in the Amazon, I’ve been someone who is anti the traditional environmentalist party line, being anti-oil in the Amazon, which given my story might sound a little bit crazy but in the sense that Ecuador, where we work, has 54% of their GDP from oil, so this idea that Ecuador as a country is going to stop producing oil and basically tank its economy has always seemed to me extremely farfetched and therefore, that some of the efforts and resources that go into trying to stop oil extraction are futile. Recently though I’ve come around a bit to think that particularly the efforts to, at the very, very least, delay extraction from the Amazonian parts of these countries that have the highest biodiversity on earth and do not need to be drilled in any immediate term, I’ve actually become a big proponent of, in the sense that I think either option A, solar and other technologies become efficient enough in the next ten to fifteen years that it would actually obviate the need to ever drill for that oil, I think could definitely be a possibility, or oil extraction technologies get efficient enough so that in ten to fifteen years the oil could be extracted in a way which would be substantially less detrimental than it would be if done in 2017 or 2018, so that’s definitely a big flip for me in terms of my views on that.

Yeah. Well, it’s extraordinary. I used to work at British Petroleum at the beginning of my career and they publish this world energy review every year and my boss, I remember him, he gave me a pile of these things and said, ‘Have a look at these, what do you note about them?, and I missed it but he said, ‘Look, every year, it appears there’s more and more available oil’, and it wasn’t that more oil was being created it was just they were getting better and better at extracting, and there’s lots of evidence to suggest that that will be the case, it’s more a case of timing versus does the technology advance quick enough to avoid damage or not right?

Right, and that’s why I think the impact of certain oil extraction versus cutting down virgin rainforest in indigenous territories in the Amazon, I think if the collective consciousness can at least shift to trying to do everything possible to not have to do that or at least do that in the best way that’s humanly possible which is certainly not the current mindset I think would a good thing.

It’s a very confrontational debate, it’s yes or no, but I think there is, as you say, a third way which is, let’s accept the realities of it and figure out what’s the best way of doing it recognizing that we’re not going to stop it?

Yeah, agreed.

Second question – do you have a personal work habit or a practice that you can share with our listeners that has helped make you more effective?

So, one that I find very important which is quite simple in my daily practice is not looking at my phone when I wake up for at least thirty or forty minutes. Seems very simple but I find that giving my body and my mind at least a little bit of time to not jump immediately into technological world and fluttering e-mails, I find that the mindset that that puts me in for the day carries me from start to finish, and when I immediately look at blue light, e-mails, and my mind jumps from what is ultimately sensitive dream resting space, zero to one hundred, it creates a certain level of stress in my system that is really not worth it. So, it’s something I think is extremely easy to do, it just takes fending off the anxiety of looking at e-mails and what happened and what I have to do today for even thirty or forty minutes.

Yeah. I read that Apple reported recently that the average time an iPhone gets unlocked in a day is eighty at the moment, so you’re not saying not to do that, you’re just saying delaying the start of that process?

Yeah. Oh, man. Scary.

Scary, that is scary. Final one, and your book is packed full of them, but let’s see if we can get the most significant failure or low that you’ve experienced so far, what you’ve learned from it and how you have applied that learning?

Man, yeah, that’s pretty much the book but I start out the book and you referenced this when I got called ‘a fucking pompous child’, I was at the one-inch line of getting kicked out of my company a few years ago, and that was an extremely grueling time in my life, but it allowed me to grow in more ways than I ever could have if we hadn’t reached that degree of breaking point. I tell this story pretty vividly and thoroughly in the book, but it was the inflexion point for me of acting like a scrappy startup entrepreneur to learning as best I could what it meant to be a true leader and a true CEO. The best piece of advice I got from a friend of mine in the industry who is the CEO of Traditional Medicinals tea company, a fellow tea industry leader, when I asked him, ‘In your view, Blair, what does it mean to be a CEO?’ and he said that as a CEO you have to do two things; you have to clear roadblocks and lay down track, that’s it. And this idea that as a true leader your job is to set the course for your team and then remove blocks for them to do their job as best they possibly can, and that is seemingly really simple but his powerful focused way to think about what leadership was as opposed to what I was previously doing which was working twenty hours a day and thinking that I needed to do everything myself, was a really powerful lens to look through and just helped me put the pieces in place in ways that didn’t really compute to me in my startup mindset.

Yeah, it’s elegant in its simplicity but it’s also very profound as well, isn’t it?

Yeah, absolutely.

Love it, love it. So, what we’ll do if it’s OK, we’ll put the intro chapter to the book in the show notes. Where else can people get in touch with you, Tyler?

Yeah, my website is My email is just [email protected] I love hearing from people and having good conversations so please feel free to reach out.

And I think you’re on LinkedIn and Facebook as well, or Twitter.

Yeah, LinkedIn, all of it.

So, we’ll put those in the show notes, but, Tyler, it’s been great, and I know we’ve worked hard to get this interview in place but thanks for your time, thanks for your insight and your openness and this is a different kind of conversation from our traditional guests or our usual guests I should say but I was really keen because I think there’s so much learning in your experience that is directly or indirectly relevant for people in larger organizations struggling with this VUCA environment which clearly is very different from that experienced in the rainforest but nonetheless, relevant. So, really very, very grateful for your time and look forward to – well, my final question is, where can I get Runa in Switzerland?

Switzerland? The only place that I know of in Switzerland that sells Runa is a hotel in Gstaad that-


Imports palettes of it for their guests, I believe.

Well, I’m coming across to the US but actually, I do go to Gstaad occasionally so which hotel is it, do you know? Well, let’s not bother people with it, if you can send me some details I might see if I can get some, but really appreciate your time and have a good rest of the week.

Thanks so much, Mark. I really appreciate the time.

 See you. Bye.

In this episode we’re joined by Tyler Gage, co-founder of the organic tea company Runa, and author of the book, Fully Alive: Using the Lessons of the Amazon to Live Your Mission in Business and Life. Tyler shares how his immersion into life in the Amazon guided him in building a socially responsible business able to thrive in the hyper-competitive soft drinks segment.

What Was Covered

  • How Tyler’s interest in peak performance led him to indigenous elders in the Amazon and how life there inspired him to build a business
  • The parallels to be found from the Amazonian concept of wisdom and modern business and entrepreneurship
  • Discovering strength in vulnerability and how admitting what we don’t know creates an environment to learn from others

Key Takeaways and Learnings

  • How the sophisticated listening and landscape awareness skills that are required to provide food in the Amazon can deliver success for an executive or entrepreneur
  • Seeing obstacles as teachers, and how this tribal practice of the South American rainforests is a winning strategy for business problem solving
  • How businesses can use their “taproot”, their reason for existence, to create cultures that inspire employees

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Mark Bidwell

Mark Bidwell

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