By Gustavo Monrero, an EO Switzerland-Geneva member and chairman and partner of GAM Consulting Group and Hedblom Partners Group
My entrepreneurial journey started when I was 14 years old. I was living in my hometown of Santiago, Chile, when a friend saw a newspaper article that caught our attention. The article mentioned how there was a big market for frog legs in France. Apparently, people were eating them left and right, and the demand was a lot higher than the supply.
That day, we decided to start a business— we would sell frogs to the French! It seemed we had stumbled upon a goldmine, and we were going to be rich beyond our wildest dreams. Lucky for us, there were plenty of frogs in Chile, and even better, nobody ate them. People thought they were slimy little creatures and left them alone. But in France, everyone seemed to love them and they were paying good money to eat their legs for lunch!
As we discussed our business plans, we came across our first hurdle: How to catch the slippery creatures. We could buy special nets and aquariums, but that would cost a lot of money. Like true entrepreneurs, we thought outside of the box— we decided to create frog farms. My grandmother had a small ranch in Colina, north of Santiago, and the frogs seemed to love it there. After convincing her to lend us a piece of land, we created two ponds. By the time we finished lining the bottoms with plastic to prevent leakage, our frog farms were complete.
There we were, two kids fueled by what I’ve come to know as the entrepreneurial spirit. We were young, eager owners of two frog farms … and zero frogs. We had heard that every night near the international airport, there was a concert of frogs singing love songs for the mating season. Knowing this, we built up our courage, gathered tools, borrowed my father’s car (without his consent) and spent several nights catching frogs in dangerous marshland, all while airplanes were landing over our heads. Luckily, my father never smelled the strong stench of frog we left in the trunk.
A few nights later, we had collected about 300 frogs and added them to our ponds. They were finally ready to be cultivated … but we had no idea what they ate. We tried several kinds of food, but our experiments polluted the water and created diseases that affected the frog colony. At one point, we had to treat them one by one with medication to fend off fungus. Before we knew it, the whole thing had become a disaster; the frogs were not growing, but dying!
Eventually, a powerful storm fell over the town and broke down the protective netting of our ponds. By the next morning, all of the frogs had escaped, and our first entrepreneurship venture ended before it officially began. Interestingly enough, before our entrepreneurial adventure, Colina had almost no frogs in its region. Today, it’s known as the town of frogs! While our first business was a financial failure, it seems we contributed to the local ecosystem, so that’s something.
Looking back, that childhood experiment was a turning point in my life. Trying to sell frogs to France taught me that I have what it takes to run a company, and that my entrepreneurial spirit will guide me to greatness. I had a business idea, I overcame obstacles and I followed my dream. It was an experience of a lifetime, and one that continues to guide me to this day. The frog farms were a turning point for me … what’s yours?