November 16, 2016

What It Feels Like to Be Summoned To The Sea

I write this today – excited, inspired, and focused. I want to tell you a story about a recent event I was invited to attend.

I’ll preface with a little context. I am Khaled Azar, CEO of SolutionsWide, a San Diego Software, and Advertising Incubator. I own a business that starts businesses. I grew up in a working-class family slightly above the line of the working poor class. I have been hustling since I was 16 and will continue to do so until I am mentally incapable.

Before I delve into the details, here’s my takeaway from the past four days: hustler harder and raise your standards. Being surrounded by so many different, smart, hardworking and amazing people, I realized that there is no time to be mediocre. I cannot half-ass anything, and I cannot allow any of my staff to do the same. In hustler terms, “Step the fuck up or move out the way.” Be respectful but always tell the truth, even if it’s not convenient. You owe it to yourself, your family, your colleagues, your staff, your company, and your goals! This means hiring only the best, holding those people to the highest of standards, holding them accountable, calling them out on their bullshit, and most importantly, leading by example. This can be done in a respectful way, and you do not have to be condescending or pretentious. Care, give a fuck and want to succeed with the best people you can find. You cannot lower your standard for the luxury of what people think or saving your feelings. Despite whatever justifications you tell yourself, you don’t have time. Hustle Hard!

So how did I get to this conclusion? I got an email from one of our customers asking if I’ll be at Summit At Sea. I had heard of it and knew it was a pretty awesome. I told him I would love to if he could get me an invite. He came through and within a few hours, made an introduction, and I was sent a private sign-up link. This was only 4 to 5 weeks before the event… so either I’m special, or they were just looking to fill some space.

Summit At Sea is an extraordinary immersive experience, designed to inspire attendees to connect, share ideas, and interact with one another in a truly meaningful way (this definition, not mine but I agree). This is an all-inclusive fairly expensive trip on a boat for four days to rub elbows with some pretty amazing people.

At this point, I’m already hyped. Filled with excitement, I quickly get approval from some of my partners to expense it and ask them to excuse me for the short notice of taking a week off, but I cannot pass this up. I book everything and start telling everyone that I am going to Summit At Sea. The line-up looked amazing, and I checked it every week to see new additions. I opted in for the option to go a day early because of the unknowns of a first time trip. This was also my first time in Miami.

The night before my flight, I over prepare my suitcase and carry-on bag. Get to the airport feeling like a boss. Not a work boss, but more like a Rick Ross hustle hard boss. Flying is a luxury most people take for granted and most cannot afford so when I do it, I enjoy it very much.

The flight takes off, and I immediately start my current audio book. Fall asleep, layover, repeat. Land in Miami and take a car straight to the dock. I had never seen the Miami skyline (it was amazing.) As I approach the dock, I notice the enormity of the cruise ship. Like twenty stories tall and probably one-sixth of a mile long.

I arrived a day early and settled in for day 0 dinner. The fashion in which dinner was arranged was meant for networking. You walk into your pre-selected restaurant on your badge and tell them the number of people in your party. If you were alone (and a lot of people were), you would be seated with a group of strangers, encouraged to engage in conversation. This was fundamental to the event as it set the stage for how to go about moving through the entire summit. My first night at dinner, I met a group of amazing people (Me, Joel, Carl, Doug, Yowl, and …. I forgot the 6th person). Everyone did something different! From making necklaces out of the center of rare pine cones and distributing legal marijuana to making edible nutrient dense energy packs or traveling gear! After some ice breaking, the conversations went high-level pretty quickly. We ate the pre-selected quality food being served over discussions on how to be successful in business. Debating and usually agreeing on what allows people to scale their business, how to lead a team and much more personal insights that each had gained from their experiences. This set the stage for an awesome time!

After wandering the ship with this newly formed crew, we ended up back at the restaurant, continuing our discussion with some wine. It’s Tuesday night, and it’s disappointingly obvious that Hillary Clinton is going to lose. I feel myself entering a slight depression as I sit and watch in disgust. As early arrivals, we all decided to call it a night and I finish watching what I can bare of the election as fall asleep sad.

After 8 hours of solid sleep, I turn on the TV. It’s official. Trump is our President Elect. I can tell this will affect the energy of this event. A message is sent on the Summit At Sea App notifying all of the program modifications and allocated resources for those affected by the heavy Democratic defeat.

The content for this event was extensive, ranging from business and health to sex and entertainment. I am pretty deflated so I decide to jump into some workouts to get my energy up. I join a yoga course on the top deck followed by a primitive exercise course in the open basketball court. I ran into Joel (Owner of from previous days dinner), at the workout course, so we decided to meet up later. Like clockwork, the workouts had me back in my happy element. Time to get cleaned up and grub.

Pretty much everything is provided, from snacks literally everywhere you look to food being served 24/7 at different scales. Let me be more specific here, and you walk into a talk, and there are Kombuchas, teas, nutritional bars and healthy snacks at the front in large quantities. There are cafes overtaken by high-end vendors serving organic vegan smoothies and juices or delightful plates ordered and even buffet-style food. This isn’t your typical cruise ship food as many on the guest list have a pallet for the finer things, and paid top dollar, so the expectations were set high. Other amenities are pretty standard including every possible alcoholic drink you can think of. Either insightfully or retrospectively, the casino was not active. Alcoholic beverages were only served after 5 PM, and WiFi was only available to access the App made specifically for this event to communicate with attendees and check the updated schedule.

Non-early arrivals are now boarding, and we are set to sail close to midnight. I grab a plate of food and find a group of people to sit with. I end up meeting Joel again, and he introduces me to his business partner J.R. They produce an amazing superfood energy alternative, and we talk business and advertising for a bit.

I ramble about what I do and how I can help with my experience. After, we decide to go to a talk by Stanley Kroenke, the owner of a few sports teams. There he introduces me to a young lady named Mauri so the list of people is getting bigger. We listen to Stanley speak about a variety of topics, and I come out with mixed emotions, motivated because of how he learned a strong work ethic at a young age, like myself. Demotivated because he has billions of dollars and I got a long way to go (still more motivated than not).

We discover it’s Mauri’s Birthday, so we all decide to celebrate by getting fresh juice. Mauri works in commercial real estate and is looking to build a community space where you can live and network all year long. Sort of a living SoHo house. After enjoying an organic charcoal lemonade, we decide to split up for the safety drill and opening ceremony and meet back at 6 pm after for some drinks.

I get cleaned up and head to the opening ceremony. I sat next to the only person I knew before this event. Coincidentally, Emily, an entrepreneur I know saw one of my snapchats of the boat when I arrived and told me she was coming. As I walked past the long line, I saw her and discreetly cut in. I can feel the mixed energy as we all start crowding in. Luckily, we were all about to set sail away from the country that just elected one of the worst people ever (and I am optimistic still), so it was a good thing. The ceremony opens with the founders speaking with one saying “during this time they are glad the are here with all of us,” then there is an uplifting talk and some poetry, at this point, I am eager to move so. I let Emily know I am leaving to put on dinner clothes and went to meet Mauri for drinks.

We meet at the same bar we had lemonade at, and now it’s serving alcoholic drinks. We meet another beautiful soul who teaches advertising and we all cheers for Mauris birthday. I am an extremist, so when I drink, it’s rarely in controlled form. I get two down, and everyone leaves to prepare for dinner. So far so good and I have a good buzz, so I drink a bit more

I go to dinner set up in the same fashion as before, and I am sat with a new group of people I have never met. There I meet Eli, a Stanford Ph.D. graduate who owns a company called GoCase which makes cases for GoPro cameras. There are a few other people on the table. Someone owns a rental space that’s high end meant for luxury custom-tailored vacation in Brooklyn, someone else owns a marijuana supplies manufacturing company, and the last person makes cell phone cases for iPhones. We exchange cards and split up to do more of the same.

I head upstairs to watch Foster the People, mostly known for their big hit that goes… All the little kids with the pumped up kids… You know what I am talking about. Beer in hand I start tearing up the dance floor, and if you don’t know this about me, I am a great dancer. As I cut a rug, I start meeting more people and doing the same thing but while dancing, fucking incredible! Networking and dancing with a drink in hand, I am in heaven.

Thomas Jack doesn’t make it, he was supposed to be next. Some really good DJ with tropical music but instead a different DJ says he will spin for us all night. At this point, I am just into the music, and the dancing continues. I dance my ass off with random people and different men/ladies. At one point there is a group of us on stage killing it! I mean I got back sweat, front sweat, I am actually showered in sweat. Zero fucks given!

This whole time I am getting drinks which are free from the bar. As the set ends, I head downstairs to see what else I can get into. I end up at a whiskey bar where I meet Thomas Dale, and he’s a comedian performing on the ship. We start talking, and I meet more people. Yes, I met a lot of people, like a lot! All I remember is it got blurry, and I was like, I better head in, I assume it was 3 AM at this time. I head to my room and get into my undies and fall asleep like a baby.

I wake up, having not moved once in the middle of the night and I look at my phone, it’s 12:10, 10 minutes past noon. FUCK! How did I sleep that much? I look at the schedule and decide I am going to get to the next thing I can, I missed a lot of shit. I don’t shower, I put clothes on, and I run up to where the talks are.

As I am walking, the ship seems empty. Hmmm, there is light out, so I know I am not trippin. Maybe there is a big talk I didn’t know about, is there a party at the pool? Did we dock and people got off? I go to the pool deck, still empty and we are moving, hmm? I notice a few people in workout gear. I ask what time is it, someone says 7:30 AM. FML, my phone didn’t catch the timezone and glitched, it’s actually way too early for me to be up, I am still drunk. I grab food from the 24/7 café, and I am back off to sleep.

I wake up this time checking the time in 3 different places, I shower and head to the tech meet-up. I meet someone named Suresh, a slick and smart owner of a luxury brands company from Ibiza. After making a bad joke about the Mike Posner song, I meet the rest of the people on the table. Alpesh and Eyal, two other gentlemen with their charisma and I decide mentally, I am going to latch onto this crew for a bit, this could be fun. Alpesh makes affordable mobile phones and Eyal works for a high-end jewelry company. Suresh mentions a partner of his, Briana who I have to meet because he believes we will sync up well. We talk for a bit and decide to ditch it for Tony Hawk.

So we head over to the Tony Hawk discussion and hear him speak about his career, pretty inspirational but underwhelming, we decide to head to get some food. There I meet more people that Suresh introduces me to including Dan and Briana. This is the second group of amazing people that execute on changing the world and would need its own essay to explain all the things they did. Little did I know I am making lifelong connections.

At this point, I try not get clicky and think I better walk around and meet more people. I do so and also hang with people I already met. I decide to do a networking hack, I do this sometimes in my apartments and thought it would be a good idea here. I go into the elevator and as people enter tell them I am the elevator concierge. I introduce myself, ask them what floor they would like to go to and start a conversation. I love it so much and get a great laugh out of it I do it for almost an hour. At one point I am just in the elevator with no buttons pressed, someone gets in, I do the intro, and I press their number. They look and see only their number pressed and ask “what floor are you going to”? I say I am not, I am the concierge, hahahahaha, the amount of internal laughter that occurred at that moment from seeing their face was priceless. They must have thought this guy is really just standing here pressing the button, WTF? I finally think I have had enough and got off and wander a bit more.

I head up to the room to get ready for dinner. The food has been good, but as a vegan, the dinner team meals have had a lot of animal flesh. This time I decide to do something different. I decide I am eating twice. I go to the first restaurant, sit down, eat only the vegetable stuff, meet a bunch of people, and leave quickly. I walk to the next restaurant and do the same thing, and I am in heaven! Hahahaha! I am not so eager to meet people tonight as I have an agenda, I want to attend a Steve Jurvetson’s talk called Winning Formula and attended the comedy show my friend Thomas was performing at.

Both were fantastic, the content at the summit was fantastic. Steve discussed everything from sitting on the boards of both Tesla and Space X as well as algorithms and iterative formulas. Some high-level motivating stuff. Right after I run to the comedy show, text Thomas as the line is too long, and like the G that he is, sneaks me through the back, and I get in before everyone else. I find Eyal there, my friend from earlier and decide to sit next to him. The show was hilarious with a wide range of performances; a few Muslims, a girl from Salvador, a Jewish kid, and a gay guy. I love great comedy, and this was hysterical.

I skip out right at the end, and it’s not about 12:30 AM, I am ready for more dancing, tonight its DJ Green Lantern performing. Once again I find some of the people I met, and we are dancing our asses off. This could not get any better. I am drenched in sweat.

Still feeling the drowsiness from waking up drunk, I decide to call it early tonight, 2:30 AM early that is. I am sober tonight, and it feels good to get some refreshing sleep.

Today is the last day on the ship. I wake up ready to do damage and conquer the ship. I had been messaging people I would like to meet the entire time using the dedicated app, and I have set up some meetings. I spend the whole time meeting those people and connecting deeper with everyone I already met. It’s an exciting day, all the big talks take place. Kendrick Lamar and Quentin Tarantino are being interviewed at the same time on the same stage. Eric Schmidt and Gary Vaynerchuk also each have individual talks today. I am planning to go to all three. I keep wandering around the pool deck as it’s a beautiful day and that’s where all the action is. I decide to attend the Kendrick Lamar and Quentin Tarantino discussion with some of the people from the first night, and it was unbelievable. I head back up to the pool deck for more action.

At one point I see three of the four major speakers today on the pool deck. Quentin Tarantino is in one corner drinking wine and reading a book as he is interrupted by fans every little bit. Gary Vaynerchuk is giving advice in the other corner to a group of hustlers. Eric Schmidt is walking with two staff members, shaking hands, and have quick conversations. They aren’t being overwhelmed by groupies, why would they be, everyone here is of high caliber. That’s when I realize how amazing this place is and how much more I must do in life.

I decide to head in to get ready for dinner. We get to pick any restaurant we want. I am going with the other team I met on day two, now called #33 Unicorns (based off our WhatsApp Group Chat). LOL. Tonight, everyone is dressed extra fabulous. I was in a regular shirt every night, tonight I am in a button up. It was a total of 22 of us as other people brought friends, we lock up three tables, and I sit at a table where I did not know anyone (on purpose). I do more networking and meet an awesome group of people who I let know we will be dancing till the sunrise tonight. Where do you ask? Jermaine Dupri is performing/DJing. That is the spot to be. The other two major talks were right after dinner, and I opt out, after some wine, I rather hang out with the people I met. No disrespect to the content or speakers but making connections is priceless, and I am sure I can get a summary eventually.

We all head up to the rooftop club to lock down a corner table we prefer from the previous night. They are ending a reggae session and starting some hip-hop, not DJ yet but good anyway. I start the dancing, and I am in full go mode! I am already working up a sweat, and this table is perfect, it has a ledge behind it with a hot tub. Let me explain. It’s a stage with a dance floor in front of it, around that are elevated tables, like most clubs, behind that is a bar on each corner as well as hot tubs. When I stand up on the ledge, the table is in front of me, on the stage in front of it and the hot tub behind me. Pretty fucking epic! Why is this important, well let me tell you, for six hours, I owned that MF-ing ledge.

When that set ended, the group went down to watch another act, and I decided to sit and rest. I went downstairs and changed into a more comfortable shirt as I knew this was going to get wild. I ended up laying down for 30 mins which gave me a second wind. I thought I was going to be out, but something said nope! I go back up to the rooftop bar, and the crew was back holding the table down. I step back up to my dance spot, and the people start showing up. The place starts to fill up, cameras are being set up, and more of the crew arrives. We are rolling deep tonight!

DJ comes out, and it is fucking packed. I am dancing and singing along like I was built for this shit. Everyone in the crew is dancing with each other, with me, with strangers, its doesn’t matter. There is one girl in the hot tub with zero fucks given while there are 30 people around here dancing. It was awesome! This happens for 2 hours as I sign long to classics like Jay-Z, Tupac, Drake (not a classic yet), and much more. If there were a sing-a-long/dance crown, I would have got it. I probably made my booty hit the ground about hundred times at least. As it dies down, I start to calm down a bit and dance people and our crew.

We weren’t done, and we had decided earlier we weren’t going to sleep. The ship docks and starts un-boarding at 7 AM and I was staying up until then. We start jumping party to party, finding bars and clubs in this massive ship to keep the party going. At one point, there is 20 of us in the elevator, and I am the elevator concierge again. Smacking people’s hands if they press the button and even start a thank you prayer ritual. It was timeless.

We keep partying till our feet hurt as we search for water and decide if we should go to sleep. We start losing people, some say bye or just disappear. A few of us are left, and we end up at a house DJ event in one of the bars, and we dance till 5 AM. As we finally try to wrap it up, it turns out one of the restaurants was serving food still. Sweet, where? Well, it’s a Teppanyaki place, and they are doing breakfast. As we find the almost hidden door and enter, it’s basically an after party.  Everyone that stayed up is there eating fantastic food, discussing the amazing trip, keeping the energy high. I sit with a few people, and we relax as we get some amazing food. What a way to end the night.

I finish eating, head to my room to do the last of the packing. I decide to shower, and I am off to wait in line to off-board. My toes hurt, and I can’t believe this all just happened. I got everyone’s information and said bye, excited to follow-up and frankly, write this essay. I must write about this I think, to tell everyone, and for me to remember.

As I am standing in line, guess what I am doing? No, not dancing, meeting more people. I met another gentleman who we decided to take a cab together with to the airport. As we exit and get in line for cabs, one person yells if anyone is going to the airport, we both say yes and all three of us share a cab. The third person turns out to work in my industry and is a great connect. I am thinking, even the taxi to the airport, I got a great contact, the ROI on this is incredible, from a professional and personal level!

We exchange cards, say goodbyes and head to our airlines. There I am now starting to get tired, no sleep and all energy. I check in past security and pass out by my terminal.  What a dream!

I worked hard, met some amazing people, and danced my ass off. Was the experience amazing, Yes! Do I think it’s going to pay off, I believe so, but only time will tell? If anything, I made some amazing friends and maybe some lifelong friends.

Thank you Summit At Sea, it was amazing!