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It’s not every day that Richard Branson invites you to his private island.
Especially after you were almost kicked out of an emerging tech competition for promoting your new “Facebook of Cannabis.” When cannabis companies weren’t even allowed in part of the competition.
Meet Isaac Dietrich and Stewart Fortier, two mid-20-something entrepreneurs that set out to change the world through tech–one pot smoker at a time. The pair met in high school and rejoined after Fortier finished college, where he majored in economics and religious studies. Dietrich skipped college while honing his skills on political campaigns, such as Virginia state Senator Jeff McWaters and Congressman Scott Rigell, and tech startups in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area.
One night in April 2013 Dietrich was smoking in a friend’ apartment and and thought to himself, “What if we could create a safe space to post photos of ourselves right now?
A few weeks later, Dietrich shared the idea with Fortier, who had been teaching himself software development on the side. The two began working on the project in their spare time at night and on weekends. Eventually, Dietrich convinced him to leave his prestigious job in Washington D.C. to go all-in.
Thus, MassRoots was born. MassRoots is a social network to share cannabis-related photos, stories, and articles. With over 725,000 active users on their app since they launched in 2013, MassRoots is the world’s largest and fastest-growing community for cannabis enthusiasts.
Listen to Fortier’s podcast episode:
Their startup boasts a handful of private backers, such as Doug Leighton, one of the cannabis industry’s most active investors, and Shmuel Tennenhaus, former VP of Marketing at Big Fish Games accreditation in top news publications, and aims to be the first cannabis technology stock traded on the Nasdaq.
If you ask Dietrich and Stewart Fortier, they’re creating a movement.
Sir Richard Branson also seems to think so. Here’s how it happened.
Last month, MassRoots was announced a top 10 finalist in the Extreme Tech Challenge. This competition, which awards innovation and big ideas, grants the top three startups an opportunity to pitch to Branson himself and other exclusive investors at Branson’s own private Necker Island. MassRoots secured a top 10 spot and was invited to Vegas to pitch at Consumer Electronic Show (CES).
Hearing a cannabis company made the top 10, several event sponsors like Dell Computers went into an uproar. Dell said in a statement to Bloomberg, “Our goal with programs like this is to provide computers to influencers who create positive impact through technology. In this instance, we declined to participate because one of the companies in the contest did not meet our criteria.”
Soon after hearing the news Dietrich received a call from one of the event organizers. Dietrich retells: “I had no idea what was going to happen next, and if we were going to be allowed to present at CES because of it.”
However, the Extreme Tech Challenge refused to give into the regressive thinking of sponsors like Dell and allowed MassRoots to compete. After all the companies presented, the judges announced the Top 3 and MassRoots didn’t make the cut.
Moments later a video appeared of Sir Richard Branson himself, inviting all the top 10 companies to stop by Necker Island and meet him personally. “Be prepared to kite-surf and jump off my favorite cliff,” said the billionaire. Both Dietrich and Fortier were speechless. In one moment they thought it was all over. In the next, an opportunity of a lifetime. This is what five minutes in the life of a millennial entrepreneur looks like.
Their story teaches us three principles to follow when paving your own non-traditional path to success:
1. You are the exception to the rule, always
Even though Dietrich and Fortier didn’t make it into the top three, they still got the coveted invite to Necker Island and became the only cannabis company to present on the main stage of CES… ever. When you believe in yourself, and what you are doing, other people will get on board. The lesson? Doors will open where they were once closed
2. Success in 2016 is not linear
Traditional definitions of success used to come only after taking the right steps, in the right order. Go to college; get a degree; get a good job; have a good life. For Dietrich and Fortier, success came when they took the “wrong” steps in the “wrong” order — like entering a tech competition that prohibited their industry in the semi-finals. The lesson? Be daring. Break rules.
3. Your biggest supporter may not be your first
Create a vision, embody that vision, and allow it to evolve. If you find fundamental disagreements with one of your backers like how Dell did with MassRoots, that’s a good sign. It means you now have the space to bring on another supporter than can fully get behind you and your vision like Branson. The lesson? The right people will find you. Those that are not in alignment with you or your vision will naturally remove themselves. You don’t need 100 fans you just need one.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com
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