From Rotten Bananas to Riches: The Unconventional Journey of America’s Banana King🍌

banana fruit on wood crate

I’ve been reading the most engaging biography I’ve come across in a while. It is “The Fish That Ate The Whale: The Life & Times of America’s Banana King”, profiling an immigrant from the 1800s named Sam Zemurray who makes it big in the then budding banana business.

I wanted to share a story with you that I found instructive.

Before refrigeration was perfected, as much as 15% of the banana cargo ended up in the ripe pile – later discarded.

Sam Zemurray grew fixated on ripes, recognizing a product where others had seen only trash. It was the worldview of the immigrant: understanding how so-called garbage might be valued under a different name, seeing nutrition where others saw only waste…

He had $150. It would go further on ripes. He spent it all, looking to resell. He was entering a race against the clock, in 3 days it would be a pile of glue.

As far as he was concerned, ripes were considered trash only because big companies were too slow. It was a calculation based on arrogance. “I can be fast where others have been slow. I can hustle while others have been satisfied with the easy pickings of the trade.”

In most cases, a fruit hauler would spend a few extra $ for a bed in the caboose of a train, but since Sam spent all his money, he travelled in the boxcar with his quickly rotting bananas. The door open, watching the country drift by.

During the next delay, Zemurray went to a western union office and spoke to a telegraph operator. Having no money, Sam offered a deal: if the man radioed every operator ahead, asking each of them to spread the word to local merchants – “dirt cheap bananas coming through” – Sam would share a percentage of his sales.

He sold his last banana in Selma, then went home in the dark.

When he tallied his money, it came to $190. His first real success: after accounting for expenses Sam earned $40 in six days. (he was earning $1/ week in his other job)

This story underscores a theme I’ve seen repeated when observing others or studying history.

Up & coming companies & individuals accelerate their journey through creativity & SPEED. Doing uncommon things, usually unscalable, to get uncommon results. As you progress and acquire more personal leverage judgement becomes more important, but in the beginning its about speed and iteration.

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