|Two NOLS Grads Make Connections Their Business
Imagine you’re sitting in a coffee shop while
traveling, trying to decide the best place to stay
for the night. Suddenly, your cellular phone alerts
you that another NOLS graduate has just entered the
coffee shop. In striking up a conversation, you learn
that this fellow grad is a local and they know all
about great campsites and hiking in the area.
The software that allows this kind of “electronic
introduction” is exactly what NOLS grads Jim
Young and Charles Ribaudo have dreamed up. Young
and Ribaudo, both graduates of the same Semester
in Kenya in 1993, reconnected in 1993, ten years
after they completed their NOLS semester. “We
had developed a great friendship at NOLS — when
you spend 65 days together, you get pretty close,” says
The NOLS grads have worked together to create a
company called Jambo, (www.jambo.net),
a form of electronic personal networking based on
the premise of face-to-face meetings.
A chance reunion in Dallas inspired this promising
young company. Ribaudo, who was working for a venture
capital fund at the time, was in a meeting with a
local start-up when he met Young’s father,
Jim Young, Sr. After the meeting, Ribaudo approached
him and asked if he happened to have a son by the
same name who had taken a NOLS course in Kenya. Young,
Sr. said that he did, and the rest is history.
“That night I got an e-mail from Jim,” explains
Ribaudo. “And we got back in touch with each
another.” Even though they hadn’t
talked in 10 years, the two grads discovered they
still had a lot in common. “When we started
catching up, we realized that we had very complementary
skills for starting a business,” Ribaudo says.
The young entrepreneurs saw potential in their chance
reconnection. Had Young, Sr. had a different first
name, or had Ribaudo forgotten that Young was originally
from Dallas, he may never have bothered to ask about
his former course mate.
“Really, what’s driving us is that there
are thousands of these missed opportunities,” says
Young. “There are so many instances where that
extra information isn’t available. The problem
we’re trying to address is that lack of information
about people around you.”
Inspired by the language they picked up while in
Kenya, the two decided to name the company Jambo,
which is the Swahili word for “hello.”
Essentially, Jambo enables people to see their otherwise “invisible” connections
to each other through the use of WiFi devices like
cell phones, laptops, and PDAs. It’s kind of
like wearing a NOLS t-shirt all the time.
The way it works is similar to other online networks
like MySpace or Friendster, with a couple of key
differences. “Online networks take place exclusively
online,” explains Young. “The person
you’re connected with could be around the corner
or around the world. What we’re doing
is we’re intentionally limiting the people
you can see to the people that are within walking
distance, that are accessible face to face.”
These connections can be useful for everything from
finding a climbing partner to creating business contacts.
Jambo saw success recently in Florida at the StarEAST
Conference for software testers, when two gentlemen
arrived at the hotel the night before the conference.
They were sitting in their rooms, separated by three
floors, checking their e-mail. Suddenly, the Jambo
software on their laptops alerted them that someone
else nearby was going to be attending the conference.
“They started chatting, then said, ‘You
know what? Let’s meet downstairs and
grab a beer.’ They met down in the lobby and
pretty much hung out together throughout the next
three days,” says Young. “I couldn’t
have asked for a more perfect model experience.”
Jambo is also different from typical online networks
in that already-established groups, like alumni associations
or business conferences, can register for the service. According
to Young, this creates a more legitimate basis for
people who want to meet in person, than, say, sharing
a common interest in a certain band or an author.
He says NOLS is a great example of a group that people
would use to find other grads nearby.
“NOLS is probably my strongest group connection,” says
Young, who also took an Alaska Mountaineering course
in 1992. “I feel closer to NOLS than I feel
to my university.” Young and Ribaudo are working
with NOLS’ Marketing Department to develop
a custom profile and define how best to connect NOLS
alumni with Jambo.
Much like their Semester in Kenya, the two NOLS
grads are making sure they enjoy the process of working
together on Jambo. “We’re making it fun
and exciting as we go,” said Ribaudo. “It’s
the journey that matters, not the end goal. We’re
having the best time starting this company.”