College can be an important turning point in people’s lives. Students grow into responsible adults, deciding on what career path they want to pursue in the following years. But, for people like Marshall Mosher, it may not be as easy.
BRYAN WISH: Marshall Mosher is from Atlanta, Georgia. A 2015 graduate of the University of Georgia, he completed a triple major in Biology, Psychology, and Economics, along with a Master’s in Public Health Administration. After graduation, Marshall Mosher participated in a summer program at NASA and Google at the Silicon Valley technology incubator Singularity University’s annual Global Startup Program (GSP) where he was dedicated to positively impacting America’s obesity problem by encouraging a more active and healthier lifestyle through the power of exponential technology.
In an effort to encourage physical activity as a tool for both physical and mental enhancement, Marshall Mosher combined his passions for Public Health and action/adventure sports with the founding of Vestigo. With clients like CNN, Home Depot, and Chick-fil-A, Vestigo utilizes the mental performance-enhancing power of adventure sports, both real and virtual, to create experiences that train teams to embrace innovation, tap into the Flow State, and successfully navigate change, using adventure as a catalyst for both positive health impact and fostering a mindset of limitless possibilities.
The goal of the show is to share somebody in your life who has had a big impact and helped change the trajectory of your path. You mentioned that person for you is Cowser Samley, who used to be with Singularity and now is the SVP of Learning. Tell us about Cowser and what type of impact he’s had on your life.
MARSHALL MOSHER: There are a lot of people in anyone’s life who make a big impact. For the theme of your podcast, I tried to think back on who that person would be for me, who had a profound influence on what I’m doing with my life right now.
To tell the full story, I was at UGA studying biology and psychology. At the time, I had the desire to go to med school. I realized that it was less about wanting to go to med school, and more of just a passion to help people live a more active and healthier lifestyle.
My campus job at the time was as a guide for an outdoor recreation program where I guided students on all kinds of fun, adventure experiences. Usually, it was for the first time. These experiences kind of opened their eyes to how incorporating whitewater kayaking into your life can have a profound impact.
Both physically and mentally, you can improve your health and well-being just by doing fun things you love. You don’t have to have the persistence and dedication to get a gym membership and go workout every day. Just go have fun on the weekends! That fun activity is productive from a health standpoint, both mentally and physically.
I really struggled with figuring out how I wanted to combine my personal interest in outdoor recreation and my academic interest in public health. My last semester at UGA, I took an entrepreneurship class that helped me realize I could combine those two passions in a unique way.
My approach didn’t necessarily fit in a box that the career center could check off. Entrepreneurship wasn’t quite as much of a focus back then. The UGA entrepreneurship program was just starting with this “idea accelerator.” It was really just a project for a class that I thought was a cool elective. It had nothing to do with what I was really doing.
During those years, I met my friend Cowser Samley through a student organization. We probably never would have run into each other outside of that context. I was really fascinated with his story. He went to medical school at a super young age; probably the same age I was when I first started college. He went through the same realization as me; that medicine wasn’t really for him.
Similarly, Cowser pivoted to apply his passion for health in a more science-based Ph.D. form that aligned with his passion for entrepreneurship. He had a fascinating background that I really resonated with, a lot. Having gone through a program out in California, he’d built up a lot of the entrepreneurship skills I really wanted – ones I lacked at the time – and helped to introduce me to that program. That program was called Singularity University.
Going through the program at Singularity University was the first time I truly realized this was so much more than a class project; both my idea and desire to pursue this mission of helping people live a more active and healthier lifestyle.
If it wasn’t for Cowser believing in me, I don’t know if I would have gotten to where I am today. By helping me get through a program like Singularity, he helped me gain the tools, resources, and knowledge to actually make this whole “entrepreneurship” idea a real possibility.
Being at Singularity was the first time I that I fell in love with what I was learning. I finally understood what that meant, and how I could apply that outside of the program. Of course, it’s called a “university,” but it’s not really a college. It’s more of a startup incubator. This 10-week program teaches 80 people from over 40 countries around the world how to use exponential future technology along with entrepreneurship, with the underlying goal of creating a positive impact in the world. It was truly a life changing experience for me.
People like Cowser, who believed in me before I even knew how I was going to bring my passions to life, had a huge impact on me personally. These types of relationships can often profound influence on someone’s life. Meeting him and the opportunities he helped me pursue really changed my trajectory. I started pursuing this mission full-time and decided to go down that road.
BRYAN WISH: So, you met Cowser through UGA, and he was a faculty member at Singularity. In conversation, he said, “I think you’d be really good for this program.” What was the exchange of events? What do you think he saw in you to recommend Singularity?
MARSHALL MOSHER: The way Singularity works is by selecting 80 participants from all over the world. Most people apply directly, but the way I applied was through a competition called The Global Impact Challenge, or GIC for short. It usually takes place on a country level. For example, everyone in Israel who wanted to apply could compete to win this competition. Someone could submit an idea they’re working on that creates a global impact using technology. The winner of that competition gets a free spot at Singularity paid for by their country of residence.
Since the U.S. is such a large country, instead of having a single GIC competition, there are three. Most are on a city level, but one of them was actually on a university level. That one was for the University of Georgia, because Cowser went there for his PhD. He was one of the first participants in the second program Singularity University ever held.
In fact, Cowser actually helped create the GIC. He had the whole idea for that competition in the first place. Based on the talent and impact he observed at UGA, he saw potential in being able to send really amazing people to the program. So, he made a GIC just within the Master’s program. Any graduate student at the University of Georgia could compete in this competition, which differed from the other competitions in the U.S. that were on a city level. Anyone in Miami could compete in that city-wide competition, for example.
Since most of these GIC competitions are held at the national level, it was a really unique opportunity to be eligible to compete within my school when I was doing a master’s degree program at the University of Georgia.
Cowser was one of the people recruiting applicants and helping to run that competition. He encouraged me to look into the program, think through whether it would be a good fit, and apply. My application featured the early stage MVP results of what we were doing with Vestigo. It was definitely a prototype, but the idea and initial traction we were getting got me into the competition.
BRYAN WISH: What was the competition like? Did you think you had a good shot? What did Vestigo look like then compared to what it is today?
MARSHALL MOSHER: I have no idea what the competition was like for other people. It wasn’t the kind of competition where we were all pitching at an event where you can see everyone else’s pitch. The way Singularity ran it was more of a private interview style. There was a written application, then you made a video submission, and then came in for an interview. I had nothing to go off of, based on how I was doing versus anyone else who applied.
After I went in, I was like, “I’m glad I did this, but I don’t think that my background is strong enough to win this.” I felt the typical imposter syndrome that a lot of people have. It was like, “what makes me special enough to do this? There’s plenty of people out there that are way smarter and more competent than me.”
At that point, I really didn’t think I had a chance of getting in. I remember sitting in the football stadium the evening I was graduating from the Master’s Program. I felt my phone buzz, and saw the email acceptance from Singularity.
I think I was even more excited to get accepted to the Singularity program than I was to be going through graduation at UGA. Not to say anything bad about UGA, though; it was the environment that helped me to figure out what I wanted. Ultimately, it gave me the chance to participate in this program and meet someone like Cowser, who I never would have met otherwise.
After completing a series of degrees, I ultimately realized I didn’t want to work in the typical fashion that those degrees help you get. Graduating was the culmination of six years: four years in undergrad of getting a triple major in Biology, Psychology, and Economics, and then two years getting a Master’s in Public Health Administration.
All of those degrees cool and work great, but everything I’d done outside of school during this time made me realize what I didn’t want to do. Sometimes, this is just as important as realizing what you do want to do.
When I got that acceptance to Singularity University, I was ecstatic. I was going to have the chance to go out to the NASA Ames Research Center right next to the Google Headquarters in Silicon Valley and literally understand what the word “entrepreneurship” really even means.
During the program, I ended up making some of the strongest friendships I’ve ever had and meeting some of the most impressive people I’ve ever met. That made a big impact on my trajectory. Ultimately, I realized I wanted to do with my life at Singularity University.
BRYAN WISH: Tell us what you learned at Singularity. How did that put you on a path to really accelerate where you were going when you came back home to Georgia?
MARSHALL MOSHER: One of the main goals of Singularity University is to help people understand that the future is not going to look like the past. All the changes in the world, and the rate of technology in the future, is not going to be linearly the same rate as the technological advancement of the past.
This sort of sounds like a simple thing to say, but it’s actually a pretty profound concept to start understanding. I would guess that 99% of the world doesn’t really get this. The rate of technological progress in society is occurring on an exponential scale. That means that it’s an upward curve that starts very slowly, and gets steeper, and steeper, and steeper. Eventually, the curve will look like a line going straight up vertically.
Everything that we know, as humans, is based off of relativity compared to our past experiences. Our lifespan is such a short little piece of history, that it’s hard to zoom out and see the full picture.
If you think back to a little over 100 years ago, we were just figuring out how to fly. The Wright Brothers were taking their first flight.
Think back 10 years ago: the iPhone was just being introduced.
Think about everything we’ve accomplished with technology over the past 90 years: we go from just learning to fly, relatively around the invention of the internet, to where they refer to the iPhone as an internet device. You can go back and watch the launch that Steve Jobs made for the first iPhone. It’s pretty interesting, and even sort of funny and ridiculous given the context this device has in today’s society.
Ten years later, we’ve come way further. In the past 10 years, we’ve made so much more technological progress than we had made in the 90 years before that. This progress is going to be happening at an even more exponential rate in the future.
The next 10 years could see way more technological progress than we’ve had in the past decade. Singularity University’s main goal is not only to help people understand that, but also to take that knowledge and apply it in a practical way that betters society. It’s all about making a positive impact on the world by combining that knowledge with a solid understanding of entrepreneurship. That was really the main outcome that I got from the program, outside of the incredible relationships that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Now, I have a better understanding of what to expect in the future and how to plan for it. The program was really a course in innovation and change management. That theme has always stuck with me. It’s remained with me throughout everything we’ve been doing at Vestigo; how we’ve been progressing, pivoting, and changing as a company.
BRYAN WISH: What was it about Cowser that stood out to you?
MARSHALL MOSHER: He’s just got a very rare combination of a brilliant mind and a humble, down-to-earth personality and mindset. It was really interesting how many people in the science space were all telling me to go to med school. Usually, you go to med school, or you pursue a Ph.D, in science.
I really love science. I absolutely try to apply a scientific approach to a lot of things that we do, but I was more interested in the outcome of how I can help people live a more active and healthier lifestyle from the physical standpoint. This was the alternative I chose, rather than the scientific standpoint of going to med school or developing some kind of drug or pharmaceutical product; more of the Ph.D. round.
I think Cowser unofficially gave me the license to pursue this passion in a way that was true to who I am. Most people who I was surrounded by encouraged me to go the more science-heavy route.
Back then, I was a young person who was slightly confused about what I wanted to do; but I was also a person who was really passionate about these things. Cowser helped me figure out a way to combine my drives. He gave me permission to do so in a way that was the most exciting to me, and that gave me the most fulfillment. He really believed in me, when I didn’t necessarily believe in myself as much. His support and encouragement gave me the courage to actually take the leap and do this in a way that I might not have before.
BRYAN WISH: Where were you at Vestigo at the time?
MARSHALL MOSHER: Coming back from Singularity University, I was super amped up about figuring out how to create an exponential tech company. I wanted to think 10X better and achieve an impact that could be 10X higher. All these buzzword were things that Peter Diamandis sort of drilled into our head. He’s one of the founders there. It was great, because it gave us the license to think bigger than we would have before.
The biggest practical lesson that I actually needed to learn, on the entrepreneurial side, was how to take an idea, and – before you can make it 10X bigger and apply all of this amazing technology to it – figure out how to make it profitable. How do you keep the lights on so that you can get to the point where you can 10X your idea and 10X your impact?
It was funny, because this mindset almost hindered me in doing what we needed to do to keep the lights on and make it a profitable company, so we could then potentially apply exponential technology to create an exponential impact. In the context of our company at the time, this meant thinking on a bigger scale.
I wanted to impact as many people as possible by giving them the chance to try a new form of personal entertainment; one that could create a hobby that’s beneficial both physically and mentally. I used outdoor recreation as my tool to do so, because it was my background, what my job was at UGA, and what I was passionate about.
I saw the impact that outdoor recreation had on people. When they would come on a hiking trip with us for the very first time, they’d fall in love with hiking, kayaking, or whatever the activity was. Incorporate those things into your lifestyle, make it fun, and all of a sudden, working out is just doing what you love with your friends.
I wanted to create a platform that gave people the chance to try new outdoor activities for the first time. Breaking down the barriers to entry that exists in those sports was essential. If you don’t know someone who is already into outdoor recreation, it’s very hard to get into things like kayaking or hiking.
The initial idea was a platform to connect local guides who had the gear and knowledge to be able to facilitate these experiences with people who wanted to try fun new things to do on the weekends. This model is sort of like the Airbnb, sharing economy model; a platform that connects people with houses as their resource to people who need a place to stay as the product they need. Airbnb can give way more people a housing solution than any hotel ever could, without actually owning a single hotel.
The sharing economy model was the same idea we used to get started. We realized we could give way more people these amazing introductory outdoor experiences than we ever could conceivably guide them ourselves. Through a platform that connected these two sides of the market and enabled a new product, we found a new way of doing something that didn’t exist before – and definitely didn’t exist in the outdoor industry.
When I came back from Singularity, I was intensely focused on making this massive B2C platform idea work. I didn’t fully realize the entrepreneurial implication of what was necessary to make it functional.
Any kind of big B2C tech platform doesn’t make much money in the beginning. Sometimes, way down the road, it’s still not profitable. Take Uber, for example. Uber is not profitable. They are a multi-billion-dollar company, and they lose money every year. The way they operate is by raising a bunch of money, given the progress and the outcome of what their product is doing with the hope that they will eventually be profitable. Amazon wasn’t profitable when they first got started. The only way to succeed like this is to raise a bunch of money.
In the southeast, the advice that we got from investors is a bit different from the advice you might get from investors in California. There, they’re usually like, “Yeah, don’t care about profitability. Care about growth and how much traction you can get from your users.” In Atlanta and in the southeast, the mindset is, “I’m not investing in anything until it’s profitable and at least a million dollars in revenue. Build a company that works, and then maybe I’ll invest in it to pour fuel on the fire and make this bigger.”
This advice was actually really useful for us to hear. As simple as it sounds, this concept is pretty profound. It’s like, “Build a business that works before you worry about how you’re going to scale it and grow it.” It’s unfortunate that for so many startup founders, the only question they get is “how are you going to scale this?” Screw scaling something if it’s not a company that actually works and makes money. That’s the first question you have to ask yourself. Profitability is the first problem you have to solve.
My biggest hurdle was getting out of my own way and do whatever it took to make the company profitable. It was challenging to reprioritize this way, instead of just focusing on my vision of creating this massive tech company that empowers people to have outdoor experiences.
The first thing we had to do was to actually change from a B2C to a B2B company, and start working with businesses. In the process, we actually became less of a tech company. To explain this transition, we started working with companies to create empowering outdoor experiences that complemented their corporate goals and values.
Let’s say your company has this core value: “Don’t be afraid to take the leap.” Well, we would create a repelling trip where we’re literally empowering their employees to take a leap off a mountain and learn how to repel and overcome that fear of heights. Taking the first step into something this hard and challenging is a way to really personally buy into that core value, “Don’t be afraid to take the leap.”
In doing so, we became more of a services company and less of a tech company. Now, we were creating and leading these experiences ourselves, rather than just connecting the supply and demand through some fancy tech website. That’s what kept the lights on.
There was much more revenue in the B2B model, and I think we made a lot more of an impact in the short-term. Let’s take this hypothetical repelling trip example. On that experience, let’s say 30 people attend. Twenty-five of them are excited to be there, but five people are terrified of heights. They never would have signed up for this experience in a million years, but their company is doing it so they go along. They’re sort of positively peer pressured into coming, at least to support their coworkers.
Through the event, their coworkers can support them in a powerful way that actually encourages and empowers them to try the outdoor experience they never thought they would do because they’re terrified of heights. Afterwards, they have this profound sort of lifechanging experience that was enabled by their teammates.
You have a much more powerful level of trust and more powerful relationship built there. In this scenario, the person was empowered someone to do something that they never would have signed up to do in a million years. Those are the people that get the biggest reward; the people who never would have come on an experience as an individual.
From an impact standpoint, it’s a bit higher, too, although we can’t necessarily affect millions of people very easily through a tech platform. We are enabling people to do something they never would have done before in a way that creates positive impact and it kept the lights on even though it’s not as scalable.
We became a company that is profitable in revenue but not necessarily as scalable, but that tech focus from Singularity never left. That was always in the back of my mind. I had to get out of my own way and put that vision of this big scalable tech company aside just to keep us alive and make us a profitable company. However, the central vision has always been in the back of my head. That’s what I’m really passionate about: the combination of technology, adventure, and entrepreneurship.
Nowadays, we’re actually incorporating virtual reality experiences into our programming. We can bring these outdoor experiences into the office. By putting people in a VR headset, we can have try very similar activities to what we can have them do in real life- but with even fewer limits.
Let’s say the VR experience is on the surface of Mars, or walking a tightrope across a volcano. You can do things in VR that you can never do in real life. I don’t ever think I would say it’s a replacement for trying adventurous outdoor activities in real life, but it definitely helps people take the first step in a way that is harder to do on an actual real-life experience.
This is an aspect of our work that \is definitely scalable. We can have people in China and people in the U.S. virtually participate in the same experience together. We can enable them to interact in a way that would previously be impossible without a plane ticket, and a pretty expensive bill the company would have to pay.
We’re always looking to incorporate new technology. Eventually, we could look like a very different company in the future as we start utilizing that technology for a greater impact. If we hadn’t put that aside to focus on building a profitable company, we wouldn’t be around today.
BRYAN WISH: Forty years from now, imagine you’re at Cowser’s funeral. He’s lived an incredible life. People go up and they start talking about him. What’s the main thing that you would say to those in attendance?
MARSHALL MOSHER: From a typical Singularity participant response, I would say that if you’re using 40 years as the average lifespan of a person, you’re not thinking exponentially. In 40 years, we probably won’t die of old age anymore. We’ll have the choice to live much longer, if not forever. Potentially, we could upload our consciousness to a non-biological format where we don’t have to be in that situation. I know that’s not the point of your question.
To the point of what you’re asking, about how he’s impacted the lives of the people he’s interacted with, I’d say I’m excited to share this podcast with him. I actually don’t know if he realizes how much of an impact he had on my life, as well as all the other people he’s probably impacted as well.
That’s the beautiful thing about having a mindset and a default personality of always trying to pay it forward and help empower others. Oftentimes, we never really fully understand the impact we might have on someone’s life.
In reality, it might be one of the most important interactions and relationships that person has ever had. A single conversation could have changed the course of their entire life. I’d want to share how much of an impact Cowser has had on my life.
Countless other people I haven’t mentioned on this podcast have had just as much of a profound impact on my life, in ways that they probably don’t realize, including yourself, Bryan. For anyone that goes out of their way to help others, keep in mind how much those interactions might make a difference in someone’s life in a way we could never fully realize.