Everyone seems to acknowledge that passion is a sine qua non of the successful entrepreneur, and creative businesspeople often luxuriate in describing their own passionate natures — but most don’t do it in ways that are candid to the point of being embarrassing. Then there are people like Steven Schussler.
Schussler’s detailed account of the indignities he suffered to make his dream (starting a themed restaurant chain with a tropical rainforest motif) come true memorably documents what passionate entrepreneurs will put themselves through to achieve their goals. Turn your home into a literal zoo? Just do it. Cause your neighbors to form a watch group because they find you a public nuisance, and have the police raid your domicile thinking you’re a drug dealer? Sure, if that’s what it takes to build a life-sized prototype of a rainforest restaurant. Tolerate repeated assertions by your most promising potential investor that you’re crazy? Hey, all in a day’s work for those genuinely committed to success.
As an account of doing whatever it takes to get the job done, Schussler’s story is tough to beat.
— Jeffrey Schwartz
Excerpted from Chapter 2 of It’s a Jungle in There: Inspiring Lessons, Hard-Won Insights, and Other Acts of Entrepreneurial Daring
When you are passionate about a project, anything is possible.
As an example: for years, I wanted to create a themed restaurant based on the tropical rainforest. It started back when I was a teenager. I loved parrots and fish, and I wanted to have a restaurant where they could be displayed for interactive, educational purposes. I also wanted to create an environmental awareness of these beautiful creatures and educate people about what they could do to save the rainforest. The problem was getting investors interested in my idea. Just talking about the project was getting me nowhere. I had to do something far more dramatic and impactful if I ever wanted a shot at financial backing for my idea.
My attention-grabbing idea? I turned my suburban home into a tropical rainforest. I created a jungle home smack dab in the middle of my residential neighborhood. Over a period of a few years, my standard split-level home was transformed into a jungle dwelling complete with rock outcroppings, waterfalls, rivers, layers of fog, mist that rose from the ground, a thatched hut covered with vines on the roof, tiki torches, a twelve-foot neon “paradise” sign, and a full-size replica of an elephant near the front door.
It wasn’t easy to create this life-size prototype. I had to knock out rooms to create a greenhouse and I purchased 3,700 bright orange extension cords to hook up to the twenty different sound systems, lights, and fog pumps that provided the jungle noise and mist that floated through the house. Then I had to learn to live with forty tropical birds, two 150-pound tortoises, a baboon, an iguana, and a bevy of tropical fish housed in ten 300-gallon tanks. There were also fifty different animatronic creatures in the house — a collection of mechanized alligators, gorillas, and monkeys. At least I didn’t have to feed or clean up after them, but changing their batteries was a real chore. I finally devised a way to get them to run on electricity.
In the bedroom, my bed was constructed to look like it was suspended in a tree. It had waterfalls behind it and mist was rising up in different places throughout the room. Birds and animals moved freely through the area during showings of the house. There were tortoises in the kitchen, parrots in the bathroom, fish everywhere. The humidity from the pumped-in fog and mist destroyed my wallpaper, but I didn’t care. Every room, every closet, every hallway of my house was a “scene”: an attempt to present my idea of what a rainforest restaurant would look like in actual operation. My house became one huge theatrical set, a life-size stage to visually present my entrepreneurial vision. Overall, it took me three years and almost $400,000 to get the house developed to the point where I felt comfortable showing it to potential investors.