Spending sleepless nights on a Kenyan game preserve with a lioness on the prowl makes friends out of strangers, and hiking across Masai Mara with idle, entrepreneurial talk to pass the time can make business partners out of friends.
Charles Ribaudo and Jim Young Jr. met about 14 years ago on a 65-day National Outdoor Leadership School program in Africa. Young had just graduated from SMU and would later go on to work for the U.N. in Argentina and later Cambridge. At the time of NOLS, Ribaudo had two more years of undergrad at Richmond before getting an MBA from Cornell. He would later find work in Dallas at EDS Ventures. After Kenya, the two parted ways and lost track of each other.
But in 2002, Ribaudo found himself in a business meeting with a man named Jim Young Sr. Ribaudo asked the man if he had a son who went to Kenya.
“He said, ‘Of course,’ like it was no big deal,” Ribaudo says.
And so Ribaudo and Young Jr. reconnected and, still bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, they kicked around ideas for a new business to start. They took into account their interests and skills—Young’s technical background and Ribaudo’s familiarity with venture capitalists—but also the larger trends.
“We knew biotech was going to be big, but neither of us know anything about biotech,” Ribaudo says.
They went back to Kenya—in a sense. Ten years had passed between their trip there and hearing from each other again, and their reconnection was the result of pure luck and fate. Why not summon the powers of the Internet and the ever-expanding world of Wi-Fi to nudge chance in your favor and make random encounters less random?
Thus was born Jambo Networks, Ribaudo and Young’s social networking company. Users set up profiles about themselves and info about what they’re looking for. When that user is in the vicinity of another user who’s a match, Jambo—Swahili for “hello”—lets them know with a simple pop-up message. If both parties are so inclined, a face-to-face meeting can ensue. That suit sipping on a latté three tables over might be your next VP of sales.
Ribaudo and Young hope to share revenue with a number of social networking sites like Match.com, MySpace, LinkedIn, and more. “It’s about taking data from all of these servers and bringing it into the real world,” Young says.
After all, there are six degrees of separation. Seems modern technology ought to be able to help us get that number down to five or four.