John and I moved to Norway two weeks ago to continue our journey building software which supports sustainable aquaculture, and it has been a worthwhile learning experience so far. The thing most surprising to us isn’t the cultural differences, but rather the similarities between the experiences of farmers in Norway and our own experiences with aquaculture farmers in the States.
I’m an Asian American who grew up in the South, and John is an Italian American who grew up in New Jersey. We met randomly during our search for roommates in D.C. after college, and together we discovered a real passion for sustainable food production. After recognizing that oyster farmers could utilize digital tools to better grow and optimize their farms, John and I started Manolin. One oyster farm in particular, Rappahannock Oyster Company in Virginia, warmly welcomed us to learn about their farm, and as a result we exchanged ideas on how technology could be used to help aquaculture grow sustainably.
As we toured their farm, what stood out about the company’s successful operation wasn’t a magical formula or machine-like precision — it was the culture of their team. In one memorable situation, John and I were in the farm’s restaurant bar at the end of the day after work hours. An employee who was still on the clock walked in and asked for some help unloading new shipments of equipment. Without any hesitation every single person, no matter his or her role in the company, got up and immediately started carrying boxes. Obviously, there was some back-and-forth banter, but together the team finished the task in record time. Of all the teams I’ve been on, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an entire team move that quickly towards a goal.
Now, we’ve been in Norway for a total of two weeks, and that same culture is something we noticed here. The salmon industry has grown exponentially over the last few decades, but that hasn’t stopped the collaborative culture from being ingrained in each person we’ve talked to. In their day-to-day endeavors, there are so many unknowns. You could spend hours waiting for a wellboat to arrive or you may be so busy that you don’t have time to eat lunch. Each day is full of surprises. Any team that can survive these unknowns must be one rooted in trust. There are clear challenges facing the entire industry right now, but we believe the culture of helping your team will prevail, just like we witnessed at Rappahannock.
As we continue to build Manolin, John and I look to the industry examples we’ve seen and try to emulate their same approach. The two of us share many different views and opinions, but at the end of the day the one value we hope to provide to our partners, our team, and ourselves is dependability. It’s a big reason as to why John and I are friends today, and it’s something that we’ll carry with us throughout this journey. If sustainable aquaculture is going to work, we are going to need to be on the same team.