Justin Rahardjo

Go Live in the Forest

By Justin Rahardjo on Jun 26, 2024
The mushrooms I picked in the forest

When I was working on the 12 startups challenge, one of the most common questions I was asked was how I come up with such different ideas. The short answer is that I tend to try and do something completely different from my everyday activities. Let’s dive into one of those experiences.

Last month, I traded my desk and computer for the forest, diving into the world of commercial morel mushroom picking. Hauling 30 to 40 lbs of mushrooms daily through the forest was a radical shift from my usual routine as a software engineer. This experience didn’t just refresh me—it sparked my creativity and provided fertile ground for new ideas.

Here are some lessons I learned from my month in the forests of Northern BC, Canada.

Survival Instincts and Innovation

Living off-grid meant tackling basic survival tasks that most of us take for granted. Hauling drinking water from the closest town (100 km away) or from a nearby river, and chopping firewood to start a fire for a hot shower were daily tasks. Knowing how to handle food to discourage bears and other wildlife from visiting our camp was crucial. These challenges forced me to think on my feet and come up with creative solutions—a skill that’s equally valuable in the startup world.

Physical Work and Mental Clarity

Mushroom picking is physically demanding, involving an estimated 600 to 700 squats per 10 lbs of mushrooms, plus the added challenge of carrying heavy loads across uneven terrain. This physical “treasure hunt” gave my mind the freedom to wander and reflect, often leading to fresh ideas and problem-solving insights. It’s like a meditative break from the mental grind of software development, allowing room for creative thought.

Diverse Encounters, Fresh Perspectives

Meeting people outside my tech bubble—tree planters, rangers, local First Nations members, and fellow pickers—exposed me to different lifestyles and perspectives. These interactions broadened my understanding of various needs and problems, often sparking new ideas that wouldn’t emerge in my usual environment.

If you’ve been curious about how I come up with different startup ideas, the answer is simple: I seek experiences that break my routine. Whether it’s a month in the forest or a new, challenging activity, these experiences inspire creativity by pushing me out of my comfort zone. I highly recommend trying something different—it doesn’t have to be as extreme as living in a forest for a month, but even small changes can lead to significant insights. Here are some other activities I’ve done that are outside the norm:

  • Van-life around BC for a few months
  • Traveling to different countries
  • Volunteering at a music festival
  • Woodworking projects around the house
  • Go to a networking event for a different industry

So, what’s your next adventure?

For those of you that love numbers, here are some stats from my month in the forest:

  • Total mushrooms picked (between 3 of us): approx. 3,000 lbs
  • Total distance driven: approx. 3,000 km
  • Total days: 29 days
  • Most mushrooms picked in a day:
    • Me: approx. 55 lbs
    • Best of the group: approx. 80 lbs