What I love the most about Skiing and Mountaineering is the freedom. It sounds cliché, but when I am in the mountains, with a blue sky overhead, snow beneath my feet, and totally engulfed by alpine silence, I feel not a worry in the world. Every thought and every moment is present living. One could almost consider it a mindfulness hack. In the mountains, you live in the moment, and the voice in the back of your head goes away. I find the same thing happens when I am juggling or when I am in a flow state. It is peace.

My name is Shane O’Byrne, and I’m a tech founder, adventurer, and first and foremost a lifestyle designer. I am the founder of Aikido Finance, an Irish start-up with the mission of democratizing Wall Street and giving high-performance investment strategies to everyone. We provide a catalog of market-beating strategies, and automate portfolio creation. We put the power of data behind investing, helping you make decisions based on evidence, not emotion.

Having studied computer science at UCD, I have a technical background. However these days, I don’t get the opportunity to do much coding. Most of my time is spent talking with investors, managing the team, interviewing hires, and doing a tonne of marketing and PR. Aikido is the fourth start-up I have worked with and the second one I founded. It is rewarding, challenging, fast-paced work.

I chose to start my own company for a few reasons. I want to be my own boss and control my own schedule. I want to be able to work from wherever I like in the world. I am also working towards FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) by building a successful business. I want to do mentally stimulating work that I can learn from. I want to bring quantitative investment strategies to everyone and give everyone access to environmental and social investing. And, if I’m being brutally honest, there is probably some amount of egotism too; I like being able to say I’m the CEO of a company.

I am a digital nomad and will remain that way for some years to come. I worked from Level39 start-up accelerator in Canary Wharf, London last summer; I worked from my campervan in the West of Ireland during the winter; now, I’m in Valencia, Spain. Where to next? I don’t know … I’m thinking perhaps Chamonix, France to pursue my mountain passions.

Outside of the tech world, I am an avid outdoorsman. It is my raison d’etre and the thing in this world that brings me the most pleasure. I am a ski instructor, rock climber, and mountain runner. I am also a downhill skateboarder, swimmer, and cyclist. I am training to become a mountain guide; a long-term goal that would see me taking people professionally into the alpine. It has led me to take crevasse and avalanche rescue courses, mountain leader and wilderness first aid training, and lead a bunch of multi-day alpine expeditions.

I’ve had the privilege of being able to ski since I was a little kid. I used to go to the Alps each year with my family and take lessons, which gave me a solid grounding in on-piste skiing. As I got older, my hankering for the backcountry grew and it was solidified upon a few magical days of ski touring with an Austrian mountain guide about 6 years ago. Nothing quite beats the feeling of flowing downhill, creating fresh tracks through deep powder after a long hike up the mountain.

While Europe gave me my love for the backcountry, Canada honed my skills. I lived in Vancouver, Canada in 2016/17 and went hell-for-leather on the outdoors. I led a lot of trips while I was in Canada. There was the epic 22-hour ski tour on the Neve Traverse when I got lost in a whiteout on a glacier due to not setting the declination on my compass correctly. There was the 2-day Spearhead Traverse in the glorious backcountry above Whistler. There was the conquest of the Black Tusk in winter, and there was the 3-day ascent of Mount Rainier, a giant stratovolcano (4,392m) and the most prominent peak in the contiguous United States.

Passion is the intersection of love and skill. Canada is where my passion for the mountains flourished. I left that wonderful country with the goal of one day becoming a mountain guide – a journey I am still on the path of and will likely take me 10+ years, if I’m being honest. I am in it for the journey, not for the destination.

Here are some of my other favourite destinations for skiing, climbing, and mountain running:

  • Big Alpine climbs: Mount Rainier (4,392m USA), Gran Paradiso (4,061m Italy).
  • Ski tours: Neve traverse, spearhead traverse (Canada)
  • Downhill off-piste skiing: Vallee Blanche (Chamonix, France)
  • Ireland ice climbing: The great gulley of Lugnaquilla this past winter. Also, the gully on Tonelagee is awesome.

I have dreamed since I was a little kid of becoming a ski instructor. However, living in Ireland, it was not easy to get access to snowy mountains. So when I moved to Vancouver, Canada a few years ago, I was perfectly positioned to finally do it. I did my level 1 at Grouse Mountain, the ski resort on Vancouver’s doorstep, and my level 2 in Whistler, which is less than 2 hours away.

It was also in Canada where I improved my alpine skiing and climbing skills. I did a bunch of courses there, which were prerequisites for becoming a mountain guide, and swiftly decided that becoming a guide would be a life goal of mine. Last year, I spent a week in France and Italy with an American guide on a guide training course. It was a wonderful experience and taught me many valuable skills.

One key attribute that a good guide needs is great interpersonal skills. This means being patient, empathetic, encouraging, and a good teacher. These are skills I like to think I have. My ski instructing style mirrors what I consider to be the most important skill in life: interpersonal skills. I develop relationships with students and try to make the experience as enjoyable, fun, and personal as I can.

Looking at my other activity, I also love converting campervans. I became obsessed with building my own campervan after watching Free Solo, the climbing film where Alex Honnold climbs El Capitan in Yosemite. I bought a Ford Transit and converted it into a beautiful self-built campervan called Beans. I normally live in my campervan full-time, travelling to beautiful places and meeting interesting people.

The first van I owned was in the USA. In 2017, I travelled all around the West coast of the USA, hitting ~15 states. It was an incredible journey – one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I actually wrote and published a book on the adventure. And I ended up selling the van for more than the price I paid for it! It was a completely free road trip, except for the cost of gas. We saw a total eclipse at Mount Hood, we had a psychedelic trip amongst the Redwoods, we saw multi-coloured geysers and roaming buffalo in Yellowstone, I bombed hills on my longboard at 4000m in Utah, we explored slot Canyons in Arizona, and we saw some seriously spooky mountain black widows in California. All enabled by our wonderful van which we nicknamed the Space Pear.

After filming the process of converting a campervan, I partnered with Udemy and brought The Van Conversion Course to market – the first start-to-finish campervan conversion course on the internet. I now have over 300 students and a fantastic course rating. I also run a digital nomad blog at www.TheVanConversion.com, and have a small following on Instagram too.

I wrote a complete guide to converting a campervan in Ireland. It outlines the whole process as it relates to Ireland. The general process for converting a process is as follows:

  1. RESEARCH
  2. Buy Van
  3. Rip out the interior and prepare for conversion
  4. Lay electric cables
  5. Install gas, water, electrical, drop-out inlets/vents
  6. Install wooden beams
  7. Install insulation
  8. Clad the van
  9. Create the Bed
  10. Create the kitchen
  11. Create any extra furniture
  12. Hook up running water, gas, and electrical appliances
  13. Furnish the van and make it look beautiful!

 

The way I see it, there are 4 reasons to convert a campervan.

  • It’s super fun. Converting a campervan is a pleasure, and when you are on the road, it is the epitome of present-living and mindfulness.
  • You learn a whole load of really valuable skills. Electrics, plumbing, carpentry, insulation, and cladding. By the end, you are a DIY master!
  • It’s super economical. After you have built the van, you no longer have to pay rent and you will notice your expenses dramatically decreasing. I am going for FIRE, so making these savings and putting the money into investments is helping me on this journey.
  • Lifestyle design. Having a camper can be a huge enabler to leading the kind of life you want to live: travel, adventure, remote work. You control your destiny.

One of my favourite experiences was when I made a fish tank for my campervan! As far as I know, it’s a totally unique feature in the camper community, and the only van I’ve seen with one. Okay … well, I call it the fish tank, but it’s actually a terrarium, filled with cacti, bonsai, and succulents. It was super fun to build and very unique!

I plan on moving to Chamonix, France with my van sometime in the very near future. Chamonix is the mountaineering mecca of the world, and I have spent a great deal of time there in the past. It is my definition of heaven. I built my van to be totally over-grid and good for winter travels. I have 400W of solar on the roof, a split charge relay, shore power, and 500aH of batteries. I also have a super-powerful heater and a bunch of insulation to keep me warm in the snow. I have a ski rack in the van to hang up the skis when I’m not using them, and a whole chest just for outdoor gear. My plan is to live in Chamonix for an extended period of time and develop deep roots there.

Among all the things I do, I have noticed a great many similarities. So many in fact, that I plan on writing a book called Parallels, in which I explore how the concepts underlying the things we do are intrinsically interlinked, and look at the fundamental truths and learnings to be taken from them.

I absolutely think my activities have been a benefit to my technological career, and vice versa. I am a project management fanatic. I use PM tools to manage my work and personal life. When I was converting the van, I used Gantt charts, scrum boards, to-do lists, etc. When I was filming the Van Conversion Course, I used Notion templates; when I was organizing backcountry trips, I used calendars and kit lists. Certainly, the learning from my professional career has been translated into my personal life.

However, I would say the most important learnings have been the other way round. If I was born in the middle of New York, London, or any other big city, and knew nothing but skyscrapers, grey sky, and work, I suspect I would be very unhappy. I have tasted the other side. I know what the best parts of life are, and they aren’t found in an office. Work should be meaningful and fun, but work is not life. In fact, life can pass you by if you make your life all about work. I have found that time seems to speed up when I am in the same environment every day. Your brain cannot tell one day from the next – before you know it, a month, then a quarter, then a year has passed by. If you are on a 40-day road trip, seeing new things, climbing new mountains, and meeting new people, I have noticed that time seems to slow right down. Our life is short; though when you are young, as I am, it can be hard to realise this. But by embracing the stoic concept of memento mori, and realising that at any time you could die, perhaps you would take more road trips and spend less time in the office.

There is always more than tech. Some of the most interesting people I know work in tech. One reason why this is the case is due to the urge to do something other than look at a screen outside of work. When you work in tech, tech is all around you. It’s vital to separate yourself from it whenever possible. Encourage boredom, nurture creativity, and get outdoors!

I have a beautiful tattoo on my thigh of the Jack of All Trades. What it stands for matters greatly to me. Do everything and move towards whatever scares you. Life is far more fun and colourful that way.

 

Aikido Finance: https://www.aikido.finance/

The Van Conversion Course (Udemy): https://www.udemy.com/course/the-van-conversion-course/

Guide to converting a campervan in Ireland: https://www.thevanconversion.com/post/converting-a-campervan-in-ireland

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