Meeting People Project: My Fellow Treasure Hunter, Steve

December 21, 2023 - 11:18am -- Selcuk Gulboy

Today I’m debuting a new episode series under the Swarfcast umbrella that I’m going to put out every so often.

From April 19, 2018, until April, 19, 2019, I spent an entire year meeting at least one stranger every day and documented everyone I met.

Some days I met 10 people, other days I was lucky to have a short conversation with one person.

After a few months, I decided I would write about the experience and create mini podcast episodes about the people I met.

And five years later, I’m FINALLY getting around to doing the podcast. I call it “The Meeting People Project.”

I figure it’s as good a time as any. In 2023, soon to be 2024, we need more connection than ever in our society. Talking about it is a good first step.

I’m not starting new podcast show from scratch—yet. I’m putting the episodes on Swarfcast. I’m going to talk about strangers I met through my work as a used machine tool dealer both in person and on the phone.

If you’re nervous that you met me in 2018 or 2019, don’t worry, I won’t identify real names or specific companies when I talk about our conversations.

Ok. Here comes the first one.

Steve, my Fellow Treasure Hunter, Nov. 12, 2018

Steve called from “Green Machine Tools” because he saw Graff-Pinkert’s wanted ad for a used Anca CNC Cutter/Grinder online. We had recently sold one to a company in South America, so I was looking for more machines like it from the late ‘90s or early 2000s.

Steve was full of energy. He sounded young, but who knows how old people are over the phone. I guessed he was somewhere in his thirties.

Steve started his company in 2010. He specializes in reselling surplus tooling from machining centers and other CNC machines.

He said it’s the “leftover stuff” he scavenges that turns out to be worth good money. Often he comes across surplus machinery that people are trying to get rid of at the same time they’re shedding their unwanted tooling. He told me stories about some Okumas and Doosans he gleaned that brought him a good profit.

Through the phone I could feel him beaming with enthusiasm. He really was into what he was doing.

I asked him if he had seen the movie War Dogs. It’s a film staring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller. They play two young guys who fall into the business of selling surplus guns to the U.S. government. It’s a crazy and funny movie that eerily reminded me of the used machinery business, or “treasure hunting” as I like to call it.

I told Steve his stories about finding valuable excess equipment reminded me of a great line in the film from Jonah Hill’s character, “Everyone’s fighting over the same pie and ignoring the crumbs. I live on crumbs. Like a rat.”

Steve told me he loved the movie and he knew that line by heart!

I get pumped talking to people like him. He’s a true “Treasure Hunter” like me. I often use that description for my occupation. It romanticizes the business I’m in, and it energizes me when I say it.

“Living on crumbs” is a less romantic personification of what I do. The mental image of rat makes me cringe a bit, but when you’re quoting a ridiculous character from an entertaining film, it doesn’t sound so bad. It’s fun. It reminds me to not take myself too seriously.

Steve sounded like he did well in his business and could be could be fun to work with. He said he was in his car every day driving around looking for tooling crumbs—not sitting in an office. It sounded like part him liked that life, while part of him knew that it wasn’t sustainable longterm.

As far as I can remember, Steve never produced the Anca Grinders that he called me about. But I was just happy to meet an interesting new person who I could relate to. He was someone who pumped me up about what I do for a living, which many of us need. We all have self-doubt sometimes.

Steve and I talked two or three times afterward about various opportunities that never came to fruition, but I remember some interesting conversations.

I recently went on his company’s website and it seemed pretty substantial. He has grown a lot since we last talked.

It’s amazing how that conversation from five years ago comes back to me so vividly.

I think that’s because Steve and I felt a connection to each other. We understood each other as members of the treasure hunting tribe. We related to each other as people who harness serendipity to make their living. At the time, I hadn’t learned about the methods you can use to create serendipity that I always love to talk about. But Steve was a serendipity natural. He traveled around sifting through crumbs. The modest tooling crumbs led him to the nice big crumbs in the form of valuable machine tools.

A lot of people listening to this podcast have to deal with the fact that most of the world doesn’t understand what they do. The majority of people in the world don’t know what precision machining is. They don’t know what a machine tool is, let alone a screw machine.

To really connect with each other, inside and outside of our tribe, we need to talk to each other on the phone and meet people in person, which a lot of people don’t feel like doing these days.

It’s more intimate than leaving a comment on a social media post or messaging someone. Those can be good things too, but when you hear someone’s voice they’re more real and you can get to know them on a more intimate level. This is essential for creating bonds that most of us long for and serendipity.

Question: What is the most valuable treasure you’ve ever discovered?

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