I will start how I always do - by telling you a story. A story is a great way to teach a few lessons and it's a better experience than reading a list of facts. This one's about start ups, failures and the incredible life of the entrepreneur.
It was 2010, Sir Richard Branson expertly sailed the 99-foot Virgin Money yacht around the harbor of the Hudson River off Manhattan's west side. Ready to set off to beat the transatlantic speed record for a monohull sailboat. Best thing was, I was on it with him. As the Forbes anchor, we were covering his challenge to the ocean and I was riding high on the beginning of a great tale and the proximity to one of my favorite business icons. We were shoulder to shoulder, wind at our faces as the cameras rolled. My chest thrust out like a proud lioness as I stood beside him, feeling the power of this moment.
Setting foot on dry land, just feet from Wall Street, I envisioned Branson celebrating with foaming, exploding champagne bottles and cheers of British crowds when he completed the tough journey across the ocean to England, standing with his kids and a world class crew.
But just thirty hours into the adventure, a ripped main sail and totaled spinnaker, forced the crew to abort the voyage. It was over. It was a shock, even for me. "We won't give up," Branson remarked as he stepped onto dry land on the island of Bermuda. And I felt for him.
Not giving up is something CoLab-Factory founder Shane Barbanel and I talk about all the time in downtown Brooklyn. Today, I'm an entrepreneur, a partner and a co-founder and I have offices there for New York Natives and Mon Jamii. It's a pretty fabulous 10,000 feet of collaborative space for members to join that Shane envisioned and opened just a month ago.
"Men sleigh Dragons, we're trying to make a statement..I have to get up and get to work every day. I have to fight, I might as well really want to be doing it."
Women of course do that too, our approach just might look different sometimes.
"It's a long slog though." Shane continued as he sipped on his third coffee. "It's getting in a truck. You need a will made of carbon fiber. And you have to have an ego an made of Teflon. Because eventually someone is going to hurt your feelings because of the mistakes that are kicking your ass."
True and maybe you didn't even make any mistakes. Maybe it's all due to conditions, weather conditions, market conditions, financing conditions, otherwise known as risk. Or maybe it's both. Either way, I can guarantee the emotional journey is a tough one regardless.
Every day, being an entrepreneur can feel like a leap of faith, from the night we launched CoLab-Factory and New York Natives in Brooklyn with the support of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce to the last Game Night where our party team pitched the launch of a culturally aware design firm, with whiskey flavored argyle Pringles in a speed startup game called Half-Baked.
Here's what I've learned as an entrepreneur, and studied as an observer and journalist covering some of the most influential leaders of our time.
Failure is inevitable. Be prepared to pivot.
Stopping and starting, or changing course is tough when you've sunk your heart into an idea and its execution for months, even years. You have to stick to your guns to move the company forward, while strategically moving many parts of the startup machine in different arrangements than you might expect.
Have a Startup? Keep a diary.
Write out your feelings in the morning and the evening. At best, you will have a record of the beginnings of your unicorn startup. Get those emotions out of you. Startups have their ups and downs and you need a place to release them.
Take care of your mind and body like you have been handed a newborn.
You are essentially newborn if this is your first startup.
You are setting up in an exciting adventure with enormous promise and it is an Iron Man at least. I have run two marathons and at least six half marathons, spent six months covering the war in Iraq and it's still the hardest challenge I have ever faced.
A startup in NYC? It's an iron man with a triathlon thrown in and some off piste downhills for kicks and giggles, finished off with a team luge.
Understand you are trying to accomplish nothing short of an Edison light bulb or a Ford car moment.
A startup is nothing short of a speed record adventure across the Atlantic. You are bold enough to try for your own Branson moment.
And that's before the series A round, the round after friends and family take an interest in you.
Stick to Your Knitting - Keep Showing Up
There will be times you have to pivot, but sticking at something for 2-3 years has shown great results even for people of little exceptional talent.
You will be amazed to see people you thought would go nowhere, get everywhere because they kept showing up.
This will surprise you.
You will surprise yourself, others and meet fascinating folk, and you will be fine as long you pay attention keenly along the way.
What if You Bomb?
Your worst case scenario will be taking a traditional job if all else fails. I have never received more calls from head hunters because I have had start up leadership experience and never been offered greater compensation. You've become someone of greater value who is a self starter. Your fallback is a better career than you would have ever had before.
At the CoLab-Factory in downtown Brooklyn not far from where I sailed on Virgin Money, we explore every day what it takes to succeed and flourish as an entrepreneur. We inhabit a growing culture full of social impact and ingenuity, education and a dash of New York authenticity. Between Blue Ridge Labs, Mon Jamii and New York Natives, it's a pretty exciting place to be.
The odyssey is worth it. Do it and love it and look past the challenges in front of you. This year after an equal string of failures to successes I hit the water again for Sir Richard Branson but this time on Necker Island.
Just five years on, I have closed the gap between interviewer and author to entrepreneur. Accepting a Ticket Fairy invitation to join Branson on Necker Island at The Extreme Tech Challenge Finals. We celebrated the courage and innovation of companies like Gyroptic and Bloom. Our team of three women, including my Mon Jamii co-founder Paige Sanborn, and team member Becky Saktowski flew from JFK to Puerto Rico to Tortola, boated to Virgin Gorda and took a speed raft to Sir Richard's private island for an unforgettable evening.
Branson met me with a smile and a slight nod of recognition before the kickoff.
One adventurer to another I shared Mon Jamii's vision for a series to educate children through virtual reality adventures across the world's cultures, connecting millions of kids around the globe, even in the British West Indies. He smiled. He knew what it had taken for all of us to get there, for me to come forward in that moment.
With little time to spare, as a mob of kite boarders mobilized around cocktails to gather around him, the new grandfather pointed out to the room, waving, calling for the head of his foundation to speak with me. A new journey was just beginning thanks to an icon who taught me to never let a few heart breaking upsets get in the way of countless wins ahead.
Stay tuned for the next adventure moguls!
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Camilla’s international broadcast and new media career has spanned the newsroom to the boardroom, the White House to Baghdad, Davos to TEDx, 60 Minutes to The Wall Street Journal and The Clinton Global Initiative to the United Nations. She has dedicated her career to raising awareness on the most [...]