Interviewee: Cameron Kashani
Interviewer: Jorge Soto
Jorge: What your professional background and how did you get involved in the startup world?
Cam: I graduated with a degree in marketing, and have my MBA in Marketing and Entrepreneurship. My background spans from healthcare, marketing, to technology. My first position (job) that impacted me was as Director of Marketing for a diagnostics medical corporation called Advanced Sleep Medicine Services, Inc.
During my four years there, I increased revenues by 60% through a combination of sales, marketing strategy, rebranding, content creation, but mostly, the human element — by implementing the WHY (in this case patient care, you are saving people’s lives, this is not just a job). By doing this the culture shifted and so did productivity and profits. People + Profit. The company ended up getting acquired two years post my departure. ha. I realized that people are my thing. Community matters.
I left to start a startup. Craved autonomy and creativity. I need to create. I guess this was my first “I want to be an entrepreneur” moment. But I had NO IDEA what the fuck that meant. It was a game then. I was in my 20s, I didnt understand what being a founder really is and what it takes. it’s brutal. It’s testing.
It’s fucking awesome. It pushes you to limits, and it’s friggin awesome. It was Me and my cofounder. Medical/healthcare startup. It failed. Severely. Like, really really brutal. Two years, three customers, lots of blood, sweat and tears. LOTS of lessons learned.
We built it the anti-lean way. Focused on perfection and features. Had no funding. I don’t think I knew what funding was. Exhausted our resources. Had no help from anyone. And we didn’t ask. Plus I didn’t know anyone that was working on a startup.
We thought we knew what we were doing, that weird ego founders have for no reason just vision. But there came a point that we had to pull the plug. There comes a moment in an entrepreneur’s life where we need to distinguish the difference between being persistent and being naive.
Biggest takeaways learned are to build from the customer backwards, and that lean is the only way to go, and I learned this the hard way, before there was a book called the Lean Startup. AND community is crucial. Being alone on the unpaved path of startup life is not necessary, and you will achieve success with the love and support of community around you.
Post failure, and what do I do with my life now depression cloudiness, the Universe stepped in. While building the failed startup, we were working out of a fancy pants office suite, which had no sense of community and no synergy. I remember feeling alone, like no one understood my path, no one understood my brain, no one understood why I wouldn’t just get a job. My parents kept telling me to get a job. Totally felt like a failure.
So I had a moment, Where are people like me? I cant be the only one that feels this way. There has to be others. Then I found out about co-working. Magic. Looked for this concept somewhere — the AA for Entrepreneurs — in LA, and didnt find it. So brush the shoulders off and create it.
And it wasn’t that easy, but the why and purpose behind Coloft, community first, was powerful and inspiring. So it kept the focus. I think this was the moment I realized I am really an entrepreneur. The seriousness of it. the reality of it. The perseverance.
I had to part ways with Coloft in May of 2014. I wrote about it here. I got a divorce, and my cofounder is my ex-husband. it’s been hard rebuilding. It’s been testing. It’s been scary. It’s been really powerful and I have never been happier or more fulfilled in my life.
I’m a single mom to twins that are 3.5, and Im working on changing the world. Ive been advising a ton of startups and founders, a lot through the Bixel Exchange Accelerator, consulting, contracting, empowering, and learning. I’m now an expert speaker with the State Department, empowering entrepreneurs (particularly women, apparently my story resonates with them), and creating/further developing startup communities.
I was chosen as the first female entrepreneur to go to Kuwait by the US Embassy, and am now advising them on Innovation and entrepreneurship. Im also heavily involved in the community by being a Startup weekend global facilitator, and in LA as well: FWD.us innovation board, LA Startup Week board, Startup Next Mentor, and other awesome
Jorge: What traits do successful entrepreneurs posses?
Detachment from the outcome.
Understanding that their product does not define them, they define themselves. Execution is what determines success. Action in accordance to outcomes. You will fail. All Ive ever done is fail. And you will win too.
As long as you understand that you are not your product/company, your identity is meant to recreate every moment, you will succeed while enjoying the crazy roller coaster ride.
Jorge: You are referred to as the godmother of Los Angeles’s Silicon Beach. How was it during the early days and what’s the current state of Silicon Beach’s startup ecosystem?
Cam: There was nothing happening in LA when Coloft began. One event every two months. Same 90 people. Yahoo, Mahalo, Docstoc, and a few other startups. Coloft came. It became the hub of LA startups, pando daily called us the “Cheers” of the LA tech ecosystem. Startup Weekend, which I’m a global facilitator at now since 2010, partnered with we and together we brought Silicon Valley to LA, and it caused a sonic boom.
That energy spread like wildfire. Right time. Best place. LA was desperately craving a community, so we were ready for this. Since then, we have moved mountains. The amount of capital, innovation, and pure brilliance that has emerged blows my mind, and to know that I had a hand in creating that makes me feel really fulfilled.
Nothing is better than knowing you helped others on the path to their success.
Jorge: What types of startups that do better in LA and why?
Cam: LA had a problem with funding for as long as I can remember (until recent times). This worked in our favor because we ended up building companies with business models. Money became air as Jason Fried has infamously stated.
So we were able to create an ecosystem that harbors innovation while building sustainable businesses. Of course, entertainment is a huge factor in LA, in addition to media.
But Im seeing more socially driven startups, which is awesome. people want to be part of a greater purpose, and create human driven, meaningful products and services.
Jorge: You are an advisor to the State Department and US Embassy in Kuwait, what is your role here and what’s your take on the growth of tech entrepreneurship in this region?
Cam: This was the Universe like whoa. I got a call from a friend, that asked if Im interested in going to Kuwait. I didn’t fully comprehend. I just knew I had to say yes. State Dept calls me, you’ve been chosen by the Embassy in Kuwait, fully sponsored with first class status, rolling in an Embassy car, guest of the Ambassador. Is this real life? O_o I had no briefing, no prep, and like 7 days to make sure my life and kids were accounted for. I had five days there, 18 interactions, and reached the whole population of 3 million people.
I was all over the media, did a podcast, on the radio etc. As soon as I arrived, I went into “make this fucking count” mode and wanted to understand from a holistic view what their ecosystem was missing. Answer is as it tends to be: community, collaboration and consistency.
Awesome things happening.
No one working together. ME mode not WE mode. That’s what happens with humans. We think we are separate, but we are all interconnected. Messaging is also crucial. Emotional branding and bonding. Give people hope and creating trust with truth and vulnerability.
In the few days I was there, I spotted three community leaders that “got it” (doing it for the right reasons, for the greater good), provided a blue-print/roadmap of fundamental elements of building community that was catered to their culture, and as a guest of honor of the US Ambassador, was able to influence key decision makers to work together, in addition to inspiring the women and youth to believe in themselves and own their power.
I honestly wondered if I had any idea what I was doing. But the sense of urgency was so clear, the why was so big, and I kept repeating “don’t think just go”. Wrote about it here in more depth. Im now an advisor to the Embassy, and offer guidance as needed, and I made a lot of incredible friends in Kuwait. It was a magical place. They even gifted me my own website (in progress but yay! camkashani.com).
And the women there, who I found so inspiring and resilient, for whatever reason thought I was inspiring, and so a huge magazine in the middle east that is distributed to 22 countries (wtf) featured me and an article called “My open letter to the women of the world”. So humbling, beautiful, and fulfilling.
So awesome to know that we are capable of impact at that level when we function from a place of WE. Inspiring anyone is fucking powerful. Now Awaiting my next adventure through the State Dept. Will keep you posted;)
Jorge: What tips would you give idea stage entrepreneurs on bringing their idea to life?
Ask for help.
Put effort into finding the right Advisors that will be committed to you. Dont get tied up in funding that you forget to focus on your product. Try to bootstrap as much as you can to get some data and therefore leverage from Investors. And remember that no one knows anything, even successful serial entrepreneurs still fail. We are all figuring things out. So put your brains together and figure it out together. We are much more powerful at a level of community.
Build a badass, committed, passionate team that fuels you and brings out the best in you. Tell your inner dialogue to shut the ef up. You are perfect. Have NO fear. Fear doesn’t exist. Its not real. Can you touch it? Its not real. Its based on the past. Stop living in the past. Create from now. Detach. Detach. Detach. Take action.
I said that didn’t I?
Don’t think just go. We can only create through action.
Also, Purpose. Find your passion and purpose, your why, and create endless possibilities from this magical aligned place. You’ll be surprised what you’re capable of when you’re aligned with who you truly are and are in sync with what inspires you. Without passion we burnout, we don’t grow, and worst of all, we just exist. We don’t live. Who wants to exist when life is so short?
Ask yourself What is it that drives you?
Keep asking yourself why you are doing what your doing until you find the deep rooted answer, that by the way, is not easy to find all the time.
It’s a process. Sometimes we don’t know until we know. So keep exploring. And if you’re not doing what you love, or you feel like you just exist, you have the power to change it. Every moment is a choice.
It’s your life.
Make it matter. Yolo.
And in the end we all end up in the same place, I ask that you don’t let your potential world changing ideas end up in the graveyard because of fear of failure, judgement, or anything else that keeps you still.