Frank Gruber and Jen Consalvo kicked off the August 8 Tech Cocktail Week Sessions with a shoutout to the massive event coming up in October: Tech Cocktail Celebrate. Startups that have been covered by Tech Cocktail will be competing for the title of best in the nation, and the monumental event will be followed up by Life is Beautiful.
The theme for the evening was change and transitions, and the Tech Cocktail duo made mention that the Downtown Project, along with Tech Cocktail itself, is constantly changing and heading in new directions. Tech Cocktail is a company in transition embedded within a community in transition.
First out of the gate to speak about change and transition in our lives was CEO and founder of the Rubicon Project Frank Addante, who detailed his journey starting five different companies. An engineer-turned-entrepreneur, Addante was an early pioneer of digital advertising and got his start as a cliché college entrepreneur.
He never thought too much about how he put his companies together, but he always knew that the teams of his close friends would work well together. That is until he got to his third company and realized the tech startup world had legitimate expectations of him.
He changed himself, his company, and the culture of employees he hired, but doing so made his company spiral out of control. Addante ultimately turned it around, but he took away a valuable lesson from the near failure: company culture should always be at the top of the list.
Gabriella Draney filled in for Andrew Hyde, who was unable to be with us. And while she was not as good looking as Hyde (her words), she lit the audience up nonetheless. Draney got her start in 1998 after cofounding an aircraft scheduling software company, and that led to her current role as managing partner of Tech Wildcatters.
To Draney, innovation is the one thing that actually changes people. She told a parable of three men rebuilding a cathedral. When asked what they were doing, each responded differently: one said he was breaking bricks, another said he was getting a paycheck, and the third said he was rebuilding a cathedral.
The key is to find the true innovators in your community, those who see that they are rebuilding the cathedral, because they are the ones who will actually get things done for you. The brick breakers and money-focused individuals will fall in line later.
Draney’s exit brought fire sculptor and entrepreneur Brett Lavine to the stage. This pyromaniac created The Hydrogen Economy in 2003 where participants ignite hydrogen bubbles that explode, but it took some work to get there.
His current startup, LiveSpark, was not always a reality for the fiery entrepreneur, who decided to refuse all venture funds when he started out. Instead, Lavine bootstrapped the funds necessary to achieve his dreams, but that meant getting a job to get money.
That job happened to be at a software startup that was successful and helped him build LiveSpark’s first product, the FirePixel: a piece of hardware that produces a real flame up to four feet tall in fewer than six milliseconds. If you focus a small amount of effort on one small thing, it can add up over time to get you what you need; make your own luck, keep your risks small, and remember to spend some time on a side project.
Leigh Ferreira took the microphone after Levine, carefully checking to make sure it was not on fire. She worked with a host of companies like Apple, Mattel, TED, and Visa, but one day she was met with the six worst words no professional ever wants to hear: I have to let you go.
Her response to being let go was emotional, but she had no idea the positivity to be found within such a somber place. By working hard to embrace the free space in her life, Ferreira was able to focus her mind and let her ideas flow.
With clear eyes and a sharp mind, Ferreira developed a list of priorities to help her through rough times, and it led her to recognize her dream of starting a company of her own. Ferreira’s best advice? Create a life advisory board and support network, be okay with putting yourself first, always remember that not having a plan can lead to serendipity, give it up to the universe, and pay it forward.
Chris Kelly, a Silicon Valley attorney with a bag of diverse experiences, capped off the night’s speakers. He was the first Chief Privacy Officer, General Counsel, and Head of Global Public Policy for Facebook, but not before working as a policy advisor for Bill Clinton.
Kelly carries with him the mentality that entrepreneurs bend the universe to their will. Not to be confused with comic book villains, these entrepreneurs do it in a positive way to shape the world into a better place for all.
Using the Downtown Project as a picture-perfect example, Kelly noted how people like Tony Hsieh are actively engaging the power and potential of a community of entrepreneurs to bend the universe to fit a “new Las Vegas” as a major tech center.