From Trials to Triumph: 5 Tech Cocktail Week Speakers Share Their Story

April 11, 2013

11:39 am

The road to success is paved with failure.  This will not come as news to any entrepreneur.  For this reason, within the startup world, there’s a tendency to celebrate such missteps.  In actuality, it’s not the failure that should be celebrated, but instead the lesson learned.

That’s why today, we’ve called upon five successful professionals to share their story, not only on challenges they’ve faced in their career, but also how they overcame, and what you can takeaway from their triumph.

After reading their inspiring stories, come enjoy out their talks at the upcoming Tech Cocktail Week Sessions Speaker Series in Downton Las Vegas.  It’s free.

Dina Kaplan

Co-founder of

What was the greatest challenge you have faced in your career?

The greatest challenge I faced in my career was learning to be an authentic leader. I think in part because I’m a woman in a male dominated world, I felt like I needed to act as I imagined a stereotypical “boss” would act.

How did you overcome?

It took some soul-searching and perspective to realize you’re a better manager when you’re ‘real’ with people and also engage with them on a personal as well as professional level.

What learning lesson can fellow entrepreneurs takeaway from this experience?

I think the lesson here is that leadership doesn’t have to come in the form of the old-school charismatic Lee Iacocca type. Harvard Business School Professor Bill George writes about this in his book on authentic leadership called Finding Your True North. You can be very effective as a low key or very warm, caring manager. The most important thing is to really know yourself, understand your strengths and weaknesses, and then be true to yourself as a manager and, really, in all of the relationships in your life.

Stephen Andrade

Associate Professor at Johnson & Wales University (JWU)

What was the greatest challenge you have faced in your career?

I didn’t know what AWK or GREP were. I had to study UNIX just to keep up with the lunch conversation. Plus, I haven’t had a job description since 1979, I always seemed to invent a position for myself and people would gladly pay me to do interesting stuff.

How did you overcome?

I read a lot technical material, learned how to write convincing proposals, and always managed to stay a page ahead of most people.

What learning lesson can fellow entrepreneurs takeaway from this experience?

Like Linus Pauling said, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” I like that motto.

Mark Rowland

Entrepreneur, Coach and Mentor

What was the greatest challenge you have faced in your career?

I have had so many challenges its hard to pinpoint the greatest – but certainly an example of a great challenge was when I became the CEO of a restaurant chain and had to complete a business turnaround – I knew it was going to be a challenge to face but did not realise the enormity of the challenge until I joined the company. Within the space of my first 3 weeks I had 3 government agencies chasing me, 3 unfair dismissal claims to deal with, a poor customer experience, very unhappy employees some that had not been paid properly – some that had been abused, pissed off suppliers that had not been paid, disgruntled investors etc.

How did you overcome?

A lot of self reflection as to what have I gotten myself into.. then I realised that I took the job because I wanted the challenge of turning this company around… so I reframed all this in my mind to ‘wow, at least I now know all the things that need to be done.. how cool that I found out so quickly :)”

I then practically just sat down with a pen and paper and realised that whilst collectively this was a monster challenge if I just sat down and broke all of these big challenges down into their smallest parts and identified the things that I could control myself, the things that I could get others to help me with and the things that I had to just let go because they were outside of my control I would be able to tackle the situation and get out of the other end. So I made a list with some headings and identified what I would do and what othera would do and also those things that I would give myself permission to let go of because no matter how much I wanted to I could not control them. I then systematically worked through the list and did the actions that I could and also delegated to others and checked in with them to make sure they got done… and within a few weeks had most under control and within a few months had them controlled to the extent that I had the capacity to also start to do the things that I really wanted to do.

What learning lesson can fellow entrepreneurs takeaway from this experience?

No matter the challenge that is set before you if you have a positive mindset and take practical steps you are able to act resourcefully and likely get through anything…. even if you cannot at least you know you gave it your best shot. Also, in my opinion the key to achieving these things is to have a healthy sense of self esteem to help you to stay balanced and for me to maintain a positive mindset and stay happy in the face of adversity… you are in control of your own emotions and so you can only feel depressed and fearful if those are states that you have chosen for yourself as opposed to a state of curiosity, opportunity or excitement which I think are much more resourceful!

Amanda Slavin

CEO and Founder of CatalystCreativ

What was the greatest challenge you have faced in your career?

The greatest challenge I have ever faced was during the December this year. I had transitioned from my full time role from my previous job but still was playing a smaller role and had started CatalystCreativ and was advising on two companies and it was just me. The individual who had taken my role in the previous job moved out of the country, so I jumped back in her role overseeing events during our busiest time, in the middle of planning a 500 person event for the old company, as well as producing and curating a conference in addition to trying to grow Catalyst so i could bring on full time employees.

How did you overcome?

I had someone ask me “from a 1-10, how much work do you have on your plate?” In which I answered 10. I looked at my options and took enough work off my plate through paying others and asking for help to get me down to a 6, a place that I could operate as my best self.

What learning lesson can fellow entrepreneurs takeaway from this experience?

Always take care of yourself, you are your biggest commodity. Don’t push yourself to your limit, there are always ways to get to where you want to go without forcing yourself to get there.

Kanyi Maqubela

Venture Partner at Collaborative Fund

What was the greatest challenge you have faced in your career?

The greatest challenge I faced in my career was actually the months right after Barack Obama’s first election. I had served on staff on the campaign, living just up the street in North Las Vegas, and was now unemployed. I could pursue an administration job or move back to the valley to jump back into entrepreneurship, but I was stuck. And poor.

How did you overcome?

I realized then that I had been working on projects, companies, and even campigns, out of a shallow motivation: money, or pride, or frankly even fear of failure. The turning point in my life, and where I actually found the most success in my professional life, was when I aligned my value-set with my career choices: to help those in need and to encourage collaboration as a means of economic empowerment.

What learning lesson can fellow entrepreneurs takeaway from this experience?

Ask yourself WHY you’re doing what you’re doing. Really ask. And if your value set and your career choices are not in line, line them up as soon as you possibly can. You’ll be the better for it.

Want more?  Join us at the upcoming Tech Cocktail Week Sessions.


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When Zach Davis isn't getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail's Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.

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