When You Come From a Survival Mode Mentality of ‘We made our way here’, That Stays With You
Cam Kashini | Cofounder of CoAccel & "Godmother of Silicon Beach"
Meet Cameron (Cam) Kashani, dubbed the “Godmother of Silicon Beach”, the name given to Los Angeles’ tech community. She’s an expert speaker with the U.S. State Department, a three-time founder, single mother of twin boys and she’s on a mission to humanize business. She’s worked with more than 4,000 entrepreneurs and 700 start-ups, including Uber LA, Instacart and others . She is currently on her third company, COACCEL: The Human Accelerator, a unique 3-month program, 1-1, that focuses on building powerful, mindful leaders and specializes in female founders. This is her story.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I was born in Iran and moved to the states when I was two years old. My family moved around a bit until we settled in Los Angeles when I was six.
My story is an immigrant story. My parents escaped from Iran a few years after the revolution of 1979. My father literally escaped the country and fled the front lines of war on horseback through the Turkish mountains. My mother and I were able to escape using a fake passport.
My parents had nothing. It’s nuts to think they only had their survival instinct and the idea that ‘this is what we need to do’, despite their rejected green cards and visas until it finally worked.
TELL us A BIT ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY TO WHERE YOU’VE GOTTEN TO TODAY.
COACCEL: The Human Accelerator is my third company. My first company was a significant failure. But I didn’t give up. My parents didn’t stop. They literally had to fight for their lives. When you come from a survival mode mentality of ‘we made our way here’, that stays with you. It helped give me perspective, knowing that anything is possible when you’re committed.
My dad built a successful practice and business that he later sold. Having come from nothing, he would remind us of being grateful for being in a country where you can become what you want. Gratitude manifests itself. Gratitude is something that puts things into perspective, significantly.
TELL us ONE WAY EXERCISING LEADERSHIP HAS ALWAYS COME EASY TO YOU, AND ONE WAY IT HAS CHALLENGED YOU.
I was severely bullied my entire life. I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur or leader.
I knew I always had this passion for the human side of business. I served as a Marketing Director at a Medical Company and while I was there, I noticed that no one really knew why they were there. They didn’t fully understand patient care. Somehow, I always had the courage to speak up – something that I may not have acknowledged myself for. So I spoke up and I worked on implementing the “why” into our marketing plan. Over four years, we increased revenues by 60%, bringing together profit and the human component.
I eventually left to start my own start-up, which failed big time. It was definitely hard to bounce back. It happened during the great recession and while I was getting my MBA. But from scarcity spawned creativity. CoLoft, from concept to creation, took only three months to launch. We tested it and built CoLoft lean. We launched a website before we had a space and got significant response, breaking even in four months. We eventually had over 1,800 alums including Uber L.A., Instacart and the early Tinder team. We built a community first and created value for the people.
At the time, I didn’t realize I was being a leader. I was just being me, being Cam. I eventually had to part with CoLoft and it was a defining moment for me, questioning “Who the f*** am I?”. My identity was stripped. Everything I thought I was, I no longer was. It was a difficult period.
I had a lot of work to do on myself and figure out who I was. Your mind is what creates your life. Your experience is how you interpret and how you perceive the reality to be and who you perceive yourself to be. I had never given myself credit. So, after I did all of that work on myself, my business partner now, Jasmine Hannaby, helped build me back up at an accelerated speed, and I was eventually led to serve as an Expert Speaker with the US State Department in a program proven to ward off extremism. I was sent to Kuwait first to help women and youth build entrepreneurial projects. That was a moment of all-encompassing bad a**. I had given the title of being “CoLoft Cam” the power, but the power was within me. I get to create and re-create who I am. I know now that I know how to lead from a place of heart and authenticity.
NAME ONE OF THE MOST SATISFYING LEADERSHIP ROLES YOU HAVE HAD, AND BRIEFLY TELL ME WHAT MADE IT SO.
What I do now [Co-Founder and Partner at COACCEL]. I realize how important it is for people to build themselves. People get so attached to their product. They identify themselves with external things. But this doesn’t define you. I created this human accelerator, a 3-month ‘”coaching on steroids” program that includes relationship capital and business and marketing skills. It’s also about helping you realize who you are so you’re not making decisions that aren’t in accordance with your objectives.
There are common denominators of success in entrepreneurs: (1) Self Awareness, (2) Passion, (3) Persistence, (4) Resilience, (5) Detachment from an outcome. After working with thousands of entrepreneurs and over 700 start-ups and companies, I believe these are buildable but you have to invest time, money and energy.
I’ve never lived a more authentic life. I’m in total alignment with everything, and this is what’s possible.
WHAT IS THE BEST AND WORST DECISION YOU'VE EVER MADE?
I don’t believe in the “worst decision”. Every decision you make is the one you needed to make at the time. I don’t think I’ve made bad decisions. I’ve just learned and if everyone understood that they’d be kinder to themselves.
In terms of the best, it’s been becoming a Mom. The moment my boys arrived, everything came into perspective. They brought so much clarity. Life just happened and they’ve been a blessing.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT BARRIER TO FEMALE LEADERSHIP?
We [women] need to speak up. In working with women, the creators of life, I’ve also learned that we don’t own it. While I was working in Kuwait in Bahrain, these women had everything to lose in speaking up. They are doing what women in other parts of the world are afraid of. But they’re saying “enough!”. Once we own our power, we can create a tipping point and that will bring more harmony.
WHAT WILL BE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR THE GENERATION OF WOMEN BEHIND YOU?
A lot of women tend to leave themselves out of the equation and say ‘don’t’ worry about me’ or ‘let me make sure everything over there is ok first’. It’s been a barrier in every generation. It’s less now but I still see it all the time. You have to keep yourself in the equation. Don’t do anyone any favors. It’s without integrity. No one is going to be fulfilled or happy.
WHAT WOMAN INSPIRES YOU AND WHY?
My business partner [inspires me]. She’s my compass. She’s phenomenal. She’s such an incredible human being. Every women needs to have a mentor or coach or both and let it be a woman. You have to have a woman in your life that is an example of who you would like to be. Be yourself in the process, while having someone right there that manifests some components that you want to be and how you want to show up in the world.
And my mom [inspires me]. She’s so loving. We’re so different; I’m this working Mom, she’s a doctor. When my siblings and I were born, she focused on raising us. She’s so supportive and incredibly helpful in every way, shape and form. She’s strong.