Chase down opportunities, especially the ones that frighten you a little bit. Those are the ones that will ultimately yield the most personal growth, satisfaction, and value.
Dara Treseder is an influential woman of color in Silicon Valley, leveraging her expertise as a senior marketing executive within the tech space. Outside of her work with major tech companies, she’s also the co-founder of NeuBridges , an innovation consultancy that, since 2014, has trained more than 1,000 entrepreneurs in growth markets around the world. Dara has a passion for innovations that improve the human experience, public health, and women’s issues. She currently sits on the board of the Public Health Institute, one of the largest, most comprehensive public health organizations in the nation that’s dedicated to promoting health, well-being, and quality of life for people throughout California, across the nation, and around the world. Prior to her work at the Public Health Institute, Dara founded Project Unveil, a program to improve education of Nigerian girls from low-income families, and La Vie Club, an organization to foster sisterhood, leadership, and service among female Harvard undergraduates and alumnae.
Where did the idea for NeuBridges come from?
I was finishing up my MBA at Stanford University and working as an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Graduate School of Business’ Venture Studio.
I was struck by the difference in support between entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and those trying to build businesses in my native Nigeria. I wanted to create a “bridge” between these two places to improve the chances that Nigerian entrepreneurs could receive the same level of support. That means mentorship, advising, and partnerships, not just venture capital and angel investment.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
I try to start my day early. Although I don’t always get up early, I try because I know the right start makes a big difference. I try to head to the gym while my husband and daughter are still sleeping so I can get in a workout.
My spiritual life is important to me. I pray and reflect on my life before diving into work.
I try to set my agenda in terms of the most important two or three things I need to accomplish. I also avoid emails until as late as possible. Once I get sucked into managing emails, it’s almost impossible to get back on track.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’m a huge vision person. I want to create the most grandiose dream possible. My husband describes it as “calling” something. I try to build up an idea into an almost utopian statement, where I feel a strong emotional pull toward that goal.
Once that vision is solid, I return to my motives for accomplishing the vision. It’s something I learned from my mother-in-law: Always have pure motives so you can pursue your vision proudly and not be afraid of failure.
Collaboration is always key. I try to find people with whom I can pursue the vision almost immediately. We come up with a first version of a plan — a sketch, basically. Then, we “get outside the building,” as I learned from Steve Blank.
My kind of plan is iterative, and it has a lot of space for adjustments. I’m not trying to answer every question before I get going; I just want to have the rough contours in place.
What’s one trend that excites you?
This trend is broad and very early-stage, but I like the emerging wave of human-centered innovation. There are more and more products and services creating space for human relationships and mindfulness. That’s what we need as a society to keep progressing now that most of our material needs are met.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur-turned-senior marketing professional?
Seeing opportunity everywhere. I’m an optimistic person who always sees the glass as half-full. That is something my mother, a very successful entrepreneur, taught me as a child. This trait helps me bring positive energy to any team.
Everything, even critical feedback, is actually a chance to do better. A mistake is an opportunity to do better. A failure is an opportunity to revise and try again. I always focus on the upside!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Chase opportunities that create even more opportunities. You don’t have a lot of strings attached when you’re young. Chase down opportunities, especially the ones that frighten you a little bit. Those are the ones that will ultimately yield the most personal growth, satisfaction, and value.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
I think people tend to be the most vocal in condemning things when they have some deep-seated — but hidden — connection to it. They might not even be aware of the connection in some cases. That says a lot about the very public outcries that pop up constantly on social media.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Share your ideas with as many people as possible. Connecting with people is the only way you can build a successful business. Try to find people who you think will disagree with you, especially early on. You may not change your idea, but you will refine it, if needed, and strengthen your conviction.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Mutually beneficial relationships. Helping others has helped me throughout my career. Business leads come from people unexpectedly, often months after a random discussion. And this all starts with trying to figure out how to help others. I have learned over the years to focus on what I can give instead of what I can get. It’s a discipline that I continue to strive to uphold.
What is one failure you’ve had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I tried to build my first startup while I was still working at Goldman Sachs — before I went to business school. I pulled in my friends’ and family’s money, hired a few people, and started building without first validating the need for the business. That business cratered. I learned a lot about what not to do, and that formed the basis for my desire to bootstrap NeuBridges, which has turned into a very profitable company without any outside investment.
What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?
As a working mom, I’m not able to easily schedule playdates. I’m mostly constrained to people in my church and a few other friends who have kids about the same age. I’ve tried the few apps out there, but none of them do it for me. Someone needs to build something that lets working parents connect with others at their life stage and easily plan social events.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
Taking my nanny out for a nice dinner, just the two of us. I appreciate her so much and enjoy the opportunity to reward her for all the amazing work she does. Our family could not function without her.
What is one piece of software or web service that helps you be productive?
The FileMaker platform . I use it to build custom apps that automate tasks and processes, helping me exponentially increase my productivity, as well as that of my globally distributed team.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read?
“Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. It’s a good, short read that helps you think deeply. You can’t help but reflect on your own life and try to wrestle with the very important issues he brings up. It’s good for personal and professional issues and for every life stage.
What is your favorite quote?
“Success is not final; failure is not fatal.” My late grandfather frequently said this — he just passed away in February. This quote is so real to me. It keeps me motivated. It prevents me from resting on my laurels but also pushes me to take risks and put myself out there. Failure is a part of living; it is the best moment for learning.
- Chase down opportunities, especially the ones that frighten you a little bit. Those are the ones that will ultimately yield the most personal growth, satisfaction, and value.
- Share your ideas with as many people as possible. Connecting with people is the only way you can build a successful business.
- “Success is not final; failure is not fatal.” My late grandfather frequently said this — he just passed away in February.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.