Want to be Successful? Get Over Yourself and Seize the Opportunity

Andre Moore knows what it is to watch a bright future disappear – not once, but twice. Being forced to reinvent himself after thinking he was on the right path to success has helped him learn that seizing the opportunity is worth it, whenever and however that chance comes.

His first devastating heartbreak came early in his life when several letters of intent from major colleges and a promising career in the NFL evaporated into nothing after he was injured during his junior year of high school. The eldest son of several siblings raised by a hard-working single mother, the young Alabama native metamorphosed overnight from a rising star to a young man with an uncertain future. As he watched one door close on his future, he chose to follow his heart and enlisted to serve his country while still in high school, first in the National Guard and then as a medic in the Army. But, once again, this calling was cut short when Andre suffered a debilitating injury the day before his unit shipped out. Devastated, he returned home and contemplated what to do with his life. At the invitation of childhood friends, he moved cross-country to make a new life for himself in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he quickly earned certification as a dental assistant before enrolling in the University of New Mexico.

 

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My son, Jonathon, became friends with Andre when the two began studying together at the university’s library. Most weekends, Jonathon came home from Andre’s loaded with leftover ribs or chicken. After pilfering his leftovers one afternoon, I asked my son why Andre wasn’t selling his ribs. Despite eating them cold out of the fridge, his ribs tasted incredible. When Andre was invited to attend a Startup Weekend event, he and Jonathon jumped at the opportunity to flesh out the idea of launching a food truck. The team took second place and treated the entire audience to Andre’s ribs, converting many into a solid fan base.

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When Andre recently discovered that one of my good friends, J. Kelly Hoey, was coming for a visit, he created his own opportunity by offering to help out by delivering his ribs for one of our meals. Kelly was flying out from her home in New York City to support our network for women entrepreneurs I’d launched in 2014 with my cofounder Jessica Eaves Mathews. We’d invited Kelly to be a part of our first Women’s Conference, Haute Highlights, as the final keynote speaker as well as serving as a judge that night at our benefit gala, Haute Night Out. Kelly had even volunteered to be the guest speaker to kick off the Teen ABQ Startup Weekend which my younger son was helping organize.

Andre found a way to not only be of help but do so in a way that also put him in the same room with someone with knowledge and connections he wanted to meet. On her last day in Albuquerque, Andre arrived at our door loaded with steaming hot ribs and wings – as well as a long list of questions. While Kelly dined on the meal he’d prepared, she shared advice and answered his questions.

We can learn a lot from Andre. I wonder how many times we let our own fear, laziness, pride, or insecurity get in our way. How often do we succumb to that inner whisper that it’s too scary, that others will discover our lack of knowledge, skill or talent or won’t want to help us – and so instead of acting, we let opportunities slip away simply because we can’t get over ourselves enough to seize the moment?

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I recently attended an event designed to pair out-of-state investors with local entrepreneurs while riding a chair lift at the world-class ski resort in Taos, New Mexico. My husband and I made the drive to support our entrepreneurial community. An avid skier, my husband hit the slopes while I opted to hang out with the non-skiers. After chatting a bit with the group at the ski lodge, I found a quiet spot where I could work. At the end of my table sat a woman who was one of the founders pitching at the event. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her twice start to stand up before sitting back down. Finally, with a deep breath, she got up and approached an out-of-town investor working nearby. She introduced herself and asked if he would be willing to answer some of her questions.

When she returned to her seat next to me, I smiled. “Way to go,” I said. “Way to take advantage of the opportunity.”

“I had to,” she replied. “These investors are only here today. Right now. This may never happen again, so it is now or never.”

She seized the moment despite the struggle it took to get beyond her own fear of approaching a complete stranger who, on the hierarchy of startups, might have seemed far above her. And because of her action, she left the event richer for the opportunity – including now having a new connection who would likely remember her when she was ready to seek funding for her startup in the future.

The next time you’re presented with an opportunity, don’t hesitate. No one else is going to pave the way for you to reach your dreams, and even when one dream slips away, there are still opportunities to reinvent yourself. Don’t be lackadaisical with your life, and don’t squander precious opportunities. Get over yourself to find courage to seize the opportunity. It is the surest path forward – no matter what you want in life.

Katie Szczepaniak Rice: Watch New Mexico Rise

Katie Szczepaniak Rice

 

The first time I met Katie Szczepaniak Rice, I was more than a little intimidated. She is trained as an engineer – a graduate of MIT with an MBA from the University of Chicago, no less – and is head of the New Mexico office of one of the largest venture capital firms with a presence in New Mexico. It didn’t take long for me to compare my own background with hers and come to the conclusion that we were not at all on equal footing. I’m pretty sure I stammered through much of our first meeting when I met with her to talk about our tech company.  It didn’t take long, however, to discover that along with her incredible drive and accomplishments, Katie is also one of the most approachable women leaders within our community.

Katie’s background is nothing short of inspirational. She is a first-generation immigrant, arriving in the United States as a young girl who had already spent time moving from one country to the next as her family made their way to their eventual home in America. She spoke no English when she showed up for her first day of third grade and credits one of the first girls she met at her new school for helping ease her assimilation into a new culture. Katie says she has remained close with this childhood friend and that their families sometimes vacation together all these years later.

After graduating from MIT, Katie worked in the field as an engineer in an industry which was predominantly male. She not only held her own but quickly rose to the challenge. She then transitioned from engineering to management consulting and gained early experience which allowed her to eventually shift her career to assessing high tech firms for a venture capital firm. In 2004, she jumped at a career opportunity to move to New Mexico and work for a startup, and in 2005, she started her career in venture capital.

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Katie Rice and Lisa Abeyta talking about Women in Tech and Investing on the Morning Brew with Larry Ahrens.

As part of the investment community, she is an industry that is even more male-dominated than her first career. In fact, Bloomberg Businessweek reported in September of 2014 that the number of women partners in Venture Capital Firms actually dropped to a paltry 6% nationally, down from 10% in 1999. Katie brings a rare and refreshing perspective to the investment community in New Mexico – as well as serving as an inspiring role model to other women following in her footsteps. In addition to her role as a venture capitalist, she also serves as president of the Coronado Ventures Forum and as a board member for ABQid, an Albuquerque-based incubator focused on high-growth early startups. One of the initiatives she’s working on ABQid is a Ski Lift Pitch Contest in an effort to showcase the beauty of New Mexico, encourage young entrepreneurs to dream big and connect startup founders with investors and industry leaders in an environment conducive to making a lasting connection.

Despite the demands of her busy life, she still manages to volunteer her time mentoring and advising several tech startup founders within the community. It is not uncommon to receive an email or phone call from her when she is in search of a solution or connection for one of the founders she is mentoring. And while the capital she has helped invest into New Mexico through her venture firm is deeply needed, the less noticeable, but highly valuable, contribution she makes on a regular basis is that of her own time and knowledge to help others become successful – whether they are a company she has invested in or not.

Beyond this more public side of her career, Katie is also a devoted mother to two young toddlers as well as an outdoor enthusiast who loves taking advantage of New Mexico’s phenomenal access to the outdoors. An avid skier and hiker, she also enjoys running frequently in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. She’s lived, worked and traveled all over the world but says she found her true home right here in New Mexico.

“After living in ten different cities,” Katie says, “I will proudly tell you that there’s no place I’d rather live than Albuquerque.” She adds that her passion about the expansion of the entrepreneurial ecosystem within her adopted home is not only driven by the desire to give promising young people a reason to stay and be successful here in New Mexico but because she wants those opportunities available someday for her own children.

I have to admit that there are still moments when I am completely blown away by Katie’s brilliant mind, but as I’ve grown to know her better, it is her curiosity and visible joy when learning something new as well as her generosity and passion for helping others that has caused me to grow to deeply respect her. Katie is doing more than her part to help watch New Mexico rise.

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