“Be Vulnerable” The 5 Lessons I Learned Being a 20-Something Founder

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dana Cohen, owner of Cohen PR, a travel and lifestyle communications consultancy that spans worldwide. She founded Cohen PR in 2013 in order to offer clients a full integrated approach to marketing and public relations.

Jean: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you become a founder?

  • I’m very fortunate that my first job out of college was at the Miami office of a highly prestigious global PR agency. The experience of working at an agency of this caliber and size is that it essentially felt like boot camp; I was able to work with Fortune 500 companies and tourism destinations, thrust into the driver’s seat, handling the day-to-day responsibilities that come with account management, and really learn all there is to know about PR, client interaction, strategic counsel, tactic development and execution, generating results, managing expectations, and measuring success. I briefly contemplated a move to New York but quickly realized there were more growth opportunities for me in Miami. My agency experience fueled me with the knowledge (and blood, sweat and tears) and foundation to take the next step. Ultimately, I knew I wanted to be able to take on even more responsibility and challenge myself even further, work with clients that I’m passionate about, who share my same values and ethos. So, I took a leap of faith in myself and launched my firm in 2013, and it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. My father is an entrepreneur so I knew this was the path I would eventually take, and when the opportunity presented itself, I was confident to take it.

Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

  • Initially, my vision was to create my own agency. But as the saying goes, life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, and after a life-changing knee injury and a closer look at what was happening in the industry, I took a new approach. I was encountering more and more clients reluctant to sign long-term commitments with PR agencies and a greater interest in seeking out freelancers (and their networks) to execute their communications strategies. Fast forward over five years and I am so blessed to have built something from nothing — a hand-on approach that’s about being an extension of a client’s team without the need to count hours and justify overhead expenses. I have a dynamic and robust client roster that gives me great pride, and I’ve established a remarkable network of consultants and freelancers to support our client efforts all over the world.

Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?

  • I feel very blessed to work with some amazing colleagues and brands, whose work I am passionate about and through my efforts; I can help them make a positive difference in the world. For example, one of my clients, The Cayuga Collection, is a group of boutique properties in Central America that has done so much to move the needle, shaping the industry (particularly in this region), pioneering sustainability and luxury travel. My clients are always teaching me new things, about the world, entrepreneurism, business, and balance, which we all take for granted. You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with and I truly stand by this and continue to surround myself with the best colleagues and clients.

Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

· After attending Summit this past year, another fellow entrepreneur recommended I read Rising Strong by Brené Brown. As I near my 30s, I find myself truly searching for the ultimate balance between work, personal life and my passions. I may never be balanced, but I can work to better myself each day and surround myself with those people that aim to do so as well. Although I am currently in the midst of reading this book, it’s already brought light to many areas of my life. One of the biggest challenges I have is being vulnerable — this goes for my personally and professionally. The book shares that ‘vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome’. This really resonated with me. Although the middle can be messy, there is always magic in it as well. I most mostly relate this to an accident I had in 2015 where I completely blew out my knee skiing. I thought it would be a standard knee surgery and after about a 6-month recovery, I’d be back to dancing around and walking in my 6inch stilettos. I was wrong. The past 3 years has challenged me in ways I did not think was possible. I quickly learned I had many complications that were not accounted for. After having to move back home from New York, just finishing up my 7th knee surgery, learning how to completely walk again and the mental and physical pain/challenges that went along with this, I didn’t understand why this was happening to me at what I thought was the peak of my career. Looking back, while I am still undergoing surgery and rehab, I’ve learned to find that magic in the middle and how struggle truly makes you stronger and teaches you so much. This book simply reconfirms that. The process of having to rise again teaches us the most about who we are. I am still learning. Can’t wait to see what else this book brings to me.

Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a Twentysomething Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

· Be vulnerable- this goes back to the above. Brené shares that ‘a lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor’. Make sure you get on that floor!

· Always try new things- failing is inevitable, but one will never know unless they try.

· Be kind — I recently unfortunately attended a friend’s funeral and his mother shared a quote that really touched me — ‘Life is already so difficult, why be anything but kind’.

· Travel whenever you can- as the late Anthony Bourdain shared, travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you changes things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life-and-travel-leaves marks on you. As I have made a career around travel and hospitality, this particularly speaks to me and I always encourage everyone to get out there and explore a new area, meet new people and learn new things.

· Make a difference. No matter how big or small, the world needs so much more of this.

Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

· Audrey Gelman, co-founder and CEO of The Wing. Being 31 (my age range) has been killing it! Her concept with The Wing has proved many people wrong and she has successfully raised millions of dollars (primarily from female investors) to continue growing and scaling this amazing concept. She wanted a work base that wasn’t a Starbucks (don’t we all) and that’s what she created — FOR WOMEN. She’s given women a comfortable space to help make their dreams come true and forge new meaningful relationships. I’ve always said (and created my business around the same model) that no one can do things alone, we must band together, and she shares the same view. She is relentless and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

— Published on June 27, 2018