AmEx OPEN for Women: CEO BootCamp

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Currently listening to “All Fired Up” – The Saturdays (courtesy of Spotify)

Ahhh what a wonderful week!  Yesterday, I attended the CEO BootCamp sponsored by American Express OPEN at 3 WTC.

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There, I met women who founded and are leading multi-million dollar enterprises and women continuing to build their companies.

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My favorite keynote speaker was Robin Chase, co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar.  Robin is an incredible woman who exudes wisdom, enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, and immense humbleness.  She reminded us in the audience that a great business idea doesn’t necessarily have to be a novel idea – Zipcar was inspired by another car-sharing program in Germany.  Zipcar made the program better, MUCH BETTER, starting in Cambridge, Massachusetts!  When a key mentor strongly advised that Zipcar scale asap, Robin had to come to terms with the fact that she would have to devote more time to the business rather than her family, for which her young daughter at twelve years old fully supported.  Having gained her young one’s blessing, she went full force, encountering challenges but showing that luck is where preparation meets opportunity (TRUE THAT).  More about her story can be found here.

I befriended Ademipo, co-founder of FLO + THEO, hand-crafted vegan skincare that formulates simple yet effective vegan products.  FLO + THEO’s ecommerce site will be live soon :)!  Also, I became acquainted with the co-founders of EnerLeap, a patented new nano technology that significantly improves the performance of lithium ion batteries – so cool!  Oh, and ErnerLeap is a Mass Challenge finalist, whoop whoop!

Being surrounded by entrepreneurs who are truly passionate about what they’re doing and where they’re going was inspirational and pushed me even more to work harder for Blini Dom.

Wait, I need an invitation to visit Russia?

“Just take a solo trip to a foreign country”

“I should… I have so many vacation days!”

And so I shopped online for flight deals to the Middle East, as I had always wanted to visit the region but other destinations commanded my attention.  However, airfare to Syria and other ME areas was too cost-prohibitive (upwards of $2K).  Google Flights advertised flights to Moscow from NYC for under $600.  I had always wanted to visit Russia when I was younger (perhaps sparked by a middle school class lesson exploring the House of Romanov).

So, on August 13, 2012 at 2 in the morning, I booked a flight to Moscow for a September 4 – September 11 stay.  Then I scheduled an appointment to submit my visa application to Invisa Logistics Services LLC (outsourced by the Consulate General of the Russian Federation-NY) at 80 Maiden Lane… but alas, I was not ready!  While completing the online visa application, I learned that I needed an invitation to visit Russia too?!  Having no idea what process that entailed, I googled “Russian Invitation” and fortunately came upon a reputable site Russia Visa Online that offered same-day Russian tourist visa invitation services for $45.  I completed the application and really got my invitation within 24 hours!

I rescheduled my appointment to visit 80 Maiden Lane to August 14.  When I arrived at the center, I felt like I was in Little Russia – I heard only Russian and reminded myself that this is what I should be ready for… time to download those Learn Russian podcasts!  When it was my turn, I provided my completed application to the young gentleman, who attempted to sway me into paying a premium for expedited processing, but I declined and decided to go with economy style processing.  Though I was in a time crunch, frugal life still holds!  As I was travelling for work, I had dear friends who were able to pick up the visa (and rubles!) for me  – here’s a shout to Di* and Ma Chérie*!

So I had my invitation, visa, and rubles secured.  Now onto lodging!  I figured that I could use my hotel points accumulated from work travel.  But whoa – one night in Moscow would wipe out my points balance (and a week’s stay would be a bit much for a solo traveller)!  Unsure of what to do and not really keen on the hostel options, I reached out to another dear friend Mami* for advice.  Mami recommended that I check out couchsurfing, as she had had positive experiences CS’ing in Europe and hosting in Boston.  I thought, sure, why not!  I messaged several hosts, and on August 16, 2013, A&M* (couple) graciously agreed to host me!  I was so ecstatic – I was ready for Moscow!

*terms of endearment