How this CEO got her start in Silicon Valley

Courtesy of Maren Kate Donovan

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: Describe one make or break moment in your career–how did you navigate it? is written by Maren Kate Donovan, CEO of Zirtual.

Leaving family, friends, and relics behind for a new job in a foreign city can be unnerving. But when the decision to leave can redefine your future for the better, you have to face that fear head-on, bite the bullet, and make the move. This is exactly what I had to do when I chose to leave my life behind in Reno, Nevada and start a career San Francisco.

The opportunity came about by chance in the summer of 2010. While visiting my grandmother in Florida I read an article about a startup incubator called the Founder Institute located in Palo Alto. In short, a startup incubator helps the founders of new startups learn the ropes of Silicon Valley. Despite having very minimal entrepreneur experience, I decided to apply. It wasn’t long before I received an email that said I was essentially on the waiting list.

I was devastated. When I told my grandmother what happened all she could say was “shame on them.” I had been running my own micro-businesses since I was a teenager—wasn’t I the exact demographic they were looking to train? So, I took my grandmother’s advice and responded with an email asking specifically why they denied my acceptance. Well, I guess I got their attention— a few days later I received a letter congratulating me on my acceptance into the program. I was both excited and terrified. However, this new opportunity also meant I was forced to leave behind my life in Reno. Despite the initial hardships, the decision to move to San Francisco ended up being one of the most important moments in my career. And the rest—as they say—is history.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: Describe one make or break moment in your career–how did you navigate it?

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How to navigate a make (or break) career moment by Stacia Pierce, CEO of Ultimate Lifestyle Enterprises.

This CEO’s best tip for career advancement by Robin Koval, CEO and President at American Legacy Foundation.

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3 lessons executives can learn from athletes by Pascale Witz, executive vice president of Global Divisions at Sanofi.

Why I quit my job to start my own business by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.

Ex-Oracle executive: How to take smart risks at work by Liz Wiseman, president of Wiseman Group.

Build-A-Bear CEO: How to navigate difficult career decisions by Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.

Why I gave up everything to start a career in Singapore by Perry Yeatman, CEO of Perry Yeatman Global Partners.

Why I choose to put my children before my work by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, president of Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.

How this Google executive handles stress at work by Margo Georgiadis, president of Americas Operations at Google.

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