7 Questions with Entrepreneur Adriana L. Cowdin

Name: Adriana Cowdin

Current title: CEO

Current organization: Dekaf Digital

Adriana Cowdin brings 20+ years expertise in marketing to the table with a strong emphasis on digital marketing. She’s the Founder and CEO of Dekaf Digital, a digital marketing agency serving VC-backed and mid-size companies with Digital Strategy, Social Media Management and Audience Intelligence.
This former corporate executive, turned published author and 4-time entrepreneur, came from the ranks of Corporate America where she was a Chief Marketing Officer for a private equity-owned $500MM company, Chief Digital Marketing Officer for a $5B home services company and Division Vice President of Digital Marketing for a $40B retailer overseeing 150 brands and 30 business units both online and in-store.
Cowdin holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from Metropolitan State University in Denver and has completed management and leadership courses from Harvard Business School’s advanced program. She has been featured on ABC, WGN, CNNMoney, FoxBusiness, Forbes, Hoovers, Reuters, NYTimes, Inc. 500, Yahoo! Finance, The Denver Post, LA Times, NJ Star Ledger, Sydney Morning Herald, The Huffington Post and Windy City Live Morning Show.
What’s most unique about Adriana is her zest for life. In addition to running two successful businesses, she lives with 9 chronic diseases and has had radical surgeries to address them including the Whipple and TPAIT. In addition to her islet cell transplant in her liver, her pancreas, half of her stomach, small intestine, bile duct, gallbladder and appendix have all been removed. She lives with the rarest form of Diabetes (Type 3C), chronic pancreatic disease, gastroparesis, osteoporosis, Addison’s Disease, Hypothyroid, Hypopituitary, Mild Liver Disease and Celiac. Despite these odds, she fights everyday to get up, exercise, take care of her family and exude energy into her businesses.

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader of a small or medium enterprise?
When you found a business, and lead it, you become the “CEO” of everything from IT to Accounting to Marketing to your core competency. Wearing all those hats is a challenge, especially when trying to balance the core of your business.

2. How did you become a leader of an SME? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I was a Chief Digital Marketing Officer at a $1B firm, having stood up their entire digital marketing team and launched the industry-first eCommerce platform. After doing this for some time, I was getting regular inquiries about how I could help other companies. I’d founded two other companies and thought it was the right time to launch a digital marketing agency. That’s when Dekaf Digital was born and I haven’t looked back yet.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I’m a morning person so I wake up early and start with meditation. Then I check email and respond only to those that are of utmost urgency. After that, I walk the dog (love a morning walk), come back and do some yoga or cycling. Then it’s time for coffee and to jump into my day. I typically work straight through until 2-3:30 then I grab a bite to eat and rest. I’m usually resting from the mid afternoon until early evening. I’m a big fan of the siesta. After that I hop back online for an hour or so to close out my day and prepare for the next one.

4. What’s the most recent significant leadership lesson you’ve learned?
Take on clients you like and your work will be enjoyable. When we first started out I took on any client available so we’d have revenue. However, I wanted us to have a good time at work given how many hours everyone puts in so I pivoted to only taking on clients that we liked. Yes, it can cost dollars in the short-term but, in the end, if you both like working together they’ll refer business to you. win-win-win

5. What’s one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. The book is all about the law of attraction and the abundant universe. After reading it, I had everyone on the team do vision boards of what they wanted professionally, personally, financially and health-wise. We took pictures and kept them on our phones to continually remind us of our goals. I keep my physical one hung in my office as well. These visual reminders are a great way to recenter yourself and, on those hard days, find motivation to pull through.

6. How do you build leadership capacity in an SME?
Having come from corporate America, I was well versed in building leadership capacity in that environment. However, in a SME it’s more hands-on. You need to deeply understand each team member’s skill sets, passions, strengths and lean into them. In a SME, everyone has an important role regardless of title or function. It takes the entire team to create success. I build leadership capacity at Dekaf Digital by leaning in to my team member’s strengths and adding on responsibility when they’re ready. We have a former Director that’s now an SVP and excelling.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader of an SME so far?
Something that’s unique about me is that I live with 9 chronic diseases, many of which are difficult to manage on a daily basis. (hence the siesta/rest mid-day). I have a client I meet with every Thursday morning and this particular time I was in the hospital so I had to cancel our meeting. I was a bit worried as I’m not a fan of cancelling client meetings. Instead of being upset, they sent flowers. We’ve had a stronger, more open relationship since that day. It’s scary to share your personal trials with business colleagues and clients but sometimes, you get surprised.