As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Shelley Iocona. Shelley is the founder of ON ITS AXIS, a product and people consultancy helping startups, scaleups and social good companies create value in the world through innovation. As principal of the firm, she leads a team of strategists, designers, recruiters and thinkers to deliver holistic solutions to technology-focused clients. Originally from the greater Philadelphia area, she resides in Southern California and works with a global client base.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It started with the Tandy 1000 computer my parents bought me in the 1980s. I was fascinated that I could give the computer commands and things would magically happen on the screen. After graduating college, I was given a wonderful opportunity to work at an Internet company, and from there I learned how to develop software. This ignited a passion to help solve problems for consumers and businesses across industries using technology.
As my career evolved so did my interests, and I was blessed to have a manager guide me to product management early on. Truth be told, I was a terrible developer because I questioned everything. That weakness turned into a strength in product management where learning about customer needs and doing discovery becomes all important. From there I was hooked; the intersection of technology and business was where I decided to focus my career.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
While I was working at Yahoo, we were encouraged to spend 20% of our time working on a new idea. The intention was to spark innovative thinking and many of us wanted to solve problems we were exposed to on a daily basis. When a colleague invited me to join his startup, I was excited beyond belief. Not only was this real-world MBA experience, it ignited my passion for entrepreneurship.
Although we overworked, overspent and overbuilt, we learned a ton about what the lean startup movement is all about. That experience was the inspiration for starting my company in 2009; teaching others how to build better products and bringing the right people in to grow and scale.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
We live in a time when connecting with our communities and finding meaning in our day-to-day experience can be challenging. Giving is a way to connect with others and create a ripple effect of good in the world. When giving is easy, everyone wins. Many companies give back in the form of charity contributions but few tie giving directly to their business’ growth. My firm partners with a non-profit organization, Start Giving Local, who provides the link to make this happen. Through their platform, we are able to donate a portion of client fees back to the non-profit of our client’s choosing.
How do you think this will change the world?
Ideas like this can change the world because everyone wins! Businesses are connected to the talent they need to efficiently achieve their objectives, candidates are matched with career opportunities that align to their personal goals, companies are given easy ways to participate in philanthropic giving and charities get the added financial support they need to achieve their social good objectives. Finally, we benefit by capturing clients we might not typically have access to.
Many businesses have great intentions to give back but often don’t know where. When organizations make donations to a cause or charity, it’s important to be authentic. Ensure your company matches its intentions to an organization that is aligned with its brand. Doing good could backfire by alienating an existing or potential customer base if those customers aren’t in support of what you stand for.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
We are always looking for ways to give back. As a specialized consultancy with limited resources we knew that our contribution couldn’t always be financial or in-kind service work. We decided to focus one of our core service offerings on companies with a social good mission. We have alignment with clients who are leveraging technology to create positive social impact. When we decided to make giving back part of our mission statement, quite surprisingly, conversations with potential clients became easier and our own market traction increased.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
We believe simple ideas that benefit everyone just need visibility to gain traction. We are trying to do our part to lead by example. Getting our name out there and exposing how our brand is a trusted partner to some of the most innovative, value-creating companies worldwide is our top goal for the next few years. We are very excited to witness the positive impacts giving has on businesses and the causes they care about!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1.Figure Out Your Systems and Processes
Growing a company is great, but if you don’t have a solid foundation you will suffer. I’ve worked with founders and executives who appear burnt out because they are trying to do everything and very fast when if they could stop and take a step back they would catapult forward. Spend the time making sure your processes are effective so your systems are efficient, it’s the only way to create the kind of cadence needed to start, grow and scale a successful company over the long run.
2. Be Patient
Great things take time and anything worth something requires hard work and patience. Although I know overnight success stories are rare, I’ve been guilty of expecting certain things to come easily and quickly. The truth is things come when they are supposed to, we just have to listen to the signs.
3. Enjoy Yourself
Life is too short not to enjoy having fun. Earlier in my career I overworked and believed a hard day was a good day. Now I know that good days are when I create with ease, make a difference in someone’s experience and have time for myself.
4. In Life and Career, Have a Great Team
The people around us matter the most. If you have unreliable friends or team members that are not aligned to your mission and vision, make some difficult choices to let them go. Having a great team to share the wins and shoulder some losses is incredibly important and not only builds character but community.
5. Embrace the Pivot
Change is as inevitable as aging. Our first great idea may be the motivation for starting but it may not be the best reason to continue. It is important to listen to the market and adjust to both gain traction and deliver the best possible service/solution.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
Always be learning and growing. Learning alone isn’t enough. You can take classes and earn certifications but to really put things into practice and to learn who you are on a continual basis, it’s important to share knowledge with others in order to grow and make connections. Typically, these connections will surface an alignment — to another person or a company — from which an opportunity can present itself.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
Investing in clean, renewable energy resources feels more important than ever. We have innovated energy for hundreds of years but we can’t stop now, as our climate is changing right before our eyes. We must do the right kind of work to reduce the devastating impact of climate change through effective partnerships between governments and the coalitions that are working to create positive change.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
Integrity, transparency, collaboration and excellence are the principles that guide me, and I believe exhibiting self-reflectiveness is a key to a great life.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
Focus on one thing at a time. Begin with the end in mind. Look at things from many angles. Align your heart and head.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
As a VC, you help startups with investment so they can grow, and yet every founder runs into problems they don’t know how to solve on their own. They can’t come to you for everything and they often need an objective third-party to help guide them. That’s where ON ITS AXIS can help.
We partner with growing teams to accelerate their biggest opportunities. As startup founders ourselves, we intimately understand the challenges your companies face, and we apply custom solutions based on their unique needs. We provide business strategy, product management, organization design and talent acquisition services that work holistically to help companies meet their milestones and stretch your investment dollars further. Intro us to your startups to maximize their success and your returns!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.