Sheena Shah is the founder of ElevatHer; a networking app introducing women to a community of mentors and peers in finance. She’s spent nearly 10 years in the financial services industry; working for the likes of Goldman Sachs (London), Morgan Stanley (Sydney) and most recently a proprietary trading firm called Maven.
Sheena decided to leverage her financial acumen with her passion of philanthropy to focus her efforts and impact on empowering and supporting women in finance and financial tech through the launch of ElevatHer. She credits her career and the opportunities she’s received to the mentors that have invested in her. However, as she climbed the corporate ladder, she became increasingly aware of the drop in peer-to-peer or senior mentors she had access to. Through the personal struggles Sheena faced in hunting for meaningful connections and relationships she founded ElevatHer.
Many online communities and connect groups such as another startup story exist to provide you inspiration and act as a support group. But for those of you in search for a deeper connection and 1:1 mentorship, ElevatHer may just be the right tool for you.
Introduce yourself and tell us where you’re from?
My parents are both of Indian origin. They were raised in India and moved to the USA before settling in London after getting married in the late 80’s. I was born and raised in North London, Whetstone and went to an all-girls School in Mill Hill.
Did you go to university? What did you study and were you a good student?
I remember loving economics and classical civilization at A Levels. Economics seemed like a ‘safer’ option to study at University so I went to Aston University to study Business with International Relations.
My work placement was in 2008 at Goldman Sachs which provided a greater exposure than usual with so much uncertainty around. That year made me more motivated when I came back to finish my degree, knowing that there may not be a job market when I graduated.
You’ve just launched a new networking app today, congratulations!
The app is about connecting women on the basis of their career, helping to build a mentor-mentee or peer-to-peer relations. Can you tell us more?
Thank you! The inspiration behind ElevatHer is to help tackle some of the key constraint’s women face in the finance industry, by creating a community where it is easy to share knowledge, skills and experiences. The main feature of the app is to introduce an untapped support system for our members by allowing them to build peer-to-peer or mentor-mentee relationships across companies in the industry.
Who would potentially be interested in this and what can they gain from the app?
The app is for women at any stage of their career that is either in a finance or financial technology industry. The app is a platform for entrepreneurs and corporates wanting to connect with other like-minded individuals and build a support network.
Why is mentorship important as a professional and/or entrepreneur?
You develop deep and lasting relationships, not just working relationships, but a lifelong commitment to staying engaged with one another and sharing professional and personal journeys. Community and networks are CRITICAL. There’s not enough structure and support for this idea of women in leadership.
What kind of events does the app allow you to browse?
We have a team that collates all the information on industry events happening around you. These are filtered and posted on the ‘Events’ page; making it super easy for the user to find all the information in one place as oppose to trolling through different websites and missing out on exciting opportunities.
The app provides a number of filter options allowing you to connect with say someone in a start-up to act as mentor to you and even allows you to choose the location.
How did you put together this matching algorithm to tailor such connections?
I wanted to make it as seamless as possible so it takes 30 seconds to sign up with a yes or no questionnaire which helps our AI connect you to a number of ‘best fit’ mentors or peers.
Has it been easy to find mentors wanting to give back and mentor other women aspiring to be in a senior position?
I have found that the majority of senior woman are very willing to give back but have not found the right opportunity to seek out mentees and have found not enough woman looking to take up the opportunity of being mentored. Noting the clear gap in the market, ElevatHer seeks out the mentors and mentees, making the connection a lot easier for both parties.
Many people have good ideas for apps but fail to execute. Did you find the execution process easy especially with no background in tech?
I have had plenty of sleepless nights! I like to be hands on so the main challenges and frustrations I found were my own limitations of not coming from a tech background so a lot of my time went into educating myself. A lot of the courses I did were online and really helped getting myself up to speed.
Where did you find the developers?
A bit of background before I answer that question…
The reason I created ElevatHer is so that the industry could widen the diversity talent pool and help women network to open up opportunities to progress up the career ladder.
We all have different attributes and skills sets and without diversity any business will not adapt, innovate or progress as quickly or efficiently if everyone in the pool is ‘the same’. With that in mind, it was vital that my developers mirrored ElevatHer’s goal and understood the gravity of what we were trying to develop, which is why I looked high and low to find a team with a 50/50 gender split.
Equality starts at home! I did a lot of research online to find the developers and in the end, I was introduced through a family member. Not coming from a tech background meant I was testing the developers ability through softer skills as I knew this would be a constant challenge. They took their time to explain to me how the process works and showed me a few examples of their previous work. We have a really good relationship which became more apparent especially in the initial stages of making the app, I would work from their offices because I wanted to learn the more technical side of things and they needed me to explain how the algorithm should work with the apps interface.
How did you fund the business?
Years of saving!
What’s been your biggest challenge throughout the process?
It’s more the emotional challenge.
I get so caught up in the moment that it feels like I am on an emotional roller-coaster. I’ve had to learn to forward forecast.
What’s the one piece of advice for someone about to start their own business?
Be ready to have multiple hats, I wake up as a CEO making plans on the direction I want the company to steer towards in 5 years and by lunch time I have become the accountant, going through transactions and balance sheets and by the evening I am an ‘engineer’ trying to figure out why my printer has stopped doing the one job it was made to do!
International Women’s Day celebrates the scientific, political, economic and social achievements of women. In your experience as a successful woman, what is its significance?
Having the fearless girl statue up at Paternoster square reiterates and shines a spotlight on the challenges women face in all industries, not just finance, and how we can work towards overcoming these constraints. IWD for me is a day where we celebrate how far women have come, but also remember none of us move forward, if half of us are still held back.
How do you think the app can help working mothers and build a support system for them?
A very good friend of mine, who heads up a sales desk in a top tier bank, is expecting her first child and when I started building the app I tried to incorporate as much as possible with the struggles she went through.
Being a minority on the trading floor meant it was harder to have open conversations around pregnancy. Those conversations need to carry on at all stages of a working mother’s career. ElevatHer gives you the flexibility to meet other working mums in finance and have those open discussions.
What’s the big dream for ElevatHer? The 5-year plan?
The plan is to help women across all industries! The dream is to be able to say, because of ElevatHer women represent 50% of the global talent.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life?
I don’t think it would be justifiable to say one person. Every person that has come into my life has influenced or taught me something. Every person has come from different walks of life and therefore has had different experiences.
Everyone can teach you something new, but you need to be open minded and willing to learn from them.
What’s your motto/philosophy on life?
There are three traits that have got me where I am today and they have become my philosophy. Preparation, grit and passion in anything you do, will only get you further. Even if you don’t get the results you were looking for, you would have learnt a lot more than having never tried.
8 MARCH, 2019