How Mexican immigrant Shadiah Sigala co-founded a $2 billion company
Shadiah Sigala has always been a go-getter.
The 38-year-old Mexican immigrant’s mother moved her and her two siblings to Southern California when Sigala was 7. An honors high school student, “My No. 1 dream in life was to be the most educated person possible,” she says. But she didn’t quite know how to get there.
“My mom and all my aunts and uncles never went to college,” she says.
With the help of her school’s guidance counselor, Sigala eventually attended Pomona College for Latin American Studies and then Harvard Kennedy School for a master’s degree in public policy. So setting goals she wasn’t sure how to achieve and figuring out how to achieve them became her MO.
“One of my superpowers is having the ability to be very comfortable going through uncertainty, gathering facts and making decisions,” she says. Ultimately, this superpower led her to co-found HoneyBook, a financial management technology platform for small businesses. HoneyBook was valued at over $2 billion in 2021.
Here’s how Sigala built his career and his advice for anyone looking to find their own successful career path.
“I am a builder”
After earning her master’s degree, Sigala was hired to do project management at health insurance company Aetna. “I was getting more money each year than any member of my family could ever dream of earning,” she says of her $80,000 annual salary.
Yet, she adds, she knew from the first week that “I’m going to be so depressed here”. She didn’t like feeling like a small cog in a big machine. She stayed with the business for two years, while saving money and planning her next move.
During her tenure at Aetna, she began to learn about entrepreneurship and realized, “I am a builder,” she says. Starting his own business seemed like the best way.
Building on her love of cooking that began with her mother teaching her as a child, Sigala ended up founding a personal chef business in 2010, tapping into her network of Pomona College alumni to find wealthy elders willing to pay someone to cook their meals.
“And I paid my bills for about a year that way,” she says.
‘Why not digitize all those shitty tasks’
As a young business owner, Sigala learned that she could be self-sufficient. But she realized that cooking was not for her. “My time doesn’t count,” she says. Plus, it was a low-margin business.
Sigala’s husband at the time eventually moved the two to San Francisco in 2012, and it was there that she discovered the world of technology. She started booking informational interviews with anyone in the industry who would talk to her, and asked questions like, “Do you work at a startup? What does that mean ? What is Technology? What is the software? What is hardware? market ?”
When she learned that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs build technology, in part to solve problems, she realized that the problem she herself would want to solve was the one she had encountered as a business owner: There was no streamlined way to handle backend logistics like emails, payments, and invoices.
When she met three Israeli entrepreneurs tackling the same problem, they realized, “Why not digitize all those crappy tasks that micro-small businesses have to eliminate so they can really focus on what they love?”
This idea will turn into HoneyBook, founded in 2013 and where Sigala will spend five years in sales and HR roles. The company now has more than 200 employees, according to LinkedIn.
Scary opportunities are “how a stellar career comes about”
In 2018, Sigala co-founded her latest venture, Kinside, a childcare marketplace offered as a social benefit. As a mother of two, the inspiration for the business came as she was trying to navigate the complicated United States childcare system herself. Kinside gives new parents one place to find child care in their area.
The company has raised more than $16 million, according to Crunchbase. Sigala is currently its CEO.
As for the advice she would give to others looking to find their way in the job market, Sigala suggests letting fear and excitement be your guide. As you research your next role, ask questions of those around you and be open to new directions. If an opportunity “seems to be above your pay grade, that’s exactly how a stellar career is made,” she says.
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