Shivani Berry is the CEO and Founder of Ascend, a 6-week leadership development program for women. As a career coach, she helps women feel more confident and become better leaders. Leadership topics include how to get buy-in, how to overcome imposter syndrome, and create a brand. She’s worked with women from Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and more. Prior to starting her company, she was a product leader helping scale companies at various stages of growth. She also has an MBA from Harvard Business School. In this episode, Shivani shares how to advance in your career and tips for starting a business and becoming a founder.
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Shivani Berry 0:00
My mission is to elevate more women into leadership.
Danielle Desir 0:14
Co hosted by Acquania Escarne, the host of The Purpose of Money and Danielle Desir the host of The Thought Card, Millennial Wealth Builder Series is where we share the stories of women of color, building wealth.
Acquania Escarne 0:30
But this isn't your ordinary interview based show. Throughout this series, you'll be hearing from women who are creatively secure in the bag, stacking coins.
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Danielle Desir 0:51
Shivani Berry is the CEO and Founder of Ascend, a six week leadership development program for women. As a career coach, she helps women feel more confident and become better leaders. Topics include how to get buy in, overcome imposter syndrome and create your brand. She's worked with women from Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and much more. Prior to starting her company, she was a product leader helping scale companies at various stages of growth. She also has an MBA from Harvard Business School. This is Shivani's story of building wealth and becoming a CEO and founder.
Shivani Berry 1:29
For me. So my family, I was born in India, and my family moved to the US when I was six. And so we were immigrants. And I think we had a lot of the challenges and experiences that many immigrants have. So we came in with very little, and learned how to build a life in the US. So it's my parents. And I have two sisters. And I think especially coming in with three girls and the parents have always focused on, you know, always mean like you can do whatever you want, education was a big part of growing up. So I think wealth was, you know, we didn't grow up really wealthy initially. And then my parents like, built it up. And then I grew up in Silicon Valley. And so but it was really understanding the value of money and working hard for it. Not, you know, being able to make the trade off. So I remember when Beanie Babies for a fad growing up, you know, it was a special thing to go get it. It wasn't just like a given my parents gave us everything we wanted. But it was we definitely understood the value of it and appreciated it. And that has been a key principle for me, as I've earned my own wealth. And as I make decisions about where to invest, and how to spend money.
So I graduated from UCLA did study economics there. And you know, as I think about where to go with that theme of wealth, and you know, for me, stability was a big thing. And I wanted to and also wanted to equip myself with the best experience possible to help just help me set up for the future. And so I decided to go into investment banking, when I graduated, finance was one of the best paths that you can take. And so I did an internship investment banking, when I'm worked at Credit Suisse and their technology group, in banking. It was a good experience for what it is, you know, I learned a lot around how what it takes to be like to be a good employee, essentially, I learned a lot about, you know, like working hard and being exposed. And the thing about when you're in investment banking, like, I was dropped into situations as a 22-23 year old with executives, a billion dollar businesses, and really like having in like with really senior people, and that taught me very quickly to how do you hold yourself in those kind of situations, handling, you know, thinking about more strategic decisions. And so I learned a ton and in a pretty short period of time.
What I did realize that as I was finishing my two years, in investment banking, I had the option to return, that I just realized, like, this wasn't the lifestyle that I wanted, I also realized that I wanted to go deeper into like, touching instead of being more on consulting services side, I want to go work for a company and actually build product and actually be closer to the customers. And so I ended up joining PayPal, and you know, over and from there, I decided I want to go work for startups want to like even have more ownership and be closer to the customer and have a bigger impact. And I've led different business and product initiatives and love have loved just the ability to build things to help people solve their problems. And that's what led me to start Ascend.
So it's really been a trajectory of and you know, after business excuse me after going to startups, I had to go to get my MBA. So I went to Harvard to get my MBA I wanted to also I wanted to make sure I could be the best leader possible and wanting to develop that network and also equip my students. sells without with those skills. So I'd say, you know, for most of my career to date has been really focused on like building the foundations to help me develop the skills to allow me to be really successful. And it's changed along the way, I am a big planner, I will be like, you know, by this year, I will do this by then in like five years, I want to be here. And I've just realized along the way, like, Yes, I have a general plan, but I've been open to shifting it where I need to or where it feels right. And that is actually where I've seen the most exciting opportunities, where I've experienced the best growth.
For example, I, my husband, I moved to Berlin three years ago from San Francisco. And we wanted just to move abroad for our European adventures, we I quit my job in San Francisco, we moved, and we ended really liking it. And it had, it opened up so many more opportunities, like just so much personal growth for me, and also helped me think about even kind of stepping off the path that I was currently on on the product track and think about becoming a founder, and I wouldn't have had that space to reflect and to learn if I hadn't taken that opportunity and seize the moment.
So when I moved to Berlin, you know, for both for both my husband and I, we did some planning, and we figured out that, you know, we could probably go, if we didn't want to cut too much into our savings we could go about, if I remember correctly, I think about six months, without working and just kind of living. Because we don't want when we make a move we wanted to, we really we realize how special the opportunity this was, not everyone has it. And at the same time, we also want to take full advantage of it, we'd love to travel. So we basically carved out a budget, we're like, this is what it looks like, you know, and when we were traveling, we were really careful about how we were spending and really deciding like when we want to splurge versus not. I.
So that's and we also had the we had the fortune that we had savings to pull off of. And I think that is something that also enabled me or made me comfortable going to Berlin, because I just I had that security where not only with on a financial security, but also knowing with my experience that I could figure out a way to make money and figure out a way to get a job. And that gave me so much freedom and comfort to be able to move abroad. Yeah, I think that motivation to move up my career really comes from internally. You know, I enjoy working, I was enjoying the problems I was solving. And part of that also comes from probably the immigrant mentality of just like hustle, move up, you know, build up that security. And now I'd say, well, then kind of those goals are now turning into more around freedom. And what is it that I am excited about working on? And what is it that drives me and that I feel passionate about? That's what led me to start Ascend. I realized, you know, when I was thinking about it, I was like, I've learned how to get buy in and all the challenges that I faced around in order to move up, but like, how do you lead teams, I learned them all by making mistakes. And for me, I was like, I want to help other women learn these skills. My mission is to elevate more women into leadership. I think that is a big way that we see the change that we need to see in today's workplaces. But I just realized that there is currently no good way for us to learn these skills. And that's why I started Ascend.
Investing in soft skills as leaders is really important because at the end of day, everyone's human. So even if you have the best idea, it's just not enough. You have to connect with people in a way that resonates with them. So thinking about for example, in Ascend's leadership program, we talk a lot about getting buy in. And one of the things we talk about is how do you know your audience? So think about who is your audience? Maybe that's your manager, your teammate, a cross functional partner, leadership. And thinking about what do they care about? Maybe they care about hitting this quarter's goals, or hitting a revenue target, cutting costs, improving team culture? And then third is thinking about what are their concerns gonna be? So if you come to them with an idea is your first concern going to be like, Well, where do we get the money? Or the resources to do this? Or is their concern going to be? how's this going to impact our roadmap?
When you think about these three things coming into it, and you've already like, practically addressed these concerns, and tailored your message in a way that would click with them, you're gonna have a much higher chance of getting buy in. And that's why you know, it's, it's, that's why the soft skills become so important, because at the end of day, that's actually what helps you be successful, like, how do you motivate teams? How do you get by in understanding how to be a good listener? What does that actually mean? How do you coach people to really develop and help them grow? That's what makes them feel empowered. That's what will help you hit your, your, your team's goals and your personal goals. A couple of skills that have helped me I think a big one is just being a problem solver. So thinking around, you know, focusing on ok, what is the thing that really needs to get resolved right now, as part of that it's prioritizing to figure out like, what is that biggest problem, you know, as a product manager, I had that issue. There's always all these things we can do. To improve the customer experience, as a founder, I have that issue, you know, do I want to work on this customer thing? Do I want to work on a sales or marketing thing? There's an operational thing I have to take care of like, what's the order priority? And what are the key problems that actually needs to be solved?
I say as also I'm good at hustling. So just like getting things done, like, what is the right and you know, I think, especially as women that can be taken as negatively, but I actually, that's a really positive trait. If you, you know, to succeed, we all just need to figure out like, what is the best way to move forward, and getting really creative with resources. And I think both of you are an inspiration around this. So just like doing what it takes to get things done, and do it in a really authentic manner, giving people a lot of value, like hustling doesn't mean that you're taking advantage of people, I actually think it's the opposite of that, where you are helping people and really showing your credibility, showing what like what your worth is.
And then the third thing I'd say is around ability to influence and get buy in. You know, I, as I was mentioning, I learned all of this by making a ton of mistakes I've had so many times, my team cross functional partners, like blowing up on my face, like I come to them with an idea or recommendation. And they feel like I'm forcing the idea, or there's like, why would you even propose this, and that was never my intention. And I'm like, Whoa, what just happened. And that was a huge learning lesson for me that I hadn't thought about who how they might react, or what their concerns are going to be, I was just so focused on, hey, I have this idea. It's obviously the right idea. And didn't go in more open minded. And so I've learned a lot about that. Now, I teach that around how to getting by. And so I think those were a couple of the skills that have really helped me succeed.
So in my career, when I first got promoted to People Manager, I felt like I wasn't qualified and had and felt like an imposter. So much so that I didn't ask my manager for a salary raise when I got promoted. Because I was afraid that if I if they had to pay more money, they would rethink whether or not I deserved the promotion, and maybe even taken it away from me. That I realized double months later is not rational. It's silly. And I did go back and ask for that raise. And I realized, you know, everyone is a People Manager, for the first time at some point in their careers. That's normal. And yes, I wasn't the best People Manager, yes, I was making mistakes. But it was also like, expected, there was a learning curve I for where I was, I was doing just fine. And I deserve to be compensated fairly for the work that increased set of responsibilities I had. So you know, we talk a lot about imposter syndrome in the program. And I think it's really around, you know, understanding like one acknowledging why you feel like an imposter. Often half the battle is just even recognizing that for me in that moment, it was around being a new manager. And then it's also then thinking about, like, who are you comparing yourselves to? Why are you comparing yourself? Either we compare ourselves to more senior people, such as I was comparing myself to my manager who had 10-20 more years of experience than I did. Or we don't even know who we're comparing ourselves to. So this is black hole, that we end up going down. And then thinking about what are three reasons why your manager would say you're qualified, or what are three reasons why your business partner, or one of the customers that you work with would say you're qualified, just because we've become so hard on ourselves, that it's easy to get caught up in our own head. So think about it from that third party perspective can be really helpful.
Danielle Desir 13:32
So what inspired you to create Ascend?
Shivani Berry 13:35
I was inspired to create Ascend because I used to be in our members' shoes. So when I lead different business and product initiatives at large companies like PayPal, and also high growth startups, I learned how to get buy in and motivate my teams all by making a ton of mistakes, especially when I was moving up in that People Manager role. And you know, I had some guidance, but primarily just through a lot of mistakes. When I learned these skills, I felt so much more confident, I was able to move up faster my career and impact not only my teams, but also our executives and our company's board of directors. And so these experiences combined with the time I spent studying at Harvard business school to get my MBA inspired me to start Ascend. I want to elevate more women in leadership. I believe that's a big way that we see the change that we need to see in today's workplaces. But I just realized that we currently learn these skills through trial and error. We all know that we should get people invested in our idea. So to speak up, push back against dominant personalities have these difficult conversations, but we often don't because we don't know how to get started, or we don't cover the time, or we're just scared because making mistakes at work can hurt our reputation or worse. And that's why I was like I want to create this leadership program where we can actually learn the skills that women need to learn to be successful in the workplace and really everybody's needs to learn but this is focused on helping women double down on these skills and around how do you lead, how do you influence, getting confidence, and we've been doing that. So we've had women from Google and Salesforce and Peloton and so many more companies, Starbucks come out of it feeling much more confident, being able to get buy in for at work, including from difficult stakeholders and growing their careers, including getting promoted, which has been amazing, because I don't promise that because there's so many factors that go into promotion. And so that's been really gratifying, just having so many of our members come back to me and be like, guess what Shivani I just got promoted, this program helped me and it's like, Whoa, that is incredible.
Danielle Desir 15:33
What has been rewarding about founding your own company?
Shivani Berry 15:39
Founding my company, I've never been as happy and in love with work, then, in the past, you know, I people always say like, follow your passion. And I'd be like, yeah, yeah, yeah. But now that I do, I'm like, Oh my gosh, that is so true. Follow what you really care about. And so I'd say, you know, the biggest thing is the people I've gotten to meet along the way. So so many in our program, I'd say our members, I was describe our community as high caliber, but low ego, everyone there is super qualified, just really like you know, looking to grow, but also equally as excited to lift each other up and to support each other and cheer each other on. And then even like other people I've met, like you both are a great example. Like just getting to me, like other awesome people who have passions that they're being driven by and want to create real change in the world is really has been really inspiring. And also being a founder in itself is so empowering.
Knowing that I you know, I remember the first ticket I sold to a workshop. And it was for I think something like $5. And I was so stressed out and nervous and was like, Is someone going to buy this? Like, is this gonna be valuable enough? And just that happiness, and just that high that you get from like, in that moment was just amazing. So it's been empowering just to know that like, you know what, I can figure out a way to take care of myself to kind of like to do what I want.
Yes, I'll make mistakes along the way. Yes, they'll be hard. And you know, being a founder is a roller coaster. But I've loved every single moment. And just knowing that I am able to do that, on my own has been incredibly inspiring, and just just really fulfilling. I don't say, you know, I definitely felt like about an imposter starting out and still do, sometimes. I decided to self fund the business and to quit my job and really take a bet on myself. And when I compare it, you know, I look around I think about like white male VC backed businesses. And I am none of those. And I grew up in Silicon Valley. So that is, you know, what I've always been surrounded myself by and, and so that I sometimes feel like am I qualified, because I don't look like what I would think about as a founder. And then, you know, as if people are talking about, here's how much money they've raised, or here's the logo, like the investors they have, you know, I don't have that. And when I pull myself out of my head, I'm like, I made that decision. This is the right way for me to grow my business. And I'm really proud of what we've achieved. But it can be so easy to spiral back into our heads. And for me, I've been doing a lot of exercises on myself that I teach in the leadership program to help really gain that confidence. And then really just continue to look at the data. So seeing like, what are people who've gone through the program? And what are the results they've gotten? What are they saying? We've grown primarily through word of mouth. So it's members in the program, referring it to their friends, and I'm like, What better approved? Can there be that you know that this is something that's going right? And I just had to constantly remind myself around it.
So how am I building wealth? l, I, you know, this is through me starting Ascend, and building up that through investing. And my husband and I do it together. So it's you know, where the partnership that way. And I do feel fortunate to have a partner who is so supportive of my ambitions, and we are able to have that partnership where we can figure out how can we both help each other achieve our goals. And that is, you know, always really fun and just really just very enabling. I think is also you know, I think about wealth, it's also about having you need to have the skills in order to be successful in building business or working with a company become a people manager. So when I think about Ascend's leadership program, it's focused on empowering women with the skills to lead and influence. Because once they have these skills, they're able to succeed at work, they're able to move up in their careers, they're able to create the kind of careers work life that they want. And you can't do it if you don't know how to get people invested in your ideas if you don't have the right technical skills, if you don't have the confidence around it. So I think about you know, I think about this as a stepping stone to enabling them to build wealth and the way that they want.
So growing your career and building wealth. I would say that it you know, I think it changes kind of as you move up in your career. So Initially, I would say when you're first out of college, like focus on developing those skills, like don't think about is, is gonna pay me the most, like take bets on yourself, you have, you know, usually at that point like you don't have kids, you don't have like a lot of obligations, maybe you have school debt and you have to take that on account or like other family obligations, something but assuming you don't have a lot of that which you have to really consider. Use that opportunity to take bets on yourself take, you know, and figure out like, what are the skills that you need to succeed? So I think being able to know and solve like complex problems, being able to know how you get by in at work, putting yourself in just different like people management issues and learning how to deal with that. Not necessarily even people manager but like just learning how do you like collaborate with different people? What does it take to get things done? And I think the first part of your career is really around that early to mid 20s. And then I'd say it's then you're focusing on Okay, what are the opportunities I need in order to achieve my goals? And also not just wealth goals, but also around like, how do you? What kind of life do you want to live? And what does wealth even mean to you? Is it that stability piece? Is it freedom? Is it something else like and what is wealth? Is it being able to buy your first house or is it something else? So defining that and then breaking down like what do you need to do in your career, or even outside your career to be able to help you achieve that is really important. So I'd love to invite everyone to check out Ascend's Leadership Program. You can learn more and apply to join at weascend.co The program starts at the end of June. We already have an incredible cohort shaping up women from Google and Stripe and Amazon and many more companies. If you're interested in joining check that out. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions. You can also follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter. My handle is @ShivaniSBerry, I share a lot of leadership advice and around how do you get buy in.
In this episode with Shivani Berry, we cover:
Table of Contents
- What holds women back from excelling in their careers?
- How to excel at work and the soft skills you need.
- Shivani’s inspiration for creating Ascend, a six-week women leadership program.
- The most rewarding thing about starting a business.
- How Shivani is building wealth.
- What Shivani Berry would tell her younger self about growing a career and building wealth.
Connect with Shivani Berry
LinkedIn: Shivani Berry
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Danielle Desir Corbett paid off $63,000 of student loan debt in 4 years, bought a house at 27, and has traveled to 27 countries, including her favorites, Iceland, China, and Bermuda. Go here to learn Danielle’s incredible story, from struggling financially and in debt to finding creative ways to earn more and live on her terms. Listen to The Thought Card Podcast, where Danielle shares how you can creatively travel more and build wealth regardless of your current financial situation. Reach out to Danielle by contacting: thethoughtcard (at) gmail (dot) com.