Lead with purpose but don’t forget integrity. Purpose is admirable but it’s nothing if you do not have the integrity to back it up. We’ve seen countless brands and organizations who claim to walk in purpose but, behind the scenes, they’re not doing the right things. Look, we’re all human and humans make mistakes, and there may be moments when your integrity wavers but, do your best to remain committed to principles and moral uprights as you serve your business and your community. Do the right thing even when people aren’t watching.
In today’s competitive business landscape, the race for profits often takes center stage. However, there are some leaders who also prioritize a mission-driven purpose. They use their business to make a positive social impact and recognize that success isn’t only about making money. In this interview series, we are talking with some of these distinct leaders and I had the pleasure of interviewing Shena Nicole.
Shena Nicole is a ChatGPT-certified brand consultant, business coach, and speaker with over a decade of diverse expertise in branding, brand psychology, tech, and consumer behavior. She has facilitated as a speaker and branding educator for institutions such as NYU, Cuny Start-Ups, General Assembly, NYC Business Solutions, L’Oreal, Grow with Google, and Fiverr. Shena holds a Women’s Entrepreneurship certificate from Cornell, mentored with NYU’s Female Founders Fellowship program, and currently coaches under WE NYC and the Freelancer’s Union. You can view her work and contributions here.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us your “Origin Story”? Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I am filled with gratitude for this opportunity, thank you. To paint you a portrait of my roots. I hail from a Cape Verdean family, a vibrant blend of dreams and determination personified by my parents, Carol Fontes and Frank Delgado. I was born and raised in a cozy place called Taunton, a small town about 45 minutes south of Boston, and at a young age, my spirit knew no bounds. From my earliest memories, I harbored an insatiable curiosity, a yearning to transcend the confines of my surroundings. Active pursuits became my playground; I danced, somersaulted through gymnastics, swung bats in softball, and shot hoops on the basketball court. A cheerleader’s spirit infused my days, both at the state level and within the halls of my high school. My parents, embodiments of relentless labor, gifted my brother and me not just material comfort but also the wisdom of unyielding dedication and the tenacity to chase dreams. We spent our Summers down the Cape, full of laughter and shared moments with close friends and family. Our home echoed with the melodies of festive gatherings, a chorus of togetherness that defined the holidays. Amongst these cherished memories, our weekly Saturday ritual stands out as my favorite because of the moments shared over coffee with my grandfather, known to all of us as Papa. His wisdom and warmth shaped my worldview and who I am as a person. He left an indelible mark on my young heart. At home, my family referred to me as ‘Shena Beana’, a nickname that reflected my vivacious energy, they would say all my bouncing around reminded them of a jumping bean. To my mother, I was then and am now simply ‘B’. In my youth, artistry wove its threads into my soul, igniting a passion for creativity that burned brightly. My imagination was splashed with colors, verses, and melodies; dreams of entrepreneurship kindled a fire within me. The backdrop of the 80s and 90s saw me sketching visions of grandeur, of owning my empire, an aspiration that felt like destiny. An entrepreneurial spirit, an heirloom passed down through generations, coursed in my spirit. My father’s construction business, my uncle’s bustling mechanic shop, and my cousin’s network of elderly housing facilities — their endeavors fueled my own aspirations. At the tender age of 15, I began plotting my exit from my hometown, with my focus on a quest to fulfill my entrepreneurial dreams. The roadmap of my fate revealed itself in a college acceptance letter from Hofstra University, ushering me toward the bustling heart of New York. And so, my journey began.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Hmm. To be honest, it’s hard to pinpoint just one. So many interesting and memorable things have happened to me since leading my company. I’ve been a panelist for IFC Films on how to build and sustain a creative business. I’ve been a guest lecturer at NYU, General Assembly, CUNY Start-ups, and more. I’ve been a marketing instructor under NYC Business Solutions and a TED Circles host. Out of everything, the most interesting and heartfelt part of my journey has been the people and entrepreneurs I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with, who are also running purpose-driven brands and organizations. I’m honored to have aligned with so many wonderful people who are dedicated to making the world a better place. To think I’ve had the opportunity to help these people in their pursuit of bringing more good into the world has been mind-blowing and humbling, to say the least. The impact, not only the ones I’ve made on my clients and mentees but that extends to the impact they make on their communities, is worth a million dollars in my eyes. We need more good, and we need more entrepreneurs willing to build and create companies that are willing to fight for it.
We often learn the most from our mistakes. Can you share one that you made that turned out to be one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?
As an entrepreneur, the next opportunity is always on your mind. During the pivotal stages of growing my business, I grappled with overwhelming anxiety, desperate to ensure my presence was recognized, my voice heard, and my expertise acknowledged. While operating in that energy, I found myself relentlessly following up on emails, intruding into conversations uninvited, and thrusting myself into situations I wasn’t yet prepared for. The toll was immense — leaving me drained and burnt out. Then, one day, I stumbled upon two profound truths: ‘Rejection is redirection in disguise’ and ‘What’s meant for you won’t miss you.’ At that moment, a shift occurred. I realized my approach had been all wrong. I needed to slow down, switch gears, and embrace a profound trust in what was meant for me. Today, I operate very differently, focusing my energies on tasks that demand my expertise. I shifted my perspective from frantic pursuit to mindful evolution. This shift not only rejuvenated my spirit but also propelled me into unforeseen spaces. I no longer grasp at every opportunity out of desperation; instead, I methodically engage, allowing the right avenues to manifest naturally. This deliberate approach has not only unlocked countless doors but has ushered me into rooms I never thought I’d be in. Needless to say, it has become more than a mere business strategy — it’s a way of life that I 10 out of 10 recommend.
As a successful leader, it’s clear that you uphold strong core values. I’m curious what are the most important principles you firmly stand by and refuse to compromise on. Can you share a few of them and explain why they hold such significance for you in your work and life?
Clearly defined core values are extremely important in the realm of branding and entrepreneurship. They serve as a North Star, guiding the impact one leaves on the world. In both work and life, I uphold an unwavering commitment to the pillars of quality, integrity, originality, transparency, and innovation.
Quality is a commitment to delivering nothing short of my very best. As creative minds and entrepreneurs, I believe we bear the responsibility to reciprocate the investments of time, energy, attention, and resources made by those we serve with an unwavering dedication to delivering quality products, services, and content.
Integrity is the moral compass that steers my path. I embrace the unwavering commitment to doing what is right, even when the world isn’t watching.
Originality and innovation both propel me forward. In a world where conformity is the path most traveled, I believe in the inherent duty to stand out, to shine brightly in our uniqueness, and to relentlessly evolve into the finest versions of ourselves, day by day.
Transparency, perhaps the most important of these values, underscores my belief in the power of authenticity. To willingly reveal one’s true self to the world is a bridge to authentic trust. In this transparency, we attract the kindred spirits, the right opportunities, and those that harmonize with our true essence.
What inspired you to start a purpose-driven business rather than a traditional for-profit enterprise? Can you share a personal story or experience that led you to prioritize social impact in your business?
In full transparency, I do derive income from my coaching and consulting work, yet this financial aspect does not steer the course of my business. Throughout my professional journey, I have generously shared a wealth of insights, knowledge, resources, tools, and connections, all freely given to numerous brands, entrepreneurs, and mentees. My commitment lies in empowering others, a commitment rooted deeply in my own struggles during my formative years. I remember the frustration of searching for mentors and resources willing to extend a helping hand. While the challenges I faced molded me, the absence of support left me burdened, diverting my energy away from my true passion. It was in those moments that I made a promise to never perpetuate such gatekeeping. Moreover, I resolved to exclusively collaborate with companies and entrepreneurs propelled by mission and purpose. My focus rests on those dedicated to reshaping broken systems and nurturing communities back to health. I firmly believe that mission-driven brands and entrepreneurs deserve equitable access to opportunities, resources, and guidance, mirroring the privileges accessible to major for-profit enterprises. My work is devoted to this cause, for in their success, I find the fulfillment of my purpose.
Can you help articulate a few of the benefits of leading a purpose-driven business rather than a standard “plain vanilla” business?
Fulfillment, impact, and inspiration. Leading with purpose unlocks another level of fulfillment, a fulfillment that transcends the ordinary and taps into the extraordinary. It’s not merely about doing what you love; it’s about deriving a deep, soul-stirring satisfaction from the knowledge that your endeavors are not just self-serving but also contribute meaningfully to the world. The impact of purpose-driven work is immeasurable. It stems from the understanding that every creation, every innovation, and every effort is rooted in a belief system that stretches far beyond personal gain. This sense of purpose fills our work with an intrinsic value, a value that leaves an undeniable mark on others. What we produce, infused with this purpose, becomes a beacon, guiding and inspiring others to believe in their own potential. In this ripple effect, we sow the seeds of change, nurturing the growth of future generations of purpose-driven entrepreneurs. Their tenacity, ignited by our example, fuels an unending cycle of goodness, ensuring that the flames of purpose continue to burn brightly.
How has your company’s mission or purpose affected its overall success? Can you explain the methods or metrics you use to evaluate the impact of this purpose-driven strategy on your organization?
It has affected it greatly shaping not just my career but who I am as a person. My mission and purpose are the pillars upon which my success stands. The true measure of this impact lies in the heartfelt feedback and testimonials shared by my coaching and consulting clients. Their words carry an unmistakable weight of relief, their tones resonate with gratitude, and their body language exudes newfound confidence. To witness these transformative changes in them is a testament to the power of purpose. In the echoing gratitude of my clients, I find validation that I am indeed ‘operating in my purpose’. Their words are not just affirmations; they fuel my motivation. When clients recognize that I am aligned with my true calling, it not only reaffirms my professional trajectory but also serves as a relentless motivator, propelling me to persist and excel. To have found and embraced my true purpose is a blessing beyond measure. The alignment with my life’s mission fills me with an unshakable gratitude. There exists no greater satisfaction than knowing that I am fulfilling my destiny, and in doing so, making a meaningful difference in the lives of others.
Can you share a pivotal moment when you realized that leading your purpose-driven company was actually making a significant impact? Can you share a specific example or story that deeply resonated with you personally?
Approximately a year ago, a connection occurred on LinkedIn with a fellow woman entrepreneur. She reached out, seeking guidance for her company, and graciously asked if I would be open to a conversation. I enthusiastically agreed. Over the course of an hour-long conversation, we delved into the depths of her business challenges. By the end, a transformation had taken place; she emerged lighter, her spirit lifted, and her outlook on her business was much more optimistic. After our conversation, I humbly requested that she consider sharing her experience through a review. Her words, left me moved. The opening line, ‘I can breathe again,’ resonated deeply, capturing the essence of her newfound freedom. She expressed profound gratitude for the renewed life she discovered within herself and her brand. Reading her heartfelt review, I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude, sitting back in my chair, tears streaming down my face. It was a moment of profound clarity, a moment when I not only affirmed my purpose but also recognized the magnitude of the difference I was making in the lives of others. That day stands etched in my memory as nothing short of amazing, a testament to the profound power of purposeful work.
Have you ever faced a situation where your commitment to your purpose and creating a positive social impact clashed with the profitability in your business? Have you ever been challenged by anyone on your team or have to make a tough decision that had a significant impact on finances? If so, how did you address and reconcile this conflict?
Yes, I’ve encountered this situation on numerous occasions. However, these challenges have neither shaken my resolve nor deterred me from adhering to my purpose-driven work. I remain committed to offering free coaching, consulting, resources, tools, and invaluable access to information. Why? Because I intimately understand the roller-coaster nature of entrepreneurship. There are moments of triumph and there are downturns. But regardless of the phase, every entrepreneur deserves support. I extend this support through my voluntary coaching through organizations like WE NYC, where participants benefit from my expertise without any charge. While these organizations compensate me, my earnings are solely determined by modest hourly rates, contingent upon bookings. To bridge the financial gap, I proactively immerse myself in diverse networks and seize various opportunities that serve to supplement the difference. The true currency of my efforts, however, isn’t measured in monetary terms. It lies in the immeasurable satisfaction of witnessing someone gain profound clarity and direction within their business journey. The expressions of gratitude, the transformative ‘aha’ moments, and the palpable sense of purpose that lights up their faces during our calls or in-person sessions — it’s these moments that fill my spirit in ways that no financial figure could. The fulfillment that comes from empowering others and witnessing their growth is, without a doubt, worth a million in the bank.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs who wish to start a purpose-driven business? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know I Order To Create A Highly Successful Purpose-Driven Business.”
1 . Get clear on your fundamentals and foundation. This includes stakes in your business like your mission, vision, values, and most importantly … the purpose. What are you dedicating your work to every day? What are you committed to in that process? How do you want to show up? What do you want to be remembered for? What you do will inspire others to do the same, where are you leading them?
2 . Always deliver your best. Quality will always beat out quantity, I truly believe this. Showing up as the best version of yourself and delivering the best version of your work will not only set you apart, it also triggers a sense of trust and loyalty within your customer. Quality does not mean perfect, it means delivering your work at the highest degree of excellence. The world is full of mediocre and exploitative products, don’t join the crowd, instead commit yourself to a certain standard of living and working. It’s the least you can do in exchange for the time, energy, attention, and resources your customers are giving you, three of which once it’s spent, you cannot get them back.
3 . Place purpose at the forefront of everything you do. Leading with purpose will get you far. Apple is an example of a company that consistently leads with two simple, yet profound “whys’’ that fuel its existence and position in the business world. One, they believe in challenging the status quo. Two, they believe in thinking differently. If you notice, Apple has placed its purpose at the forefront of everything they create, design, produce, and market. Get clear on your why and lead with that in everything that you do.
4 . Lead with purpose but don’t forget integrity. Purpose is admirable but it’s nothing if you do not have the integrity to back it up. We’ve seen countless brands and organizations who claim to walk in purpose but, behind the scenes, they’re not doing the right things. Look, we’re all human and humans make mistakes, and there may be moments when your integrity wavers but, do your best to remain committed to principles and moral uprights as you serve your business and your community. Do the right thing even when people aren’t watching.
5 . This last one is special, it’s something I personally coined for life and business. Intention and impact must work in tandem, at the same velocity, in order to produce the highest optimal outcome. Intention and impact are two different elements, most mistake them to be one and the same. Actions, words, and behaviors can carry an air of good intentions and still end up negatively impacting where they land, just because you wanted or hoped something to be good doesn’t mean it is. It’s important to consider the impact equally alongside the intention, especially when it’s wrapped in what you think is good nature. Beware of getting caught up in the good deed and take time to seriously consider whether the imprint will have a long-lasting positive or negative effect on the person, place, or thing.
I’m interested in how you instill a strong sense of connection with your team. How do you nurture a culture where everyone feels connected to your mission? Could you share an example or story that showcases how your purpose has positively influenced or motivated people on your team to contribute?
As a solopreneur, I perceive my work with clients as a collaborative endeavor. I firmly believe that the entrepreneurs I assist are not just recipients of my guidance but integral partners in our shared journey. They are the driving force behind my passion and purpose. In my coaching and consulting practice, my motivation extends far beyond mere words; I don’t preach from a pedestal, but rather, I stand alongside them as a devoted guide, committed to walking the path with them toward their goals. Vulnerability is the cornerstone of my approach. I don’t shield my clients from my own experiences — the triumphs, the pitfalls, the moments of uncertainty. Instead, I lay bare my journey, complete with its highs and lows. By revealing my authentic self, I demonstrate that I am as human as they are. I’ve encountered setbacks, felt the sting of failure, and grappled with self-doubt within my own brand. Through my openness, I aim to reassure my clients that they are not alone in their struggles. This transparency serves to foster an environment of trust and authenticity. By sharing my story, I create a space where they can find solace, fostering a sense of ease and connection that is essential to our collaborative work together.
Imagine we’re sitting down together two years from now, looking back at your company’s last 24 months. What specific accomplishments would have to happen for you to be happy with your progress?
In the next few years, my mission is clear: to empower as many entrepreneurs as I can, guiding them toward clarity and purpose within their businesses and brands. As part of this journey, I envision the completion and publication of my book on branding — a timeless resource that delves into the profound layers and essential principles often omitted in traditional education. My hope is that the book will lead readers down the path to sustainable and impactful brand success. My passion for teaching, unearthed through speaking engagements and lectures, has enthusiastically fueled my ambition to pursue an adjunct professor role — a position I aim to secure within the next two years. In this capacity, I aspire to pass down invaluable wisdom to aspiring minds, shaping the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. Furthermore, my vision extends to the launch of a transformative group coaching program tailored for budding, startup, and seasoned entrepreneurs alike. This program will nurture creative ideas and foster collaborative growth. As a personal aspiration, I dream of gracing the TED stage, sharing my insights and experiences with a global audience, inspiring change, and igniting new paths of thought. In the years to come, these endeavors form the cornerstone of my purpose, representing my unwavering commitment to education, mentorship, and the relentless pursuit of empowering others.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 😊
I’m envisioning a movement, although it lacks a name as of now, that fundamentally revolves around the art of becoming a better human being — holistically and empathetically. In today’s world, it feels as though we are more disconnected than ever, perpetually entrenched in a society that encourages self-preservation at the cost of genuine human connection. Yet, the currency of kindness, courtesy, care, and consideration remain invaluable. True empathy, the ability to listen attentively even in disagreement, and the ethos of looking out for our fellow neighbors have become rare commodities in our increasingly divided world. We are deeply divided by life experiences, diverse perspectives, religious beliefs, inflated egos, unresolved traumas, and lingering pain. These divisions have obscured the broader, unifying canvas of our shared humanity. My envisioned movement aims to dissolve the icy barriers that separate us, replacing them with the warmth of compassion and understanding. This movement is a call to action, urging individuals to rekindle the spirit of community and rediscover the beauty of harmonious coexistence. It’s about fostering connections, not only with those who share our views but especially with those who don’t. It seeks to mend the tears in the fabric of society, stitching them together with threads of empathy and acceptance. In a world increasingly marked by discord, my movement stands as a light toward a more compassionate and harmonious existence for all.
How can our readers further follow your work or your company online?
For a deeper insight into my professional journey, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. If you’re curious about the person behind the profession, you can catch a glimpse of my personal life by following me on Instagram @shena_nicole.
This was great. Thanks for taking time for us to learn more about you and your business. We wish you continued success!