Meet Shauna-Kay Jones. Shauna is the co-founder of Motify, a virtual platform that assists people on the autism spectrum to develop skills that help them lead more social, productive and fulfilling lives.
We sat down with Shauna to ask some questions about her experience becoming an entrepreneur and running her business.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I recently graduated from Sheridan in the Software Development and Network Engineering Co-op program. As a part of our capstone initiative, we started a company called Motify that builds tools for individuals on the autism spectrum. I also work as a Business Systems Analyst at PointClickCare, where I did my co-op terms as a student. Before Sheridan, I graduated from the University of Waterloo in Legal Studies & Business.
When did you realize you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
I don’t think there was ever an “a-ha!” moment or “yeah, I’m going to try and figure something out for hours and not sleep.” It was never a conscious decision in that respect. There was a problem I saw that needed fixing. I have a brother who is on the [autism] spectrum and I realized I had the ability to build something rather than just complain that there’s nothing out there to help him. I wanted to build it and see how far it could go. I saw a need in the market and felt I needed to do something. That’s what drove me to become an entrepreneur.
Did you ever picture yourself becoming an entrepreneur?
I was one of those weird people who couldn’t see myself working a regular 9 to 5 job, but at the same time I didn’t really see myself owning my own business. I thought I had the personality for it and have always had an interest in it thanks to classes I took, but if you asked me if I thought this is where my life was going I would have said no. It was something I was open to if the right opportunities came.
What’s your favourite part of running Motify?
It’s one of those weird things where you’re lacking in sleep and every day you wake up and say “there’s 15 million things on fire, what should I do first?” At the same time, taking time off is very difficult for me because I end up missing the chaos. Since it’s something I’ve created, I’m so invested. As an entrepreneur, you learn so much — not just about business and developing an app but about yourself, your ethics and what drives you. You get to meet so many interesting people and explore a world you’d never have been exposed to working a 9–5. I’ve learned more in the last year than I have in most of my other years combined. It’s been amazing.
Where do your ideas come from?
This idea came from living with my brother and seeing his day-to-day struggles. More of my ideas have come from meeting people who were like my brother or who weren’t like my brother and talking to them, understanding the things they deal with every day, and figuring out how I can make it better. So most of my ideas come from people. Other times they come from looking into the market and seeing needs that aren’t met or things that aren’t done. It’s also about looking at where we’re at in 2017 and where we’ll be in 2020.
What’s your current greatest frustration with being an entrepreneur?
Money (laughing). I can’t even pretend. The hardest part is the initial grind of figuring out how to implement your ideas. You visualize in your mind how you’re going to do those things, and whether you have the income. The biggest hurdle is that initial stage of raising capital when you have this great idea but haven’t yet built it to fruition.
What’s your strategy to deal with failure?
Cry and huddle in a corner! I’m kidding. As an entrepreneur I like to say that failure comes with the territory. You can’t expect to go through the long haul of being an entrepreneur and not fail. If you’ve gone through the process and haven’t failed, hats off to you. When I fail at something, I usually do a reassessment. If I thought I worked hard for something I think “okay, why didn’t I get it? What was I missing, how can I use this failure to flip it for the next time so it’s not a failure?” For example, I’ve applied for grants and wondered why I haven’t gotten them. Sometimes I go back to these people and say “what could I do differently for next time?” and they tell me where I went wrong. Don’t get bogged down with the failure, take it in stride. Look at your failures and use them to improve for next time.
Any words of advice for entrepreneurs just starting out?
Sometimes you get really excited with ideas and you think it’s amazing and great and that everyone will agree with you, but sometimes it’s good to take a pause and a step back and think about not just the idea, but the industry you’re going into and if it’s growing, if it’s lucrative. You have to do your market analysis and know your competitors. You can’t just know yourself. Being aware of everything around you can be the difference between making it or not. If you’re able to not only know your market but know your competitors you can find your advantage there, whether it’s something like better bang for your buck or more value. If you can do that from the beginning things are much easier as you go along.
What’s your mantra?
Treat everyone with the respect you want to be treated with. I know that’s not very business-related but the really influential people I’ve met haven’t really been about the product. You feel like you’re constantly selling your product and telling people why it’s awesome, but the more you start to do it, the more you realize you’re selling yourself and who you are. You’re trying to get people to buy into you. Treating people with respect and sincerity and understanding has been the biggest takeaway for me. That’s the approach I’ve taken and I’ve gotten a lot of things I wouldn’t have expected by doing this.
What achievement are you most proud of so far?
I’ve been most proud about seeing people on the spectrum test my app, and having parents who read about it somewhere and were so excited for something like this. I’ve met so many parents who worry about their kid living an independent life and how to support them after they’ve reached a certain age. I wouldn’t say my biggest achievement has anything to do with awards. It’s when I’m able to hear these stories and grab a coffee with someone who has heard about us, or who has tested the app and tells us what they like and don’t like, even what they want to see from the app. That is what touches me the most.
What does life/work balance look like for you?
With me working two full-time jobs, it’s all about focusing on getting things done. When I’m at work it’s all about work. When I’m focused on Motify it’s all about Motify. When it’s time to party, I turn it up. It’s work hard play hard — it’s segmentation of your life. You don’t want things to seep over into different parts of your life. If I’m taking a break, even if it’s for 20 minutes, I’m going to enjoy that time — I’m watching something from Marvel and it’s going to be great.
What do you do for fun in your spare time?
I’m not gonna lie, I throw down some bomb-diggity stuff. I’m big on sports — anything competitive, I’m there. Archery, Go-Karting. I am also into live shows, concerts, musicals. I just love going out and seeing people. I also love a good Netflix and naps session.
Who influenced you along the way to success?
There are so many people who have influenced me along the way. I have to say my brother. I know how difficult these transitions are and how difficult it is on a day-to-day basis just being him. He takes everything in stride and has so much compassion, and his outlook on life is so pure and honest.
My parents, too. Both of my parents are crazy people and they support all of the crazy stuff that I’ve come to them with without blinking an eye, which is not an easy thing to do. They’ve been super influential to me on my journey.
I have to throw some Sheridan names up here too — Fran Burke from co-op has been super influential. Just the way she knows her students and the employers. Everything came full circle. Fran knowing me and understanding the types of jobs I should do helped me land my co-op job and my co-op award. It was also influential in me becoming valedictorian. I have to give credit to Christina Spadafora and Philip Stubbs who helped and continue to help in more ways than I could have ever imagined. Those three really went above and beyond what they were required to do.
What does the future look like for Motify?
It’s one of those things where if you ask me today and you ask me again tomorrow the future is very different, which I really enjoy. We’ve been super fortunate where a few companies have approached us and are looking for ways to continue helping us. There are a lot of possibilities there. We’re looking into ways of partnering with research centres to grow what we’re trying to do into different market segments. We’re in a few competitions for funding and to get our name out there. It’s all heading in a positive direction. Even just this week we got to meet with some companies downtown and just found out we’re finalists in a competition. I’m super excited and every day it’s something different.
How did Sheridan influence you as an entrepreneur?
I always say this: If I didn’t go to Sheridan, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now on any level, either as a full-time employee or an entrepreneur. Sheridan opened my eyes to different possibilities and made me think of a life I could lead that was unlike any other. Usually people think you’re an entrepreneur or you’re not, but I’m in both worlds and I love learning from both. Sheridan made me think outside the box, connected me to companies looking to hire people, but also allowed us to work on projects where we built things on our own. The combination of those things is what brought us to this point so Keisha and I constantly say Sheridan has been our biggest influencer. Keisha’s another person I have to throw in as influential — she’s struggled through this with me and I have Sheridan to thank for her.