Sheen Allen has an incredible story of success in an industry that is difficult for everyone and even more difficult for minorities, women, and female founders. As a senior in college she blazed a trail in the tech space from small town to Silicon Valley and then built a road for others to be empowered to participate. Listed in the Forbes 30 Under 30, Sheena started Sheena Allen Apps as a non-technical founder garnering millions of downloads. From there she created her second big startup CapWay, a neobank to serve underbanked and unbanked segments with financial services and education and she is just getting started.
Her Journey is Your Journey
In life, there is a hard way and an easy way of doing things. For women of color and female founders in the tech space when Sheena started in 2011 there was only a hard way of doing things. With very few female tech founder role models available, Sheena had to create her own path. Her story is the story of so many underestimated individuals who often lack the same access and support as others. Sheena had to cut a trail from being a non-technical founder to later paving a road through creating courses and resources for others looking to start something. It is pioneers like her who not only carve a path for their own success but leave behind the inspiration and education for countless others to deliver new voices, and new offerings to the world.
You are never alone in your journey. All of the change-makers, icons, and influencers were willing to go it alone when the environment was unwelcoming. What many of those pioneers may not realize is the impact that their lives will have on industries, society, and thinking. In the same way, when we recognize and appreciate those who struggle and break ground we are also joining their journey and allowing access to others.
The Underserved Minorities
Sheena changed the marketplace by serving the underserved and exploited. CapWay, her neobank, focuses on serving the 25% of underbanked or unbanked segments of society which are substantially made up of Black and Latinx individuals. Sheena returned home to Mississippi to see that many of the people there were still using predatory check cashing and payday loan financial services that made the problems worse for the people they served, not better. She set out to provide access to financial services and education that comes from the intent to lift up and serve the underbanked and unbanked.
Unlocking the Benefits of Diversity
Diversity opens up huge opportunities in business and culture. Though the concept of diversity is gaining traction, there is often a disconnect in execution. Opening the door for a few diverse individuals is not the same as creating pathways for diversity. When we build roads and infrastructure of inclusion we allow the underrepresented voices to determine their inclusion and not the majority. We have to create diversity through access, not selection.
Driving access through education. Sheena developed a financial education focus in her app that goes beyond providing services. This is the way to drive further access to participate through education. We live in a modern world where having plastic (debit card) can determine whether you can access many goods or services that are an integral part of the average American’s life such as online shopping like Amazon. Imagine that 25% of the population can’t shop at the largest retailer in America. The unbanked sadly are not able to access the same goods and services as everyone else. If a store had a sign that said an entire group of people were not allowed in the store there would be outrage, but this is what is happening in countless situations to the underbanked and unbanked. As traditional retailers move further into an online model, financial access is becoming more and more necessary and Sheena intends to make sure everyone is able to participate.
Opening the Gates of Participation
When everyone can participate we all win. I really enjoyed my conversation with Sheena because we both came from small towns, underestimated, and have a passion for the underdogs. I look at her journey and the value that she has created from her success for others. When access is given to underserved groups and role models are created the minority segment can be inspired to contribute and magnify that value back through the same system which once discluded them. From there you can provide education to support the ability for them to participate which leads to true diversity which then can distribute tremendous value back through the entire system. I hope you are inspired by the example Sheena has created in the work she is doing and book her to share her story at your next event.
Watch Sheena Allen at TEDxSanFrancisco: How to Bring Humanity Back to Finance