Pandora Shelley made a meteoric rise from office manager to CEO at Sydney’s startup hub Fishburners in a few short years. Now the ambitious UTS graduate is bringing Aussie startup knowhow to NYC.
Bachelor of Business (Management Consulting and Marketing), 2014
Former CEO, Fishburners
In just eight years, Pandora Shelley went from being the office manager at startup hub Fishburners to company CEO.
In that time, she helped the not-for-profit foster the growth of more than 2000 tech businesses, creating more than 2500 jobs and generating over $110 million in revenue.
The organisation, which runs co-working spaces and events for entrepreneurs in Sydney, Brisbane and Shanghai, recorded unprecedented growth during her tenure.
And yet, at meetings with external companies, the 28-year-old CEO was often overlooked.
“I got asked to take notes — numerous times,” she says. On occasion, she would call out inappropriate behaviour; other times, she’d settle for proving them wrong.
Work for a startup – you’ll get skills you won’t pick up anywhere else, like being innovative, adaptable, coming up with solutions and moving fast.
Intrigued by startups since high school, Shelley took a leap of faith and entered the startup world while completing her studies at UTS. Although the career path was unchartered, she knew she thrived in the fast pace and innovative culture that startups provide. At Fishburners, she held roles in many departments but most enjoyed scaling the organsation's operations and is proud of instilling a culture of data-driven decision making.
“We got to a point where for almost every dollar or hour we spent on a project, we had data to confirm it was the best use of our resources.”
While her legacy is best summed up but the organisation's impressive growth, Shelley is most proud that even at its size, Fishburners remains a community-first organisation that people love to work for and with.
Earlier this year, Shelley took another leap into the unknown, leaving the organisation for New York.
“Honestly, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “But I was very clear that I would be CEO for one year. When that time was up, I had achieved all the things I’d wanted to achieve.”
So what’s next? At this stage, she can’t say too much — only that she’s not done with startups just yet.
Pandora Shelley is the recipient of the 2019 UTS Alumni Award for Excellence in Business.
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How did you know it was time to leave Fishburners?
“I felt like I wasn’t growing at the same pace I once was. I always said that would be the time I moved on.”
What advice do you have for business graduates?
“Work for a startup. You’ll get skills you won’t pick up anywhere else, like being innovative, adaptable, coming up with solutions and moving fast. More and more companies are looking for ‘intrapreneurs’ — people with entrepreneurial skills who want to work for a company.”
What’s something every startup founder should know?
“A good entrepreneur isn’t afraid of failing. The best startups at Fishburners have come from people who’ve tried four, five, six-plus ideas. It’s very rare that the first idea is the right idea.”