Meet Ally Kennedy, Founder of Ascension Labs. A former business analyst turned soulful business strategist, Ally’s diverse background in print media, customer experience, women’s leadership, and strategic planning provides her clients with a unique advantage in the marketplace.
Ally understands the connection between leveraging strong leadership, customer-centric design, and the emotional buying journey in order to create engaged teams and loyal customers. Her approach to coaching marries customer experience, marketing, and sales systems, neuroscience, and leadership embodiment to create an experience to assist you in ascending to the next level in your life and business.
As an award-winning designer, business analyst, digital marketing specialist, and conversion rate optimization expert, the tapestry of Ally’s distinctive life & business experiences have blended to create the inimitable content that makes her a truly unique business expert and speaker.
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Table of Contents
Welcome to your ValiantCEO exclusive interview! Let’s start with a little introduction. Tell us about yourself.
Ally Kennedy: Thank you so much for having me!
I’m a business growth strategist based in San Diego, California. I moved from Philadelphia a little over 3 years ago to pursue entrepreneurship and align with a more holistic lifestyle.
I’m a creative at heart, a cat mom, and a plant lover. I value freedom, adventure, growth, and living with authenticity and integrity. In a nutshell, I’m an ex hairstylist, turned graphic designer, turned tech nerd, turned corporate business strategist, turned entrepreneur. I feel like my career evolution accurately reflects my value of growth, and becoming 1% better every day.
I feel most alive when I’m in the mountains, especially when I am rock climbing. I have a ton of active hobbies, including yoga, cycling, roller skating, and weight lifting. I enjoy reading, writing, traveling, and seeing live music. I also love adding value to the community. I’ve been volunteering since age 14. I currently volunteer at a local rock climbing gym and a nonprofit here in San Diego.
NO child ever says I want to be a CEO when I grow up. What did you want to be and how did you get to where you are today? Give us some lessons you learned along the way.
Ally Kennedy: My first dream job memory was wanting to be a lawyer. Unfortunately, I grew up in a lower-class family, and money was always an issue. No one in my family had gone to college. I was destined to change that. I got my first job when I was 14. My upbringing taught me one of the most valuable lessons: Nothing good comes without hard work. I was fortunate to have developed a good work ethic at an early age. I was very aware of my family’s financial situation, so when I heard about a technical school opportunity in 9th grade, I decided it was the best way for me to get a free education.
I graduated high school with a cosmetology license and started working as a hairstylist. After a few years of poor money management, getting into trouble, and feeling like I was living life in the passenger seat, I decided it was time to pursue my dreams and put myself through college.
By this time, I had an eye for what “looked good,” so I majored in graphic design. I worked 3 jobs while going to school full time in order to pay my tuition and support living on my own. Art school was when I really began to “find myself.” I really started to lean into leadership. I was voted president of the art & design club. I also founded the German club, or “Deutsch Stammtisch,” as we called it. I was inducted into the honors society, received many awards and scholarships, and was even invited to create community art installations around campus.
My work ethic was definitely noticed, and before long I was handpicked by the head of my program to be the senior graphic designer for the school newspaper. Within a year, my redesign of the school newspaper landed me first place for layout & design in the PA State Press Awards. The redesign was inspired by publications I collected on a recent trip to Europe. Before I even graduated, I felt ready for the “next big thing.” I was learning a lot about web design and front-end development. That’s when I decided I wanted to get a job at a technology company. The only problem was that I had no experience. No one would hire me. I was applying to every web designer job I could find. But no luck.
I didn’t stop at “no.” After months of rejection, I finally landed an internship at an e-commerce agency. They eventually hired me full-time as a web designer. I was ecstatic. I excelled rapidly, and the pattern of “what’s next” continued. Corporate was always a struggle for me, mostly because of how quickly I grew. It was difficult to convince management to move me into a higher position or pay me more, no matter how much additional work I would take on to “prove myself.” Fortunately, I kept at it. I was able to climb the corporate ladder. I soon ascended into the role of a UX Designer.
At my first global e-commerce summit, I noticed a pattern begin to emerge. Through the layers of languages and translators, I recognized one universal language: numbers. This was the “aha” moment that piqued my interest in business. I knew from that moment that sales were the lifeblood of the business, and I needed to figure out how to shift into a role that was involved in the overall business strategy of the company.
I saw a gap in the landscape of our department and decided to approach the VP of e-commerce. I told him I was bored with my current role. I was working as a UX designer, designing new features for the e-commerce storefront, mobile apps, and helping with digital marketing.
I told him I was interested in data analysis, and using the numbers to make informed decisions to impact the bigger picture of the company. I honestly had no idea what I was doing, but I was confident in my ability to learn. After giving me a few “tests,” he recognized my ability to make impactful data-driven decisions. The team began to implement the suggestions from my “tests” and the company immediately saw an ROI. After months of proving myself, taking on what felt like a second job on top of my current role, they are an entirely new position for me.
I claimed my throne of “Business Analyst: Digital Optimization.” I helped lead the digital optimization team and performed A/B tests on the online sales funnel. Within 10 months, my winning experiments contributed to doubling the annual revenue of the US e-commerce storefront. Our wins contributed to building executive-level trust in the experimentation program, which was a one-man show before my position was created.
In 2021, I was at the pique of my career. Life decided to throw me a curveball, and I lost my mother suddenly to cancer. I began to feel extremely disconnected from my work in e-commerce. I slowed down and did some soul searching. I remembered my love for client work. I loved helping people, I loved solving problems, I loved building digital products, and I loved business strategy. Finally, something clicked. This was when I decided to start my coaching business.
When I think back, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing half the time. I just had an extreme conviction that I could do it, whatever the “it” was. I knew I would be able to figure it out along the way, and I knew I would be good at it. The lesson here is that you don’t always have to know how you’re going to do something, you just need to know exactly what you want, and have unwavering faith that it’s already yours. The “how” will unfold along the way.
Tell us about your business, what does the company do? What is unique about the company?
Ally Kennedy: I started my business, Ascension Labs, with the initial concept of helping online coaches make more money in their business. My greatest business successes in the corporate world came from optimizing sales funnels, so I knew I wanted to specialize in online sales and client acquisition.
When I decided to become an online business coach, I quickly realized that creating a sales funnel using social media was a bit different. I needed to step up my game, so I began working with some of the best coaches in the industry to get a feel of how they handled the client acquisition process. Previously, I had worked with some of the top agencies in conversion rate optimization and had extensive training in human behavior. My biggest challenge was figuring out how to merge the aspects of relationship building with a measurable sales funnel that could be optimized to increase conversion rates over time.
Ascension Labs is different because we drop the labels. We don’t focus on B2B or even B2C. We focus on H2H, or “Human 2 Human.” My philosophy is simple: Connection is the new currency.
When I was a designer, I began learning about customer-centric design. Customer-centric design is the process of building your product or service based on the wants, needs, and challenges of your customers. When I transitioned into CRO (conversion rate optimization), I began learning about the behavioral science that actually drove a customer to purchase. I wanted my business to be built on a foundation of understanding and catering to people.
My entire client acquisition methodology is built upon understanding human behavior and the emotional needs of a customer before, during, and after a sale takes place, in order to give them the highest client experience possible and promote client retention. I teach my clients high-level client-getting strategies, sales psychology, & how to build an online community that becomes a well-oiled profit center for their business, without losing touch with the human on the other side of the screen. When you focus on relationships, customer needs, and world-class customer experience, you’ll never have to worry about losing a customer again.
How to become a CEO? Some will focus on qualities, others on degrees, how would you answer that question?
Ally Kennedy: A degree can educate you, and give you the hard skills to succeed in your career path, but nothing will emotionally shape you like stepping into the role of a CEO. There are so many layers to the personal habits and traits that shape our ability to lead and work with others. In my honest opinion, leadership is more of a personality type. You don’t necessarily have to be born with it, but you do have to embody it, which isn’t necessarily something they teach in school.
What are the secrets to becoming a successful CEO? Who inspires you, who are your role models and why? Illustrate your choices. ?
Ally Kennedy: The biggest secret to becoming a successful CEO is to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Lean into things that don’t necessarily “feel good,” because they will push you to grow at an exponential rate. Don’t deny yourself amazing opportunities because they were a little out of my comfort zone.
When I think about this lesson, I always come back to my grandmother, who will always be one of my biggest inspirations. She immigrated from Ireland to the US when she was 18. She came here alone, with nothing, to pursue her dream of a better life… to pursue her “American Dream.”
I feel like I embodied a similar pursuit of my “American Dream” when I moved from my hometown of Philadelphia to San Diego. I sacrificed a lot in the process, but I am grateful to have come from a line of strong, independent women, who still inspire me, even though they are no longer with us.
Many CEOs fall into the trap of being all over the place. What are the top activities a CEO should focus on to be the best leader the company needs? Explain.
Ally Kennedy: As I mentioned earlier, I feel that leadership encompasses multiple dimensions of personality. I think the first activity that a CEO should focus on is performing a regular self-evaluation as it pertains to their overall mission and vision as a leader. I like to check in regularly, journaling on questions like:
- -How did I show up?
- -How did I perform?
- -How did I protect my biology?
- -How did I stick to my routine?
- -Where did I excel?
- -What could I do better?
- -What did I learn?
- -What intentions do I have?
- -What do I need to start, stop, and continue doing?
In addition, I think it’s important to allow space for creative thinking and strategic planning. I like to maintain an accurate vision by splitting my view 50/50: 50% of where I’ve come from, and 50% of where I’m going. There will always be another goal or milestone to hit, so it’s important to regularly honor and celebrate how far you’ve come on your journey.
The Covid-19 Pandemic put the leadership skills of many to the test, what were some of the most difficult challenges that you faced as a CEO/Leader in the past year? Please list and explain in detail.
Ally Kennedy: The Covid-19 pandemic forced me to work completely remote in my last corporate role. The biggest challenge came when I lost my mother in February 2020. I began to feel very disconnected from my work. In my downtime, I was searching for a deeper meaning for my career as a whole.
I struggled to keep my head in the game and keep morale high with my team, but I was very good at “wearing a mask” while I was on the clock. It kind of felt like I was living a double life. I was broken inside, but I still had to drive my company’s business strategy, run meetings, and lead a team. By the time 5 pm rolled around, I felt so depleted. On top of that, my rock climbing and yoga gyms were closed, so my outlet to feel connected to myself and my community was taken away. The quarantine felt very dehumanizing when I was in dire need of human connection.
Once I discovered the coaching industry, things began to shift within me. I finally found purpose again. My life had new meaning. I was able to build connections and community while still honoring the quarantine.
My challenges then shifted into building a business while working a 9-5. I was getting certifications, working through mentorship programs, and building my backend systems, offers, and an audience. I began working 16-20 hour days. The new challenge was setting boundaries for myself. I was so caught up in the early momentum and excitement that came with building a business, I began to put my health and healing on the back burner. I used building the business as a distraction from my healing process, and the new challenge was finding a balance between work, building a business, maintaining relationships, and making sure to prioritize my mental, physical, and spiritual health.
What are some of the greatest mistakes you’ve noticed some business leaders made during these unprecedented times? What are the takeaways you gleaned from those mistakes?
Ally Kennedy: I watched leaders I cared about give up when things didn’t work out the first time. I like to think that my upbringing and career path prepared me for adaptability. In art school, we had to make 100 variations before we submitted the final version. In software implementation, something was always broken and needed a hotfix. In CRO, we were always experimenting. We failed a lot and learned from our mistakes. Even if we found a winner, we are always trying to outperform it. The biggest takeaway is that there is no failure, only learning. Failure only happens when you quit.
In your opinion, what changes played the most critical role in enabling your business to survive/remain profitable, or maybe even thrive? What lessons did all this teach you?
Ally Kennedy: The push to move businesses online and create an additional layer of security in 2020 is what really helped me survive as a coach. When I was quarantined, I had a lot more time to work improving my skills as a leader and building my business. The uncertainty in the economy caused more people to want to support themselves, and this brought a big influx into the coaching industry. I think the lesson here is that it’s not really about what happens to you, it’s what you do about it. You can’t always choose your circumstances, but you can choose what type of person you want to become because of them.
What is the #1 most pressing challenge you’re trying to solve in your business right now?
Ally Kennedy: My #1 challenge right now is automating for sustainable growth without compromising a high-touch human experience with my audience. I am currently working on creating standard operating procedures for everything in my business so that I can bring on more help. A big focus right now is coming up with innovative solutions to systematize relationship building at every touchpoint in my customer journey.
You already shared a lot of insights with our readers and we thank you for your generosity. Normally, leaders are asked about their most useful qualities but let’s change things up a bit. What is the most useless skill you have learned, at school or during your career?
Ally Kennedy: I don’t want to call it completely “useless,” because quality is extremely important. However, being graded on craftsmanship in art school set me up to be a perfectionist early on in my business. This really slowed me down, causing me to second guess everything I put out. I was asking myself if everything was “good enough.” I am fortunate to have also worked within the tech realm, where shipping an MVP (minimum viable product) is highly emphasized. I’m grateful to have learned both of these skills because they brought the signs of perfectionism to my awareness as they came up in my business.
Thank you so much for your time but before we finish things off, we do have one more question. We will select these answers for our ValiantCEO Award 2021 edition. The best answers will be selected to challenge the award.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make, this past year 2021, for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Ally Kennedy: One of the most difficult decisions I had to make along my journey was murdering old identities of myself. It was un-becoming who I was. It was stepping into a future version of myself in order to be the leader I needed to be for my clients & community. It’s been a constant process of looking inward. A process of trying to figure out how I could remove the rocks from my own soil, so to speak, so that I could support the foundation I was building as a leader.
Shaping my identity has been the most difficult for me. I like to think it’s similar to business metrics. You can’t just focus on the “end results” as a company. For example, your overall revenue goal is a lag indicator. You need to focus on the metrics around the individual tasks, or the lead indicators- the activities that combined will contribute to achieving that number as a whole.
I find that it’s been very similar for me as a leader. I’ve had to pinpoint which qualities make up the identity of the person who hits the goals I want to achieve or lives the lifestyle I want to have. Paying more attention to those qualities and detaching from the actual outcome has been a complete game-changer for me, and has enabled me to achieve success while serving my community at a high level.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Ally Kennedy for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Ally Kennedy or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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