Shannon Ferguson currently leads the growing team at tech startup FanSaves, as Co-Founder & CEO. Being an entrepreneur at heart, Shannon’s strong social skills and positive attitude have always been a winning formula for success. Matching her skills in sponsorship sales, marketing, and advertising with her love of entrepreneurship helped her co-found FanSaves; a digital platform that connects sports fans with deals and offers from sponsors of their favorite teams. Shannon has an education and background in Communications and Broadcast Journalism and is an up-and-coming public speaker and the current co-host of The Living the Startup Podcast. She was a 2021 Young Leaders of the Americas Fellow and has been featured in Forbes.
Check out more interviews with entrepreneurs here.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET FEATURED?
All interviews are 100% FREE OF CHARGE
Table of Contents
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Shannon Ferguson: Growing up, I was a competitive hockey player. I also played in soccer and softball leagues and started golfing at a young age. Though I was sidelined by an injury just as I was starting university, I have continued to have a passion for sports. After graduating with degrees in Communications Studies and Broadcast Journalism, I started a career in digital sports marketing for an online sportsbook in Montreal where I learned so many of the important skills that built my foundation in the industry.
After exploring other marketing opportunities in Calgary and Toronto, some major life events including my mother’s passing brought me back to my hometown (a small city between Ottawa and Montreal called Cornwall). It was here that I decided to follow in my Mom’s entrepreneurial footsteps and decided to start my first business; a marketing company where one of my clients was the city’s new minor professional hockey team, the Cornwall Nationals.
It was through my work with this team that I met Kris McCarthy, a player at the time who broke his finger in a fight behind the net. He was asked to join the front office while he healed and became the team’s Sales & Marketing Director (as he had experience in this role in the league before). He and I hit it off right away and eventually started dating. It was that summer in 2017, while we were managing the Sales and Marketing for that team (as well as another one in the league), that we noticed a problem in the market as we worked to sell sponsorships.
Both Kris and I recognized that businesses wanted more out of their sponsorship dollars than what the rink boards, wall signs, and scoreboard ads we were selling them provided to them. Business owners were asking for something digital, something that brought fans into their stores while tracking customer demographics and return on investment. We didn’t have anything like that in our arsenal and couldn’t find anything similar that already existed so we decided to create it and that’s when FanSaves was born.
Kris and I are the co-founders and FanSaves and have been life partners for almost five years now. He hung up his skates after a successful seven-year professional career a few years ago but we are both so glad that we get to live out our love and passion for sports every day while our competitive natures continue to allow us to grow our business in an industry we love.
Was there somebody in your life that inspired you to take that specific journey with your business?
Shannon Ferguson: I was lucky enough to be raised by a strong, single mother who was an entrepreneur and who instilled in me that hard work and strong industry relationships go a long way in business. My mom, Alice, and her sister, my Auntie Linda, started their own international freight forwarding business when I was nine years old. Watching two strong women come together and shake up an industry dominated by men at the time helped me learn to see that anything was possible.
My mom eventually ventured out on her own and I have fond memories of spending my childhood in her office, filing papers, making photocopies, color-coding and alphabetizing papers and books, and playing on her typewrite and MS-Dos computer. As technology got better, so did her office tools but that just allowed me to learn to adapt quickly and early.
I only realized as an adult how unique my childhood experience was and I’m so grateful I was able to watch my mom flourish as an entrepreneur. While she worked long, hard hours she also had the freedom to come to all my hockey games and travel to all my tournaments, always cheering in the crowd and dedicating countless volunteer hours to each of my teams.
As a young adult finishing university, I had my mindset on the corporate world. I had no interest in international freight forwarding and even though I could have walked right into a career with her company, I decided to take my own path and forge my own way. My mom was always so supportive and was my biggest cheerleader as I ventured into sports marketing, my dream career.
In 2012, having no prior health concerns in her life, my mom was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and she underwent a successful double-lung transplant in 2014. Her fighting spirit and determination were amazing to watch and continued to cement that she’s the strongest woman I’ll ever know. In October 2015, after a heart attack, my beloved mother passed away and my world crumbled before me. As an only child to a single mom who I loved with all my heart, my life crumbled around me.
It took many long months for me to recover from the shattering blow of her passing but the following year, I knew she wouldn’t want me to be so sad, that she would never encourage me to give up and throw in the towel. So with her voice in my head, her strength in my heart, and the arsenal of business information I learned from her growing up, I started my first business, a Marketing company called Choice Marketing after my mom (Alice) and my grandmother (Rhoda) who had also passed away a few years earlier.
It was that business that led me to become the co-founder and CEO of FanSaves and I often hear my mom cheering me on and encouraging me on the hardest days. Sometimes, when I have a business problem or something I can’t figure out I hear my Mom’s voice guiding me through it, calming me down, and helping me get through it.
She inspires me every day to be the best person, boss, co-founder, and partner I can be. She inspires me to build meaningful relationships and to be kind to everyone I meet. She inspires me to be strong even when I feel weak and to raise my voice even when I feel like I don’t have one. My mom will forever be the inspiration and the reason behind everything I do and I know she is still guiding me every day and that she is so over-the-moon proud of me and my accomplishments. I love her and miss her beyond words but I know she’s always in my heart.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons you learned from that?
Shannon Ferguson: Oh man, there have been so many mistakes we’ve made along the way, and looking back the only thing you can do is laugh! Kris and I are not app developers but decided, hey let’s make an app when we thought up FanSaves. We really didn’t know what would go into the development of the platform and how much it would change along the way and especially how long it would take.
They say that if you’re not embarrassed by your first product then you’re too late and I can confirm that we were definitely not late as our MVP is something we look back on and cringe at but at least we took that first step and got it done. Too many people are too scared to fail that they never take the leap. We believe that in business, your product will be forever changing so why not just start. Our product has transformed from just an app to an entirely digital platform and we finally have something that we’re so proud of but if we had been too scared to make mistakes or we had waited until it was perfect to launch then we’d have lost so much time.
Mistakes are part of the startup ballgame and if you’re not prepared to make them and fail sometimes then you might not be ready for the rollercoaster journey that’s ahead.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Shannon Ferguson: To me, resiliency is never giving up even though you have multiple opportunities to and not letting tough times weaken you but instead gaining strength from the struggle.
Kris and I have described ourselves as resilient long before the pandemic but it’s that exact resiliency that kept us busier thane ver during the darkest and earliest days of Covid. When the world was shutting down and our sports team clients were postposing their seasons we knew we were going to be highly affected by what was happening. Not only are we a sports-based startup but we also deal with tourism and small businesses. A triple whammy.
10 days into the initial shutdown, we launched the FanSaves Helps Gift Certificate Program which was a free program that gave small businesses the ability to sell gift certificates through the shop we set up and generate revenue even though they were closed. We helped over 630 businesses in 62 communities across Canada generate more than $30,000 in less than three months and it allowed us to give back in the best way we knew how.
It also allowed our brand to stay relevant and once things started getting back to normal, we had built 62 new community relationships and converted some to clients. We were working 14-16 hour days running this program during the shutdown and I believe it really helped us stay sane and get through it unscathed.
We are definitely still feeling the effects as many of our partners and their sponsors are in the midst of recovering but we believe our resiliency and determination are what pulled us through and helped give others hope as well, during such a difficult time.
When you think of your company, 5 years from now, what do you see?
Shannon Ferguson: We have a big vision and have always seen FanSaves becoming a global company. In 5 years, we plan to be working with over 5000 teams and organizations worldwide as we continue to trailblaze in the sports tech and social coupon networking industry. Kris and I are big believers in manifesting and the Law of Attraction which we have seen work first hand in our company so we continue envisioning the big picture and we are confident we’ll get there in the next five years.
What do you consider are your strengths when dealing with staff workers, colleagues, senior management, and customers?
Shannon Ferguson: I believe my strengths as a leader are kindness, compassion, and instilling a sense of accountability in our employees. In the past, Kris and I both had bad bosses along the way, so we have always been committed to never being like that. I do have high standards and our employees are constantly rising to the occasion but when they don’t, I always use it as a learning lesson. I help them figure out what went wrong, how can they do better in the future, and most importantly, how could I have done better to help them. One of my favorite parts of being a CEO is being able to teach our employees new things and watching them grow, not only in their role but as people and as leaders.
This flows over into our customer service. We are committed to always providing the best customer service and we constantly rise to the occasion. We know that without our customers, FanSaves can’t grow so I always reply quickly, help them efficiently and greet them with a smile and a funny joke to break the ice.
Many of my strengths today have been developed over time but that they were nurtured into me at a young age by my Mom who I watched lead employees with the same kindness and compassion I use today. She was a wonderful leader who was always focused on teaching and helping, which is why she is remembered so fondly by anyone who ever worked for her and this is something I strive for as well.
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Shannon Ferguson: It’s crucial for a leader to be mindful of their own brand because as you’re growing a company, sometimes your personal brand is all your early customers have to go off of. When I talk to students, I always let them know that their digital footprint lasts forever and has already begun, so they should be aware that what they post or share today could become their brand tomorrow.
My first real introduction to how important my personal brand is was when I was started my first blog, The Love Hawk (www.thelovehawk.com), in 2012. This was the first time I was putting myself (and my writing) out there for public consumption and my website was growing its viewership rapidly, with hundreds of thousands of people reading my blogs, often including personal stories. Being picked up by The Huffington Post, Elite Daily and other reputable sources led to an even bigger increase in engagement and I realized how intertwined my personal brand was with The Love Hawk. My blogs focused on dating and relationship advice and were usually quite light and funny but sometimes they struck a nerve with people and the more popular my blog became the more I opened myself up to criticism from outsiders.
I started The Love Hawk in my 20s and really attribute it to giving me the confidence to put myself (and my brand) out there. I learned so many important lessons and grew a thicker skin along the way, all of which have helped me grow and feel more comfortable sharing my personal brand in relation to FanSaves. Of course, you always have to be mindful of what you’re sharing because at the end of the day YOU are your company’s face and brand, so whatever you do- positive or negative- will ultimately be a reflection of the company.
How would you define “leadership”?
Shannon Ferguson: Leadership is setting an example for those who are looking up to you and learning from you. So many people have this dream of becoming a “Boss” but I actually don’t love that word. I don’t want to be the boss of anybody, I don’t want to boss anyone around- that’s just never been in my nature. Even as a child, I was a quiet leader. I was never the loud kid shouting orders but I was often able to influence and lead my peers without even trying. I always had a lot of friends and within different friend groups I had different roles- sometimes I was the more confident leader and other times I was the more reserved, listener who took it all in.
Being a leader is knowing when to step up but also knowing when to step back and encourage those you lead to also be leaders.
I really think that my leadership style has grown and improved over time, I have a lot more confidence in my leadership abilities these days but I do think that while it always evolves, the way you lead is instilled at a younger age. I feel very blessed that I had great role models like my Mom, amazing teachers, and great mentors growing up who I was able to learn from. On the flip side, I also believe that leadership is something you should always be working on, improving, and getting better at. I did not become the leader I am just because of how I grew up but because I made sure (and still make sure) to always be reading and learning about how to be a better leader and I’m just so lucky I get to apply the things I learn to my role as CEO.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Shannon Ferguson: Start. If you have an idea you need to just begin. If you don’t have an idea but have always loved the idea of entrepreneurship I think it’s really important to start honing your skills as soon as possible. Be organized. I think many people underestimate how important organization is when it comes to running a business, this is one of the things I’m most proud of. If you can’t organize your computer, your desk, or your sock drawer then how will you run a business? So, if someone is thinking “Oh, man, I’ve never been organized and I don’t know where to start” well again, just start. We live in an age where you can learn anything, so read and YouTube things on how to organize your life and get really good at it because that’s a skill you will definitely need on your entrepreneurial journey.
I would also say that it’s okay to try other jobs and career paths if you’re not totally sure you want to become an entrepreneur. Learning different skills along the way that other leaders can teach you (and pay you for while you work for them) can actually be really insightful and help you figure out what you really love to do, what you’re good at, and what you’re passion is.
Last, when you find something you’re passionate about and do decide to become an entrepreneur, don’t give up. So many younger people these days get bored when they don’t see fast results and quick money but I urge them not to jump ship too early. Most success stories are actually a 10 year “overnight” success so if entrepreneurship is really something you want to do, be prepared to fight for it and dedicate a good chunk of time to it, even though you might not reap the rewards right away.
One of my favorite quotes is “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” — Anonymous
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Shannon Ferguson: I used a quote in my last answer that I can elaborate on here: “Entrepreneurship is living few years of life like most people won’t so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” — Anonymous
This quote is one I live by because when you’re an entrepreneur there are a lot of uphill battles and hard days and sacrifices that you have to make and sometimes you seriously question what the heck you’re doing. Since starting FanSaves, Kris and I have had to give up many of the luxuries and experience our friends and other people in their 30s get to experience. We’ve had to pass on the all-inclusive vacations (we haven’t taken a non-work vacation since we started the business), we’ve had to miss out on birthday dinners at fancy restaurants (because when we were getting started we could barely afford anything besides ramen), we’ve traveled hours and hours in snowstorms in the dead of night for important meetings and we’ve put getting married and having kids on the back burner so we can really focus our undivided attention on our current baby, FanSaves. Because we know it’s all worth it.
Kris and I knew there would be hard days when we started FanSaves and but thankfully we share the same views and we’ve been able to hold steadfast to our vision which we’re now watching come to life in front of our eyes.
We’re now able to make some of those fancy birthday dinners and recently we were able to merge our work travel with pleasure. So, as these things that we missed for so long begin to happen for us, we often remind ourselves that it’s all been worth it. We also remind ourselves that because of the time and freedom we currently have, we’re richer than most and we already are living a life that many won’t ever know. And that never goes unrecognized by either of us.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Shannon Ferguson 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 Shannon Ferguson or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
Disclaimer: The ValiantCEO Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.