From first employee to chief executive: Fishburners appoints new boss Pandora Shelley as Annie Parker steps down

Pandora Shelley

Fishburners chief executive officer Pandora Shelley. Source: Supplied.

Australia’s largest not-for-profit co-working space Fishburners has got a new chief executive, with Pandora Shelley to take the reigns from interim chief Annie Parker at the end of February.

Parker joined Fishburners early last year taking over from long-time boss Murray Hurps, moving into the role after her plans for Sydney-based startup hub Lighthouse fell through.

Six months on, Parker will be stepping down for Shelley, who moves into the chief executive position from her current position as Fishburners chief operating officer. Speaking to StartupSmart, Shelley revealed she was one of the co-working space’s first hires way back in 2011.

“I came on board when it was still community run, so you’d have the founders and members there, taking out the rubbish, doing bookkeeping. I think they realised they definitely needed help to get it in shape, so I started as a casual office manager while I was still studying at UTS,” she says.

“Ever since then, I’ve grown as Fishburners has grown, doing marketing and everything in between. I’ve been chief operations officer for the past three years, leading our expansions into Shanghai and Brisbane.

“I’ve seen Fishburners through all different stages of growth, and all sorts of ups and downs.”

Shelley says her approach to being chief executive won’t differ much from her approach as chief operating officer, saying she’ll definitely be a hands-on leader, with most of her previous roles requiring her to get her “hands dirty”.

Her main focus for 2018 will be an internal strengthening of the Fishburners community following the co-working space’s recent expansions and new office location in the New South Wales government’s Sydney Startup Hub.

“Now we have the capacity it’s time to bring it back to grassroots, to do what we’re good at and what we’re known for: helping startups grow,” she says.

“We’ll be engaging with the external community more, with things like more corporate engagement, but also a real strengthening our internal community.

“We’ve got the desks, now it’s time to create more success stories.”

Katherine Woodthorpe, chair of the Fishburners board, said in a statement that Shelley is Fishburners “through and through”.

“It’s fantastic that we’re able to appoint Pandora to be our next CEO of Fishburners, I cannot think of anyone who represents our brand more than her. Her commitment to building world class co-working spaces and developing vibrant and collaborative communities is unparalleled,” she said.

“I’d like to thank Annie Parker for supporting us through the big move to the Sydney Startup Hub, Fishburners is in great shape for growth and the board and I have absolute faith that Pandora is the right person to lead us into this new chapter.”

As for Parker, she’s yet to reveal her next project or position, saying in a tweet “watch this space”.

Scalable startups the focus

The next Fishburners success stories will come in the form of scalable startups, says Shelley, as those are the startups she says the co-working space is the keenest to foster. She says Fisburners is focused on creating the most jobs for Australia, and will be doing “all we can” to create and grow businesses to create those jobs.

Citing the work done by Jobs for NSW and the creation of the Sydney Startup Hub, Shelley believes the NSW government is taking “fantastic steps” to help the startup ecosystem. But she emphasises her desire to get involved with helping the government further that support, and says issues like those surrounding 457 visas are still “left on the table”.

Reflecting on her years working with founders in the ecosystem, Shelley says the best piece of advice she has for early-stage founders is to “test test test”.

“I see a lot of people jump in too quickly and build something from an idea they came up with over the New Year’s period. Get some customer validation, and follow your methodology before you start building it out and throw money at it,” she says.

“Too many times I see money being thrown down the drain and it kills me to see it.”

She also advises founders struggling to properly pitch or explain their ideas to attend open pitch session such as the ones Fishburners hosts weekly.

“When you’re just starting out, it helps to see how people explain their product. People often don’t know where to start when it comes to communicating with investors, so this is a good starting point,” she says.

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