Wired In: Shawna Culp

Wired In: Shawna Culp

Each week, staff writer Paul Wood chats with a high-tech leader. This week, meet SHAWNA CULP, a product manager at Pixo, a custom software-development company in Urbana. She manages a suite of products for professionals in the automotive industry, including Fleet, an off-the-shelf mobile app with the mission to be a cost-effective software solution, customizable enough to support a diverse mix of small- to medium-sized automotive businesses.

How did you get started?

I have been involved in the product side of the business since I started at Pixo over five years ago. Eight years ago, Pixo created intellectual property that uses Android and Apple devices to capture VIN barcodes. Being located in the backyard of the University of Illinois, we had the luxury of working with imaging experts at the UI to advance the performance of our barcode-scanning technology far beyond the competition. The technology, called Capture, is licensed by some of the largest players in the automotive part and service market.

Then Pixo created an app for smaller businesses?

Over the years, I answered calls and emails from smaller automotive businesses who wanted to leverage Capture to help streamline their business processes but couldn't afford the license fee or the cost of building a custom app around Capture to meet their business needs. I started keeping notes about what these smaller businesses needed and in 2016, I became a key player in defining and designing an app called Fleet (search "Fleet VIN" in your app store). Pixo launched Fleet in 2017.

What does it have to offer those businesses?

Fleet offers a lightweight, customizable and affordable vehicle-management system that enables small- to medium-sized automotive businesses to automate their processes. Fleet has been developed entirely based on customer feedback from real automotive professionals like tow-truck drivers, collision-repair technicians, used- and new-car dealers, and specialty-parts installation crews. As the product manager, I've had the privilege to collect, understand and prioritize this feedback. Fleet is a flexible yet simple solution for managing vehicles, and is used across the industry for fleet management, inventory, floor planning, invoicing, insurance reporting, transport, workflow management and more.

You call yourself an intrepreneur. What's that?

It is very similar to being an entrepreneur, except you innovate and grow the business inside a business you don't personally own. I recently took the jump from operations to product management to strengthen my skill set and add even more value at Pixo. I've most enjoyed being a connecting point between research, design, and development of the product. It's really exhilarating to be a part of developing something that actually solves real-word problems!

I think the product-management role feels right — it matches my roots as an advocate for childhood cancer survivors, coaching experience from collegiate wheelchair basketball (go Illini!), and analytical nature from my degree in kinesiology with the product needs of customer advocacy, project management and analytics.

Who is on your team?

I work alongside a tight-knit team of Pixonauts: Lori Gold Patterson (CEO and product owner), Julia Pollack (research and user experience), Matt Sharkey (graphic design), Matt Fotzler (development), Landi Lark (development), Ben Young (development), Nicole Moore (project management) and Terence McGhee (Scrum Master). The pixoVIN team follows an agile project-management methodology, and has taken inspiration from startups and entrepreneurs in the C-U community such as friends at the Research Park. The product world is a unique space with very different challenges from the consulting work Pixo is known for. I am working to spearhead a community lunch series on product management.

How did you become an entrepreneur?

I lost my leg to bone cancer when I was 10 years old. I was very lucky to be introduced after my diagnosis to two major influencers in my life: Camp One Step, and wheelchair basketball. Camp One Step is an organization that puts on camps for survivors of childhood cancers, and is a place where I found strength from my difficult experience and formed strong relationships that persist today. I learned to be confident in my differences, and tap into my hardship as a child to fuel empathy and understanding of others. Wheelchair basketball solidified this confidence and taught me how to lead a group and problem solve on the fly. Although I retired from wheelchair basketball after college (with two national championships and a silver medal from the World Cup), the coaching and perseverance I learned have become a fundamental part of who I am.

Did it teach you team skills?

I feel a sense of joy when I am able to bring a team together and usher them towards a goal that we achieve together. That feels a lot like executing an end-game play to win by one point at the last second of a basketball game. For example, when a Fleet customer tells us how much time and money they've saved using the technology our team built, it feels like cutting down the net after winning a national title.

What's your best advice for someone who's starting up?

Share your opinion even if you're afraid to be wrong. You're the only person who can make sure your voice is heard, and as long as you're coming from a genuine place with the team's goals in mind your input is absolutely necessary.

Did you ever make any mistakes that you learned from in your early years?

My absolute favorite thing to say to someone is "I already did that." I love the feeling of anticipating a need or completing a task ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, I've learned that while getting things done quickly or checking off a box before anyone else does may feel great, it does not mean that the work I did was done completely or at a level of quality I've learned to require. And on top of all that, not every task needs a check box. While this is still something I'm working on, I've learned that going slow can be cool and allows me to support others 100 percent and I can still get the satisfaction of a job well done when I've put in the effort. I've also learned the value in leaving something unanswered, to leave room for collaboration, iteration, and coming to the right answer in time.

TECH TIDBITS ... from SHAWNA CULP

Are you on social media? I'm on Linkedin or on Twitter (@ChambanaShawna).

Book or Kindle? What are you reading right now? I love being read to! I use the Overdrive app to access the Champaign and Urbana libraries' collections. Right now I'm listening to "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern for fun. For learning, I'm much more visual and prefer physical books that I can write all over. I'm working on Brett Harned's book "Project Management for Humans."

Do you have any wearable electronics? I've got a Garmin Vivofit watch. I like the notification structure better than the Fitbit. I also recently started converting my house into a smart home with an Echo Dot. It's so fun having Alexa help me turn on and off lights and I'd like to experiment with writing my own skills!

Do you have a favorite app? I love the Apollo Reddit app because of its user experience. They've reduced the number of clicks to enjoying content to zero! I just scroll forever. It's really impressive.

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