Inspirational Woman: Danae Shell | Co-Founder & CEO, Valla

Danae Shell

Danae Shell is the co-founder and CEO of Valla, a startup who are making legal support accessible and affordable for everyone.

Danae is a developer-turned marketer and a Tennessean who has worked in Scotland’s startup scene for over 17 years. She has extensive scale-up experience, joining as an early employee in Scottish startups FreeAgent and Care Sourcer and helping to build and scale their marketing teams. Danae is passionate about building inclusive, kind companies that support high-performing teams.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m co-founder and CEO of Valla, the legal platform for workers. I’m originally from the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee, then moved to Scotland for my Master’s degree and never left! I started my career as a software engineer and then transitioned into marketing at a scale-up called FreeAgent where I met my co-founder Kate. We stayed friends and moved into other roles, then started Valla together in 2020.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did! I heard a fantastic talk from Maria Gutierrez who shared how she planned out her career step by step and borrowed her approach. She set a career goal, listed the skills and connections she’d need to acquire to get there, and then plotted out the roles she’d want to take to tick those boxes. It was a huge inspiration and I used that approach to reach my goal of becoming a CEO.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Definitely – in fact that’s why Kate and I created our startup Valla. We were both in senior roles in tech and dealing with discrimination and bullying at work, and realised that this was such a huge unsolved problem and that we could do something about it. 

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What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I think my biggest achievement so far is raising over £600,000 in venture and angel investment – fundraising is a tough job.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

I’m a big believer in mentoring and being mentored, and going beyond the traditional definition of mentoring that focuses on longer term arrangements that are typically much more junior-senior. I love peer-to-peer mentoring and participate in a weekly Mastermind session, do a lot of informal and ad-hoc mentoring for other people and have a fantastic network of incredibly smart people that I call on when I need help. Running a startup in such a volatile world is simply too complex for any one person (or two) to handle on their own – it really does take a village!

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

If i could wave a magic wand and give more resources and time to women of colour who are fighting for gender equality, I think that would make a huge difference. As a white woman, I’m at risk of thinking that equality for people like me is good enough, when really that’s just scratching the surface of what’s needed. In short, fund Black women.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Eventually you’ll stop being terrified of cold-calling people and being told no, and it will feel like a superpower!

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

We just launched our Discrimination First Aid training programme at Valla, which is designed to help people become “first responders” and support their colleagues who experience discrimination at work.  I know from experience what it feels like to hear about shocking behaviour at work and not know how to help, so we created this programme to catch issues early on and make sure that people get the support they need. 

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