Shelley McKinney – ID-Pal CMO

ID-Pal > Shelley McKinney – ID-Pal CMO


You were born in Zimbabwe and are a graduate of Harvard, can you tell us about that journey?

Yes I was born and raised in Zimbabwe. My dad was also born and raised there, as my grandfather was involved in the building of Lake Kariba in the 1950s (at the time the largest man-made lake in the world, 170 miles long).

I was born in Hwange (a National Park) but grew up in the suburbs of Harare, the capital. It’s truly an amazing and beautiful country. The people, the climate, the stunning wilderness. There’s no place like home.


I never expected to go to Harvard. Both my parents went to the University of Cape Town and my older brother and I thought we’d go there. But when my brother started applying to universities a friend of his convinced him to apply to Harvard.

He got in, which opened our eyes to the US as an option. My criteria when choosing which universities to apply to were good academics and a competitive (field) hockey team. I was very excited when I got the news that I’d been accepted into Harvard

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What’s all this about you being in the Harvard Hall of Fame?

Ha ha, yes for hockey. I received the call with that news not too long ago. It’s an honour to be sure. I was surrounded by a great team and in my senior year there were some great results. We co-won the Ivy League, I was nominated as the Ivy League Player of the Year and All-American. I managed to get into the Harvard record book as leading scorer. It was a fun year!

I’ve played hockey since before I can remember. My stick was basically an extension of my arm for much of my youth. I played on the Zimbabwe U18 team from the age of 15. I played other sports but hockey was always my passion. Being part of a team has always been important to me

How did you get started in Marketing?

Unexpectedly would be the answer to that. I’d always been interested in both Business and Biology, so the type of career I was looking for after university wasn’t exactly clear-cut for me.

The important thing was to be involved in a dynamic workplace, surrounded by energetic, smart and driven people. I interviewed for a number of different types of companies, and was drawn to a multi-national advertising agency in New York, because of the people and the vibrant culture.


That company was called Young & Rubicam (now VMLYR) and I worked with them for seven years. During that time I worked on the 360 degree integrated marketing needs for Colgate-Palmolive. I worked in the Y&R global headquarters in NYC as an Account Supervisor, as well as in the head EMEA office based in Paris and their Asia office in Hong Kong, covering brand marketing needs for North America, Western Europe and Asia.

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After 7 years, my entire career having been with the same company, I felt I needed a change, to challenge myself and continue to learn and grow, so I spent the next two years with McGarry Bowen in New York. Working with these agencies gave me extensive international experience on marketing global brands. It’s exciting now to watch ID-Pal become more and more of a global brand on a daily basis.

The Start-Up Life

In 2013 an ex-colleague from Y&R approached me with an opportunity to join his start-up which was in the business of producing medical videos. Given my background in biology and business it was a great blend of my interests and skill-sets. I also wanted to see what the start-up world was like. I instantly loved the roll-up-your-sleeves approach. The necessity to be aware of, if not involved in, every aspect of the business.

A year later I met my Irish husband (to be) who was based in The Netherlands, so I needed to make the move from New York to Amsterdam. There I found a role as the Head of Marketing at a Dutch start-up company that provided digital publishing software.

After working at this start-up I came across ID-Pal by sheer serendipity through that typical Irish way of ‘everyone knows everyone’. At an event in Dublin we started talking with someone who had gone to the same university as my husband. Turned out he was in the early stages of starting a company and they were looking for someone with my skillset… and off we went.


What are the challenges of Marketing for a start-up?

Although ID-Pal is not a start-up anymore, I think the challenges of marketing for a start-up are also the strengths.

The overriding challenge would be limited budget, but this forces you to research, monitor and optimise your marketing activities every step of the way. Making sure that you are spending every penny wisely, and only once a direction has proven ROI do you ramp up the spending behind it.

When you build your marketing strategy this way it ends up being very tightly focused on the correct audience and with the right messaging. I love creating and executing the marketing strategy for ID-Pal, I get to come to work every day and tell the story about how our product really is unique to the market and provides companies with tangible business benefits.

We’ve come so far in the past few years. For such a young company it’s been exciting to watch the value of our product get recognised both globally (through nominations such as being a RegTech100 company), across the financial services industry (through strategic partnerships with large companies such as Salesforce, HID Globaland KYC Global Technologies), and through numerous awards.

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