Ashley Porciuncula is VP Product of huggg, a UK-based startup which allows kind individuals to remotely gift coffees, doughnuts, cinema tickets and other moments of joy to friends and family. Her career started in Silicon Valley where she worked as a web developer until she moved to Europe to co-found a new digital team inside one of the world’s largest health companies. Since then, Ashley has spent much of her career consulting with startups and larger design teams to help launch and improve their digital products. She has written and spoken on topics such as building design teams, personal branding for freelancers, and gamification of digital products.
You were raised in a strict fundamentalist Christian sect where the Internet and post-secondary education were forbidden. Where did you find the confidence to step outside of your comfort zone and enter the world wide web
Despite the fact that it was all I had ever been exposed to, that was never my comfort zone. I craved an education, and to see what was on the outside, for as long as I could remember. It was just a matter of time before I accepted that the possibilities of what I could do with my life far outweighed what I had to leave behind. I had a strong sense of what “the real me” felt like, and I saw no path to that unless I got out. That’s not to say it was an easy choice, but at some point, you can’t deny it anymore and you just have to jump.
At 13 years old, you had a big interest in web development and design. Where did this passion stem from?
My parents couldn’t discipline me by sending me to my room, because that’s where I wanted to be, with my art supplies and my books. I always loved creating and I was constantly thinking of how I could transform the things around me. One summer I visited a friend who had been allowed limited internet access, and we spent the afternoon building a webpage on Geocities. The fact that I could type in a secret code and get back a sparkly gif or see my name in big pink text was like magic. I was hooked.
You’re a UX designer, product specialist and front-end developer. What aspect of your job do you love the most?
Like many product professionals, I find the quest for simplicity addictive. I love the challenge of taking an idea or a problem and turning it into elegant tech. The systematic removal of things that don’t need to be there demands a lot of self-questioning. It requires taking the time to work with people from all backgrounds, listening and learning from them. Finding out you’re wrong is a lot of fun because it means there’s an opportunity to make things better.
Could you tell us a little bit about your passion project Consciously Coupled?
My partner and I both work in tech and have spent a lot of time consulting with at-risk companies to help bring their communication and processes back to a healthy place. The idea started as a joke, suggesting that we could apply those same strategies within the context of romantic relationships. Out of that was born Consciously Coupled – and yes, the pun is intentional! Keeping a healthy relationship ticking is something that is often neglected until there is a problem. The app supports a variety of communication methods, reminders, and activities to do together, all 100% anonymously. We plan on launching our beta app in 2019.
Tell us about some of your career highlights?
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work all over the world, with some incredibly talented people. Moving to Paris to help build a new digital team was one of the biggest challenges and rewarding experiences, both personally and professionally. Launching my first physical product, a medical device, was a big moment. For someone who had only ever seen my work on a screen, holding an actual box with a device that holds firmware you designed is a whole new experience. Since then, the years that I’ve spent freelancing and consulting have given me the freedom to work with a variety of companies and explore my field from many different angles. It is always so humbling to see the differences among teams and learn from them and to support the launch of an entrepreneur’s passions.
One of the themes at The Female Lead is to find strength in setbacks. Are there any particular obstacles you’ve had to overcome that have defined who you are today?
During my first year in Paris, I was, frankly, miserable. I really had no idea what I was doing when I jumped on a plane to take a new job in a country I had never even visited, and where I didn’t even know the language. I think the whole experience would have been much easier today, with the help of companies like Airbnb, Uber and Meetup. The three years I spent there completely changed me. The professional projects I was working on were constantly requiring me to step into new territory, all while I was figuring out how to live in this new place. I arrived with confidence in my ability to build a new team and left with the same, but every expectation I had about what that would mean was challenged along the way. The experience taught me so much about myself, and how I want to interact with the world around me. I still feel that I have a complicated relationship with Paris, so I go back every few years to remind myself of where I’ve come from.