Joa & JEM: Pivoting with Purpose
A Journey with the Libraries as Launchpads 2021 Pitch Competition Winner, Joa Ahern-Seronde, into Career Pivoting & Harnessed Ambition
Raised in the dust and clay of the New Mexican desert on green chile and dreams, Joa Ahern-Seronde would go on to become a miner of sorts— only the gems Joa sought were not the sort of stone and sparkle but in the minds and hearts of learners all around the world. Who are/were these illustrious minds Joa sought? It is estimated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that an average person born in the latter half of the baby boom had about 12.4 jobs in their lifetimes. Can you recall being seventeen or eighteen and being asked to decide your whole educational/career future? Perhaps, you can relate to being 35 and feeling not so satisfied with your current job or maybe 56 and ready to start that degree or make that career shift you have always dreamed about? Those can be some pretty exciting times but also frightening and lonely! That is where Joa and JEM Achievement come in, a flashlight in a dark chasm. What is the recipe for a world traveler and ambassador of aspiration? In Joa’s case: add in a whopping spoon of psychology (include Degree and general fervor for the human mind), a generous portion of desire to help others, a ton of drive, and a dash of international romance for spice. Let’s go on a journey with Joa, the Libraries as Launchpads 2021 Pitch Competition Winner.
Q: Pitch JEM in one sentence.
A: JEM offers services for people who are wondering about what their next steps should be—we believe everyone should have the opportunity to do just what they were meant to do.
Q: What services does JEM currently offer? What do you think sets JEM apart from other similar services?
We are a little bit of a baby company. We are just coming up on our two-year birthday. We aspire to build a network of connections among our JEMstones, as I have begun to call them, which is our JEM alumni network. We have incredible people who have come to our door, who have landed at TikTok, at Slack, at Columbia, all of these different places. We want to connect these people to the people who are coming to us now. That is where it’s at. You can go to another company, but you are not going to get that level of connection and ongoing support the way you are at JEM.
Q: What was your mission with JEM when you first started and what has changed?
A: Emily Swenson [co-founder] and I realized after ten years in the business each that what was missing was that personal piece. What we wanted to do was bring authenticity and that connection to the work that we did.
One of the most important things that has changed is we realized that our capabilities are broader than when we originally started. Broadening the scope in that way and focusing on the bigger picture, which is: ‘What do you want your life to look like?’ ‘What do you want your career to look like?’ Then working backward from there to help people with the steps in between has been the biggest transition and the most gratifying.
Q: JEM’s site proudly states it is, “woman-owned.” What are your thoughts about the importance of female visibility in entrepreneurship, business, and positions of leadership?
A: It is the most important! Full disclosure: I did go to Wellesley College, which is also a women’s educational institute. I am a big fan of all women all the time. Women in business, women in leadership, women as visible people making decisions is so critical. The reason why is we haven’t been in so long, and it has been a real imbalance. But having that visibility just makes a huge impact, especially for women who are coming up. Women who are thinking about their career paths suddenly have this big permission slip to just dream even bigger.
Q: Name 3 things to which you attribute your success?
A: (1) My Mom (2) My desire to know people (3) The internet
Q: You’re a mother. How does that affect being an entrepreneur? What are the top benefits of being an entrepreneur and a mother? Biggest Challenges? What has having children taught you about your business?
A: How doesn’t it affect being an entrepreneur! It is the dirty little secret right? ‘I will work for myself, set my schedule, and that will be 24/7!’ But it means when I need to put work down and be present with my child, it’s a wonderful little vacation from entrepreneurship. I love both those parts of my life, and I love when I am doing one, I don’t have to be doing the other.
The biggest challenge is the length of the to-do list. It is never-ending for both those categories. It is about finding balance and just being realistic—I am one person, and I am very lucky to have a business partner. But she is also just one person. Sometimes, some things don’t get done at the end of the day, but that’s okay because there is always another day!
Parenting and working with clients are similar in that you are just holding space to make what they want possible. That is not something you get normally in day-to-day life, and that is what we want to give to our clients. That moment to breathe, to pause, to collect, and just make it okay for them to explore the ‘what ifs’ and then go for it when they decide what they want to do. Parenting has honed my skills in that area and reminded me that the ideas I have are not gone but put to the side so that way I can make the space for whomever it is that is in front of me.
Q: Life is the scariest version of Choose Your Own Adventure—what major choices do you think got you to where you are now?
A: Marrying someone who is not from the United States certainly contributed a significant amount to it. We knew as a family unit that we wanted to spend time in Europe closer to my husband’s family. When he had a job opportunity that would take us there for a couple of years, we jumped at it, but it meant that I could not practice psychology while we were there. I went full force into my side gig (admissions/test prep), and it took about a year and a half and a lot of conversations with my best friend to understand that it wasn’t my side gig anymore, it was turning into my career. The international move, pivoting into my side gig and meeting Emily. Those were the major stepping stones to what JEM Achievement is now.
Q: Where in the world is Joa? How did you end up in New Mexico? What do you think the culture of New Mexico has added to JEM and what do you think JEM has added to New Mexico?
A: I was not born in New Mexico, but we moved here when I was four. I grew up here— New Mexico is certainly home. I left for college in Boston and stayed there to work, then I went to grad school, then I met my husband… we moved to Germany, then Canada, and then California. Suddenly, years had gone by, and I was like, ‘what is happening? Where is my green chile?’ Then the pandemic happened, we were very lucky to be able to come back to New Mexico to have a bit of a reset.
I think that New Mexico is a special place because of the pace. Growing up here, that pace has influenced me as a person and how I work and interact with people. It has taught me the value of taking that moment to connect even if it blocks traffic a little bit or keeps me from getting to the next thing. What I hope that we've added to the community is a resource for people to know that they can take that moment to reflect on their next career/educational step. In New Mexico, with the pandemic and things being shut down, it's made a lot of people feel hopeless. What we've done is given people a resource that they can use to get a little bit more hope and feel a little bit more grounded and in charge of decisions for themselves and their families.
Q: What is next for JEM? Plans for scaling, long-term goals for where you see the business in the future? What do you think will be JEM’s biggest impact?
A: I've got big visions. My pie in the sky dream for JEM is that we get to the point where we are a large enough scale with solid enough funding that we can offer our services to everyone, not just to those who can afford to pay for them. I'm exploring partnership opportunities to be able to provide career-building and admissions consulting to people who wouldn't normally be able to afford to hire an education/career consultant. I know access is what it comes down to at the end of the day. We want to do our part to make sure that we're not impeding access for traditionally excluded people. We want to make sure our services, education, and high-paying careers are available to people who are not traditionally in the pipeline. That is the greatest impact that I want JEM to have and that I want my own life to have.
Q: How did you hear about Libraries as Launchpads (LaL)? What were your expectations coming into the program? How did LaL meet those expectations? What surprised you?
A: My husband is my biggest JEM supporter. Long story short he saw a post on Facebook and sent me the link. I filled out the application and wham bam, thank you, ma’am!
I was hoping that I would get a better sense of how to make my business marketable and profitable. I wanted to have better terminology to understand and wrap my mind around some of these concepts. I expected that I would get more business acumen. I did, but it also blew me out of the water in the areas that I didn't have expectations for. Yes, I got terminology, I learned more about sales funnels and things like that (#businessterms). What I didn't anticipate was that LaL will make you think deep thoughts about these concepts, and you will reflect on those deep thoughts within the group, and you will hear other people's reflections. It has been what has grown my business in a certain sense. Because my business is up and running, I was able to try out and implement those thoughts as we went, and it turned into paying customers over the five weeks. It's gratifying the hands-on experience of, “I tried this out, and it worked.”
Q: Let’s talk a little about numbers/sales! Did the program help you feel more confident/successful approaching and discussing this aspect of your business?
A: The program helped me do those big picture deep thoughts about the value that I bring, and it helped build my confidence around the fact that I'm charging a price that I feel comfortable with and it's an exceptional value for what people are getting. That confidence translates into talking with people about what it is that you offer and if you feel authentic and confident about what you're providing, it comes through without you even having to say it.
Q: If you could go back to the beginning of starting the LaL program and give yourself some advice, what would it be? What was your biggest takeaway from the LaL program?
A: Meet all the people, and start the conversations! If there is someone in your cohort who seems interesting, send them a message! Get something started, build that network. If the phone rang in 10 years and it was someone from this cohort or connected to this experience, and they were like, ‘Hey, I'm in outer space, can you help tether me?’ My answer is, ‘Yes, where do I go? What do you need?’ I feel very deeply that I will. It was an impactful experience in that way to just have a whole cheering crowd of people who were literal strangers five weeks ago.
Q: Would you recommend LaL to other business owners/entrepreneurs, and how do you feel like the program helped you in a unique way that other resources weren’t meeting your needs?
A: I absolutely would recommend LaL! It's the companionship of the cohort, doing it at the same time as other entrepreneurs. It's the mentorship of people who have done it a little bit ahead of you. It's the expertise of the people who are teaching you the content. That is the trifecta, and it is unique and powerful!
Joa’s journey led her to become the flashlight shining upon JEMstone dreams that may have otherwise been hidden in the caverns of timorous minds! Are you a budding entrepreneur searching for your entrepreneurial soulmates to go on and guide you through this thrilling adventure we call business? Please, visit the Libraries as Launchpads website for more information. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter. Better yet signup for the next cohort! Let us be the helping hand you need to launch your business/concept into the stars!