Connor Archbald, Venture Consultant
Connor shares his story of aspiring nature photographer to working as a corporate lawyer, then eventually helping a range of interesting startups gather pace. Connor has some really useful insight into how to get your foot in the door to prove yourself. Enjoy.
How would you explain to your Grandma what you do?
Hahaha, great question - after MANY iterations and attempts to explain what I do to older generations, I’ve realized that startups and tech aren’t new concepts, just new terms.
So, the easiest way to explain what I do day-to-day is to remove all terminology and say that “I help new, exciting companies create products, and sell to new customers and markets”.
“I was obsessed with the work of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and wanted to be a National Geographic photographer”
Was working in tech something you dreamed about doing as a kid? If not, what was it?
I don’t think ‘tech’ was a thing when I was a kid, it definitely wasn’t an entire industry in the way it is today.
I actually had quite a different plan for myself. I was obsessed with the work of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and wanted to be a National Geographic photographer. I always thought I’d study marine biology and spend my life in nature taking photos!
Tell us a little bit more about your career journey and ultimately about how you ended up working at a range of different tech companies and startups?
I started my career as a corporate lawyer. People are often surprised by that but I learned a ton and wouldn’t have been successful in this field without that training. I didn’t stick with it in the end because I was frustrated and a little scared by the industry’s aversion to adapt and protect the business model against technology impacting their margins and service offerings.
I knew that I had a lot to learn if I was going to get into ‘startups’. But working in a small, exciting company seemed to be the perfect antidote to being a stiff corporate lawyer, so that’s what I wanted to do. I was ambitious and wanted to create things.
At that time accelerators were gaining a lot of traction in Silicon Valley as the best way to quickly upskill. Auckland didn’t have a program yet, so I worked with The Icehouse to raise a fund and bring Lightning Lab to our city.
It luckily ended up being the perfect way to launch a career in startups because, by starting the first accelerator, I was able to create the official Auckland ‘startup ecosystem’ while learning as much as possible about startups myself. This led to joining my first startup Mish Guru (Lightning lab alum), eventually becoming COO and growing teams across Australia, the US, and Europe.
I’ve now specialized in helping kiwi companies scale, working with Saas and D2C teams growing internationally, launching new products and channels - by way of example, I’ve recently worked with noissue and Outfit.
Currently, I’m working with NZ’s leading innovation partner and venture studio, Previously Unavailable, launching products and brands, working alongside startups, and leading corporate innovation projects.
Can you share some more insight into what the transition from lawyer into working in the technology space was like?
Initially, I had to carve out a role/niche in startups doing what founders would call ‘the boring stuff’. Grant applications, payroll, OKRs (objective and key results) and KPIs (key performance indicators), partnership/sales/employment contracts, investor relations, board meetings, and specific projects that nobody has time to focus on.
Luckily, in order to do those tasks well, I needed to work closely with founders and understand the business down to its core. So, by being in that position, as I learned, I was able to create new projects and add more and more value. Lawyers are good at managing projects and details, and these skills are valuable in a startup moving a million miles an hour.
An example of how this unfolds: Putting a CRM (customer relationship management software) in place requires someone who will do their due diligence and ensure you have clean data before and after pushing go, so I put my hand up to manage that project. Then, once the CRM is in place, you need a Customer Success team to ensure the data you’re gathering about renewals is being used to improve churn. So you hire amazing people and if you can learn fast enough, you can end up managing the global customer success and account management teams.
What is it specifically that you like about working in tech relative to your past jobs?
I like that on a daily basis I get to solve new, interesting problems using unique and creative solutions.
What did you study at University and was a career working in tech ever on the radar back then?
I studied law, finance, and economics. I was vaguely aware of startups and technology but I believed that I’d interact with them as a lawyer or investment banker.
What kind of people attributes do you think are important for people considering a career path in tech?
It really depends on the type of role you’re focused on. For me and other generalists I think it’s important to foster the following attributes:
- a willingness to learn
- creative problem solving
- true, autonomous ownership of projects (from identifying a problem to delivering a best-in-class solution)
“Ask a Founder, CEO, or Product Manager if you can complete the last five things on their (impossibly long) to-do list for $20 an hour”
Do you have any advice for people considering tech as a career path and how they might get there quicker?
Ask a Founder, CEO, or Product Manager if you can complete the last five things on their (impossibly long) to-do list for $20 an hour. If completing those tasks is exciting for you, and the person is happy with your work, they’ll probably make a role for you.