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Cutting the Golden Handcuffs

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If someone says they’re a tech entrepreneur and they don’t have a blog, are they even a tech entrepreneur …?

Probably not – so as part of my transition from full-time corporate lawyer to whatever it is I now do for a legaltech start-up, I’m writing a blog. I’ve two main goals for this blog.  First, that it will be semi-regular.  And second, that you’ll find it of some use.  Perhaps given its #startuplyf theme I should have a third aim: that I’ll still be writing it in a year …  And maybe a fourth: that it won’t be overly sub-par. 

What are you likely to find in this blog?  Well, a bit like my new job, hard to say.  What I think you’ll find is reflections on giving up The Law (not sure why capitalised, seems like the polite thing to do when referring to an ex), what I’m learning as I go along, my (many) errors, and hopefully (now I’ve taken the bolt cutters to the Golden Handcuffs (see below)) how you take a start-up on the verge of launch, to and through launch and all the way to being a successful business.  I’m going to learn a lot.  My aim is to share some of those lessons with you, internet people (well, at least the lessons that don’t need to be buried forever …).

Soooo, who am I and why should you care?  Good questions.  Glad you asked.  The who is relatively easy: I’m from provincial New Zealand, a place called New Plymouth.  I left town after high school to study law.  Then I got a job at one of the “big” firms in Auckland.  After spending almost 4 years in Auckland, I did something completely out of the ordinary: I followed my mates to London.  In London I worked in actually big corporate law firms, did a bunch of that stuff you do in Europe, and then after almost four years overseas, moved back to New Plymouth.

Cue chorus of: “WTF are you doing with your career [and/or life]”.  Comfortingly it came as much from my friends and family as it did from strangers.  Unsure about the life part (though in the few months I’ve been back I’ve lost 5kg … it might be true what they say about healthy diet and exercise ).  It surprises most people that the career part was actually kind of planned.  As it turned out I have this friend, and she’s got this tech start up.  And it’s based in my home town.  New Plymouth isn’t exactly Silicon Valley … or Silicon Roundabout.  It’s pretty good at making milk – so maybe Silicon Cowshed.  I’ll take suggestions on that one.  But regardless, home is home to a software start-up called Automio.  And Automio is what I do for a job now. 

I was 7 years out of law school, heading towards the pointy end of the corporate pyramid (part skill, part natural attrition) when I decided to come back.  I could have stayed in London … oh, God, please take me back to London … OK, sorry, I’m back ….  I’ve got a great bunch of mates still over there.  And of course, resuming the climb remains an option (he reassured himself). 

The problem with being a lawyer, though, is that it’s actually quite hard.  It’s far less dramatic cross examination, sex in the elevator and champagne at the Dorchester Hotel than pop culture would have you believe.  To be fair, in London a fair bit of it is.  But more commonly it’s stressful, long hours of slog, with a constant stream of demanding clients (with their own stresses and pressures) who want to pay less for more, and want it now. 

There are, of course, still great rewards that go with a career in the law.  And I know plenty of people who love it.  I’ve never had an issue with working hard, but in the toughest times I used to deal with the long hours in London by telling myself (a) I was doing it for the money and (b) it was only a holiday job.  Kinda like pulling pints but slightly more serious (and better paid …). 

And a lot of people still do it for the money.  And the money can still be very good.  My mates at the top of the game overseas make the kind of money that you can’t talk about in New Zealand – the kind of money Kiwis in their early 20s used to make in the mines in Western Australia.  Those are the Golden Handcuffs.  You get used to a certain income and the way of life it affords.  So you have to keep on the pyramid.

But I’ve jumped (orfallen?) off.  I’m fortunate in many ways.  One of our founders, Claudia, has been a friend of mine since we were kids.  She convinced me to come home and give #startuplyf a go.  And here I am.  I’m going to try hack out one of these every fortnightish to share stuff.  Like experiencing all new types of stress you don’t have as a lawyer (you’re not doing #startuplyf right if you’re not turning up to work either overjoyed or manically depressed).  I might keep a tally of how many times someone says no to us (we’re capital raising at the moment …).  And we’ll find out whether I’m any good at sales and marketing (apparently part of my job description now).

And of course, I’ll give updates on how Automio is progressing and how we’re helping lawyers do their jobs better and easier.  We’re doing a full launch in a few weeks’ time – so there’ll something about that (and hopefully not another lesson on delays in software development ). 
Until then!


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