In this week’s Strivin & Thrivin podcast, we catch up with Adele Moynihan, Global Head of Founder Strategies at Antler Australia. Within her remit, Adele sets the talent foundations to attract and secure experienced and aspiring entrepreneurs.
“What I love about Antler is just speaking to people who are just motivated by an intrinsic belief that they can change the world and have the skills to do it.”
During this podcast, co-hosted by Neil Gunning, we discuss how even the most polarising careers give you a mix of transferrable skills that can move you into a completely different line of work, as is what happened with Adele. She shares her incredible learning development journey having studied law before moving into journalism and then onto different types of recruitment in different corners of the world.
Adele shares her learnings from each role and how she adapted to new roles in different markets and learning from those around her. She stresses the importance of identifying and understanding your best skills, where you excel and where you need to improve.
“Understand what your key skills are, how they’re applicable, and then back yourself to work out the rest as you go”.
Each new role requires adaptability, according to Adele, who says we need to understand the types of candidates we are looking for and show respect for the space they operate in by being as well-informed as possible. This way we are more likely to have a better understanding of the type of candidate we are looking for and the relevant skills required.
During our conversation, Adele sheds light on how working in-agency differs from working in-house and how priorities shift from being metric-focused to being more long-term, people-focused. Having found her confidence in Antler, we learn of how content she is within the company and the new calibre of people she gets to work with.
“I got to see this other additional level of people and they are that because they are not motivated by money.” she tells us “They’re not motivated by money, job titles or perks in any way. They’re motivated by this intrinsic belief that they can change the world”
Listen to more of Adele’s experience and her insight into a new way of working on the Strivin & Thrivin podcast now!
Laura: I’m your host, Laura Johnson. And today I’m lucky enough to have Neil Gunning as my wonderful co-host. Today we’re thrilled to be joined by Adele.
To get us started today, can you tell us a little bit about your career background and your current role?
Adele: Sure. So, my career background is quite eclectic in some ways, but to me, there’s been a clear thread to it. So, I did a Law degree and then a post-graduate in Journalism and I started out in a very small fledgeling career in Journalism, but quickly ended up in recruiting and for me the thread, what pulls it all together, is having an inquisitive mind and a love of people and wanting to tell people’s stories.
So, I think as most people do, I just slightly fell into Recruitment. I started off working for a charity that supported the long-term unemployed and those with physical and mental difficulties, getting them back into employment and that was really rewarding but exceptionally hard. And then if I’m super honest, somebody just pointed out to me that I could become a head-hunter and get paid quite a lot more money than I was, and have quite an easy client group to work with as well. So, then I did head-hunting in the UK for six years in an executive search company, focused on FinTechs and then joyously, thanks to a job opportunity, for my husband.
We relocated to Australia and that’s when I really started to work internally and in early-stage tech companies. So the first was safety culture during the hypergrowth phase, and then with BCG Digital Ventures where I placed not only their internal team but also when they created start-ups. The founding team of those start-ups and then that was when I got a bit captivated by really early-stage business building and that initial team formation and then there was the choice to join Antler and when I did that, it was entirely unknown, unproven, people thought I was leaving BCG to go to a luggage brand.
Luckily, it’s working out. What I’m doing now is bringing on the founders to our biannual cohorts and to date, those have been people who are pre idea. So, it’s running a recruiting function that attracts around 1000 to 1,500 applications every six months, and then filtering those down to around the 80 to 100 founders that join our programs and then, in addition, we’re now bringing on existing businesses as well. So, it’s honing our value proposition for those early-stage companies who’ve been going for about six months and then the piece of work that I’m super excited about is the Antlers now in 14 different locations. So, we have this incredible global data set of who we’re attracting to be founders who are getting onto our program through the application process and interviewing, and then who we’re actually investing in and then we can track them their success through to Series A and beyond. So, from this massive global data set, I’m trying to work out what defines a founder, like on the skill side, but also the human skill side.
Neil: Sensational. I’m going to go way back to the beginning of that.
I’m really, really curious. So then, Journalism and Recruitment. So, the impetus to follow Law, what, where did that come from? What was it that gave you that first interest and your academia?
Adele: I just like finding out the answers to things and I think that’s the inquisitive mind. I really fell in love with the idea of being able to represent people and help them through knowing the answers. I got slightly disengaged, so when I realised you could either have the right of advocacy as a Barrister or essentially mainly doing the paperwork as a Solicitor. I’m not particularly strong on the paperwork side, then I didn’t like that. As a Barrister, you only really got to know your clients for a day. You know, two days before and so I didn’t really feel like that gave me the right to tell their stories and then the want to tell stories, that’s why I went into Journalism.
Neil: Yeah. Wonderful and so you said you had a fledgeling career in Journalism. Is that newspaper print or something like that?
Adele: So, it’s really tough to get into. I think that’s quite a well-known fact and the best break I could get was in a non-league football newspaper and for those people who don’t know English leagues, that’s basically like Sundays, a lot of 50-year-old men drinking pints.
Neil: Hey, I used to read them religiously.
Adele: Um, yeah and then it was just too hard to sustain. The print industry was dying. If I’m honest, maybe it wasn’t good enough either and yeah, then I went into working with the charity, supporting the long-term unemployed.
Neil: It’s a wonderful learning journey going from law not feeling like you had enough data points to tell someone’s story going into Journalism, because basically, you felt like here’s a medium by which I can stop telling people’s stories then going into something where you’re directly pragmatically impacted by people’s stories.
Day-to-day tell me about that learning journey that would have been, I mean, you’re from functionally applying the written words to pragmatically, dealing with people and who are in a tough situation a lot of occasions. Tell me about that learning journey that would have been quite tough for the application of those skills and through different ways like that.
Adele: Yeah, I think it’s really listening and specifically in that role, you would get a report, which would say why they were long-term unemployed, which would be a factual account. If they’ve applied to X, many jobs, they haven’t got X, many interviews, therefore they don’t have a job.
Whereas actually, when you started hearing their stories, it was about a multitude of other factors going on in their lives and unless you could solve those, you wouldn’t even come close to solving the employment side. So, I think my learning journey was really listening and asking questions to ensure that, you know, the whole situation because you can’t solve something.
If you’re only operating on a surface level and not getting to the root of it.
Neil: Yeah, and I imagine, correct me if I’m wrong, but in that kind of environment, you would have been made privy to so much bias on the other side, you know, the organisations who you’re trying to make, connect the dots between those long-term unemployed people and those organisations.
Tell me about what you like, the differences between that environment and that bias, and then conscious, unconscious that you might have seen and how you dealt with that. That would have been tough.
Adele: Yeah, I think in recruiting we talk about affinity bias and a few others and it’s basically the halo effect when you’re looking at certain jobs, CVs and they have high profile companies listed is basically the opposite of that. It is people always assuming that yeah, the person comes with an additional amount of problems and negativity. The way that we could deal with it at the time was incentivising through government subsidies. It was the cheapest simplest way to articulate why they should support these individuals. But it wasn’t really solving the problem. It was like, “Oh, well, I’ll take them then because I’m getting a kickback”. So, then the cheaper labour for me, whereas what you needed to do is a much wider education piece around just yeah breaking down stereotypes.
Neil: Did you find that the original studies and then the learnings from your Law degree, their ability to sort of formulating coherent arguments, be quite balanced by approach and diplomatic and your style, all those sort of things that you could learn and that stage of your life helped when tackling that when you’re dealing with organisations, you know, on doing it with the best of intent they’re doing it because they’re getting a kickback and of course, you’re trying to persuade them on the benefits and so on. Did you find that that skillset was transferable, and it helped? When you were tackling that.
Adele: Yeah, I did think that Neil, it’s just that it wasn’t scalable. So, I would be at any one time responsible for about 300 individuals that would be having weekly meetings with me that I’d be having to make sure they were doing X-many interviews per week, and then I need to be speaking to the employers as well and that’s such a one-to-one scenario. So, there’s definitely a few people that I was able to help in that way and then help the individuals, but then also help the employer as well to educate them around the benefits of these individuals. But yeah, it just wasn’t scalable.
Neil: Yeah. So, what was the impetus behind making the leap from the agency into a FinTech?
Adele: Honestly, it was just somebody understanding what my job was and I just thought a bit, I did it for a year and a half and I was like, I’m just not making an impact. I’m just to a very small, young, inexperienced voice in this. I know it was in 2008, 2009 when obviously the economy was dying and I had a lot of things against me on that one, and then, you know, when somebody really pointed out to me to explain what executive search was, I just jumped into that, and I think that’s where my career really started. I got the opportunity to work in payments, which was an area that was really growing in the UK at the time, and I just loved my clients, I think, well, I know what they liked about me was I just really had to understand the product.
I had to understand how it worked, why was getting a competitive advantage, why they were then going to acquire this company next, because it gave them the breadth across the customer needs across in-store and also online. I just got quite obsessive about needing to really understand and I think that at the time was rare in recruiting. So, I think it’s come a long way in the last 10 years, but historically I don’t think recruiters were known for really going that deep and understanding the company and their product. So, I think that’s the game really, strong, competitive advantage. I did that for six years and was lucky to work with some major banks. But then also, for example, when Braintree was starting out, I was their exclusive recruiter, and placed their European sales team, and then a few other really early-stage companies as well.
Neil: Amazing. So, yeah, I mean, you, you dug deeper than most since you’re willing to put in the hard yards to learn everything you need to know to make an impact.
What were the learning mechanisms, you know, was it people around you? Was it online sources? How did you absorb that? How did you learn those things?
Adele: I think the inquisitive mind comes in and being a bit like a four-year-old being like, why, why, why? A lot of questions on why? I think the, once you really showed interest and asking sensible questions on the candidate side, and also the client-side, they just really liked telling their stories. Like most people just speaking about themselves or what they’re building or what interests them.
So, I went down, my core stats were always really high because I would just be on the phone for hours just asking why and then, yeah, it was just being on top of all that, the newsfeeds and all of the tech press and just really consuming as much as you can.
Neil: Awesome, and then big shifts, big life shift happened from the UK to Australia, you mentioned that off the back of a great job offer for your husband. So, we’re talking geography changes and also job shifts, you know, changing the lens from an external agency into internal. Was that conscious leap, was that, you know, was this a new kind of environment? Tell me how that happened? Tell me the journey.
Adele: This is something that gets said often. So, at the time, our girls were one and three years old and neither of us had ever been to Australia before. So it was this massive leap into the dark with one year and three year old and it was really a chance to just think if I am going to work, you become less incentivised purely by the commercial aspect of it and wanting to know that you’re having more of an impact and I just think chasing that yearly net fee income number, wasn’t doing it for me anymore and again, I just wanted to understand a bit more how companies operated. What happened to these people when I put them in, what impact did they make?
So, yeah, it was definitely a conscious step. I think I had quite a rude awakening in your value as a recruiter is your, your network and your understanding of the local market and I had no network and I had no understanding of the local market, but luckily a few people really helped me out and got me up to speed really quickly and I got interviews. Canva and Atlassian and I think just once you’re -especially in the Sydney market – in that kind of, small community, then people start saying good things about you and then the opportunity at Safety Culture arrived when Nick was setting up the team there which I jumped on.
So yeah, it was definitely a conscious decision and one that I’m really thankful that I made.
Neil: Amazing. So, tell me, what were the biggest changes you had to make to your approach, to your style, to, you know, when you went from external to internal? Because I think from the outside in, I mean, I don’t know if you’ve had it through your career so far, but people struggle to actually make the differentiation between an internal recruiter and an agency recruiter they are all recruiters. So when, when you made that leap, how did that impact you? What were the changes? The mental changes, the physical changes, the changes that you had to make to make that transition effectively.
Adele: It is such a leap, your priority shifts. So, you’re no longer chasing the number, which is mainly what I mean, especially when I was doing agency. Well, I know it’s changed slightly, but, or maybe it was the environment that I was in. It was incredibly metrics focused and all leading back to net fee income. My manager at the time would sit next to me – this was when I was agency side – and he would say Adele has not been on the phone for five minutes. Adele has not been on the phone for five minutes and 20 seconds. Adele has not been on the phone for five minutes and 40 seconds and he would do that until I picked up the phone. It was just such an intensive, KPI driven environment and then going internally, it’s not about that anymore. It’s, well, what are the needs of the business? You need to understand what the needs of the business are. You need to, in my mind, become a lot more structured and long term in your thinking, and you need to take on this entirely new thinking of how does this hire impact the team, the business, how do we measure them in terms of how long they stay and the impact that they have, and then how do we feed that back into recruiting?
It’s just a more strategic and long-term approach than most of the time it is the agency side and you just get, I think what I loved about it is that you really get to understand one company in a lot of depth and then see how the hires that you make and what that means for them as individuals and then the team that they’re in and then the company as a whole and then you can get quite a lot of structure around organisational planning. If you want to, you can get into HR as well. HR is not my forte, but it does open up doors like that as well.
Neil: Awesome. So, hold on just to reverse back a little bit there. So, Nick didn’t give you many candidates you had to call on a day-to-day basis? Come on Nick.
Adele: So, I focused on product and design and it was what’s the story? How do we craft a story that’s going to resonate with those individuals? How do we compete against – at the time it was like Airtasker, Canva and a few other companies, and we don’t want to be competing on the benefits package and the perks we want to be competing on the company’s mission.
So, what’s your employee value proposition? How do you really speak to these individuals? So, it was a lot more of that strategic work.
Neil: It was a move away from transactional dollars, ringing a bell whenever you get a fee and move away from that to thinking longer-term entrenching yourself into the business and thinking, like you say, strategic longer-term, what would you say?
So since then, obviously you’ve had some really successful and great organisations. What was the key learning that you took away? Do you think from that first role at Safety Culture that you’ve been able to then take to BCGDV and subsequently?
Adele: I think it’s doing things before you’re ready and backing yourself. So, when I went for the BCGDV, I knew I wanted to. So, the career paths that I thought I was building for myself was to be a Head of Talent in a company that just got Series A and was just about to go into the hiring hyper-growth phase and so, I was really conscious that I’d never hired engineers, and that was obviously a key component of that, knowing how to attract the best engineers.
So, that was the opportunity that arose at DV, but I had never done it before. but I just backed myself to go for it and be able to do it and then Antler, there’s absolutely no way. I’d really operated in the VC space and been able to build a recruitment engine that would attract 2000 candidates to be able to bring in like 200 founders per year and then to be doing existing businesses and then everything that stemmed on from there.
But yeah, I think what that experience at Safety Culture taught me was to understand what your key skills are, how they’re applicable, and then back yourself to work out the rest as you go and also what I’d add to that is to surround yourself with smart people. The team at Safety Culture, where the talent team was super smart and capable and then obviously like at BCG and then Antler that’s followed as well and just, if you can do that, you pick up so much from just working in that environment, around those individuals as well, organically.
Neil: So, I love the fact. Even though thats something you hadn’t done before you basically just know I’m going to have to thrust myself into the hiring of engineers. Tell us about the learnings. When you moved into this heavily probably engineering-driven culture, where you know that you’re going to be building out lots of different organisations. How did that change your focus?
Adele: You need to gain credibility with engineers, you have to understand the technology, learn the languages, learn the frameworks, learn what’s current, learn what’s outdated, learn why as well, why you would use certain ones in certain environments and that’s how you gain respect in that area and also adapt your style. So, I know that I can be quite energised and quite loud and quite passionate and that’s awesome in some environments, but that’s not necessarily how you should initiate conversations with all individuals. So, I learned to also adapt my style, go in with telling me about that. Why does that interest you and, well this is how it will apply in this context? So yeah, those are the main two things, but certainly, with engineers, my first point is to learn what they do learn, why it’s important and learn what would interest them. In the next move and gaining the respect of the actual engineers within an organisation, they will then help you so much more when it comes to doing interviews. When it comes to doing code tests it’s on you to learn why that code test was scored in that way and then you can just feed that back in and become a better recruiter.
Neil: Okay and I’m going to just keep going to the next one. So that was what was the key learning from Antler then. So, you know, you went into Safety Culture, so that was the line in the sand where your entire lens shifted from transactional to strategic you then thought engineering and technical that’s going to be the next leap and to Antler where we’re talking something that is a founder cohort, something that’s not deeply rooted in your functional capability is the type of person. I mean, tell me how that then shifted your lens again and what, what were some of the key learnings and growth opportunities have been since you joined them?
Adele: So, I thought when I was recruiting for BCG Digital Ventures, the top tier, those were the creme de le creme, the highest calibre of individuals that I could be speaking with and then getting to Antler, I got to see this other additional level of people and they are that because they are not motivated by money. They’re not motivated by money, job titles, perks in any way. They’re motivated by this intrinsic belief that they can change the world and they have the skills to do that and when you start speaking to that group of people all day, every day, it is just absolutely fascinating and incredibly fulfilling. And what you’re then doing is just enabling people to achieve lifelong ambitions, or if they don’t do that, at least set the framework around them so they can give it a really good shot and, and that’s what I, that’s, what I love about Antler, is just speaking to people who are just motivated by an intrinsic belief that they can change the world and have the skills to do it.
Neil: That’s very cool and then look at the end of the day, like you say, you are enabling them, as a key thing that you look for. I mean, one founder could be deeply, deeply technical from an engineering perspective. Another founder could be very spiritual, because it’s not something that is as black and white as functional capability. What do you look for? What do you think is the recipe for entrepreneurial capability and the ability to actually go and change the world?
Adele: So, what we do know is we interview 50-50 on, on skills and hard skills and then the other 50% is on human skills and, and motivations and with the 50 that’s on hard skills. It’s like you have to have the skills relevant to early-stage business building. So, you have to either be able to put the business module behind something or the go-to-market strategy, or you have to be the engineer who can build from scratch and architect systems from scratch. Or you need to come with an idea that stems from deep unique insight or let’s say university IP. But then equal to that is the factors that we’ve identified are, intelligence and how we define intelligence is having the ability to creatively problem-solve. So, a company is not stable until it gets to Series A that can take two to four years and so for a founder to get to that point, they have to be continuously solving problems and the company will change many times until they reached that. So that’s intelligence, not that would show up necessarily on an aptitude test, it’s intelligence, in that, I can continuously creatively solve this problem and then the second part is a relentless cadence of execution. So, you just have to be able to push out a lot of high-quality work and then, in some ways, that’s a McKinsey consultant, we’ve had really 50-50 experiences with those individuals because some of them can translate that relentless cadence of execution from recommendations to actual output and other ones still get a bit stuck in the analysis and the research phase. But if you can move into the meaningful output of test and learn, then it’s incredible and then the third is just being comfortable with risk and comfortable with an ever-changing environment where there’s a continuous failure and you’re not going to know all of the answers, but you just have to keep moving forward.
Laura: I think you don’t know any of the answers just to jump in there. If you’re okay with not knowing what you’re doing day-to-day basis then it’s cool. But I think going back to your point earlier, when you said about being surrounded by great individuals, I think that for me is a big benefit of Antler, because like you say, when you get so energised by interviewing those people, but then when you put those people together, even if your idea isn’t going to happen now, you’ve got these great, amazing people, whenever it is the right time, you’ve got that network ready to go, and you’ve already got that energy and you just feed off each other’s energy and that kind of situation.
Adele: Yeah. I described the worst outcome that you can get is that you have a major life experience with a group of exceptionally talented and driven individuals. So, I liken it to you whenever you have an extreme point in your life where you’re trying really hard to achieve something. So, let’s say that having a baby or going to university, that group around you often become lifelong friends and door openers for you. So really the worst outcome that you can have is what you just described Laura, is where you get to form relationships around you, 80 individuals. We’re all going through this momentous life occasion, really striving to build a business that will form lifelong connections and if you haven’t got it right at this point, just keep trying and hopefully, it will happen for you in the future and this group of individuals will enable you.
Neil: You’ve gone through a sensational learning journey, Adele from Law, Journalism, different types of Recruitment and then Recruitment and various, and what looks very different ways.
What do you know now that if you could go back to your, when you’ve just come out of your Law degree, what do you know now that you would give yourself then as advice? Uh, what would you tell yourself, you know, way back when you were in between Law and Journalism?
Adele: I’m really frustrated that this is something that I still do to myself, is put barriers that are not there, on top of you. So it was, I had thought about going agency side when I was back in the UK, but I was like, oh, but I don’t have experience of doing that. Like, I’ve never, I don’t have any HR skills it’s not needed. I still don’t have any HR skills really and I suppose I tried to solve it for myself.
I had this, I can’t become a Head of Talent without having hired engineers and then I took action to solve that, but also coming into VC, I still put this ceiling upon myself as they’re like, “Oh, but I haven’t come from a finance background”. Can I take on this part of the business? Yes, I can, because you’re understanding the value that you’re then giving.
So, what I tell my younger self is to not put barriers there that don’t exist, but I will call myself out on it because I know I still do that with myself occasionally and I think the best way to stop that is that, you can’t be, what you can’t see. Which is why I support and really praise so many of the women around me because I think that’s a great way of us showcasing the path into entrepreneurship and more technical roles for women.
But as a current example, I felt, “Oh, I’m now in Antler, at director level, that’s where I’ll be”. I can’t be an associate partner because I come from recruiting, but now one of our Directors in Singapore has become an associate partner in a VC having been a recruiter all of her life and it’s like, “Oh, I can see it now”. So, now I know I can be it but that was just a barrier that didn’t exist.
Laura: I think it goes to the point only that he was saying about backing yourself, you know, sometimes you just have to back yourself. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t done it. You know, it’s that belief that you’ve worked out so far, you could say every role you’ve had, you’ve not necessarily done before, but you’ve thrown yourself at it.
You’ve backed yourself at it and just remembering that bit rather than the kind of imaginary barriers we give ourselves.
Adele: Yeah, and that’s so silly, right? They’re so silly. What Antler is actually, primarily a talent organisation. So, I’m not trying to take anything away from any other part of the business, but if we have exceptional founders and we do average programs, we will still get exceptional businesses.
I know that it’s a talent first organisation, yet I still put this barrier on myself that even though that is my core skill, I have 10 years of experience and because I don’t have finance, like, “Oh, that’s not me then”… Frustrating hey?
Neil: Sensational bit of advice.
Laura: It is. Okay then, so just to wrap up, who else would you want to hear from in a future podcast?
Adele: I think I’m really proud to be part of an organisation like Antler who are not only removing the barriers to entrepreneurship for women founders but also for actual women working in VC.
So amazingly, um, at Antler 42% of our leadership is actually women. But there are very, very few women in VC roles. So, I would love to hear from any of the awesome women that we do have, who are operating in this space. I think there are a few obvious ones like Jacks at Airtree, or like Lauren at Startmate. But even some more of maybe the rising stars and, and unsung heroes in VC, because I also firmly believe that until we have more diversity of thought.
In the decision-makers in the investment committees, we are still going to create average businesses by what VC is built on is the power-law which means that, we have to find the outliers. We have to find the people who like going after markets that we don’t even know exist yet, who are solving the problems that are very future thinking and to do that, we need a real diversity of thought on investment committees. So, that’s why I think it’s important that we raise the profile of women in VC, but also, um, people from all walks of life and today, frustratingly, it is still quite a male-dominated finance background, focused environment.
Laura: That’s awesome. Thank you and thank you for this morning, it’s been great.