Operator Spotlight: Alex Crawshaw, Halter
We sat down to chat with Alex Crawshaw about leaving a big four to join one of NZ's fastest-growing start-ups, Halter.
We sat down to chat with Alex Crawshaw. Alex studied commerce and accounting at university and took her first job in one of the big four. Still, after a few years in the audit team, she started seeing different kinds of business and slowly putting together her values and what kind of companies she thought she wanted to work for… cut forward a few years. She joined one of NZ’s fasting growing start-ups, Halter, who are on a mission to unlock more productive and sustainable agriculture— Ready to leap into a job in startups? Sign up to The Lilypad here!
Blackbird: Tell us about how you landed at Halter.
Alex: I’d been following the company for quite a while because many years ago I went to school with Founder Craig Piggott. And I always thought it was amazing how someone I went to school with was developing a solution to revolutionise how the world farms. So when I received a cold outreach around an opportunity to utilise my skill set in a role at Halter, I jumped at the chance, and it's been the best career decision I've ever made.
Blackbird: Aside from going to school with Craig (how cool!), what made you start-up curious?
Alex:My first job was in a very corporate environment at one of the big four accounting firms. As I transitioned through my career, I learnt more about myself and my professional goals. When I started my career, those goals were very different to what they are now, and in a good way, you learn about what motivates you and what gets you the most job satisfaction.
I always knew I wanted to work for a New Zealand-operated company. Also, a company that has a mission around changing people's lives and having an impact on the world. It really feels like I’ve found that here at Halter. The beauty of working in a start-up is everything links to the mission, and all your decision-making directly correlates to that.
“The beauty of working in a start-up is everything links to the mission, and all your decision-making directly correlates to that..”
And for me, that's job satisfaction, when you leave work every day you have that point of reflection, and you see what you've done, you see the impact it has had , compared to doing a piece of work that just ticks the box. You get to exist in a high-impact environment.
Blackbird: What's an example of how you see that mission?
Alex: Starting from a full company culture perspective, in terms of how Halter operates and our operating beat, we have an all company ‘All Hands’ on Monday where we discuss our company KPIs to reach our mission and we continue to spotlight our values to make sure they are always at the forefront of our decision making. . This enables company wide alignment from the very beginning of the week which is pretty powerful. You walk away from that meeting knowing ‘ok, this is on the company's roadmap, this is how my work directly correlates to that.’ So you start your week with that tone, you go back to your desk and look at your work and think to yourself ‘what will have the most impact based on the company's mission’.
That's a good example of how, in a start-up or growing company you can get that alignment to what your mission is rather than each individual team or department focusing on what's best for their department. You definitely go away with your weekly plan, knowing it's aligned to the company mission, KPIs and values.
Blackbird: And what's a way the company celebrates when you hit one of those big goals?
Alex: We have a gong in the middle of our office, that's for when we hit those smaller day-to-day milestones and wins, we all clap and celebrate and it's a nice way to do that real time recognition. We also have recognition in the form of the company coming together, doing shared lunches and events. It could be small things like that, but it is about calling out those key successes and milestones. Because we move really quickly that sometimes we need to take a pause and look back at what we’ve done and celebrate it.
Blackbird: You spoke before about going into a big 4 accounting firm and realising that it wasn’t for you - was there a specific moment you can talk to?
Alex: It was definitely over time, when you get your first job out of university it's the most exciting thing. I started in audit so over time in my role, I’d see a company and think ‘wow, I’d really like to be part of that team’ and then over time you ask yourself, why? What do I like about these companies? What are the key things aligning to my motivations?
So for me, at big 4, you [only see] a small snippet of the company rather than seeing it from start to end. And that's when I realised that for me to get job satisfaction, I wanted to be in a company from start to end.
And the best part about being in a start-up, is you're there from the beginning, you’re not there from January 1st to December 31st, you’re literally there from the start of the whole journey.
Blackbird: It sounds like you get to be a much bigger cog in the machine, so what does growth look like for you at Halter?
Alex: So one of our values here at Halter is ‘be a founder’, so one of the things you constantly think about ‘Is this best for Halter?’ So you always have that question in mind, and there's loads of transparency in meetings and decision making, that even if you have a difference of opinion because everyone is working toward that same goal of Halter achieving its mission by embodying the value of ‘be a founder’ there's no counter-argument to that.
So when I started, it was just myself and our VP of finance so we got to set what that operating beat would be, and through that, we’ve embedded ourselves into every part of the business for Halter succeeding in our mission, which for a finance function is quite different. Generally in a traditional model you may be a more isolated function from operations and not as involved in key decision making so that definitely helps you feel that you are continuing to grow and that you're having an impact that matters on the company.
Blackbird: What is something you didn’t know you’d need, as a skill coming into a start-up?
Alex: I knew start-ups would be fast, and fast-paced but I don’t think until you’re in it you really know what the meaning of max-velocity is, and what that enables you to do. For example, you get hired because you’re an expert in your field but you are also suddenly allowed to really take part in decision-making and making those bold and informed bets to help you achieve that mission.
Coming from a very corporate background, usually, I'd have to go through a few layers, and it takes a bit longer, even if it's the best decision for the company it just takes a bit longer. Then at Halter, If you have a bold and informed idea that you believe is going to help achieve the mission, you are empowered to move at max velocity to accomplish that, which I definitely didn't understand. That kind of empowerment of staff and belief in staff. It's pretty powerful.
Blackbird: What would you say is the best thing about your job?
“I go home at the end of every day and know what I’ve done has made a difference. I’ve got incredibly high-job satisfaction because I’ve only worked on things that matter.”
Alex: I go home at the end of every day and know what I’ve done has made a difference. I’ve got incredibly high-job satisfaction because I’ve only worked on things that matter. And then, here at Halter, I also get to work with incredible people. I’m part of a community and culture where I feel valued and included.
Blackbird: What Is your advice for people ready to leap startups?
Alex: I would definitely say, get excited. Definitely get ready to roll your sleeves up on day one, but make sure you have those points of reflection as well. So whether it's the end of every month looking back and seeing what you've achieved, I think you'll be really blown away in terms of what you've done, and how quickly that you've done it, and the impact that it's had, I would say that point of reflection is really powerful.
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