As with any new company, an insight into the founder’s history, how the company came about, and behind the scenes information is what everyone loves to know. Today, we spoke to HeadBox Australia’s CEO Ali Lord and COO Sadie Connors to tell us a little more about HeadBox Australia and them.
Let’s start at the very beginning, how did HeadBox Australia come to be?
Ali: HeadBox first came into my life back in 2017 in my previous role as UK&I Head of Events at Dentsu when I became a HeadBox Business client. It was here I fell in love with the technology and in particular how much it helped me in my role. The service side of the company was also world-class and I got to know the UK team really well. One day in November 2019, I thought I was just going for a coffee to discuss the account with HeadBoxs’ founder, Andrew Needham and then Head of Client Services, Sadie. Unbeknown to me they were to pitch the idea of HeadBox Australia. After the initial surprise, it really didn’t take me long to want to embark on this journey – launching a product I truly believe in, in my own country, finances aside there was little deliberation to be had.
Sadie, you used to be at HeadBox UK – what prompted the move down under?
Sadie: Like with everything in 2020, it was quite a strange turn of events. Ali had decided she was going to launch HeadBox Australia however was going to spend a year at HeadBox UK to really get under the bonnet of all things HeadBox. However, the global pandemic threw a real spanner in the works. Ali headed back to Australia and it was here that the plan was hatched to switch the knowledge share and bring someone from the UK out to Australia. Ali and I had already built a fantastic relationship through the years of working together and had also become great friends outside of this. Given I was one of the founding members of HeadBox UK, joining back in 2015, I really got to see what it takes to grow the company from the ground up. Heading to Australia felt like the right move at the right time.
Amazing Sadie, what would you say excites you most with the relocation?
Sadie: Well funnily enough I spent a year living out in Australia when I was 23. I was your stereotypical traveller living in a campervan on the beach, surviving off just bread and goon. I never really got to experience Sydney in the way I hope to now. Especially after a year in lockdown, I cannot wait to have a cocktail on a rooftop, dine in a beachside restaurant, dance in a bar, and watch a play in a theatre. Luckily, I am in the right job to source the best spots in town!
Setting up a company is a huge feat, how have you combated any apprehension?
Ali: I think naturally as a CEO, you wake up with a little business nerves every day but ultimately this is what drives you. If setting up a company was really easy, everyone would do it, and more importantly without the nerves you wouldn’t push yourself to continually think outside the box and grow. If I am ever experiencing those business jitters I try to take a minute to remind myself of my experience as a HeadBox UK client and remember the efficiencies that the HeadBox technology gave me and then immediately I get excited to get HeadBox into the hands of other similar-minded clients. At the end of the day, we’re a tech company here to solve the challenges our clients are facing, I know that first-hand.
Sadie: I am definitely in a unique position. You know when you hear people say they wish they could go back and relive a situation but with the wisdom and knowledge they now have – I feel like I am actually getting to do this. I joined HeadBox UK in 2015 as a BDM and grew with the company learning so much along the way. I think having this experience curbs my apprehension as I know HeadBox works and have such a strong sense of belief in it. Speaking honestly, I think my only apprehension comes from moments of panic when I realise I am no longer the BDM but the COO and with responsibility comes a lot more pressure.
How have your careers to date supported you in getting to where you are now?
Sadie: My career has definitely helped me get to where I am now but it certainly was not a thought out plan. When I left school I truly had no idea what I wanted to do, so I went to university to study Business Management as it felt like the most broad-ranging course I could find. From here my first role was at a large multinational video conferencing company, later followed by a conference production firm and then HeadBox. All companies share one key common goal – to bring people together via meetings and events whether that be digital or in person. So intentionally or not my career history has definitely helped shape my knowledge of the industry and given me a deep understanding of the core need corporates have to use events to acquire, grow, and retain their clients or colleagues.
Ali: I guess slightly different for me. I’m an extravert and a creative. From the moment I can remember I have gained energy from connections with people and I love bringing my energy, passion and visionary flair to projects. I was also a born leader. The world of events gripped me very early and I’ve had a career working on all aspects of events – venue, client and agency side. I have been lucky enough to work at and with some fantastic people and places giving me the experience and support needed to then go at it alone. The thing I particularly like about the HeadBox technology is that it takes away a lot of the repetitive administrative work for both the venue and booker. Having worked at both, it was these mundane tasks that I hated most as it took me away from interacting with people and using my creativity. So I hope for all the other event industry extroverts and creatives out there (and there are a lot of them!) that I can shift the balance of what they focus on at work in positive way using technology.
Ali, would it be fair to say that becoming a CEO was written in the stars?
Ali: Gosh, that’s hard to say, however, I feel if my friends were answering this question they would say yes. I grew up on a cattle station in North Queensland and from a young age took on responsibility for raising animals and any jobs I could get my hands on. My parents, who are also two of my mentors, have always instilled a strong work ethic in me but also showed immense support for whatever path I chose. These ethics are with me every single day and definitely help me fulfil my role of being a CEO.
Ali, you’ve got an all-female leadership team. Was this a conscious decision?
Ali: I’ve had the fortune of working for male and female leaders, both of which I’ve found inspiring and brilliant in their own rights. I’m a firm believer in putting the right person in the role for the right reasons, not manipulating it for gender equality. This though needs to start with the hiring process and providing an even playing field to allow for candidates of all backgrounds and genders to put themselves forward. I’m a white, middle-class female and in truth, if I hired replicas of myself HeadBox wouldn’t nearly be the company we can make if we hire people with diverse mindsets from a range of backgrounds. Yes, we are currently an all-female leadership team however, we have significant growth plans across all functions at HeadBox and regionally across Australia and I look forward to meeting those who will one day be welcomed into the HeadBox family.