Entrepreneur Fraser McConnell talks birds, blockchain and leaving big business behind to follow his conservation calling.
How have you climbed the career ladder?
My first summer jobs were on construction sites and at one of New Zealand’s largest steel mills, initially as a labourer and then a mechanical engineer. I quickly realised the difference I made redesigning or reconstructing a mechanical system wouldn’t amount to much if senior management couldn’t work out their inefficiencies. So I moved away from engineering and found management consulting.
I joined PwC as a graduate, where I was exposed to lots of large organisations and saw what makes the corporate world tick. It was a great experience, but it is hard to compare this to the abundant lessons of being thrown into the deep end with a startup.
What are you up to now?
I co-founded Squawk Squad and raised more than NZ$70,000 on Kickstarter to fund it. In November 2016 we won Startup Weekend Auckland and I negotiated a three month sabbatical with PwC to focus on the project – after one I told them I wouldn’t be coming back. Since then we’ve also won a WWF Innovation Conservation award.
Squawk Squad is helping create a Predator Free New Zealand by bringing tech and conservation together to save the country’s native birds – 80% of which are endangered. Our app allows people to collectively sponsor traps on conservation projects and receive a live notification every time a pest is caught. So far we’ve caught around 600 and have 130 traps across three projects nation-wide.
How has your upbringing helped you professionally?
Having incredibly open-minded parents taught me that you don’t have to blindly follow the norm. Having three brothers taught me never to leave food unguarded or unfinished.
Who’s helped you the most during your career?
I haven’t had any ongoing mentors but I’ve sought lots of advice. In the startup world, sharing your ideas is everything – if you don’t there’s only one person that can help you, and that’s you. Sharing thoughts about new ventures, areas I’m struggling with or new product features has helped build the momentum needed to bring initial concepts to life.
What do you value most about your working life now?
That it is purpose-driven.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an entrepreneur?
There’s no good time to start. The stars won’t magically align. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is now. Start now.
Are you working on any other projects?
A blockchain social enterprise called Choicetopay.com, an alternative payment system that reduces merchant fees and redistributes the half of this fee to charities of your choice. It’s currently in Kiwibank’s Fintech Accelerator programme in Wellington.
What’s your ultimate goal?
To change how the world measures success and shape the future with purpose. It’s all about the birds and blockchain.
What’s keeping you entertained out of office hours?
I recently watched, and can recommend, Netflix documentary The Art of Design with Bjarke Ingels. Otherwise, it is surfing and skiing keeping me entertained.
What book should aspiring entrepreneurs read?
Chapter One: You Have the Power to Change Stuff by Daniel Flynn.
What would your motto be?
“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it” – Winston Churchill.
Find out more about Squawk Squad below.
Thinking of turning a side project into a career? Check out The Career Conversation for advice and guidance.