The desire to improve traditional and cumbersome processes inspired Angela Conroy, Co-founder and CEO at Notarum, an API led enterprise SaaS solution, to create a business tool that automates due diligence workflow and make a breakthrough as a woman leader in the tech sector.
In this edition of Women in Tech series, we chat with Angela on her mid-career switch in becoming a tech entrepreneur and her unyielding commitment to pay it forward by championing others.
15 June 2021 / By SGN
When Angela made her decision to leave the corporate world, she knew she would always be able to go back. Rather, it was her fear of staying in corporate her whole life and not trying something new that spurred her to branch out and start Notarum.
Australian Angela Conroy cut her teeth as a lawyer in the oil and gas industry. Her 12-year journey brought her to the UK and Africa and finally to Singapore in 2016 where she joined a private equity firm in, after completing her MBA in Resource Economics at Curtin University.
As a Senior Associate in the Legal and Compliance team, Angela realised that the painful due diligence process endemic to the industry left much to be desired. In a nutshell, Angela explains that due diligence is about knowing who companies are doing business with and having a sound 3rd party risk process helps business both protect themselves and adhere to regulations specific to each country.
“The process was manual, repetitive and so slow. Most importantly, it was ineffective as it was so open to fraud,” Angela says. “I remember thinking to myself, is this just the way we do things? Or is this how way things are done globally? Because it seems like a really bad system,” she says.
The deeper she dug the more she realised this is a global multi-billion dollar charade. Angela knew change was near – businesses would soon stop spending billions on a manual and repetitive system which doesn’t work, and technology was the solution to automate and streamline the process. Angela knew that there was immense potential and market opportunity if she was able to find an efficient and effective solution.
Discovering A Solution That Transforms Organisations
In 2019, Angela made the tough decision to leave her corporate career and plunge herself into the unknown, in search of a solution that can help countless companies simplify the cumbersome due diligence process.
She knew right from the get-go that she would need a co-founder who could bring in technical expertise to guide product development, and joined talent incubator Entrepreneur First Singapore as a Founder In Residence to connect with others. During the 12-week programme, Angela was acquainted with Jamie Soo, who is an engineer with a background in business intelligence, finance and insights – the missing piece that Angela was looking for.
“Jamie has a wealth of tech skills and in the real world, we probably would never have crossed paths, but I wouldn’t have been able to find the same success in the company without her,” she admits. For the first three months, Angela and Jamie did nothing but listened to customers to identify industry pain points and design a viable solution – arranging over 150 conversations with people in various industries, companies, seniority and countries to get a good understanding of the landscape. The duo had also tapped on SG Innovate programmes to get a better head start.
“Once we had all this data and were convinced the problem was as big as I initially thought, we set about designing a solution to solve it,” Angela says. To build the product, Jamie also had the gruelling task to understand the nuance of government regulations in 150 countries and various data protection laws, and how it can integrate within an enterprise infrastructure.
“The future of enterprise technology is connectivity,” Angela says. Companies today want a smart solution that links all their data sources, manages workflow, and seamlessly connects their entire team across the globe – Notarum, she explains, uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help organisations achieve that.
The platform streamlines the process, conducts smart screening backed by existing data, and allows for efficient collaboration so that businesses can make accurate and compliant decisions when onboarding new partners and clients.
Taking a Leap of Faith: Thriving in Tech Entrepreneurship
“I often get asked by aspiring entrepreneurs if they should drop out of school and start their company and my response is always the same – it is possible, but you’d have to be brilliant’’ she says. Rather, Angela believes that key traits to success in entrepreneurship is to be willing to put in the hard work, constantly assess decisions and outcomes and to network with the right folk.
“Every day in a start-up, there are new challenges to overcome but this is a good thing! It means you are trying new things, making progress, and pushing boundaries,” Angela says. While she had her initial doubts making a mid-career switch into tech entrepreneurship, Angela asserts that her decision to leave her corporate job was the best thing she has ever done. In fact, having had a corporate career prior to making the switch turned out to have helped her immensely.
“It is quite like going back to scratch. I had to learn everything, from marketing, to human resource, sales and investor relations,” she explains. Her years working in corporate equipped her with the right tools and knowledge to navigate the start-up culture and build upon it.
Running her own start-up also meant that Angela was able to have the freedom and agility to create and experiment, something that was hard to obtain whilst working in a large company. “Change at scale is difficult and I understand the challenges faced by large enterprise, but I love that this is one challenge we don’t have. It’s refreshing to be nimble!” she exerts.
Championing Others to Succeed
As a start-up co-founder, Angela believes that leaders like herself have greater work to do in ensuring diversity and equality in the tech sector’s talent pool. This includes cultivating greater access to a pool of diverse talents and giving women visibility that focuses on their expertise and knowledge and not just because they are women.
As a female in the venture community, Angela experienced being over advised and under supported. In fact, a study at the Harvard Kennedy School found that venture capitalists preferred to fund pitches narrated by male voices even when the content is identical. Some venture capitalists may even ask different questions to female and male founders – often posing risk-focused questions to women and opportunity-focused questions to the men.
Angela shares, “The work culture in Singapore is relationship-based, and it takes time to build a network. If the industry really wants to help women help us get sales, open your network, roll up your sleeves, and make some introductions.”
She believes that success speaks for itself and urges individuals to work hard in developing a skill set and to be daring to ask for resources that will aid in their career or business. Outside of work, Angela commits to making an impact in the industry by being a mentor to aspiring female entrepreneurs from developing countries at the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, and volunteering to empower migrant workers in Singapore at the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME).
“I love mentoring. Humans tend to do things the hard way so if there is a chance to help someone avoid the same mistakes we’ve made, it’s time well spent for humanity. Mentoring at a grassroots level is especially powerful,” she explains. She advises fellow female entrepreneurs that having a good attitude – being respectful, curious, customer focused and committed – can help one to find success in the sector.
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Based in Singapore, Australian Angela Conroy is the Co-founder and CEO of AI-driven modern due diligence workflow tool Notarum. Outside of running a start-up, Angela owns a vineyard that overlooks great lake Taupo in New Zealand.
Connect with Angela here.