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  • Startup Life: Unscripted #38 with Lainie Noonan, Head of Business Development & Operations at Arch

Startup Life: Unscripted #38 with Lainie Noonan, Head of Business Development & Operations at Arch

Leveraging financial expertise in startups, Lainie details how her Morgan Stanley experience shapes her strategy and operations in the fast-paced startup environment.

Startup Life: Unscripted is a TNG Media newsletter, as part of The Nudge Group, where we feature candid conversations with startup operators about their career journeys and experiences. If you received this email as a forward, you can read all our past interviews and subscribe right here.

Welcome back to Startup Life: Unscripted! In this edition, we sit down with Lainie Noonan, the Head of Business Development & Operations at Arch, who transitioned from the finance world at Morgan Stanley to the rollercoaster ride of the startup world. In our conversation, Lainie reveals how the discipline and insights from her finance days are now fuelling her success in a fast-paced startup environment.

Key interview takeaways:

📊 From Finance to Startup: How her Morgan Stanley foundation has been a game-changer in navigating startup complexities.

🗣️ Power of Voice: The impact of never staying silent in meetings and the difference it has made in her startup journey.

🤝 The Art of Negotiation: Lainie recounts a pivotal negotiation moment, highlighting the importance of self-advocacy.

🌍 Making an Impact: Her role in projects that intersect with international politics and humanitarian efforts, bringing a meaningful mission to her work.

Got a minute? Share this newsletter with your network and help us inspire more individuals with real-life startup stories and valuable insights.

Lainie, making the jump from being a financial analyst at Morgan Stanley to navigating the whirlwind world of startups sounds like quite an adventure. How have the skills and nuggets of wisdom from your finance days helped you tackle the rollercoaster of challenges and opportunities in the startup scene? 

It seems like a leap from finance to tech, but Morgan Stanley provided a great foundation for how I approach business to this day. Morgan Stanley emphasised networking, strategic thinking, compelling storytelling and thoughtful decision making under pressure, all of which have been critical when navigating different GTM roles in the startup world.

These skill sets are also broad, which has helped me to pivot to different types of roles and take on new challenges more easily.  Opportunities in the hedge fund space were always high stakes and extremely time-sensitive. More than anything else, this taught me how to make fast, thoughtful decisions and navigate crises with seasoned industry leaders as clients. Nothing could prepare you better for the startup world.  

From Morgan Stanley on, I’ve had a set of key mentors who’ve taught me — from the beginning — how to navigate career advancement. A piece of advice I’ve always loved is ‘never be silent in a meeting - always have an opinion’. It doesn’t matter how junior you are or how important the people are who are in the room with you, speak up.

It gets you noticed, but it also helps you learn. Another piece of advice that may be more common, but I think is key, is  ‘never eat lunch alone’. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to build relationships cross-functionally both in and outside your company.

No matter how competent you are, you will always need help. It’s a cliche, I know, but I’ve found that it’s true: your network really is your net worth. I’ve stayed in touch with everyone from old co-workers to people I interviewed with at companies I didn’t join and those relationships are very much the foundation of my success.

I’ll end with: every point of change is an opportunity and you should view it as such. For example, if a co-worker or boss leaves, that’s a moment to level up and get noticed, not just by taking on additional work, but by showcasing how you can operate at a higher level. Work smarter, not necessarily harder. 

Given your diverse background, from studying political science and English to classical singing, how do you find these varied interests influencing your approach to business development and operations at Arch? Do they give you a unique perspective when tackling complex problems? 

People always say English is one of those majors that doesn’t translate to the ‘real world’, but in my experience, it’s totally untrue. You can learn hard skill sets on the job (i.e. me, an English major working at Morgan Stanley).

However, what is harder to learn is critical thinking and thoughtful analysis, both of which I learned while studying English and Political Science. As an English major, you’re taught how to communicate and how to persuade.

With the rise of AI, a tool that makes it easier to replicate skill sets and knowledge, I’ve found that my soft skills — all learned from subjects like English — are increasingly what sets me apart in business.

As far as classical singing goes, I can’t say my ability to tackle complex pieces of music has come up frequently in a business setting (although I did write songs for sales prospects at one point to book meetings), but it did teach me the importance of a deep ‘flow state.’

While singing and doing other creative activities I am able to reset my brain and to decompress from the start-up environment, which enables me to approach my work with as much energy and focus as possible.  

You mentioned stepping into a leadership role at Bolt at a relatively young age and managing a team of seasoned professionals. What were some of the key strategies you employed to not only gain their trust but also drive such a remarkable increase in the team's output? 

During my second year at Bolt, I had the opportunity to take on a team literally overnight, when leadership changed. I was 25 and leading a team of people older and more seasoned than me.

I decided to take a strategic and an extremely empathetic approach. I spent a lot of time digging into what was and wasn’t working, along with exploring each individual's goals and motivations.

Oftentimes, managers have too much on their plate to really probe what makes their team work, but the transition gave me the opportunity to do so and it fundamentally changed the way I approached leadership.

Beyond just career advancement and compensation, which are both important, I found there was a fundamental need for appreciation and recognition. It makes sense.

Dale Carnegie, in How to Win Friends and Influence People, speaks constantly on how feeling appreciated is at the core of being human. I made it a practice to highlight an individual's wins, not just to the team but to leadership too.

I also took on a player-coach role, where I spent a chunk of my time in the trenches with my team doing the same work they were, negotiating the same challenges. Sure, I wanted to lead by example, but I also wanted to do the grunt work and make clear: I was exempt from no area of work, despite my new leadership role. And the team really responded! 

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Negotiation and the application of psychology in business seem to be areas where you've not only excelled but also enjoyed mentoring others, particularly women. Could you share a memorable negotiation experience and what it taught you about advocating for oneself in the business world? 

Everyone who knows me, knows I’m fascinated by negotiations. I love Chris Voss’s content (both Never Split the Difference and his masterclasses) and the book Getting More by Stuart Diamond. My dad is a master negotiator and has been a constant mentor throughout my career.

When I stepped into a leadership role at Bolt, I had the opportunity to renegotiate compensation and bonus structure. I was negotiating with my then boss, a member of the executive team, someone far senior than anyone I’d negotiated with in the past. I learned:  

  1. If you feel completely comfortable asking for something, you’re likely not asking for enough. Most women undersell themselves because of the discomfort they feel from “asking for too much.” More often than not, our perception of what is fair and what we are worth is off. Embrace that discomfort. The worst someone can say is no.   

  2. You need to orient your presentation around what is important to the other person. Think about their goals, their team and their perspective and demonstrate how what you’re asking for will help them get there.  

  3. Preparation is 90% of any negotiation. I spent time digging into compensation structures of the market and speaking with people that had left the company. When it came time to discuss my personal advancement I knew exactly where I should be  —  and where the market was. Part of preparation is also prepping the approach. By the time you get to a negotiation, if you’ve practised and prepared, you will approach it with more confidence and conviction. If this is something that isn’t your strong suit, use a friend or a mentor to talk it through once or twice, or even just say it out loud in front of a mirror. Prior repetition makes such a difference in delivery.   

Your deep dive into international politics and humanitarian concerns is fascinating, especially how these areas intersect with the startup world at Arch. Have you gotten involved in any projects or initiatives that aim to tackle these global challenges? 

From an early age I’ve always had a keen interest in international politics and humanitarian issues like climate change. My first internship was actually at the United Nations where I spent a good chunk of my summer sitting in on councils focused on climate change.

While I loved a lot of elements of working in finance and e-commerce tech, the lack of a humanitarian mission was a problem for me. When evaluating my next opportunity, I made this a central focus on my search.

At Arch, I’ve been working with my team to accelerate the adoption of climate and HVAC technologies, namely heat pumps. Climate change is one of the biggest problems facing my generation.

A majority of Americans want to further electrify their lives and their homes and the industry is playing catch up. Right now only ~15% of homes are using heat pumps in the US.

Arch helps contractors to install more heat pumps by making it easier to analyse homes remotely. We’re accelerating heat pump sales by removing manual and resource intensive processes in contractors’ sales cycles. In short, we’re helping more people help the environment.

In tech, it often feels like our solutions are too far downstream from the problem. It’s exciting to be in the climate tech space and to feel like I’m working on a solution that has the potential to immediately  have such a positive impact.   

Reflecting on your experience across different fast-growing startups, could you highlight any common traits or strategies that you believe are crucial for a startup's success, especially in its early stages?  

At an early stage startup, you could have the best funding and a good product, but the team is everything. I’ve found that teams and leaders that emphasise extreme ownership and embrace failure are the most successful.

In terms of extreme ownership, you need to have a team where everyone has the ability and feels empowered to operate autonomously. At an early stage start-up there is a lot of chaos and areas of the business that don’t fall into anyone’s direct workstream.

As a leader, you not only need to hire people that feel comfortable operating with uncertainty but you also need to empower your team to work fluidly. Part of that is also giving them permission to fail.

For example, at Bolt we had a core value of moving fast and being “20% wrong”, this type of mindset empowered the team to chase opportunities that had the possibility of failure but also the potential to also create exponential growth.

I think if you’re operating from a perspective where you’re optimising for execution risk and focused on minimising failure you’re missing out on key learnings and growth opportunities for your business.  

With your career taking such a dynamic turn from the more traditional corporate lanes into the fast-moving startup freeway, what pointers or resources would you suggest to those mulling over a similar leap? How can they best prepare for the whirlwind that is startup life? 

The first thing I’d say is no matter how much prep you do, you will always encounter new problems, issues and opportunities. It can be uncomfortable. Embrace it! Those times of discomfort are catalysts for growth and you get more of those in the startup world than anywhere else.

At this point in my career, I’m actively chasing opportunities where I know I’ll be uncomfortable. Whether it’s tackling a new industry, stepping into a role I don’t have direct experience with or working with people that are entirely different from past co-workers, I’m looking for ways to stretch and grow. Before joining Arch, I was only looking at opportunities where I didn’t meet 100% of the criteria.

Resource wise, your network is everything, but you don’t need to come in with a strong network to be successful. I’ve reached out cold to so many people whom I now count as mentors. Whether you’re in the midst of a job search or just looking to learn, people love to help – take advantage of that. 

From the Startup Life team

And that's a wrap! We hope you've enjoyed this edition as much as we loved putting it together. Stay curious, keep learning, and above all, enjoy the rollercoaster ride that is Startup Life. Catch you in the next one! 👋 Not subscribed yet? Do it here and don't miss out! Subscribe Now.

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