Q&A with Darren Chait

If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to... catch up with Darren Chait!

It's always rewarding to hear how people's careers have evolved after they leave MinterEllison and Darren is a perfect example of someone taking their experience from working at the firm to fulfil a new ambition and dream.

1. What did your career at MinterEllison involve and how long where you with employed with us?

I started my career at MinterEllison back in 2009/2010 as a summer clerk. I enjoyed the firm so much that I returned in August 2011 as a Lawyer in the Sydney Construction team for three years.

2. What made you decide to pursue a career within the technology space and more specifically abroad?

My years in the Minters' Construction team were incredibly fast-paced and I was very lucky to be exposed to many clients, projects and disputes. This meant that in just a few years, I really got to experience the business of law, and some of what clients experience on the other side of the meeting table. I was hooked and wanted to develop more of these commercial skills. When the opportunity to start a business arose, it made sense for me to jump at the opportunity.

Building a technology business is especially high risk, but there’s something to be said about the magic that comes out of Silicon Valley. So if I was going to make the leap, then I wanted to go ‘all-in’ and move to San Francisco to give it a go there. This was an amazing opportunity, particularly for my stage of life (I learnt something about risk profiles from Nicky Green 😃).

3. What does your typical work day look like?

Very different to corporate law! One of the most significant adjustments for me is the different way people work. Working from home, distributed teams and using real-time chat instead of email (even with clients) is common in Silicon Valley. That means a typical work day is made up of flexible hours and locations, with the downside being that it can be hard to switch off. I spend about half my day talking to customers, partners, investors and the team, and the other half working on my own, producing work which could be as diverse as building financial or customer data models, writing marketing content, speaking at conferences or on sales calls.

4. What do you like most about your job?

What I like most creates the biggest challenges (see below). Like every business founder, we are in a position where we have to overcome every hurdle we encounter ourselves and find a way through challenges, regardless of what my job description says or where my experience lies. That means a typical day sees me as a salesperson, a manager, a lawyer, an accountant, a designer and a marketer - most of which I’m not qualified on paper for! I love the diversity, increasing breadth of skills and exposure to other industries and jobs that I previously knew little about - each requiring different ways of thinking.

5. What are some of the challenges that you face on a day-to-day basis?

This could be a big list! Being immersed in the melting pot that is Silicon Valley, and building a business which often feels like an extension of yourself, is all-encompassing. It’s hard to not take challenges and setbacks to heart, and separate other aspects of your life from how the business is going. At the same time, it can be difficult to switch contexts so there are times where one minute I'm trying to apply the focus and attention-to-detail that's required of a lawyer to review documents, and the next I'm pitching a new idea to a potential partner who happens to have a shared vision.

6. How do you incorporate your law training and work experience into your current role?

At one level, there’s a lot to be said about the work ethic, focus and attention-to-detail that comes from working for a top tier firm. Aside from this, each of the partners I worked for (Pam Jack, Elizabeth McKechnie, Richard Crawford and Nicky Green) left me with specific skills, new ways of thinking and a commercial, client-centric view of the challenges put in front of me that I apply to the key decisions I make each day. My coffee dependency can also be credited to my legal experience, which is problematic in a poorly developed coffee society like the United States!

7. What do you do in your spare time?

Much like Sydney, California - and the US as a whole - is beautiful with so much to see, do and explore. My wife and I have used every spare moment to travel the country and see as much as we can while we’re here. There’s also a great comedy scene in San Francisco, which we love. With a baby now on the way, we’ve been trying hard to cram in as much exploring as we can!

8. What advice would you have for lawyers wanting to move out of traditional legal roles and into the technology space?

The value of experience that come from working for a firm like Minters only became obvious to me once I was in a different space. At the same time, a lot has recently changed, and the technology space in particular increasingly recognises the importance of diversity - especially in terms of skills and perspective. You should therefore view your legal experience as relevant to whatever your next step may be. If a legal role is not your ultimate career goal, it is certainly ideal training, experience and character development for whatever lies ahead. 

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