Top LinkedIn exec relocates from US to join Kiwi startup

by | Oct 13, 2021

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Legal tech start up LawVu has secured a recruitment coup.

The Tauranga startup has just hired Greg Stephenson who, until July this year, was running LinkedIn’s North American marketing operation –  overseeing a team of 20 who brought in US$1.6 billion in revenue in 2020.

Stephenson tells the Herald he came to New Zealand for family reasons. His wife – a Kiwi – wanted to return home and landed a job at Xero. he also picked up work at the cloud accounting company. After a “good few months” battling to win a slot. then a two-week stint in MIQ itself (which Stephenson describes as “more pleasurable than people think”), the couple began their new life in Auckland.

Stephenson’s contract with Xero was short-term. He sought out LawVu after seeing a story about the Tauranga startup’s chunky $17 million Series A raise, then accepted a role as chief marketing officer.

“i think I can offer some insight into the opportunity for achieving global growth and scale. That’s what I was looking for when I moved to New Zealand. And that’s what I found in LawVu: that global international growth ambition.”

LawVu, which makes a software platform for in-house legal teams, was founded on the East Coast, and Tauranga Council was its pilot customer. But now it has staff scattered around the country, and a roster of blue chip customers on both sides of the Tasman including James Hardie, Sky TV, Fonterra, Telstra and Nissan Australia.

Ahead of its $17m Series A round mod-year (led by New York-based venture capital firm Insight Partners with support from Australia’s AirTree Ventures), LawVu landed a contract with one of the big social media platforms in the US. It can’t be named but, rest assured, it has a fair number of legal issues to keep its in-house counsel busy on LawVu’s platform.

Funds from the Series A round – one of the largest ever for a Kiwi startup – are earmarked for further expansion into the US.

LawVu has already scaled up from 20 staff last year to 70, with plans to up that to 100 over the next few months.

Stephenson, who built his LinkedIn team from six to 20 and lifted its revenue from US$b1.1 to $1.6b over three financial years to 2021 as he oversaw a shift in emphasis from in-person to virtual engagements during Covid, is looking to build a LawVu marketing team as part of that effort.

He’ll, of course, be bringing the marketing smarts he developed at LinkedIn and, before that, senior roles with Vodafone and Garmin in the UK. And he says he’ll be able to apply a lot of what he learned about go-to-market strategies.

But, more broadly, he wants the chance to help create a young company’s culture.

“One of the reasons I decided to look for a younger company is LinkedIn taught me very early on that culture is incredibly important to a successful business.” Stephenson says.

“And the idea of being involved in the development and nurture of a culture in a smaller business was something that was very attractive to me.

“If you get into a larger organisation, there’s an element of that being pre-baked. So being able to influence it in a start up is definitely if interest to me.”

Stephenson says while family was a big reason behind his shift to NZ, “I’ve also been exhilarated by the opportunities in New Zealand. One of the things I was trying to figure out is: what is the supply of jobs? And is there a need for somebody like me? And what I discovered on my investigation is that actually the economy is booming, there is a need for my skills and international experience. New Zealand is a great place to start a business”.

Greg Stephenson says a booming economy, and the chance to influence a startup’s culture, were two of the elements that led him to relocate from San Francisco to Auckland.

And in case you were wondering, yes, Stephenson and his wife have managed to buy a house in Auckland. It helps, of course, that the couple have immigrated from one fo the few cities in the world where homes are even pricier.

“San Francisco is very, very expensive,” he says. And things get ballistic around neighbouring Silicon Valley, where tech firms are clustered.

Run-of-the-mill four-bedroom homes in Sunnyvale, where LinkedIn is based, can easily sell for more than US$1.5m.

“The salary is also attractive in California. I think the challenges that you’re seeing in New Zealand at the moment is the gap between salaries and house prices.”

The stats bear Stephenson out, the latest Demographia International Housing Affordability index says while a home in San Francisco costs a steep 9.6x the annual average household income – making it one of the world’s 10 lest affordable cities – Auckland is in the top 5 with a 10x ratio.

But Stephenson also emphasis that with growth of software-as-a-service and the cloud, most Kiwi software companies no longer have to get hung up on geography.

He says offshore recruitment is one of the answers to NZ’s tech skills squeeze, even if not all hires literally follow in his footsteps.

“I think the pandemic has accelerated this culture of remote work. And that allows Kiwi businesses to be able to find and attract talent. Not necessarily to move to New Zealand – of which that can be I’m an example – but just to hire and have presence in different locations because of the ability to remote work.”

LawVu chief executive and co-founder Sam Kidd says: “With the growth we have seen over the last year, we are extremely please to welcome Greg to the executive team.

“His wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise across the US and Europe is incredibly beneficial to our continued growth, and we can’t wait to see the impact he will make here.”

All that remains now is for Stephenson to update his LinkedIn profile.

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