Career Story: Paula Nightingale

Career Story: Paula Nightingale, from Art Buyer to Tech Startup Founder to Business Coach

From an agent/producer/art buyer for commercial photographers and illustrators to building a tech start-up from just an idea to an exit, and other impactful roles since, Paula Nightingale’s career story is wide-spanning and diverse. It’s no surprise that Paula has some wonderful wisdom to share about how she has managed herself during this process. Find out about the mindset and practices that have helped Paula to continuously learn and develop and go after the work excites her.

In 2-3 sentences, please tell us a little about you!

I have a background in the creative industries but went down a completely different path a few years back when I co-founded a tech start-up with no idea about either tech or start-ups! But because of this varied experience, you could describe me as a generalist who has a broad understanding of business across many fields. 

I now have a portfolio of clients where I get to work on a diverse range of interesting projects and contracts. I love the variety and putting myself into situations which push me out of my comfort zone. Although I sometimes ask myself why just before I have to present to a room full of people!

Why did you sign up to be a part of OneUpOneDown?

When I was going through the Lightning Lab accelerator programme with our start-up, we had access to many inspiring mentors who helped us navigate the unknown world of angel investment, capital raising, boards, shareholders etc; Without them, things would have certainly been a lot harder. I’m sure we still made every single mistake a founder can make, but the lessons I learnt and the personal growth I went through were invaluable. 

I’ve been mentoring other aspiring business owners for the past five years, as I want to share those learnings with others. I’m particularly interested in working with women entrepreneurs and creatives, who tend to be under-represented in some industries.

What does success mean to you? How do you align with your definition at the moment?

Success for me has changed over the years – no longer is it based on climbing the career ladder. Instead, success is going to sleep at night knowing I have presented my best self that day. It’s knowing I have put the effort in, had a laugh, learnt something and been rewarded monetarily for it. And if I haven’t presented my best self, then that’s okay too.

What prompted you to pursue the career you’re in now?

Sometime during my last year living in London, I could see the commercial photography industry I had built my career up in, rapidly changing and I didn’t particularly like the direction it was going. It took me a few years after settling back here, working out where else I could apply my skills, and what other industries excited me, before my business partner and I spotted an opportunity too good to pass up, which led to us setting up our tech start-up in the FMCG export industry. 

So, after going on the entrepreneurship journey, learning what it takes to get a business off the ground, riding those waves of highs and lows, I had a good understanding and empathy for other start-ups founders. It’s a particularly tough journey, one that can keep you awake in the small hours wondering if you can actually do this thing.

I now work with a variety of companies who help start-ups, social enterprises and small businesses, while still keeping my hand in the creative sector. I get to utilise all the skills I’ve gained over the years and I particularly enjoy helping businesses pitch their stories or ideas in a compelling way. Overall, I’d call myself a connector and conductor – connecting the right people together and conducting everyone and all the moving parts, to orchestrate the best possible work.

How did you know this is what you wanted to do?

Back when I was studying Industrial Design, I knew it probably wasn’t the career for me, but I loved the graphic design and photography classes. After I had graduated, I was offered a job as a producer for two of NZ’s top commercial photographers at the time and felt I had found my calling. I realised I was better at organising creatives rather than being one. There’s an art to wrangling creatives and a crew, remaining calm under tight deadlines, looking as if everything is under control, while negotiating budgets with ever changing goal posts. I’ve used these producer skills I’ve developed in every job I’ve had since. 

I knew I wanted to help start-ups, social enterprises and small businesses after my time working at PledgeMe. It was here I was able to meld all my skills together – helping businesses tell their unique story, plan out their communications and social media strategies, create their business plan, engage and build their audience and raise equity. I have an inquisitive mind and love learning, and I’m happy being thrown into an industry I don’t know much about and figuring it out. 

Have you made any big transitions or changes in your career? What were they? How did you do it?

So many transitions! From an agent/producer/art buyer for commercial photographers and illustrators, to building a tech start-up from just an idea to an exit. To teaching an entrepreneurship course at Auckland University, to helping companies raise equity through crowdfunding. My journey so far has taken many twists and turns, and has been varied and exciting. I have been lucky to have found people who are willing to see beyond the traditional career path and see the breadth of skills and experiences I bring. If I feel I am lacking in any skill set, then I’ll upskill. There really is no excuse these days with the plethora of online courses available from top international universities and organisations.

What is something that has been particularly challenging throughout your career?

Thinking you have to work hard 24/7 to get anywhere in life – what a limiting belief! While in London for many years, I discovered the work hard play hard ethos was alive and well. I used to push myself constantly to get the work done on ridiculous deadlines and having a perfectionist attitude didn’t help. A few years later, I ended up in hospital and dealing with ongoing health issues which I attribute directly to the stress I was putting myself under. These days I’m all for a work/life balance and encourage anyone I work with to look at their life and check for imbalances.

What have been your go-to tools and strategies to overcome challenging experiences or people in your career?

I’ve learnt some great techniques from my mentors over the past few years. Learning to notice when my inner critic is at work and learning when to ignore it (which is most of the times it pipes up!) Journaling daily and using a technique I learnt called ‘dream day’ journaling. It really does work. And learning that putting my values onto someone else only causes stress and frustrations. As they say – “you do you”. Everyone is here to have their own unique experience so who am I to tell you you’re doing it wrong? Unless you directly ask me for my opinion or help of course.

What is one personal or professional skill you’re working on at the moment and why?

Currently I’m learning how to create an online course and market it. I’ve done it for someone else, but it takes on a whole new meaning when it’s for yourself – a good example of pushing myself out of my comfort zone and practicing not listening to my inner critic!

What is something you wish you’d known when you were first starting out in your career?

Pick your battles. I used to get caught up in proving to everyone (including myself) that I was worthy, my ideas had merit and I had something of value to say. Stand up for what you believe in and stay true to you, but know you don’t have to be the loudest or most aggressive in the room to be heard and you don’t have to fight every time you feel someone has slighted you. Learn to express yourself, learn what is and what isn’t acceptable to you and learn that not everyone is going to agree with you or listen to you. And that’s okay.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone navigating their own career?

Back yourself, because if you don’t, how can you expect anyone else to? 

How can we follow your journey?

Connect with me on LinkedIn or drop me an email:

[email protected]


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