Tom Brunskill is one of two founders of virtual work experience company, InsideSherpa, a platform that allows students to ready themselves for the workplace by experiencing real challenges set by organisations around the world.
We spoke to Tom about his journey since leaving KWM and the growth of his innovative start up.
Can you tell us a little about InsideSherpa?
Similarly to how many companies originate, the genesis of InsideSherpa was the result of gaps in the experiences of myself and my co-founder. In this instance it was frustrations we felt when progressing from our studies into full time employment.
I completed a law degree but quickly realised the nexus between what I had learnt and what I was expected to do as a practicing lawyer was minimal. I look back and wish I had had more to inform me about the type of law I wanted to practice while I was studying.
InsideSherpa is all about helping students better understand what they will experience working in different organisations, including law firms, and we do that by offering online courses that are free of charge and open to any student.
An example of one of our courses is the KWM program that teaches students how to draft confidentiality agreements and use smart contract technologies in a fictional, but realistic, transactional scenario.
Students have the opportunity to build skills that their university may not be focussing on and our partnering organisations get the chance to connect with students from schools and backgrounds that they may not often engage with, building a more diverse recruitment pipeline.
At present we work with a number of companies all around the world including investment banks, law firms, accounting firms and management consulting firms and we are looking to further expand our offering.
"InsideSherpa is all about helping students better understand what they will experience working in different organisations, including law firms, and we do that by offering online courses that are free of charge and open to any student.
Are the InsideSherpa modules open only to students or to any interested participants?
We focus on distributing the programs to university students but we do find a variety of people, including those looking to get specific experience or those looking to change careers, will enrol in the courses. There are no barriers to participating.
We have actually just released our first program designed for high school students, which is a STEM program that we developed in conjunction with the Commonwealth Bank. At this point however the majority of our programs are probably best suited to university students.
Do the organisations you partner with recognise completed modules as experience for their CV?
Absolutely. I can’t speak for the companies themselves but ultimately what we have found with our corporate partners is that they are looking for applicants who really want to work for them. If a student is taking the time to complete our courses and build core skills, then hiring managers definitely give this a certain weight when considering applicants for open roles.
Was KWM the first law firm to work with InsideSherpa?
KWM were the first company in general to work with InsideSherpa and I can honestly say that were it not for the support of the firm, and in particular Berkeley Cox [KWM Chief Executive Partner, Australia] and Sam Garner [National Manager, Graduate Resourcing and Learning], we would not be where we are today.
Having come to KWM after my graduate years I didn’t know Sam in her capacity in graduate recruitment but I reached out to her given my positive experience with KWM in general.
Sam took the meeting with me without any prior knowledge of the platform and instantly understood what I was trying to achieve with InsideSherpa; its potential value in reaching diverse talent as well as offering the chance to be ahead of the curve in the way firms invest in students.
Berkeley also bought into the initiative very quickly, and was instrumental in getting the platform to market along with KWM’s graduate recruitment Partners, Jason Watts and Claire Rogers.
That was the first domino, so to speak, and unsurprisingly a number of other firm’s followed KWM’s lead.
"That was the first domino, so to speak, and unsurprisingly a number of other firm’s followed KWM’s lead.
You were in the M&A team during your time at KWM. What skills came in handy when starting your own venture, particularly a tech company?
Not to be cliché but there were so many transferrable skills that I took with me when I left KWM.
The most useful however, are probably the skills that you mightn’t naturally think of. I was once told that what separates great law firms from competitors is that great firms spend 40% of their time completing the last 10% of their work product. The technology sector has a completely different mindset – you release product as soon as you can (usually at the expense of quality). While there is merit releasing software as soon as you can, KWM taught me to take pride in my work and to make sure what we were releasing was not unnecessarily sloppy. As a result, we’ve always had really positive feedback about the quality of our product from customers, students and investors.
The calibre of KWM's clients also taught me what was required to build a world class company.
I always remember this one deal that I worked on at KWM, an IPO, and I was working on the verification process for the prospectus. I had to sit down with the CEO, who was also the founder, and chat through how his company had developed.
The CEO pulled some photos from his briefcase of him standing next to an old photocopy machine in an office much dingier than the one we were currently in and he proudly told me that this was the first asset his company ever owned. The company in question listed for around $400 million dollars.
It was so inspiring to have such access to entrepreneurs like this in my role and to see how these companies had started at the grass roots decades earlier, in a tiny office with a photocopier as their most valuable asset. It proved extremely motivating for me when I left to do my own thing.
Is there one person in particular who had an impact on you during your time at KWM?
If I am being honest the reason I loved KWM over anywhere else I had worked was the sense of community and how supportive team members were of one another.
The fact that we were open plan and were surrounded by all levels of seniority meant I never felt like I couldn’t walk up to any person to ask for help, feedback or even a coffee.
In terms of the impact that KWM had on me it would be unfair to say it was just one person when in truth it was the collective impact of the team around me.
There were so many people in M&A that I idolised and loved working with while I was there including (but not limited to!) Evie Bruce, Luke Mulcahy, Andy Phillipson, Kylie Bolton, Henrik Moritz, Matt Ward, Shabarika Ajitkumar – they are all such great people and amazing lawyers (and support staff). As soon as I walked into KWM I felt immediately accepted.