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By Matt   |  
October 8th, 2015

First Week at a Startup

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Energised. Astounded. ShipIt? Shipped it. Converted.

An first-hand account of a first week at a startup.

by Shirley Gwynn (Head of Customer Experience at SafetyCulture)

Shirley Portrait_small

Meet me – someone who has only worked in large organisations with thousands of employees looking for the next challenge in her career.

Meet my new employer – SafetyCulture. A technology startup company comprised of approximately 40 employees (for now) that has developed the world’s most used and powerful safety app.

It is commonly said that “change is as good as a holiday.” I am a firm believer in change, but it can only be good when it meets your expectations. My first week at a startup has definitely exceeded all my preconceived expectations and perceptions of what it would be like to work in one.


Day 1

Worst sound in the world: your alarm going off at 5:00am. This is just so I can catch the early morning flight to Townsville. Upon arrival, an intense wave of humidity and heat immediately struck as we step out of the airport. Here, in the unofficial capital of northern Queensland, I started my first working day with SafetyCulture.

The company’s office is located in the middle of Townsville’s CBD. I have heard lots of incredible things about SafetyCulture’s “headquarters”, but it is something else experiencing it for the first time. The 1,000 square meter double-storey building features unconventional designs and quirky parts that make up a creative and vibrant workspace. The workspace has been intelligently laid out to allow for conference calls, team collaboration, lunchtime get togethers, and (lots of) impromptu nerf gun action. The office also features an auditorium, a board room, a reception area, a large communal kitchen, rest spaces, a basketball court and ping pong tables. Now, here is an office to be productive in!

I was soon greeted by all the friendly and knowledgeable staff. I also received my welcome pack, which included a note pad, highlighters, rulers and surprise, surprise: a nerf gun that will become an essential part of my existence in this dynamic environment.

We don’t waste any time here, so I soon met with the CEO regarding his expectations for my position, his visions and the organisation’s roadmap for the next two years. I now get the picture: I need to understand every aspect, do everything and succeed! Oh and did I mention: start seeing results and growth figures within the next eight to ten weeks?

No problems Luke. Piece of cake.

I spent the rest of the day learning about iAuditor and safetyculture.io by sitting with the Support Team and responding to customer queries. I also met a potential investor from Melbourne. The day was concluded by a nice dinner out at one of the only restaurants that open on a Monday in Townsville, after which a selected few opted in for a hard core walk/run up Castle Hill at 5:45am in the morning. Secretly hoping my new colleagues can keep up with my iron legs…

shipit team_smallish

Day 2

Yet another early morning start – 5:45am start for a SafetyCulture team hike up Castle Hill. The team took the opportunity to use their amazing production gear to capture footage for the recruitment video being produced. Those action shots would surely show off our incredible physiques and dedication for healthy living. The view up on the peak was breathtaking, with the sun shining on the harbour and Townsville town centre spread around beneath us.

Second day in the office I continued to monitor Support Team’s good work. I also started listening in on calls to customers and observing various meetings. In the afternoon the Chief Operating Officer (COO) and the Head of Marketing led a workshop focussing on the company’s growth strategy. This was followed by another workshop aimed to determine the organisation’s values. Both workshops were received with overwhelming enthusiasm and great energy from all staff. After these workshops I realised how liberating it is to work at a startup where I have a chance to really contribute to the shaping of the organisation’s direction and culture. Everyone here can actually make this place ours!

After the workshop concluded the entire SafetyCulture team went out for drinks and nibbles at a nearby bar. Here we all got to know each other some more on a personal level in a social environment that doesn’t involve ping pong or nerf guns. I’m pretty sure the it ended up becoming a long night for a few excitable ones.


Day 3

By day three my body is naturally waking up at dawn, so I decided that I would go for a run and do some strengthening exercises along the Strand. It was actually a beautiful way to start the day.

Of course by now I am expected to be fully across every product, process and systems. I have also started to participate in a few more conference calls and meetings, while making some highly invaluable contributions (I’m sure!).  Today, everyone is discussing the ShipIt day that will be happening on Thursday 9am, which is essentially a 24-hour hackathon where staff get into teams, or doing it solo, to complete a number of projects and present them at the end. I found myself a nice project to work on with our lovely User Experience Researcher, Gemma. The project was to create an internal space to share User Research information with the rest of the SafetyCulture team.

A day wouldn’t be complete without a couple of drinks and some dinner looking over the water and the sunset. What a tough life we lead here…


Day 4

Drum roll… the inaugural SafetyCulture ShipIt Day has finally arrived!!!

Enough said. I had not witnessed this kind of dedication, creativity, collaboration and excitement at any workplace before. Everyone started working on their projects, AKA “shipments”, from 9am that morning. There were movements everywhere; people were busy with brainstorm sessions, video making, coding, exploring new concepts, debating and creating wonderful new things.  The 24 hours provided staff with the opportunity to work on that project they had always wanted to start on that wasn’t in the roadmap. At the end of the 24 hours, all teams would have shipped their shipments ready for presentation to the rest of the team.

The highlights of the ShipIt Day included:

  • being interviewed for the recruitment video;
  • making an infographic poster on our customers;
  • editing user testing  videos;
  • assisting the “Internationalisation” shipment by translating the SafetyCulture website from English to Mandarin;
  • cheese and crackers trolley delivered by a tiger and a minion;
  • pizza delivery by Josh Y in a Borat mankini;
  • Nerf war right into the night; and
  • finishing our shipment!

I carried my tired self back to the apartment at around 10:30pm, at which time quite a few people are still going with their projects. Again, the drive, passion and determination in this place never fails to astound me.


Day 5

Only truly amazing things can happen when you get a room full of dynamic and creative people together after working on their chosen projects for the past 24 hours. And indeed, truly amazing things were shown at the auditorium at SafetyCulture Townsville office at 9am sharp on Friday 2 October 2015. Each team was given three minutes to give a flash presentation on what they have achieved.  The shipments ranged from developing a new product, add a new feature, making a product more user friendly, fix bugs, to locking down our corporate values and make improvements to life at SafetyCulture. During the presentations, I was utterly inspired and motivated by all of the completed projects.

After an almost impossible voting process to vote the winners of the 2015 ShipIt Day, we celebrated the success of the event and enjoyed some delicious locally baked pies and other pastries for lunch. During lunch, everyone thanked and congratulated each other for their outstanding work.

The week seemed to be a rather short one when I boarded my flight home in the afternoon. So much has happened and I thought I must record my experiences and emotions during this first week, because it is so unique and fulfilling.

From the onset SafetyCulture may seem a bit of a spin-off of my professional background. But now just after 5 days I’ve become so passionate about the company and immersed in its environment, I think I must have, in my colleague Margaret’s words, “won the job lottery”!



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