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Four Years Working for an Australian Startup (SafetyCulture)

Written by Joshua Fuglsang on .

Filming for the Recruitment Video

Introduction

This is an article about my journey working for the Australian based startup; SafetyCulture. For four years I worked at SafetyCulture and saw it grow from 8 people in the founder’s garage to 140 across offices in Townsville, Sydney, Manchester, Kansas, and Manila. I worked for SafetyCulture from when I was 23 to 27.

Application

During the second half of 2012 I became fascinated with mobile apps and mobile games; they represented a new opportunity for developers and entrepreneurs. This fascination eventually lead to me helping my university friend build an app for his PhD, which was to help students with disabilities find directions between the various campus locations. I thoroughly enjoyed my time building the app as it involved many skills; design, research, collaboration, and engineering. After finishing working on the app I decided I enjoyed iOS engineering so much that I wanted to find a job doing similar work. I responded to an low-key ad and without so much as a single technical question landed a job pretty much straight away at SafetyCulture. Next thing I knew I was on the morning flight from Brisbane to Townsville. I have a strong memory of touching down in the tiny airport and finding Luke right next to the boarding gate waving at me with a smile. We drove straight to “the safetyplex"; a corrugated iron shed behind Lukes house lined with Macs. Here I met the team, including Alan who I would work closely with over the next couple of months. For the first two days I worked on my first feature; a trash can for your documents. I picked it arbitrarily from the project backlog, which was bullet point list of ideas in a google doc. I finished the task in the two days making Alan and Luke happy and giving me a new job.

Graduation

Before SafetyCulture I was working for my University full time as a Programmer / Analyst. I spent the majority of my time building backend databases for the various student systems and running reports for the Universities business units. I started there before I graduated and completed the final portion of my studies part time. In the first few weeks of my work at SafetyCulture I graduated with a distinction.

Remote Work

My first year at SafetyCulture was spent working remotely, predominantly in a small office where I lived at that time in Brisbane. The work in those early days was highly dynamic - we had no dedicated designer, just us few developers. I would spend part of my day sketching out prototypes and getting feedback on them from my fellow colleagues. We had a lot of creative freedom over the product, for better or worse. In the mornings we would have a team stand up which had the entire company in attendance, including the CEO. To the uninitiated remote work sounds terrific, but it didn’t completely gell with me. In the morning my housemate would leave for work and I would go up the street to get a coffee; ordering coffee was my last interaction with a real life human being until Tim returned from work. The midday heat of Brisbane could be stifling, at times making it hard to concentrate. On the hottest days I would have to seek refuge in the air conditioned state library. Eventually I decided to spend the hottest part of summer with my family in Tasmania before moving to Townsville in the winter to work at the new SafetyCulture office. The move itself was entirely sponsored by the company, which was extremely appreciated. It was acts of generosity such as these which really made me appreciate my time spent there.

In those days we had quite a large number of remote developers, not quite 50% but pretty near to it I think. Having a remote team meant quarterly visits to Townsville, a culture that the company still tries to maintain. Those trips had a resoundingly positive impact on the company culture; the team got to reconnect with each other and work on projects together. The trips were a lot less hectic than the later half-yearly ShipIt weeks in that we could actually get work done. At that time since there were so few of us we had a really strong sense of community. Everyone was highly familiar with everyone else. Every evening the entire team would have dinner together before spending hours in the hotel chatting. In some ways it didn’t really feel like a job. I think most people considered their coworkers to be friends as well as colleagues. To me this time was kind of the idyllic startup.

Northward Bound

Juliettes on The Strand

Living on The Strand

Eventually the time to move to Townsville had arrived. I packed up my house in Brisbane and shipped most my things down to Tasmania for storage, leaving two bags and my push bike to come with me to Townsville. A short time before the move I had started a relationship with Julie, which was tough as I had committed to moving to Townsville before meeting her and didn’t want to lose her. Julie came up to visit me a couple of times in the early Townsville months and on one of her trips she decided to look for work. Luckily she found a position as a Business Analyst at the local council and was accepted for the position more or less straight away. Soon she was packing her things for the northward migration.

For the first few months I was living in company accommodation; an apartment situated right at the foot of Castle Hill. Castle Hill is a bit of a mecca for visitors and the athletically inclined locals, it is a 250m high hill in the otherwise flat, sea-level town. My morning ritual consisted of running up and down the stone-laden, infamously-named “goat track”, with a best time of 19 minutes to the summit and back. I probably don’t recommend this activity for too long, as it is quite rough on your knees and has a high risk of ankle injury. Nonetheless it was an exhilarating exercise routine. While living there a small tropical cyclone hit the town, which, largely benign, flooded most of the apartment. My colleague and housemate, Ollie, slept through the entire ordeal. Funny side note about Ollie is that he named the highly successful Australian startup, Canva.

Soon after Julie and I decided to find a place together and we rented a small, extremely humid, one bedroom apartment which was right on the waterfront, The Strand. We stayed there for about 6 months before finding somewhere less humid, but also on The Strand. The next place we found we stayed at for almost 1.5 years; it was a beautiful apartment and looked directly over the water towards Magnetic Island. We considered ourselves to be very lucky to have found this place and both look back at our time there very fondly.

Growing Company

During my time working for SafetyCulture I saw it grow through incredible successes. Starting out there were just 8 of us and when I finished there were more than 140. When I started the company was based in the founders garage but within my first year the company moved from the garage and in to a trendy new office in the center of the town. The office, the new SafetyPlex, featured a basketball court, a theatre, ping pong tables, a coffee machine and more; it was the idealistic startup office. Soon after the Townsville office an office for customer support was opened in Kansas. Next came an office in Sydney, which was initially opened with just four people, but we quickly outgrew it and upgraded to a larger one in to the coffee-hub of Surry Hills. We quickly filled out that office as well and over took the floor above us. Then we took a floor across the street from us. And finally when I resigned the office had spread across four floors. Sydney slowly became the main development office, but a lot of the original team were still based in Townsville, so R&D was essentially split between the locations, which made for a lot of flight time for some of the team members. Finally an office was created for customer success and customer support in Manchester for the European customers.

WWDC

In 2014 I was lucky enough to be able to attend WWDC with my fellow colleague at that time; Alex. He had three friends who also got tickets and so we all travelled there as a group, renting an apartment together in SoMa. The conference itself was great; it was a big one due to some fundamental technological changes, notably of which was the introduction of the new programming language Swift. I will always remember the audiences complete surprise to Tim Cook’s announcement of the new language. At the event I met many engineers from companies such as Twitter, Foursquare, Dropbox, Blizzard, Atlassian, and of course Apple. One of the guys in our group printed “Do you even Swift” on t-shirts. We caught Craig Federighi in the cafeteria opposite the event venue and gave him one of our t-shirts.

ShipIt Weeks

Winner of the ShipIt Event

Winner of the ShipIt Event

After some time our quarterly Townsville trips were replaced with biannual ShipIt weeks. They were the same as the old trips but with the addition of a hackathon in the final two days of the week. With the companies enormous growth they became more and more hectic as time went by, finally outgrowing the Townsville office for the first time after I had left.

The hackathon was an event where the entire company competed in teams to see who could build the most captivating project in 24 hours. The scope of the allowed projects was pretty loose; most people extended the product in some form, but others designed marketing campaigns or reimagined the support workflows. For the 1st and 3rd ShipIt events I was lucky enough to be in the winning teams. However, it became harder and harder to win as the company was growing quickly in both size and talent between events.

During one of the biannual ShipIt events one of my coworkers, Manoj, proposed that we produce a recruitment video. The video starred Manoj, Tania, and myself; where we performed activities at Townsville’s iconic sights such as Castle Hill and The Strand, and were each interviewed about what we most liked about our work. You can see the final video here.

During one of the Townsville meetup events, the entire company got in a bus and went and played paintball together. It was an fantastic and memorable event, and one that I doubt will happen again.

Growth Team

During the second half of my term at SafetyCulture the company decided to establish a Product Growth Team. I was a part of the team’s initial inception and eventually became the team’s tech lead. We worked with an experiment, data driven workflow, the first of which in the company. I won’t talk about that experience too much here, but I will release a separate article in the future.

From Tropical Paradise to Concrete Jungle

5 laps up Castle Hill

Manoj and I finished 5 laps up Castle Hill

After 2 years living in Townsville Julie and I decided that it was time to explore somewhere else in the world. We really liked living in Townsville and would cherish our time living there forever, but it was a little too removed from the rest of the world. It would take more than 8 hours to travel to see my family, for example. We were satisfied that we have experienced most of what North Queensland had to offer and in the end decided to move to Sydney. There at least I could continue to work for SafetyCulture and Julie could more easily travel back to her home of Taiwan.

The last final months in Townsville were some of the most enjoyable; Navin, another iOS engineer, and I in a flurry of activity tried to explore as much of the state as possible. We saw the longest single drop waterfall in Australia; Wallaman Falls, camped on Magnetic Island, watched the stars with backpackers on the beach in Cape Tribulation, and watched a family of four Cassowaries cross the road also in Cape Tribulation.

During these final months Julie had gone to travel through south Europe and in the meantime I stayed at an AirBnB in Westend where I organised the move to Sydney. A few days after Julie returned from holidays the removals truck arrived to pick up our things and took them to Sydney. With all of our things accounted for, Julie and I went for a road trip down the east coast to Sydney, camping all along the way.

As a final sayonara to Townsville Manoj and I decided to set up a little challenge for ourselves, dubbed the “Castle Hill 5”. The challenge worked like this; on Monday we had to cycle up Castle Hill once, twice on Tuesday, three times on Wednesday and so on until Friday when we had to do five laps, making for 15 laps in total over the week. We completed the challenge much to the jeering and cheering of locals. The final day took us more than 2 hours to complete, but was well worth it.

One Year in Sydney

Going to a meetup

iOS devs catching the train to CocoaHeads

Julie and I arrived in Sydney in the middle of November after a week of driving. We stayed with my auntie in Longoueville for the first month while we looked for our own place. While staying there I was cycling to work; the best part about this was the route crossed the harbour bridge so everyday I could enjoy the view of Darling Harbour and the Opera House.

Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and my Bike

Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and my Bike!

I tried to make the most of my time in Sydney and spent a lot of time going to Meetups, learnt sailing in the Sydney harbour, tried a lot of different restaurants, and explored Sydney’s suburbs and surrounds. I enjoyed my time living there but wished I had selected a more iconic suburb to live in. Unfortunately such suburbs are extravagantly expensive to live in. Sydney also has atrocious cycle-ways which was a pet frustration of mine.

In the first few weeks of living in Sydney the Townsville Growth team came to visit for a local conference; Startcon. In the conference a lot of famous Growth Hackers and founders pitched their tips for growing companies, and some their products (unfortunately). Some of the notable actors were Andrew Chen of Uber, Sean Ellis the father of Growth hacking, one of the founding Alibaba team members, a marketer at Survey Monkey, Casey Winters of Pinterest, and a marketer from Twilio. It was a two day event set in the Randwick racecourse.

Resignation & Final Days

The New Hustle Premiere

The New Hustle Premiere

At the start of August in 2017 I had a meeting with my manager and told him of my decision to resign; he accepted with an exclaimed "Oh-No!". It was a bitter-sweet decision, see-sawing my mind from trepidation to excitement.

Over the next month while wrapping up my work I received a tremendous outpouring of love from the people that I had gotten to know over the past four years. It was both elated and a depressing time of my life. However, I knew that I would stay in touch with many of the people here for years to come.

On my final day the office manager, Kase, threw a party and here I said my farewells.

The day after my resignation date was the Sydney Premiere for The New Hustle Movie. It was a documentary about the Start Up Industry in Australia, which was produced by Luke of SafetyCulture, and featured a lot of the journey which I had participated in over the past four years; it was a beautiful coincidence to be able to watch such a thing on my final night in Sydney with Julie, and to receive best wishes on my journey ahead from Luke. The next day I drove down to Melbourne for the next chapter of my life.

Fin!

Thanks for making it this far! Working at SafetyCulture was a long and rich journey for me, one that I'll remember fondly for the rest of my life. Thanks to everyone who made it such a memorable experience.

My next adventure will be as a Digital Nomad, which you can read about here.

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.