Starting work at a start-up

Fresh out of law school with a background in policy analysis and legal research, I’ve just come on board at AgriDigital and begun working closely with CEO Emma Weston and the strategy and operations teams. This blog series contains some of my thoughts and reflections on starting work at a start-up.

Just under three weeks ago, a chance coffee with Emma Weston catapulted me into the middle of the Australian grain industry and the acclaimed blockchain. I’m taking on a position that I can best describe as a combination of executive administration, legal and regulatory support, project management, strategy and communications.

Stepping into Stone & Chalk, with its blackboard walls graffiti-ed with amateur artworks, countless bearded tech guys and fintech buzz words, is a completely different world to the structured, textbook environment of law school. While I can’t wait to launch myself into a new challenge, it’s daunting to be surrounded by this amount of innovation and specialised skill.

It’s all about filling gaps

My first Monday morning, I walk straight into the weekly team meeting and quickly try to sort out who’s who in the zoo.

Mapping the organisation structure isn’t easy as everyone seems to know and do everything — we are a team of just over 10, a mix of full-time and part-time employees, contractors and consultants. There are no formal departments, the structure is very flat and whilst everyone is on mission, the reality is individual roles overlap and accountability is often shared. Everyone uses their skills to fill gaps wherever and whenever needed.

Something I quickly realise is writing a two-minute explanation on ‘what is blockchain’ at 5 pm on a Tuesday is seriously tough. Maybe leave that to the experts! (Fortunately for me, I am now surrounded by them).

By my second week I find myself helping the development team build out a payments model by pretending to be a farmer and entering contracts and deliveries to test the new system. Neither a farmer nor developer, I would never have guessed I’d be delivering loads of canola on a Wednesday afternoon, even imaginary ones.

Perhaps this is iconic of a start-up: there’s always heaps to do and not enough hands to get it done. The work is endlessly varied and it seems roles are fluid, moving with the start-up as it changes and grows.

Two weeks in and the idea of having a job which requires me to explain what I’m actually doing each day is really growing on me.

Fast paced is an understatement

Working at a start-up is extremely fast paced. Things change quickly, and you need to know how to adapt. Overnight a meeting, event or entire project can be cancelled, postponed or emerge as an urgent priority.

Because everyone is so busy, any training I’ve received has been in snippets between meetings (most often in hurried briefings before them) and on the go. My crash course in Agriculture 101 is delivered on speakerphone from our Executive Director as he’s on the road from Young to Dubbo to see a customer. It’s only during meetings, while watching things happen, that what we are building comes together. There are no information booklets, introduction weeks or well-crafted programs to get me up to speed and walk me through how things are done. I learn by listening to conversations and asking as many questions as I can. And, despite being constantly busy, everyone keeps finding time to answer them — even if it means midnight Slack messages and hurried emails before flights take off.

With the team split over multiple locations, three of us can easily be a full house at the Stone & Chalk office. However, everyone does find time to get together, even if it’s over boxes of pizza and celebratory drinks. I’m hoping we quickly find ourselves a larger office space so this happens more often!

It hasn’t take me long to realise this small group of people are set to fundamentally change the global agriculture supply chain. It’s only the beginning but I’m all on board for whatever happens next. It’s been a big two weeks.

This week’s tip for new starters: spending even 15 minutes with each team member really helps in better understanding what they do and how you might be able to assist. Building relationships in this way means all those questions you have can be directed to the right people!