First thing on a Monday morning, while the rest of us are heading for our desks, Bridget Thakrar drives to Mordialloc, a beachside suburb south of Melbourne, where she spends a couple of hours walking along the foreshore with her boss, Sensand CEO Peter Moulton.
It’s an unorthodox start to the week – but then there’s little that’s conventional about the working culture at Sensand.
Bridget, our dynamic Head of People and Operations, is convinced that Sensand’s early success derives from doing things a little differently: not just flexible working hours – de rigeur since COVID – but a business ethos that empowers people to think big, take risks, and make things happen.
“Peter’s the kind of boss who says ‘you don’t have to get approval from me to try something new – if you have a good idea, start the process, design something, and pitch it when you’re ready’,” says Bridget. “There’s no paperwork, no guardrails, no formal approvals… just lots of room for great ideas.”
It’s the kind of culture that gave birth to Mintly, Sensand’s blockchain-enabled carbon trading platform, the original testbed of which was developed with a group of wunderkind engineers over an inspired long weekend.
“Peter took them away to the mountains to develop the concept, and he encouraged one of our youngest engineers to stop what he was doing and focus 100% on Mintly, and he’s now the head of a team that’s developed this next-gen masterpiece that will enable customers across the world to evaluate and trade carbon credits across multiple markets and land-use sectors,” says Bridget.
“That kind of brilliance money can’t buy, but it would never be realised in the first place if we were operating within the confines of a traditional company.”
|First job||Picking flowers aged 11, for $4.50 an hour|
|Alma mater||University of Auckland (Bachelor of Commerce)|
|Family||Hubbie Viren, sons Zavi and Hakan – and a growing bump!|
|Hobbies||All things Muay Thai|
|Favourite vacation spot||Rarotonga in the Cook Islands|
That kind of empowerment – encouraging employees to think big and take ownership of their ideas – is what drew Bridget to Sensand in the first place.
“I’d been working with South East Water for seven years, the last four in an executive role,” she says. “I loved that company very much – they were very good to me – but I wanted to leave while I still loved it, you know? I’d long wanted to get in with a tech start-up, and I was considering a few roles in the sector – but they were all very recruitment-focused and felt a bit ‘tech bro-ey’…”
Then she met Sensand – and was hooked from the get-go.
“I could tell right from the start, even by the way the advert was written, that they cared deeply about their culture. While other companies were all about talent acquisition, Sensand’s ad was about creating an exceptional culture and focusing on the experience of working there. Peter’s naturally a great leader, and he has a great nose for culture fit, so he’s been recruiting people who aren’t a**holes. The engineering team are all outstanding, the same with design, product, commercial – they blow your mind every day. But every single one of them is also a great human, which makes my job so much easier.”
Bridget checks in with each employee regularly, makes sure they’re travelling well, have everything they need. Again, she cites Peter’s benevolent nature for the positive feedback she gets; while the company’s been operating entirely at home (with a catchup in the city on Wednesdays), every employee is looked after – the best computers, monitors, chairs, ergonomics. “A lot of our team are young and living at home or in share houses, so we need to make their workspaces as appealing as possible.”
The right mix
Since Bridget joined Sensand, the team has grown by six – but they’re not rushing to build a behemoth. “We’re still at the fundraising stage, and I’m very conscious of all the cautionary tales you hear of start-ups growing too fast too soon. Engineering and programming are very hot markets right now – so good people have the pick of the jobs.
“We’re stepping through this period very carefully, building our team slowly to get the right mix of skills and culture fit. The response to our technology from our partners and investors has been fantastic – but we need to stay pragmatic and focus on getting the right people for where we want to go.”
For Bridget, who’s about to have her third child, the prospect of stepping away from work at such an important time is a little daunting. “I might get ‘FOMO’ if I’m away for too long,” she laughs. “Sensand offers five months’ paid parental leave – so generous again – so the plan at this stage is to return around then.”
For Bridget, it all comes down to the ultimate HR equation: empowerment + trust = engagement + performance. “When your boss gives you so much trust and flexibility, you really consider all your actions through the lens of ‘what’s best for the company’, as opposed to ‘what rule should I follow’.”
So what about the Monday beach walks? “Even when we’re back in the office full-time, I’m still going to insist on those strategy walks in Mordialloc. It’s one of my favourite times of the week, when so many great ideas come out!”