The Top Secret Behind Orbicas Growth

By Louisa Taylor

When you’re in “start-up” mode, starting up gets in the way of everything else, including writing about starting up.

That’s why I find myself writing my very first Orblog on my 1-year Orbiversary as Orbica’s chief operating officer, and wondering where the year went.

We’ve passed a few milestones in that year, and it’s always hard to know which one marks the point when you can officially graduate from being a start-up into being just, well, a business.

Is it when…

• you are in business for a while: a year passes?
• you move into your own premises because you’re too big for a shared office space?
• you know better now: you built on and learned from what happened last time?
• you turn down work because you know what the right type feels like?
• the phone starts ringing (and it’s not a call back)?

For me, probably the biggest one is

• you start getting more sleep.

This year, and this role, has involved wearing whatever hat was required at the time: legal, finance, HR, organisational design, admin, BD, sales, agileist, marketing and communications and more. To some extent this hasn’t changed, but now I have many people around me who wear lots of hats too.

Right now, I’m sitting at my desk at Orbica HQ overlooking Christchurch’s new, green, Rauora park as I write. We’ve got 14 permanent staff, two interns and a German-based director of European operations who has just gone to bed for the night, and I’m thinking about where we were when I started. What’s made us successful?

The problem we faced
Back then, we were a team of five in a shared office space overlooking a concrete and steel carpark and a problem. I was new to the sector when the team described to me the key issue they faced in the geospatial industry: it was a classic situation of the cart before the horse, or the solution before the problem.

A project manager would act as a go-between the technical team and the client. They would bring the team a scoped-out project, predetermined deliverables and timelines, and then proceed to plan the job and assign tasks. The team described the outcome as lacking innovation or robustness to the point of being boring, because there was no chance to explore the possibilities with the client directly.

The delivery team needed to discuss the client’s objectives and drivers (the why), adjust the approach (the what), then dip into the technology to test out their ideas on what was the best method, approach or tool (the how). In other words, to tailor the solution to the problem, not the other way around.

A new approach
Now - one year later - our ethos is really based on that approach: a back-and-forward adjustment process. A dialogue. A careful balance between the desired outcome and what is possible. Orbicans love to debate possibilities. We’re agnostic, so we can explore any data, proprietary software, opensource, emerging tech, hardware or engagement approach. We’re free of vendor contracts so we can start the conversation with the customer and the business problem, not the licence agreement.

This diversity of thought and cross functionality is the key to our success: we are not a dev shop pumping out software to a prescribed process or a geospatial shop making maps for maps’ sake. We’re a team of scientists and domain experts who can develop really well.

The beauty of diversity
I’m a music lover, so I often relate this to the difference between a guitar player who plays guitar and a bass player who plays guitar. A bass player brings a whole different rhythm and intonation to the performance and weaves a guitar in a way that a native guitarist wouldn’t. Likewise, applying one expertise in another domain brings a richness of thought.

That’s what our team is like: we bring our broad range of expertise and world experience to each new challenge and express it through software development. And it is a broad range. Our team has expertise in economics, maths, geography, geophysics, utilities, transportation, agriculture, government and of course data for starters. Add to that opera singing, portrait painting and cartography, and you’ve got a truly vibrant expression of diversity.

People often ask me how we’ve gone about gathering such a fantastic and dedicated team of Orbicans in such a short time. The answer is that it’s easy to get people excited about our next challenge when there’s freedom to create and we’re always working on the next best thing.

It’s truly great to be part of this moving rocket we call Orbica, and I’m excited to see where we’ll be when I update you on my second Orbiversary.