Contributor Mary Miller-Furesh speaks with WorkLife Calendar Founding Director, Maryse Jensen, about launching the WorkLife Calendar app.
//SN: Maryse, we met early in your startup journey. Can you tell me a little about what WorkLife Calendar is and how the idea for it came about?
WorkLife Calendar is an app that allows you to stay connected with family and friends while working a shift based roster. This calendar based app allows you to add any combination of roster and appointments. You can then share selective individual pieces of information with friends and family while your calendar as a whole remains private. You can compare rosters side by side, as well as, search for events and activities for your days off and invite friends.
//SN: Maryse, how did the idea for it come about?
Shift work and rosters have been a big part of my life. I have worked Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) as well as resided in a remote Pilbara town for about 15 years. Before that I was working shifts as a chef and restaurant owner in New Zealand. Shift work can be isolating – having time off when friends and family are working or tied up. It can leave you disconnected from them. The roster isolates you – friends don’t know when you’re off or in town so you don’t get invited to events. One day I rang a ‘shiftie’ friend in Qld and woke her up as I didn’t realise she was on night shift, I was then hesitant to ring her again. This is what made me realise there was a problem.
I have been trying to mull over a way to solve this problem for several years – to build a solution that will help shift workers stay connected to family and friends.
//SN: How did you validate the market?
Initially I drew on my own experiences and this gave me a good starting point. I drew on my large network of colleagues in hospitality and mining. I conducted in depth interviews with a large focus group and this provided solid validation. I also analysed news articles and research on shift work and FIFO. The Australian 2014 census recorded 1.5 million employees worked shift work with a rotating shift being the most common type of work. There are so many other industries that rely on shift work such as emergency services, hospitals, logistics and retail.
The link between shift work and mental health is massive. The culture of FIFO workers has always been one of ‘harden up’ but the real impact has is devastating – stress, anxiety and substance abuse. As is the impact on relationships and families. And this is where WorkLife Calendar app comes in – you can find time and events to catch up with your support network.
//SN: Sounds like you have really hit a sweet spot.
We have been working really hard to provide a private but easy way to stay connected and have something locked in for when you are on leave.
//SN: Maryse, did you self-fund or raise investment?
It’s been a combination of the two. I have formed a company and have put in my own funds but I have also been very lucky to have an angel investor. The angel investor is silent, which is a double edged sword. It has given me the opportunity to drive the project my way, but I lack the mentorship, support and input a cofounder would bring to the project.
//SN: How did you get the app built?
We went with a well-known app development company on the east coast. To be honest it wasn’t a smooth ride. We are looking to bring in local tech talent for the next phase.
On the positive side we had a great local graphic design team, Out of the Box Design, who really captured the essence of our project with the logo.
//SN: Maryse, what’s the plan for the next six months? How do you plan on growing?
Our immediate plan is marketing and PR. We are planning to have a presence at the Perth Airport so we can link up with our target launch market. We will have the apps loaded onto phones and tablets to do live demos.
I have also been accepted into the Founder Institute which starts next month. I am really looking forward to it.
//SN: What lessons can you share with us in the process to date?
Mary, every breath, every step has been a lesson. From creating a company, to bringing on stakeholders. For us an angel investor worked well. It also provided a buffer so I didn’t burn all our savings. My advice is don’t use money you can’t afford to lose – as it is a gamble.
//SN: Maryse, if you had one tip to fellow founders, what would it be?
Just jump and do it. You can build your wings on the journey.
//SN: Maryse, thank you so much for your time. All the best with the WorkLife Calendar app and let’s have another coffee after you graduate from the Founder Institute.