How does a geo-spatial expert survive a 3 month stint in a fast-paced startup environment?

profile of myra muhammad
profile of elise mckenna
Written by Myra Muhammad
and Elise McKenna
Interview Labs Australia

At IAG professional development is encouraged and supported, one way that our colleagues can get involved with Firemark Labs Australia is through a 3 month secondment.  We see this as a great opportunity for us to collaborate with our colleagues and bring diversity to our team. We also hope that the people who join us leave Firemark Labs Australia with a new perspective and passion to teach what they have learnt to others.

Elise McKenna is a geo-spatial expert who has just finished up her secondment with us as product manager for Safer Journeys. Elise has a passion for maps, the great outdoors, and loves her role in location engineering at IAG. When we put the call out for a product manager, Elise saw this as an opportunity to take on the challenge of working in a startup and pursue her other interests of lean, agile and design thinking. So how does a geo-spatial expert survive a 3 month stint in a fast-paced startup environment?

You spent a secondment in the Firemark Incubator, where do you normally work?

My home team is in location engineering which sits within Data, Customer Labs. We are responsible for delivering geo data and geo services to help IAG build beautiful experiences, deep insights and accurate pricing. Put more simply – we make maps to help IAG understand their customers and business from a location perspective. I have a passion for maps and geo data, and being a keen hiker I’m stoked I get to create and use maps for both business and leisure!

Can you tell me a little more about your love for maps?

I’ve always had a love of getting outdoors which meant I was studying maps from a young age. The interest grew from there and that passion paired with a strength in being practical and half good at maths led me to study an engineering degree majoring in spatial information systems. Fast forward to today and I’m using my spatial specialty for one of Australia’s largest insurers.

wall of maps

You were product owner for Safer Journeys, what was the project about?

We know that there is an increase in people using their smartphones on the road and distracted driving increases your chance of crashing by up to 12 times! Safer journeys is an app that encourages drivers to be safer by rewarding them for it through a daily prize draw. I felt passionate about working on a product that could save lives. We are hoping to grow and onboard more reward partners onto Safer Journeys so the product can continue to make our roads safer by rewarding undistracted drivers.

What delighted you the most about working here?

The people! Working with a passionate, creative and supportive team on a purpose led product was a real privilege. On a personal side though, one of my goals coming into the secondment was to pursue an interest and learn from experience in how to work at the intersection of agile, lean, and design thinking to build brilliant products. I’m definitely no expert, and I’m still learning but to be able to test myself in a new way of working and find and build a new passion for product was a real delight. I loved it!

image of safer journeys insight wall
Feedback gathered from users are put into a visual system.
section of insights from SJ users: secondment
A close up of some of the feedback we are tracking.


What was your biggest achievement?

Helping the team deliver a product that helps to make our roads a safer place! We trialed the product with a group who helped us to prioritise and feed our backlog. At the end of the trial, over 60% of our users have told us it makes them a safer driver. From a secondment perspective, another of my goals for the three month period was to test my adaptability. I’m proud of being able to adapt to a completely new role, a different working environment and add value to the team.

What was the biggest challenge you faced and how did you overcome it?

We were acquiring a heap of valuable feedback from our users – via interviews, surveys, forums and observations. A real challenge was to put a system in place to make sure we were staying on top of and utilising each piece of feedback to help us prioritise our backlog.

What is something you will take away from your time here and use back in your team?

If I was to pick out one thing, it would be to help my team adopt design thinking and user-centred design in our decision making. We are good at building things right technically but we can improve on making sure we’re building the right things first.

Elise was an amazing person to have in the incubator, whilst learning the role of product manager she helped the team of Safer Journeys launch their product. She confirms why we offer secondments in Firemark Labs Australia and continue to share our philosophy with our colleagues at IAG. We’ve been so thrilled to have Elise that we now hope to get her back for another secondment!*

*Elise has indeed extended her time here for another 3 months (yay!) helping a few other projects in the incubator.


You can find more information about Safer Journeys at

Download it on your Apple device here or on Android device here.

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