Startup Stories: How RedBalloon Got Off The Ground

By Marta Gurzeda - Nov. 15, 2012
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RedBalloon, Naomi Simson, workplace culture, employee engagement

Just like many other successful businesses, RedBalloon’s journey started inside its founder’s living room.

Naomi Simson set up RedBalloon over 10 years ago and since then it has grown from a one-person startup, into a vibrant business of more than 60 employees.

Naomi highlights that it’s their happy, satisfied employees who love what they do and who live and breathe RedBalloon’s values that are key to the company’s success. It’s clearly working, since not only are RedBalloon sales growing exponentially, but also the business is constantly making it into BRW’s list of ‘Great Places to Work’.

I recently took a look around RedBalloon’s offices to find out what makes the culture so appealing.

The Warm Welcome

You can’t miss RedBalloon’s big red door on Harris Street in the inner Sydney suburb of Pyrmont. When you enter you are welcomed by the smiles and laughter of all the team. Also by the occasional bark and a friendly wag from Dexter, Naomi’s dog that visits the office from time to time.

The open-plan office is brightened by stylish, red furniture and colourful paintings. And, of course, by floating red helium-filled balloons with their iconic red envelopes attached. They are waiting to be collected by a courier who will deliver the RedBalloon experiences to many happy lucky recipients.

‘Employee Experience’, not ‘Human Resources’

It’s not only the colourful office that creates the friendly and exciting RedBalloon atmosphere. The business is built around giving unforgettable experiences to people you care about. To deliver this promise, RedBallooners must strongly believe in and identify with this philosophy.

My job title speaks for itself”, says Megan Bromley, the Employee Experience Manager (not HR Manager). “It’s all about how our RedBallooners ‘experience’ their days at work,”

The company culture dates back to the early days of RedBalloon. Naomi always wanted to create a workplace where people actually cared about what their colleagues did over the weekend, or what their pets’ names are.

If employees feel good and have fun in their workplace, then it’s easier for them to promote the RedBalloon product and the RedBalloon experience to their customers. A win-win situation for everyone.

3,000 Applications a Year

Everything starts with the right person in the right place,” Megan explained.“We must create a team of motivated people who like to spend time together.”
“We receive around 3,000 CVs every year. But our recruitment process is slightly different from what candidates would normally experience. It is 50% about who the candidates are, and 50% about their skills and relevant experience.”

Selected candidates are brought together for a group interview in the funky RedBalloon offices and participate in different activities where the aim is to assess for the right personality and attitude.

We want to be sure that our future employees will believe in our values and will become the best ambassadors for RedBalloon”, Megan emphasises.

RedBalloon also offers a referral programme to its employees. Interestingly, despite a great incentive for referring a successful candidate (a RedBalloon experience of choice) it is not all that popular.

That’s because we all care so much about who will ultimately join our team,” Megan explains. “RedBallooners see that what we are doing here is very special. They are far more interested in creating the unique atmosphere and culture in the office than in an incentive for bringing a new person on board.

The Journey

RedBalloon doesn’t earn its employees’ commitment and engagement by paying crazily high salaries or by offering free gym memberships. The employee experience is a journey.

First, it’s about being yourself among people you actually like. Second, it’s about fun!” says Megan.

The list of activities engaging and bonding employees is endless. There is a wellness program including yoga classes and nutritional advice. Employees are also offered days off for their birthday and a free day to volunteer with their charity of choice.

There is also a series of ‘Christmas Love’ events every November. It lets the team feel the spirit of the upcoming festive season. On the first day everybody finds a chocolate advent calendar on their desks.

Of course nobody is judged when all of the chocolates are gone at the end of the day!” Megan jokes.

A number of activities have also been implemented that recognise those employees who have strongly displayed the company’s values. There are monthly lunches where peer awards are given to the most outstanding individuals. And on a daily basis managers are also encouraged to give employees points for living RedBalloon’s values. These points can be redeemed for experiences within the RedBalloon range later on.

We’re not a ‘boozy 5 p.m. on Friday’ type of culture,” Megan concluded. “Our people don’t wait until the end of the week to finally forget about everything and just let go. They have fun all week. Of course, the ‘Beer Fairy’ visits us every Friday afternoon, but it’s definitely not the most important thing everybody is working for.

Marketing Specialist at RecruitLoop. Previously with Unilever. Loves traveling and discovering new cultures.


Marta Gurzeda

Marketing Specialist at RecruitLoop. Previously with Unilever. Loves traveling and discovering new cultures.

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