By March 2022, Starship robots had played more than 108,000 songs over the past seven months, meaning our customers put around 500 songs into their basket every day when ordering from Starship. That’s an awesome outcome considering that it wasn’t was possible until recently. How did we achieve this?
People order songs, add to their basket along with milk and bread, like a regular grocery item. After that, the items are collected and loaded into a Starship robot. When the robot arrives at the customer and the customer opens the lid, the robot starts playing the selected song. What a lovely and entertaining surprise! But it has not always been like that.
Seven months ago, all our robots said was “Good afternoon!” or “Bon appetit!” and no one could even imagine robots playing more than 100 000 songs throughout the next half a year!
Starship’s Senior Backend Developer, Misha Stepanov recalls that when he joined the company in Spring 2021, robots could only dance. “For that, we were supported by a choreographer who helped us to put several robots to move around in sync. They danced beautifully and it was fun to watch,” comments Misha and admits that this inspired him to also come up and create something new and unique himself.
For that, Misha started testing his ideas with Anti Veeranna, Starship’s Senior Product Design Technologist who has worked in the company from near the very beginning. Thanks to that, Anti knows everything and everyone, has a hand in many endeavors and was happy to bounce around all crazy ideas.
In the COVID pandemic, people were already getting used to self-isolation and working or studying from home. At the same time, this new situation had also increased stress levels, since many often felt rather lonely.
On the positive side, we received feedback that Starship robots and deliveries tend to cheer people up during these difficult times. The idea was catchy and inspiring — if something like that can brighten up someone’s day a bit, then it is worth the effort and time to think about how to boost it more. That resulted in Misha and Anti focusing solely on bringing robot interaction to another level.
They wondered whether it would be possible to get a Starship robot to play “Happy Birthday”, when it’s the customer’s birthday for example. “We knew that if we could pull this off and make it happen, then any other scenario would not be difficult either. Therefore, we focused on its implementation,” Misha explained.
Therefore, the first idea was to redevelop Starship’s current mobile application, so that together with ordering a grocery basket, one could also choose a song as a separate add-on. However, creating this solution seemed like it would take a bit too many development hours, long releases, another team’s input and coordination between different departments.
Anti then suggested that what if a song could be added into the basket as a regular product, meaning that no interface development is needed, including no additional programming or a long coordination process. Sounded perfect and a lot easier!
It seemed that the only development effort needed was:
- To add an additional item (songs) to the menu, and;
- To remove a song after the order is placed in order not to pass it to the restaurant, as the song cannot be cooked, and;
- When the customer opens up a robot’s lid, the system should check if any song was ordered and if yes, then it should be played.
By the way, it has to be brought out that Starship robots already knew how to play mp3 files, since they were able to say “Good afternoon!”, “Have a nice day!” and “Bon appetit!”. Therefore, from the technical point of view, it was not difficult to get robots to sing.
Misha and Anti understood that if their idea was technically as feasible as it was, then their next goal was to also convince others that this is exactly what Starship needed.
They were lucky to find the right people from the marketing department who were delighted and fascinated by the idea. For marketing, adding a song to Starship deliveries would also add a new unique selling proposition to the service.
Therefore, the marketing team took over the entire organizational side of the process, meaning that they bought songs from song owners, had a discussion with the menu department, introduced new virtual goods to our system, covered all agreements with partners and provided full marketing support.
The first three purchased songs that Starship robots were able to play, were:
Everything else went according to plan: PR, marketing messaging, layout for the first clients, deploying the first city (Milton Keynes), then the first country (England), and then came the global rollout.
“Seeing this finally happen was amazing and a delight to witness for both of us,” Misha commented.
Today, customers can choose between 3–5 songs, which change frequently, depending on time and location. Our service is constantly evolving.
Hence, to make a robot sing, you just need one cool idea, two colleagues to brainstorm at lunch, a couple of days for development … and then the whole company to support it.
The result was warmly welcomed by everyone — the team, the company, and most importantly — our Starship customers! 100 000+ orders only confirms that.
Well done, Misha and Anti!
A brave leap from big corporate to pioneering start-up — Timo Lehto’s journey at Starship began 2.5 years ago and continues to provide him that extra something in life. As Product Manager, he thrives at the opportunity to build products in-house that do not yet exist in the world. Together with his team he builds the future of Starship by exploring the unknown. Every day.
After spending more than a decade working in a big corporation within maritime logistics, Timo Lehto decided to join Starship and help us make low cost, convenient and sustainable delivery available to all. As our Product Manager in Helsinki, Timo is driving the software development of autonomous equipment fleets and related products and solutions.
In winter, he gladly steers north to the mountains for some downhill skiing, a common interest of all members of the Lehto family, as well as the sauna, open fireplace and evening board games.
What’s the best part about your job?
“It’s the part where I need to look ahead. To identify what we need to do in this very moment, or a year or two from now, to reach our long-term goal. I’m intrigued by the constant adaption where we provide a human element to a system where the role of the human changes. As the system evolves we start to expect different things. That exploration of the unknown is very exciting.”
Tell us about the culture at Starship. How is it different from other companies?
“For me, it’s quite unique in the way that we all share the same goal: there’s no extra politics or debate. I have never worked in a company before where it is so clear where we are going. And everybody tries to do their best to get us there.”
Of the projects you’ve been involved in so far, which do you consider the most important?
“I’m very interested in Situational Awareness. We are setting up remote locations, and we need to provide an efficient way to know what is going on with our robots and operations, everywhere and always. We need to be able to take action if something is going wrong. It’s an ongoing and fun challenge.”
Do you think there is life on other planets?
Life probably exists on other planets, maybe even at this exact time. Although intelligence is harder and more unlikely to find. There’s been life on Earth for a few billion years, and it is only in the last 100 years that we have been able to communicate beyond this planet. So, the risk is that civilisations will miss each other in time.
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Tell us something about the Helsinki team!
“Like most teams at Starship, the Helsinki team is international. My teammates are from all over the world, and there are very few of us who can actually speak Finnish. For me, it was new to be part of such an international team, and now after being here for 2.5 years, I can say that it’s incredibly valuable to have multiple cultures represented. Our very different backgrounds provide fresh perspectives and a wider angle to solve problems. Oh yeah, and we meet for breakfast every Wednesday. That’s fun!”
Speaking of the Helsinki team, we are actually looking to expand our fleet, creating a new cross-functional team with software engineers, product designers, data analysts and product managers. Be part of Timo’s team and join our extraordinary journey here.
Inspired by the International Women’s Day, we recently launched a campaign in all our channels in order to truly celebrate the powerful and inspirational women here at Starship. Although we only have one specific month to celebrate the women that strive to #breakthebias, we are dedicated to amplifying women’s voices every day.
Should Kaari’s story inspire you or if you feel an interest towards working at Starship, then make sure to check our careers page as we have currently globally more than 120 open positions available.
Happy belated International Women’s Day, Kaari! Please tell us a bit about your career journey.
To be honest, I have never really planned any of my career. I didn’t plan to become a software engineer, it kind of just happened to me. I came to Starship as a bored PhD student, looking for a larger team and for something more fast paced. I do get a lot of energy from other people around me and I like if there are others to lean on.
Whoa, so how exactly did you end up in your position?
I ended up in my position by saying to others that I would like to code more. Seems a cool thing to do. And then others did their best to help me achieve that. It’s easy to help others when they know what they want.
Your story of how to maintain confidence and follow your gut feeling is so inspiring! At your current role in Starship, what is your everyday life like?
I am very involved in deciding what is the most impactful thing to do in our field in order to achieve the goals of Starship. So a chuck of my time goes to data investigations. The other part is implementing all the ideas. I work with managing which robot does what at what time. It’s an endless optimizing exercise. And it’s basically impossible to say what would be the truly correct thing to do. I like operating in this uncertain space.
I especially love lengthy discussions with others about how to solve problems. You shoot out ideas and at the same time try to think why the solution fails.
In general, how would you describe Starship’s culture? Or what do you like here the most? Has anything surprised you?
I’d say that Starship has been a very caring and considerate environment. What I like most is that I know that my managers sincerely care about my wellbeing. That I am not just a human resource that needs to be managed, but I know I can trust my colleagues so that I can open up about all kinds of issues and I can expect understanding.
I think Starship aspires to a very healthy work life balance. As one of our engineering managers recently said, there are much more important things than work.
Finally, can you share with us any career tips or pro tips you may have for women wanting to work or develop in the tech sphere?
I think the essential thing is to learn that everyone else is just as clueless as you are. I think literally everyone feels the imposter syndrome when they start out.
It’s quite typical for young boys to start developing their interest in tech early on, because their friends are into similar things and society as a whole encourages them, which is great. When you start out as an adult it may feel that others just have so much more knowledge, but they have learned techy things for so much longer. I think early on it seemed to me that I can’t catch up, but now I know that you absolutely can. Don’t mix up experience with inherent ability!
Another thing that I would recommend is to take on tasks that you have no idea how to solve. And when you get stuck, ask for help, it won’t make you look stupid. It is great if you find someone sympathetic from whom you are not afraid to ask the dumbest questions. They usually aren’t dumb, even if it seems that it’s obvious to everyone but you.
Inspired by the International Women’s Day, we at Starship are also celebrating the powerful women in our international community. Did you know that out of Starship’s almost 1000 employees only ¼ are women? Therefore, the more we care and appreciate them and luckily, the number of women at Starship is already constantly growing.
Should Karoliina’s story inspire you or if you feel an interest towards working at Starship, then make sure to check our careers page as we have currently globally more than 120 open positions available.
Happy Women’s Day, Karoliina! Please tell us a little about your career journey so far.
During the last year of my Bachelor studies in IT and Biology, I was taking a robotics class. The course happened to run at the same time as the world’s largest robotics competition, Robotex, which was taking place in Tallinn. Accompanying an enthusiastic robotics fan, my friend, I joined as a volunteer to be a judge in the competition. My world was forever changed from that day on.
Meanwhile, I joined the Robotics Club of the Tallinn University of Technology to build a robot of my own. Moreover, I started teaching robotics to children in Tallinn Secondary School of Science. And when all the other stars also aligned, I joined the coolest kids on the block, Starship Technologies.
Being still a student, I joined the company as a robot operator and with much enthusiasm, started my job as a robot technician already less than a year later. Currently I am the Service Team Lead in Tallinn/Helsinki.
Today, I am as much in love with robots as when I first stepped through the doors of Starship in 2018. Since that day, the growth and discovery journey in the tech world and at Starship has been astounding and I have loved every moment of it.
Whoa, you and robots really go hand in hand already from the very beginning. What does your regular day in your current role look like?
In addition to my robots in Tallinn, where Starship’s development office is situated, being a technician has also taken me to the UK, Washington, California and Wisconsin, meaning that I contribute globally by giving my helping hand wherever our robot friends need that. Recently, my dedication was rewarded as I was offered a new exciting position as a team leader in Estonia and in Finland.
My day-to-day job at Starship is very versatile. In the mornings, our team usually has a to-do list review meeting. Our highest priority is to keep our fleet of robots healthy. Being a robot technician is very much like being a doctor. You have a certain number of patients whose names and issues you know by heart. They come in with complaints or for monthly health check ups and it is our job to provide them with the best care. We keep detailed documentation on each robot and a strict eye on all the upgrades and fixes that are needed.
Besides the robot repairs, I also work daily with building electronics testers, testing, diagnosing and repairing our printed circuit boards (PCB). One of the things I fell in love with as a newbie tech enthusiast were PCBs. The capability of a little but powerful electronic board just opened up a whole new world for me, electrons moving through a miniature city to fulfill a program’s task still seems like magic to me.
Moreover, I get to work with the brightest minds in the field at Starship, and it is an absolute honor.
We love your insights! Can you also please enlighten us on Starship culture?
Starship’s culture is like no other. I get up each day excited to go to work, and I often don’t even realize when it’s time to go home at night. People at Starship come together to share a common passion, and I can’t get enough of it! The company has grown (and continues to do so!) fast and furious, yet able to maintain the feeling of family amongst the new and old team members.
We love it! Finally, do you have any advice for women who would also like to enter the tech field or join the world of robots?
Growing up with an older brother and always hanging amongst his friends, taught me early that more important than your gender is how you present yourself. Meaning, that I have never felt as an outsider in the often male dominated tech field, as more important than your gender is the passion and love you bring to the table and to your team each day.
At Starship, employees are valued based on their abilities and passion towards robots, whatever their gender is. I have always felt appreciated and cared for by each team member.
To repeat and manage the already proven isn’t his thing. Instead, he is occupied with revolutionising the world of transport. Joakim Kronqvist, Senior Mobile Developer at Starship, wants to create a better and more automated world. With the help of robotics and smart technological platforms, he thrives when the future is in his hands.
Joakim has a broad role where developing, planning, and discussing mobile solutions with various stakeholders is part of everyday life. His work focuses on the app that Starship’s customers download and use to order their food and drinks. He describes it as similar to other e-commerce platforms but with one significant difference — robots do the deliveries instead of humans.
In his spare time he leads an active life and likes to have a lot of things going on. For example, he is training for a marathon and puts time and effort into that. Photography is another passion. Joakim loves to spend his days in the woods portraying birds. Preferably at odd angles.
What motivates and inspires you at Starship?
“The fact that we want to revolutionise the whole world — not just a local market — is inspiring. For example, we are well established in markets such as the UK and the US. Because many people live there, we can make a big difference with our services.
But I’m also motivated by doing what no one has done before. We’re the first and largest company to automate home deliveries. It means we face challenges no one has ever seen before. It is a whole different ball game than copying other people’s proven solutions.”
What is the most unexpected thing about your job?
“Even though Starship is a fairly large company, many teams are small with a broad responsibility and a lot of self-leadership. It means it’s advantageous if you’re a bit of an entrepreneur. It’s probably a key to fit in.”
How is the culture at Starship unique?
“While other companies call themselves international, we are for real. There are no geographical limitations at all. We hire the smartest and most passionate people we can find, regardless of nationality. My team, for example, includes employees from Columbia, Iran, India, Australia, and Denmark. What we have in common is not heritage or background, but our drive to revolutionise the world.”
What do you believe is the secret to a successful career?
“Personally, I think you need clear goals in life and maybe high ambitions. It is often said that if you are ever the smartest person in the room, you should probably change rooms quite quickly. I think so, anyway; I want to hang out with people who are smarter than me.”
What do you think will be the future of robot development, transport solutions, and AI?
“If you look back at industrialisation at the end of the 19th century, I think we are seeing a similar shift now — towards an automated society. Some jobs will disappear, and new ones will be created. That especially applies to transport solutions, and it is easy to see the benefits, both environmentally and developmentally. I am driven to lead society in the right direction.”
Describe your job as if I were from another planet.
“I will assume you are an individual in the same way humans are. Well, most likely, you also need certain objects. And most likely, geographical conditions can be found on your planet as well. Then it may be that these objects you need are found at different physical places than where you are. I would say I make a system that shows where the objects are and then brings them to you.”
Will Starship make deliveries in the Metaverse?
“We are so close to the physical dimension at Starship that it’s hard to imagine, but perhaps if you look at it from a different perspective. There are probably things people want in the virtual world that need to be delivered and paid for with virtual currency. We may have a future there as well. Who knows?”
Would you like to join our extraordinary journey? Great, we’re always on the lookout for unusually talented people. Find your next career here.
There has been enough written on how to build highly effective product teams. You might have read Marty Cagan’s book (we did too) or dozens of other articles. Even if you follow industry best practices in setting up product teams, you will never build any two teams in exactly the same way. Teams are made of individuals and the sum of these individuals makes each team unique. It’s no different for us at Starship.
In our product team we have multiple product groups that focus on key pillars of the business such as consumer experience or autonomous systems. Each team is empowered with competencies and skills needed to bring product to life from idea to customer acceptance and business impact: product management, product design, data science and engineering.
Team’s function better when there are clear roles and responsibilities established across the team, and when each role is filled by a person highly skilled in that role. This is a basic concept of teamwork, where the collective group can accomplish more than if each person works individually. Work has to be divided up to allow for this, and so allocating the work to people with the skills to perform the work is more efficient than assigning it randomly, or to people who don’t have the necessary skills.
When we hire for product teams, in addition to necessary skills, we look for culture add and values fit. Every new person that joins us adds something or compliments our culture. It makes the team unique and one of a kind. If you’re thinking about jumping the ship (pun intended!) and joining the Starship product team here are a few things you may want to know about our ways of working.
Extreme ownership & trust
As a team, and everyone individually, we take full responsibility for our work and the things that have happened. This means that everyone takes action to get the necessary information to do their job and we proactively try to solve any given problems. We don’t wait for someone to hand us everything but instead we ask, we seek, and we find. And yes, sometimes we fail. In such situations we don’t blame others for the failure but instead we own it. As one of our company values states: “we learn with each journey”.
Professional maturity is the ability to respect diversified cultural backgrounds and experiences in a workplace. In our team we have 12 different nationalities from 4 continents and we work in distributed teams between Helsinki, Tallinn and London. We respect one another and accept that we are different — that’s what makes us special. Having so many different cultures in one team sometimes causes situations where our opinions collide. We approach these situations as a source of true team value, and with a non-judgmental and compassionate attitude.
Fit for purpose
Being a bunch of experienced people that are really good at what they do means that we want to do our job really well. We want to put out the best possible experience for our customers and partners. We want to create products that are as good as they can possibly be — make them perfect.
The problem with perfectionism, however, is that it slows us down and it can make the team miss opportunities to bring value in a new way. If we release things only when they’re perfect we won’t learn quickly enough how to make things better. Therefore, we try not to let perfect get into a way of better. Thus, we aspire for perfection but don’t let that hinder us from releasing great things.
Disagree & commit
We believe that a good idea can come from anyone. And we want the best ideas to flourish — regardless of where they originated. This means being open to constructively working with people with diverse skills and perspectives, and keeping our decision-making inclusive and rigorous.
Once we have exhausted the options a decision is made. We embrace the concept of constructive debate and querying, but once a decision is made we all rally around the chosen path. We embody the principle of disagree & commit.
Believing in making a difference
A lot of us joined Starship because we thought it would be cool to work with robots. And it really is. The common value that we all share though, is that we truly believe that we can make a difference. We believe that we can make a positive impact of solving the last-mile problem by developing the delivery service of tomorrow, today. We all want Starship to succeed and make the last-mile the greenest mile.
Building the delivery service of tomorrow is not an easy task. The challenges we work on are complex and multifaceted. Working at the intersection of physical and digital products and systems adds to this complexity. As a product team we aim to take our extraordinary technical achievements and turn them into a service that people simply cannot live without. We aim to delight our customers with the ultimate on-demand services, and to inspire our merchants with a peerless local sales channels. In parallel we work to empower our operations teams to drive efficiency with quality and deliver everyday magic with our self-driving robots.
Do these challenges sound up your alley? Great, we’re on a lookout for unusually talented people. Find your next career here.