Operator Spotlight: Travis James
We sat down with Travis James, Growth Operations Manager at Blinq, to chat about his journey into startups. Starting with his first job at Apple, which he describes as a sort of training ground for tech, he then jumped into Uber at the peak of their growth. Now, he's landed in a super early-stage, Melbourne-based startup where he's been able to put all his accumulated skills together. He's part of Blinq's mission to maximise the collective value from human relationships. Ready to leap into a job in startups? Sign up to The Lilypad here!
Blackbird: What was your first job out of school? Where did you work?
Travis: My first job was working in a chain of bike shops in Melbourne, starting as a part-time gig in year 10 and continuing after high school. But if we're talking about the start of my career, it began at Apple in 2009, just after the iPhone was released and when Steve Jobs was still around. So I'd say my real first job was at Apple.
Blackbird: And what was that experience like in terms of a workplace?
Travis: Working at Apple was pretty incredible. I often liken them to a McDonald's for tech, not in a bad way, but in how they're very particular about what they want. They have a high standard for their products and are rigorous about every detail. They make you feel part of the family, living by a specific credo and striving for excellence in customer service and care every time someone comes into the store. But it's a Goliath of a business, so massive with so many employees that you can feel a bit lost in it sometimes.
Blackbird: So then you moved to Uber which was also a role change, what was that like?
Travis: Yeah, great question. At Apple, I always felt half in it, as I was trying to start my own business in artist and event management in the music industry. Working really hard to be my own boss for about seven years, I got burnt out. That's when Uber came along, identifying people at Apple as good fits for their infrastructure team.
I received an offer on LinkedIn in 2017, pre-IPO, when Travis was still CEO. Uber was still really greenfield at that time. I thought, "I need a sea change, something different." Going from Apple's big corporate structure to Uber's more haphazard, "build your own team" approach was extremely appealing. So that's why I decided to make the move.
Blackbird: So it seems like Uber was your first experience in a startup. What made you curious about working in a startup? What did you know about them, or think the experience was going to be like?
Travis: So when I joined Uber, it was considered a unicorn but still felt like a startup in Melbourne. They really let each city build out the way they knew best, so it wasn't a top-down approach. That was exciting, but Uber still had 25,000 employees, so it wasn't a small startup.
Around the same time, my partner worked for a startup called Edrolo, joining when it was just 30 people. She loved it, enjoying the freedom to explore what she might want to do and what she was good at. I was kind of envious of all that opportunity in front of her.
That experience with Uber and seeing my partner at Edrolo made me want to go somewhere even smaller where I could have a bigger impact. It set the stage for my next move.
Blackbird: Tell us about that next move, it was a workplace HR platform right?
Travis: Yep, I joined a company called Ento. It was still a small startup, but not exactly early stage since the business had been around for about 12 years. It had been properly funded maybe five or six years before I started, like its first Series A or seed round funding.
I came in towards what I felt was the tail end of the business, and it was acquired within the two years I was at Ento. It was a small team, and I got that exposure and opportunity to try different things that I wanted. But it wasn't like a true early-stage startup.
So, when the chance came to join Blinq at a really early stage, that was even more exciting for me, and it prompted me to make the move.
Blackbird: And when you joined Blinq, how big was the team and what stage were they at?
Travis: Blinq had about 15 people, so it was very early stage. Compared to everything I'd experienced previously, there was heaps to be done. It seemed exciting, you know? Like, we didn't have certain things yet, and I thought, "Cool, I've seen this done in big, medium, and small companies, and here's the best way we could do it." It was all about maximising what we could achieve, given how small we were and how early we were in our journey.
Blackbird: And can you tell us a bit about your role at Blinq?
Travis: I'm the Growth Operations Manager at Blinq. Essentially, I handle projects and logistics tied to our primary acquisition channels, such as sales, marketing, product improvements, and our web and app store presence. Usually, I'll be focusing on one or two of these at a time. It's all about analysing the performance of these different channels and finding ways to make them even better.
Blackbird: And how much of that did you know about before you started at Blinq?
Travis: Good question. I'd say a lot of what I'm doing at Blinq comes down to transferable skills. From my time in the music industry, I've done PR and marketing for artists and events. I'd done extensive project work too, like at Ento where my role was more of an IT ops thing. So, I had some experience but not all, and I've been exposed to a lot more as I've gone on at Blinq.
Blackbird: And how do you work together as a team? Whats the culture at Blinq like?
Travis: We're all about regular collaboration. We have bookend meetings at the start and end of each week, where we dive into our metrics and analyse how different acquisition channels are working. We look for ways to move the needle and make a positive impact. Then we break out into separate or cross-functional projects.
In our small business, you've got the freedom to grab someone from any team and say, "Hey, sit down. Let's solve this." We all know each other, sit in the same office, plan, strategize, and then review how we did it. We discuss what worked, what didn't, what we'd do differently next time, and then we move on to the next big thing.
Blackbird: From big companies like Uber and Apple, to a business as early-stage as Blinq what would you say the main difference are?
Travis: Ah, that's an interesting one. At a big company, you're sort of like a smaller cog in a massive system. It's controlled, less risky, but also less room to make a mark. People often opt for big companies because they crave stability and job security.
But working at Blinq? It's a whole different ball game. You're close to the problems, the people. I never met the CEOs of Uber or Apple, but at Blinq, I know Jarrod, the CEO, really well. If I need to run something past him or discuss an issue, I can because he sits opposite me! It's casual like that. So, there's more ability to impact, more chances to make a difference, and more room to build on your career. I can walk away, pointing at the cool things I've done. How brilliant is that?
Blackbird: So what are the core values at Blinq? And how do they come alive?
Travis: So, the values at Blinq are still very new because we’re such early stage, they're always evolving, like every week. But there are three that I really love:
First, there's "All the Small Things." It's not just a catchy name; it's a way of life at Blinq. It's about focusing on the little details of your work, like ensuring no bugs in a new release or avoiding spelling errors on the website. It's about taking time to get it right, keeping our approach simple, and avoiding unnecessary complexity. Simplicity is our motto!
Then there's "Owners, Not Renters." It's all about taking ownership of your work and being proud of it. No one at Blinq ever says, "That's not my job." If you see a spill or a bug in the software, you don't ignore it. You take care of it. You own it. It's a culture of pride and responsibility.
Lastly, it's about Putting Customers First. At Blinq, the customer isn't just king; they're everything. Whether it's a bug or any problem, we're on it like lightning, always striving to delight, surprise, and give our customers those wonderful wow moments.
Blackbird: As a company, How do you guys celebrate the wins?
Travis: When it comes to celebrating achievements, Blinq really nails it. It's about making people feel valued. If it's your anniversary at Blinq, you might get a balloon with your Blinq birthday on your desk, or treats like donuts to celebrate. And there's usually a warm message from your manager in Slack to acknowledge how you've contributed.
We do offsites, team dinners, parties for big business milestones like product releases, or hitting growth metrics. It's about celebrating the wins as we go, and also the little things that make Blinq work. We have a shoutouts channel in Slack where colleagues call each other out for things like staying back late to fix something or jumping on a 6 AM call to help.
It's really about having each other's back at Blinq. We celebrate the wins, acknowledge the efforts, and work together, always looking out for one another.
Blackbird: And then what's the strategy for tackling the bumps on the road?
Travis: When that happens, we have regular "temperature checks" to assess the culture, which is more than I've seen other businesses do. We're constantly checking in on how happy people are and if they enjoy their work. Alongside regular performance reviews, we also have work-specific or project-specific retrospectives to make sure we're reviewing what we're doing regularly.
The leadership mentality is that we're all in this together to improve. There's no blame when something goes wrong; we're all in it together to fix it. That's key for us.
We also have weekly one-to-ones with our managers, so we can talk about non-work-related things. It's a chance to discuss how we're feeling, our motivation, and what we might want to do differently. We have various mechanisms in place to ensure that we're always improving and getting better as a business. It's about being a cohesive team and always working together to grow.
Blackbird: And to finish up, can you tell us what Blinq’s mission is all about and why you’re passionate about it?
Travis: Blinq's mission is all about maximizing the collective value from human relationships. We provide a digital business card product, aiming to help people connect and share details quickly, so the focus can be on the actual conversation.
We don't want the transaction of getting each other's details to hinder meaningful communication.
Beyond just the connection, we want to help people promote their best professional selves. When you meet a potential employer, you should walk away feeling that you've given your best impression, with your business card and LinkedIn details, for example.
Our mission is to empower people to present themselves in a way they feel thrilled about, letting the real conversation shine. I'm passionate about this mission because I think it's genuinely empowering. As a member of the growth team, I focus on communicating this specific message to our customers, so they understand our product's value.
Whether through sales calls or marketing messages, we strive to make sure our customers understand our mission. We want them to know what we aim to achieve with our product, and that keeps me excited and motivated every day
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