Alumni Spotlight: Travis Devitt – Class of 2006, Director of Growth at Aceable

Travis DevittTravis Devitt, BHP ’06, is the Director of Growth at Aceable, an Austin-based startup focused on mobile apps for required education courses. He leads user acquisition efforts in both paid and unpaid channels, manages analytics and reporting for products, and assists with product management and marketing. Travis is also an Angel Investor and is very connected to the startup scene in Austin.

How did you learn about the Tradecraft program and what was your experience like with that program?

It was a culmination of a couple years of figuring out what my next move would be. I majored in finance and was very focused on investing. I spent the first 8 years of my career doing investing and hedge funds. I loved it, but I didn’t love the work product. I didn’t feel like we were making society better or contributing to society in a meaningful way. I started thinking about what else I would be interested in doing. I had been interested in technology and tech startups since high school and I minored in MIS at UT. I thought about doing a startup of my own or going to work for an early-stage company, but I realized I needed to build up my skill sets before taking that next move.

I started looking at 12-15 week boot camps that were full-time, intensive experiences. I searched and found Tradecraft—a boot camp for people wanting to get into startups who don’t want to be developers. They were focusing on the other skill sets startups need, which are sales and business development, growth marketing, product development and design and user experience. Growth marketing is really a combination of technology, business and marketing, which was a really fitting combination for me, so I chose that track.

I moved out to San Francisco for the 12-week Tradecraft program. I really enjoyed my time there and connected with a lot of smart people in the startup eco-system in San Francisco, both in and out of Tradecraft. They brought in mentors from the top startups in town. We worked on real-world projects with startups, so we were learning by doing, like how BHP does with case-based learning. It was a fantastic experience – I put a lot into it and worked long hours, but I got a lot out of it. I stayed on with a startup I had as a project there called Naja as their sole marketing person for a couple months. After that, I consulted for a few startups, waiting for the right opportunity.

Aceable ended up being that right opportunity. How did your connection to Aceable come about and what are your goals for the company?

When I was at the hedge fund, I had started doing some investing on the side in some startups with my own personal funds and one of those was Student Loan Genius, a startup here in town. The CEO of that company was good friends with the CEO of Aceable. Aceable only had 5-6 employees at the time. They were both at Capital Factory and knew each other well. I shared my interest in getting in at an early stage with an education-based startup. They were looking for someone to help with mobile marketing and analytics challenges they were having. I wanted to work on a mobile product because I feel like mobile is the computing platform of the world, so it was a good fit for me, and I hit it off with the CEO

Aceable wants to be the provider of mobile education for required education courses. Today we are focused on the driver’s education space. We were the first company to offer a full certified drivers education course on a mobile device. You can take all of your online driver’s ed through an app. We also focused on making the content mobile-specific in design. We still have a lot of market share to capture in the driving space, but our big vision is to conquer a lot of the required education courses, whether that is scuba certification, real estate licenses, TABC certification, etc. We have grown from $200,000 in annual revenue when I joined to having high seven figure, approaching eight figure goals this year.

For students interested in entrepreneurship, what would you recommend for them to do right now while they are in school?

Think about what skills you can develop to become a contributor. Whether that is at your own startup or someone else’s. Entrepreneurship is glorified, but there is a lot of unsexy things about it. You have to wear a lot of hats, get things done, and be resourceful. There are a lot of skill sets from engineering the product, to marketing the product, to design, and so on. Develop those skill sets outside of the classes you are taking. If you are developing a web product, learn Java Script and HTML. If you want to develop a mobile product, maybe learn Swift. Be self-directed learners. You need to be able to understand all the different functions that make a business successful. Our CEO interfaces with the product team, marketing team, development team, design team and customer experience team. You need to understand all of their functions, what the constraints are and what kind of people we need to hire. There is a lot to learn, so start now. Even just reading can be a significant benefit. Follow thought leaders to familiarize yourself. Read a book on venture capital term sheets from Brad Feld. Go to a startup demo day. If you have the opportunity, go intern at a startup. That is really the best way to learn.

You have been involved in the startup scene in San Francisco and Austin. How would you compare the two and what do you think are Austin’s unique advantages?

The two things that are night and day are the volume of people working in startups and the volume of startups that exist in San Francisco/Silicon Valley—the largest startup ecosystem on the planet. There is a movement for startup ecosystems to develop outside of there and one of those is Austin. I loved being part of that community, but cost and quality of life were big factors in wanting to come back to Austin. It is much less expensive to live here. If you start a company in Austin, you know where the resources are and that you will have community support from other entrepreneurs. It is more competitive in San Francisco. There are opportunities to have more visibility in Austin if you are successful.  It is a little harder to raise capital in Austin, but I think that will change in the next few years I wanted to be a part of what is happening here.

How many startups are your currently investing in and what metrics do you use to determine what you will invest in?

I am invested in 13 companies, so I have slowed down some. I want to let the current portfolio play out. When there are good opportunities though, I don’t want to pass on them. I care about the market and the idea, but I care equally about the people starting the company. I used to think it was more important to back companies investing in large markets, but after watching companies succeed and fail from my portfolio, a lot of it has come down to picking the right people to bet on. I want the entrepreneurs who can fight through the adversity and will their way to success. I am looking for new approaches in big markets of course. If it is a limited market, with a 70-80% failure rate, you can’t back the 2-3X winners, you need to back the ones that are the 10X-100X to make your portfolio make sense. The 20% that survive need to be very successful.

Valuation plays very little role. Most startups are raising in the same valuation range anyways. I am part of two angel networks in town. Next Gen Venture Partners, a nation-wide Angel Network with an Austin Chapter, is the one I am most active with It is a group of people involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We bring value in the form of investment and advice. We also learn from each other at the same time.

How did your early roles in hedge funds prepare you for the type of work you are doing now?

It helped me become sharp at analyzing numbers, but also analyzing people. That has been as important as the financial analysis side. You have to understand numbers and income and cash flow, but understanding how people affect the business is also critical. That translates into hiring. You have to figure out if they can actually do what they say they can. For Aceable, I grew the marketing team from one person to seven of the right people. Hedge fund roles also gave me the toolset to quickly research markets and industry verticals, which will be critical for Aceable going forward.


Student Spotlight: Amy Enrione

Amy receiving the Rising Star Award

Amy receiving the Rising Star Award

BHP Senior Amy Enrione has accomplished a great deal in her four years here. Coming into the program, she knew she wanted to bring service learning into the curriculum, and through a lot of hard work and perseverance, she was able to accomplish that. She has been honored with multiple awards, including the BBA/MPA Rising Star Award, the Pal—Make a Difference Award, the Texas Exes Presidential Leadership Award, the Cactus StandoUT Award, the BHP Outstanding Student Award, and the UBC George Mitchell Award, and was selected as a finalist for the Texas Parents Outstanding Student Award.

As a student in New York, how did you learn about BHP and what made you decide to choose UT and BHP?

I came from a big Longhorn family. My mom and aunts and uncles all went to UT, so it was always on my radar as a school I should consider. I was interested in business and started looking into McCombs and the Business Honors Program. I was blown away by BHP’s quality of the education. I love working in teams and am not competitive, so the collaborative BHP environment fit my personality. I received the Texas Exes Forty Acres Scholarship, which is a merit-based full-ride, so that made the decision very easy for me.

What do you think out-of-state students don’t know about BHP and UT that you wish they did?

One thing I realized once I decided to come to UT is that BHP’s incredible reputation hasn’t quite spread outside of Texas. My friends really didn’t know how great of a school McCombs is—it was never a school they’d considered. This lack of knowledge about the school is a real shame, so I try plug the program and UT to my connections in NY whenever possible.

You worked hard to bring the community service requirement to UT. What was the process for doing that and where does it stand now?

I started by doing a lot of research on what other schools are doing, particularly Wharton’s Management 100 class. The thing I liked most about Wharton was that every business freshman did skills-based service as part of their core curriculum. I think it is so important to give back to your community using your specific talents. When I saw UT didn’t have a similar program, I decided I wanted to bring that opportunity to UT. I also didn’t want that program at Wharton to be a selling point over UT for future students.

After researching the benefits of active learning and engagement and the pros and cons of the Wharton model, I wrote a proposal and brought it to Dr. Prentice. He felt it was worth pursuing, so he brought my proposal to the Undergraduate Program Committee, who provided feedback on it. We then I presented the idea to Dean Platt, the BBA dean. He became a huge advocate for it. I had originally envisioned it as a full class, but we kept running into issues trying to do that. We brainstormed and came back to the table with a shorter requirement targeted all freshmen. After two years of work, a four hour service requirement launched in 2014 as part of the McCombs Freshmen Interest Group (FIG) program. We worked with the Undergraduate Program Office and the Longhorn Center for Community Engagement to bring the requirement to life. The LCCE, particularly Dr. Katie Pritchett and Dr. Suchi Gururaj, have been hugely instrumental in the process of implementing this program.

The impact of the program has been incredible; I’m so glad that we’ve been able to connect McCombs students with their communities in a meaningful way. In the first year the program had a $51,000 impact on the City of Austin, and this year the impact grew to $54,000. To incentive students, we created a friendly competition between FIGs that measured service hours per student. 92% of McCombs freshmen participated in the program. The LCCE published a study on the service requirement, and found that 71% of students felt more connected to their FIG and McCombs because of the service.

What was the next step after having launched a successful program at McCombs?

This year I started working on bringing that program University-wide. The two-year McCombs pilot was instrumental in bringing a service component of FIGs school-wide; it made it very easy to show the University that a service requirement was impactful and didn’t cost much money. I worked with the LCCE to provide the FIG mentors with all the materials they needed to implement the program. The LCCE has already trained all of next year’s the FIG mentors in how to facilitate a meaningful service project and post-service reflection; the service requirement will officially be a part of the FIG curriculum next fall for all UT freshmen.

I am also trying to get service learning courses to be recognized on the registrar so students can search for those classes easily. We think this will really increase demand for service learning courses. This project is still in the works and we will hopefully be working with the new Provost to do something in the future.

What do you feel you will leave having accomplished over your four years here?

I feel that my biggest lasting legacy will be the community service program. It is now institutionalized and will continue to take place for the foreseeable future. My work in this area will continue to have impact far after I leave campus. On a personal level, I have really enjoyed mentoring and giving back to the BHP community. I still grab lunch with and run case interviews with some of my mentees from last year through the BHP Peer Mentor Program. I hope my dedication to helping my peers has inspired people to really invest in each other.

How did you successfully juggle all your activities and school work?

I am very organized and love calendars and check lists. They really help me plan out my day. I plan down to the 15-minute block. I also color-code my calendars so I know what I am spending time on during the week. If I see something is taking over my week, I can prioritize and not commit to another event for that organization.

I also don’t commit to things I’m not passionate about. I try to only join organizations or take leadership positions because I really care about the org. That way, I am motivated by my activities because I am doing the things I enjoy. This strategy helps me avoid burn-out, even with a packed schedule.

If you could go back and give advice to yourself as a freshman, what would you say?

Freshman me was really ambitious and that certainly helped. Keep that drive and enthusiasm because that is what gets you places, but also be willing to re-evaluate and adjust what you are doing. I was really set on a certain path and even when I realized it wasn’t the best path for me, I stayed with it longer than I should have. At some point I realized I needed to cut ties with things I wasn’t passionate about, but this point came a bit late for me. I would have had a lot more time to do the things I cared about if I had cut ties sooner. I am currently not involved in anything I was involved in freshman year. It takes times to find the things you love and figure out what really excites you. You don’t really know yourself yet as a freshman. Know that it is okay to let go.

What’s next for you?

I will be working as a Business Analyst for McKinsey & Company in Houston. I will be a generalist, but I love operations and pricing, so I am going to try to focus on these areas. In the long-term I want to work in the non-profit sector. I want to learn as much as I can about operational effectiveness while at McKinsey, and then use that expertise to streamline operations for an education nonprofit.