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Episode 25: From the Military to the Startup World

Episode 25 Podcast

May 3, 2019

A Military Beginning

When Travis Ensley joined the Navy, he wanted to get out of Iowa and earn money for school. He also had two main goals:

  1. See the World.
  2. Get Life Experience.

Travis says that the Navy is the best leadership school in the world. He explains that there are examples of both good and both leadership and that learning what not to do is as important as learning what to do. He says the Navy instilled in him a sense of right and wrong, as well as a sense of community that he continues to use today within the startup world.

The Corporate World

After getting out of the service, Travis’ first civilian job was at The Easy Living Store. While he knew he didn’t want to be there forever, he wasn’t sure where he would end up. His mother worked her way up at Principal so Travis grew up watching her work for one company and seeing that company create advancement opportunities for her throughout her career. He ended up working in the insurance industry, too, until he saw an opportunity with Geolearning in West Des Moines.

In the corporate world, Travis was lucky to have a boss who was able to guide him in translating his skills to match what corporate expectations were. Now at Dwolla, Travis insists that looking for attitude and aptitude, and not a good resume, is important. Some people can write good resumes but that doesn’t always translate to good work in the workplace. During the job interview is when an employer can hone in on that experience that comes with being a vet. Uncovering that unique military skill set through life experience verbiage is key.

Project Management

Becoming the face of the organization and working directly with customers means that a project manager has to represent the company in a professional way. Travis explains how he learned his most important lessons moving from a comfortable position within the insurance industry to become the COO of Influent. He then worked for himself for a year and a half before moving into a position with Workiva where he held four different job titles within the company, ending as the VP of Product Development.

Differences in Roles

Product roles focus on what you are building, while engineering/product development roles focus on how it gets done and who is doing it. Travis says that knowing the challenges of each role, as well as who should be tasked with certain responsibilities helps to keep things moving forward.

Dwolla and Doing Business in DSM

Through expanding his networks and opportunities, Travis came across an opportunity to help define the what for Dwolla. He currently acts as Vice President of Product at the company. While he says there are hard days in any position, oftentimes one or two conversations brings about new ideas and solutions. Travis also advises finding time to rest. He says it’s easy to get wrapped up in the urgency of something, but that tired leaders make bad decisions. Dwolla has gone to unlimited PTO because the company’s management understands that you need to give employees time to recharge so they can do their best work.

Travis enjoys doing business in Des Moines (DSM) thanks to the many people so willing to help you get started and find resources. He says mentors should have experience and should even be outside of the industry you’re working in because that different perspective, in a general sense, can help you think in a completely new way.”

To find out more about Travis’ professional journey, listen to the podcast. You can also check out Dwolla on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Inspired by this Startup Story? Subscribe to the Startup Stories DSM podcast and check out upcoming events, videos and other free resources dedicated to helping startups and small businesses accelerate in Greater Des Moines (DSM).

Startup Stories DSM

Startup Stories DSM is a podcast featuring conversations with entrepreneurs who share both their victories and failures on their paths to success. It is produced by the Greater Des Moines Partnership.