You Can Have Fun And Profitability At Work
Travis Chambers, Founder of video agency, Chamber Media, has taken 104 vacations in the past three years, including Hawaii, Switzerland and Italy. Most trips he takes with his wife and kids, others were for work combined with fun, and his employees are able to do the same.
At Chamber Media, everyone is required to take at least three days off a month; preferably more. Travis jokes that an employee could technically get fired for not going on vacation. Their business objectives at Chamber Media have been the opposite of “grow as quickly as possible,” or “get acquired.”
Their objectives focused on the overall happiness of their employees. As a result, they’ve carved out a company designed solely for the purpose of family and to increase that love and time together. Travis has developed a wildly profitable business model by staying hyper-focused in a niche environment and investing in the well-being and holistic success of their employees beyond the workplace.
I had the opportunity to interview Travis recently. Here are the highlights of that interview:
Jill Griffin: Where did you grow up? Describe your early childhood and its significance on your life.
Travis Chambers: I grew up in Hockinson, a rural town of 2,000 in Washington without a stoplight. It was the perfect place to develop an imagination. My mom was insanely strict and wanted us to do chores all the time so my neighbor and I, Kyle, would peace out to the woods for days and make dirt bike movies and funny skits with a VCR camera. We’d string two VCRs together to edit the footage; we must have made dozens of those. I had a rare bone disease and broke nine bones as a kid, so I’d write and sing songs with my guitar to pass the time, which helped me express myself. This led to various rock bands and performances over the years.
My dad was a Sales Executive for Monsanto, the company now known for giving everyone Parkinson’s and Cancer, which sadly now includes him. He travelled constantly but he never missed a game. He’d show me these pitch decks and have me listen in on big conference calls. He taught me everything I know about selling. So, I now do for a living exactly what I did as a kid, making funny videos, entertaining people and selling stuff.
Griffin: When did you first get the whisper you belonged in business?
Chambers: I remember when I was really young, maybe 8 years old, I was cleaning out the dog pen when I had this idea to create a store called “Travians,” where I’d sell paper airplanes and rocks, etc. I never actually did that, but I still remember it hitting me so profoundly, like, “I really could do this and it would be so cool.” From that point on, I just kind of assumed I’d be in business, but I wanted to be an artist too, and advertising is one of the best ways to do both. Once I realized I wasn’t going to be in the NBA or be a rock star, I decided I’d be in advertising.
I told my parents when I was 12 that I wanted to have an ad agency someday. I remember seeing how much my dad was gone travelling growing up and I resolved to find some way to have a family someday and take them everywhere on trips, which actually came true.
Griffin: Was there an early teacher that inspired you? Who and how?
Chambers: My Mom was a tough love person and taught me that the world was a dark place where everyone’s out to get you. Not really healthy for a kid to hear, but it taught me grit and skepticism. My wife says I had the perfect storm of parenting with two opposites who trained me for both sides of life. My dad taught me to love people and to try to take care of those you work with. I remember going to functions with his colleagues and they would tell me stories about how he chose to defend someone instead of getting a promotion, or how he’d choose to lose a sale over losing a relationship, or how he gave someone part of his bonus to show his gratitude for helping him succeed.
He also told me about a time the time he stood up to buyers at a large retail company who tried to get him to do something unethical and he put his job on the line, called their bluff and they stood down. He always taught me that when you’re honest and fair, you lose in the short term, but you always win in the long term.
He lived his values. And he taught me how to work hard by example, I don’t think he ever asked me to do anything. I just wanted to because he was willing to do it himself. He taught me the reward and sense of accomplishment of hard work and that it should be fun, not dread. Those principles really ran deep with me.
Griffin: What’s a great piece of business or life advice you received, who gave it to you, and how has it enhanced your life?
Chambers: “You never know what will be said about you in the smoke-filled room.” -David Chambers.
The takeaway here is that your name and your reputation is everything, and whether or not an opportunity comes your way depends on what is said about you in a time or place that you have no control over. People will talk, and how you treat people will influence what they say, so keep your friends many and your enemies few, and deliver. What you give is what you get.
Griffin: Please give me the top three bullet points in your Personal Leadership Credo.
#1: Our Business Objective is Happiness. We could get acquired, we could make more money, we could expand, but the truth is, life is short. We live in a country where I can live small, work at Costco and drive Uber, and cover all my basic needs. That’s the worst that can happen. So, if that’s the case, bigger is not always better, and if we aren’t finding some happiness and autonomy in our work environment, then what’s the point?
#2: Time is the Most Priceless Asset. We can pay people more, have more cool stuff in the office, have big parties and perks, but the thing most businesses can never give is time. So, we have a 4-day work week; in the advertising world, who else can offer that? And it feels good as a founder knowing that to a degree, the team enjoys some of the same autonomy I have created for myself to go on trips, foster hobbies, spend more time with family. It makes people more inspired, creative, productive, and loyal long term. If the agency I had worked at in LA had offered me that, I would still be there six years later.
#3: No Bad Ideas. Statistics show most good ideas come immediately after a bad idea. Having a culture where everyone feels heard is one where everyone feels fully bought in. Sometimes it takes more time, but ideas can come from anywhere and anyone. Qualifications don’t matter. Ability doesn’t always matter. A good idea is a good idea and they are limitless. People who attach their ego to their ideas are in for a world of hurt and don’t realize they have 100 more if they just dig deep and take the time.
Griffin: What advice do you have for young, talented, ambitious women who want to rise?
- Lean into your strengths. This is a generalization so it’s not always true, but studies show that women tend to be more empathetic, compassionate, and collaborative. These abilities make for incredible leaders with staying power. I have had mostly female bosses in my career and the studies are in line with what I have experienced. If that’s you, lean in on that because I’ll say I notice these strengths on our own team and with female clients we work with, and it’s a unique way to compete with men in the workplace. Work culture is rapidly changing to put more value on these characteristics.
- Make your own rules. Decades ago, women could only get ahead by playing by men’s rules. In many companies, that is not the case anymore. There’s never been a better time for women to advance. Make your own rules and stick to them. Worry less about conforming to a man’s world.
- Fight for what you know you deserve. If you know you bring the same value as a man making more than you, bring it up, fight for yourself, because no one else is going to. And make sure you’re bringing the rain. And if you’re in a toxic environment or being mistreated, you can either work to change it from the inside, which is difficult, or leave. There are plenty other places with upward mobility that will reward your contributions accurately. Life is short, do not ever accept that behavior as normal.