If there's anything I've learned from starting a community for operations people, it's that operations is a vague term and no one has the same definition. 😅
It's traditionally been a catch-all term for all the "back office" functions like logistics, finance, HR, legal, and facilities... but, in recent years, it's grown to include a hell of a lot more.
From no-code automation and special projects to subspecialties like marketing ops and revenue ops, the list always seems to be growing!
So what even is operations these days? What does it mean to be an opsy person in tech? What are the career paths available to us?
That's the theme for our first whole season of the Opsy podcast, and for this first episode in particular.
About our Guest
Megan started her career in recruiting before stepping into operations leadership and becoming a utility player who has worn every opsy hat you could imagine in the last few years. Her expertise is paired with a thoughtful, pragmatic approach that I've always admired so I'm super excited to have her as our first guess!
About this Episode
In this episode, we're discussing operations as a whole. Specifically:
- What is operations? What areas of responsibility should and shouldn't be included in an ops role?
- How Megan transitioned from recruiting to operations leadership
- The most important skills to look for when hiring operations roles (or the ones to show off when you're job searching!)
- The importance of change management at a growing startup
- When and how to build out a support operations team
- How to lead a travel startup through a global pandemic
... and so much more!
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- Follow Megan on LinkedIn or Twitter
Welcome to Opsy, a podcast for people doing opsy work in tech. I'm your host, Caro Griffin. And every month I dig into what opsy work really is by talking to an operations pro who has something really cool to teach us in a traditional part of ops like HR or finance, or a newer specialty, like no-code ops or marketing ops. Thanks for listening!
Caro Griffin 0:30
Today, I'm here with Megan Bianco, the Head of Operations at Scott's Cheap Flights, a travel startup on a mission to help people experience the world one awesome deal at a time.
As a frequent traveler and former digital nomad myself, I've been a big fan of the company for a long time. But Megan and I first crossed paths a few years ago when she interviewed me for a role there. That didn't end up working out but, in one of those twists that actually makes me believe that things do happen for a reason, Megan and I became friends. And I'm so glad we did!
I look up to Megan so much. She's a voice of reason in my professional life, and my go to when I need an operations gut check. She was even one of the first people I told about Opsy and her enthusiasm is a big part of what encouraged me to move forward with the idea. All of this to say - she was the first person I knew I wanted to have on the podcast. And I'd actually already made the cover art when I like pitched it to her. So what better way for us to kick off this series than by digging into what ops really is with someone who I think has a really great perspective on what operations leadership is, and all the different things that can fall into the operations bucket.
Well, thanks so much for joining me today, Megan! I'm really excited to have you as the first guest on the podcast. And let's jump right in. You're the Head of Operations at Scott's Cheap Flights. But I happen to know that you were a few other hats too. Tell me a little bit about how your role started and what it looks like now.
Megan Bianco 1:53
Yeah, absolutely. I am super excited to be here. Super excited to be number one on the podcast. When this becomes 100, I'll forever hold that in my heart.
Caro Griffin 2:02
You are number one. You're number one in my heart.
Megan Bianco 2:06
But as to how I got started this role, I had actually never heard of Scott's Cheap Flights before I applied here. I was on a bus in Vietnam and this older couple who was retired and traveled the world told my husband and I about it. We both looked at the website, and he was actually going to apply to a job, and then I was like, I think I'm gonna apply to a job too. And so I applied and called dibs, and I was like, wait until I hear back. And then...
Caro Griffin 2:30
Because obviously you're gonna hear back! I love that this is such a Scott's Cheap Flights story, like, you were on a bus in Vietnam. That's great. Keep going!
Megan Bianco 2:39
I actually started at the company as a recruiter, but the role really quickly evolved into helping out with more like people ops things, building a compensation program helping with onboarding, performance management. Then I started taking on a lot of project and change management work as the company was going through a couple different iterations and changes to kind of find itself.
Then I started getting, I don't wanna say bored, because I really enjoy that work. But recruiting and people ops stuff, been there, done that, time to add something new to the next. I started tackling random projects like sales tax and improving our internal communications. So my role evolved into more of a like Chief of Staff role and I got to wear that special projects hat and, because it's a startup and things are ever changing, I also took over leadership of our member success team, hired an awesome data analyst, and then needed to fire myself from a few roles and brought on an amazing People Ops Manager and stellar Senior Recruiter.
And that's kind of when my role evolves into more of the Head of Ops position, I guess.
Caro Griffin 3:44
I love it. So was Scott Cheap Flights your first time really stepping beyond like the talent and recruiting space and owning all of these different things?
Megan Bianco 3:52
100%. I feel like I always had a really close tie with our finance team in the recruiting world and really enjoyed the finance side of things and, you know, got randomly pulled on to sales calls and occasional marketing things because that's the nature of a startup but my focus was almost always 100% recruiting and the people ops side of things so this is definitely a new adventure.
Caro Griffin 4:14
Yeah, absolutely. So how long have you been at Scott's Cheap Flights now?
Megan Bianco 4:17
I've been here for almost two and a half years, little over two and a half years.
Caro Griffin 4:21
Wow. Okay, it feels like it's been forever but, I guess, you know, time flies and all of that.
Megan Bianco 4:26
Caro Griffin 4:27
Like you've been there forever. Okay, so to recap what are the areas that you like personally work on oversee right?
Megan Bianco 4:33
I personally have like... goal setting is a big part of what I do okay. OKRs—the famed OKRs—strategy, internal comms, tax compliance, legal, and finance, are like my world. And then I have a team of people way smarter than me and super capable that lead member success, data, people ops, and talent acquisition. And then, a bit ago, I took on interim leadership of the engineering team, which has been a really cool challenge. Helping them with all different kinds of random things that are happening, like building our first API. And we're building a mobile app!
Caro Griffin 5:08
Spoiler alert! Okay, sign me up. I'm so excited.
Megan Bianco 5:11
There you go! So exciting. And so helping them do that. But, we're ultimately searching for somebody to fill that role. (So, if anyone out there in the world knows any stellar VP Engs, send them my way!)
At the end of the day, when there isn't a super clear owner, I take the work on. That's kind of the summary of my job.
Caro Griffin 5:28
Yeah, which I think really ties into this conversation... One of the reasons I really wanted to have you on the first episode was because we had had this great conversation a while back about, like, what operations is.
I think it was only really in creating Opsy and talking to so many other ops people that I feel like I kind of honed what I think my definition is. But, I think I'm realizing like, that's what Ops is. It's different for everyone, it's doing whatever needs to be done and putting on whatever hat you need to wear. And I think you're such a good example of this!
I mean, you're the interim Head of Engineering at the moment. Who would have guessed when you were on that bus in Vietnam, that that was the hat you were gonna be putting on two and a half years later?
Megan Bianco 6:04
Again, definitely did not see that coming, but extremely grateful. And, I think, again, like any good ops person, you see a problem and figure out how to solve it.
Great communication skills and great problem solving skills and a lot of empathy and leaning into your team and people smarter than you, kind of being resourceful in that way, is really how you learn all of these new new areas.
Caro Griffin 6:27
Yeah, and so you mentioned communication and I want to dig into that a little bit because I feel like communication skills are so necessary for an ops person, but good communication skills are something that everyone thinks that they have.
So I guess, I'm not even sure what my question is so much as like, how do you work with people who aren't—especially in a remote environment—good communicators? Do you have any rules for communication when you're like, you know, working with this large team across time zones, and trying to convey information and keep everyone on the same page?
Megan Bianco 6:57
Yeah, this is such an important part of being a remote company. And, right now, for the most part, we have most of our employees in the United States. So, within a couple different time zones. However, we're hoping in the future to expand to more of a like true work from anywhere situation, which means we're going to have to keep leaning into that asynchronous communication and becoming really, really great written communicators. So there's been a couple things.
There's a couple people who are really amazing synchronous communicators, and can talk the talk all day long, but really struggle to put pen to paper. Then there's some people who are really amazing writers that really struggle to like find their voice in a meeting or have a really clear and concise conversation. And so I generally figure out which one people thrive in. Some people are really good at both, but it's normally one or the other.
We at Scott's Cheap Flights, we're really lucky that I don't think anybody is not great at one or the other. But I generally challenged people to like, lean into what they're not as great at. So, if you are really excellent at speaking up in meetings, having presentations, then write every thing down. Literally everything in your brain! Write every decision down, write every project plan down, write every single meeting agenda down, like, nothing on the fly, really lean into writing. It's going to take time, it's going to be uncomfortable. And same thing on the flip side. If you're a really great writer, and really great at communicating through asynchronous means, speak up more, have more conversations, lean into being a meeting facilitator, ask for time in a town hall and just kind of make yourself really uncomfortable.
I hate public speaking in general. And so I'm leaning in! And being really uncomfortable in in my synchronous communication improvement path. So I'm doing it for myself!
Caro Griffin 8:40
Yeah, I mean, eating your own dog food, taking your own advice. I love it!
So, I mean, I feel like asking you what ops is, which is kind of the theme of this episode, is really hard question. But to scale it down a bit... How do you define your job? What's the common thread in your work?
Megan Bianco 8:56
I definitely have a very skewed view of what falls within operations, just given the nature of my role. But, at this point, I think I consider ops to be really anything that helps support the business's ability to run and, typically, is more often than not behind the scenes.
I think the common thread is kind of, I don't know, two, three things. Cross functional communication is a big one. Supporting scale, typically, and like the change that comes along with that. And, then, really creating efficiencies and facilitating success for the business as a whole and, ultimately, the employees within the business.
The ops team at Scott's Cheap Flights works across the entire organization, building bridges to their function, data, recruiting, people ops, they all support every single function in the company. And then I think this also applies within functions as well.
So, like, we have a team here called Support Operations. It's kind of new to us and the team is responsible for ensuring that all of our frontline member success specialists, the folks that are actually supporting our members on a day to day basis are set up for success, and also acting as the bridge between product and marketing and member success, just kind of ensuring that our like customers' voices are represented in those conversations, but also ensuring that what's happening in those teams is making it back to the employees there.
Caro Griffin 10:10
I love that! Support operations, it's really interesting that you bring that up, because I feel like I've recently had the pleasure of talking to so many people who are in these really niche operation spaces. And I always think, partially just because I'm such a like generalist who like to wear the hats and do all the things... But I've been talking more and more with people who are, you know, really great experts in the marketing operations space. I recently learned design operations and product operations are things. And, so, I think it's really great that so many teams are realizing that they can benefit from like an operations specialist to really take it to the next level.
And, so, I would actually love to dig into a little bit more of the support operations role, because... I mean, it totally makes sense, but I'm like picturing what I think that is and what it actually is on the team. And, so, can you tell us a little bit more about what does setting up your support team for success look like?
Megan Bianco 10:57
Yeah, 100%. So this is, again, brand new. We're literally going through the change right now of making the evolution to this. So our Director of Member Success brilliantly came up with this awesome change management plan, so I cannot take credit for this, but, basically, it's currently going to consist of three different roles.
We'll have our manager of support operations, and that role is really going to focus on the relationship with product. So what changes are coming with products? How do we communicate that back to our member success team that are actually interacting with our members to be sure that macros are built well, and we can answer questions when massive product changes are happening, or new products are launching. And then she kind of also acts as the voice of the customer in a lot of those conversations. So, that's kind of her role.
We then also have are going to have a Systems Operation Specialist. There is so much technical work that needs to happen within a support team. We have a tool called Customer that we use and so he's responsible for that but they're also just really good at building automation within those tools, making shortcuts, making it really easy for members to delete data, making it really easy for members or for our employees to, I don't know, do all sorts of things, quickly link out to different sites, but all lives in one home. And they're responsible for doing that.
And then we have our Knowledge Management Specialist. They're responsible for all of the different internal knowledge base information, all of our employee training is going to fall within that role, kind of supporting the, again, the boots on the ground, the folks who are actually responding to members.
And then the last role is a Support Operation Specialist, kind of more of a generalist, but they're really going to be the bridge between marketing and making sure that every time we launch a new campaign, that the copy is really great and our members are going to understand and acknowledge what's being said well, and say how we think it's going to be received. It, really, at the end of the day, a lot of those folks are really helping mitigate issues with our members, because they know what our members are going to react to and how they're going to react, and then helping build the efficiency within the success team. So, again, helping empower and enable them to do their best work as quickly and efficiently and well as possible. Also, hopefully, while having a really good time, kind of building some of that fun in.
And so that's really what the support ops team is going to look like here at Scott's.
Caro Griffin 13:17
I love it and I think anyone who's ever done any kind of customer support has definitely been in that position where things are launched or sales writes something and you're like, wait, what, no! If you had only used just a slightly different word in this one email, you know.
I love that you're building that bridge, but I think my first question [hearing you explain this structure] is, so this team has several people in it and several distinct roles. How big is Scott's Cheap Flights right now?
Megan Bianco 13:41
We actually have big exciting news, we actually just the other day hit employee number 50. Which is really exciting for us! And then I just got news yesterday that we're officially at 52. Already!
Caro Griffin 13:53
That escalated fast.
Megan Bianco 13:54
I know! It's like 24 hours, and we're already at 52. So, by the time this airs, we may be... I don't know, 55. We're spec'ed next year to basically double in size.
Caro Griffin 14:04
Megan Bianco 14:04
So we're gonna keep growing. And we have a lot of cool, exciting things in progress for our members.
Caro Griffin 14:09
Wow, okay! Well, I know there's a lot of Opsy members who are actually really focused on scaling right now so maybe we'll have to have you come back because I'm like... Going from 52 to double in size? Yes, wow. Okay, that's definitely a challenge for an ops person!
Megan Bianco 14:22
One I'm super excited for and extremely grateful to the team that we've built because they're all so capable, and it'll be fun. New adventures.
Caro Griffin 14:31
Exactly. So, if you weren't gonna double in size over the next year? Would you be building out a support operations team? Do you think that's something that is beneficial at 50 employees or that it's more of a scaling thing?
Megan Bianco 14:44
I don't know that it is necessary to have all of those different roles.
The way we had it before is we had senior specialists who kind of did a 50/50 job. They spent 50% of their time on the Help Center or the knowledge management system. And then 50% of their time, either in the inbox or on chat or meetings or whatever else that looks like. And so that 50/50 split worked well, but it's a ton of context switching, and then you just like lose effectiveness there.
We ran a lot of numbers and made a really strategic decision that if we made this investment to make this switch, we can really better support our members and be faster and answer more, and it would basically triple the capacity of the team in doing this. And, so, again, we were really lucky to be able to make the call to make that pretty massive investment but, at 50, it's gonna make sense for us, just given the way that our team is set up, and the importance that we put on treating our members extremely well and making them kind of the center of our world. But, I could also see a world where that 50/50 split works for a little bit longer until you get a little bit bigger.
Caro Griffin 15:49
Totally, makes sense. Well, thank you for going down that rabbit hole with me. I'm fascinated and resisting the urge to make this whole episode about this.
So, do you have strong feelings, I guess, to pivot a little bit, about the things that definitely should or shouldn't be in the ops space? Especially, as like an ops leader who's taken on all of the things.
Megan Bianco 16:07
I have many a hot take.
Caro Griffin 16:09
I love your hot takes. I'm ready, I'm buckled in.
Megan Bianco 16:12
Chick-fil-A is overrated. If you really want to start down this path, we can go.
I think, for me, the the one thing that an ops person should definitely own is change management. It's the team that has the 1,000 foot view of the business, typically, or the function that you're in, right. They're also generally pretty intertwined in the data. And I think the data is also an important balance with a lot of the people-y things that need to happen within change management processes. But, in turn, they really know how change is going to impact the employees, the project, the process, the technology, and can piece all of those things together. So, I think change management is one that opsy folks should almost always own.
As far as strong feelings on what they shouldn't own... I don't have any super strong feelings. I think ops people are generally excellent problem solvers, and can tackle just about anything you throw at them. I'm sure ops folks would thrive with it. But I think the one thing that I probably have a hard time justifying them owning is like growth and like actual boots on the ground growth, just because that's such a, like, tactical thing. Versus that higher-level, cross-functional element.
But, other than that, opsy folks are superheroes that can literally do anything that they set their minds to. I think you could give them anything and they would probably crush it.
Caro Griffin 17:31
I love that you're using "they" like we're not two ops people sitting here. I'm like, "We can crush it, Megan! We can all crush it! Me, you, everyone listening right now!"
Megan Bianco 17:41
There's no question. We are crushing it.
Caro Griffin 17:42
We are crushing it! Sitting here in my closet, talking to you. I'm crushing it.
Megan Bianco 17:47
On the shelf with your crafts, I'm here for it.
Caro Griffin 17:50
Exactly, exactly. So, making it work, you know, problem solving. When you live in Mexico City and have construction background noise. This is how we solve that problem in an opsy way.
Megan Bianco 18:01
I love it. Done!
Caro Griffin 18:04
Okay, so going back to change management, because I think it's really interesting that that's the big thing you brought up because... I don't think people think about change management a lot. I think it's something that happens when, like, there's a really big change coming. And it's usually something negative like a layoff, or something that is really scary, like an acquisition, and it's not something that's really thought of as its own function or team. And so I would just love to dig into that with you a little bit more.
Do you think it should be its own team? Like, what does that look like? I guess, let's start this way: What does change management look like in your role?
Megan Bianco 18:36
It's a good question. I think there's a couple things. It's a hard thing to do at a start up, mostly because it's so hard to predict the future. Things really change all the time. And, to me, a really good change management process requires as much advanced notice as possible so that you can start planting seeds and prepping people for change and researching new tools that will help streamline the new processes or products or employee changes that are coming.
I think the biggest one that I focus on at this point is probably like organizational change, so shifts in team, shift in structures. In 2022, our squads are probably going to shift around for product and engineering. So, how do we make sure that our engineers are set up for success in each of those new squads? What do they need? And how can I make sure they're excited about the work that falls within the scope of that new role?
The most recent one in the most recent like very positively received one... Again, I cannot take any credit for it but you should have my Director of Member Success on and she can talk about it... is that support ops change. That team even said, like, "We're really scared of change management because it's normally a bad thing but this was a really fun one." She did a great job of just like planting the seed, helping people know it's coming, communicating exactly what the process was gonna look like.
Again, transparency and over communication, I think are the big two elements of change management and just being clear that like, "Hey, this may change and I know it's gonna suck. But like, bear with me." Again, it's a startup. But it definitely becomes a lot harder when you're like, "Oh, we're gonna make a change overnight." We used to do that at Scott's, but we've gotten better at that. We've gotten better at looking into the future, knowing what we're going to need and being able to lay that foundation and actually prepare people for what's to come.
Occasionally, there's one-off, you know, quick changes that are gonna happen. But, we've gotten better and I think that's a big piece of change management. It's just trying to prepare and, you know, know what's coming in the future.
Caro Griffin 20:30
Yeah, that was such a great off the cuff answer. It really surprised me with that one and that's so interesting because, if I was ever to going to list, "what are the things I'm responsible for?" like I asked you at the beginning of this episode, I wouldn't have listed change management, even though that has been a big part of what I do. I just don't think of it as its own thing.
Megan Bianco 20:45
Yeah, but like every time you roll out a new process, or a new tool, that is change management. Right?
Caro Griffin 20:51
Exactly. And so calling it that so we can like have the framework and the resources and like, yeah. Love it, adding that to my resume.
Megan Bianco 20:59
Yes. Very top.
Caro Griffin 21:02
Okay, well, so Scott's is obviously all remote. And you've always been remote, right?
Megan Bianco 21:07
Yeah, we have. Six years now. Like, I don't even know where we would consider putting an office at this point. So, we were really lucky. I know, last year, a lot of people had to go through a pretty massive transition. We were really lucky that we could just, again, kind of focus on the business and our employees and taking care of them and not some massive office and cultural shift that comes along with that change. So, again, feeling very lucky in that sense, but we've been remote for six years now.
Caro Griffin 21:34
Yeah. So do you think that operations has changed post-COVID? With remote work becoming more of a norm?
Megan Bianco 21:39
Yeah, I think more than anything, it's become more imperative. I think ops folks are like the glue that holds the company together during chaos and change. And there's been a lot of that the last couple of years. So, again, I think it's just actually shown how important those folks are to a business.
We've seen the rise in COO, we've seen the rise in Head of People. We've seen the rise in all types of positions over the course of the last year, and you're not hearing about rises necessarily in Heads of Sales, Heads of Product, Head of Engineering.
They want those people who can have that 3,000 foot view and understand the implications of decisions that are being made and handle change management and be great communicators to the employees and the team. And that seems to be the world that we're moving towards is people who can, again, balance all of the moving pieces and kind of be those systems thinkers.
Caro Griffin 22:30
Yeah, absolutely. It's been great to see startups admit a little bit more how much they need ops people. And, you know, this rise that you're speaking to... I've never seen more publicly posted COO and Chief of Staff and Head of Ops roles, and that's great to see, because it just makes it so much easier for us to connect and learn from each other and help build great businesses.
But, also, there's so many times where I talk to people who work at startups, and they're explaining problems where I'm like, "Do you have an ops person?" And they're like, "Oh, no, not yet." And I'm like...
Megan Bianco 22:58
You need one!
Caro Griffin 22:58
Yeah, like, "This is why you have this problem."
There's so many things that tie back to, "Oh, because this is something an ops person would address or fix or support." And I feel it so acutely when people explain these problems, as an ops person, right? Where I'm like, "Yes! Let me in there. I can help you with this."
Megan Bianco 23:16
Caro Griffin 23:18
Okay, well, I wanted to get into a little bit more about you and your day-to-day. You told us that you started your career in recruiting. Is that still your favorite opsy hat to wear? Or has that changed over time?
Megan Bianco 23:29
I will always have a soft spot for recruiting, but I actually have really loved being further down the interview line. Being the first person to review applications and having initial conversations is an exhausting and incredibly challenging job and people that spend their entire career in recruiting are super human.
My favorite hat these days is, we've been talking about a lot, but I like really love change management processes. And I really love project management, which I didn't entirely expect, but I love taking like massive problems and breaking them down into like really, really bite size 'easy to wrap your head around' tasks and that's a ton of fun. I really enjoy that.
I think the transparency and communication that's required for a great change management process is something that I really thrive in and, again, just like making things feel really reasonable and realistic is kind of my jam.
I like to make things look and feel easy even when I know they're not it makes everything feel better for anyone involved.
Caro Griffin 24:32
I love that. You just said "reasonable and realistic" and I feel like that's the Megan way. So what's the hat you wish you got to wear more?
Megan Bianco 24:41
Oh, we've talked about this before - finance, all day.
I love the people side of my job, don't get me wrong, but I'm actually natually an introvert and, at six o'clock, I need to take a break from conversation and refuel. I find immense joy though in staring at spreadsheets and digging into financials and understanding, building out models to just better predict the future.
Again, I think that data and financials are just a thing that like allows you to have insights into what is going to happen in the future. Which makes you a better change manager. It makes you a better communicator. It allows you to thrive in transparency because you have facts and data to back up what you're saying.
And, so, I love the finance side and wish I got to spend more time with it. It's it's always a lot of fun when I do.
Caro Griffin 25:31
Same. Yeah, I feel the same way about those spreadsheets and that finance stuff. I'm like, just leave me in my corner. Please. I'll see you on the other side of this spreadsheet.
Megan Bianco 25:41
Dreaming about pivot tables. That's what we're doing.
Caro Griffin 25:44
Yes, exactly. I had an old coworker that used to joke that spreadsheets were my love language. And she was like, "If you put it in a spreadsheet, Caro will like and approve it so much faster."
And I'm like... it's true. They are my love language. Like, put it in a spreadsheet, y'all.
Megan Bianco 25:59
What an amazing thing to be known for. I'm very envious of this for you.
Caro Griffin 26:04
You can be known for it, too. It's fine. I'll let you in and it can be both of our love languages.
And, another spoiler alert, I may or may not have just ordered Opsy sticker sheets and one of them says "spreadsheets are my love language."
Megan Bianco 26:17
I need one.
Caro Griffin 26:18
Yes! It's headed your way. Absolutely.
So what do you think your biggest asset is, as an ops person?
Megan Bianco 26:24
Oh, I can context switch like a champ. And also, because of that, I can keep a ton of information in my brain at once. It's exhausting. But, like, I'm really good at compartmentalizing.
Doing this podcast was challenging because I had to like think back through things that I've done, right? And I don't. I live in the moment. And I have to because there's so many moving pieces happening at one time that I can compartmentalize what's happening now and, once it's completed and done, I put it put it behind me. Write a retro, write it down somewhere, and then get it out of your brain so you can move on to the next thing.
But, like, look, typically my week consists of a ton of meetings and a ton of conversations. And I'm moving from a 1:1 with our data analysts digging into our data model to an interview to an engineering project meeting breaking down our first API to an org discussion with our Director of Member Success. And so I have to be good at context switching and I love the the constant change and really thrive in that.
So I think I consider that my superpower, context switching.
Caro Griffin 27:24
That's an amazing superpower, especially for someone in operations leadership, because, like you're saying, so much of it is meetings and preparing people and, going back to that change management, you want to like plant those seeds earlier. You want to prepare people for those [changes].
And so, I know from experience, it's like, okay, I have this 1:1, what are the things I needed to like, you know, to start talking about, to address now, how do you backwards plan for this thing that I know is coming down the pipeline three weeks later.... Yeah, that's an amazing superpower. So I'm jealous of your superpower!
Megan Bianco 27:53
To be honest, again, I love when people nag and remind me of things because I 100% drop the ball. And, too, you say spreadsheets are your love language. They're probably up there for me but to do lists are my love language. I love a well-organized to do list.
My husband knows like, if he needs anything for me, it has to go on the joint to do list or it will never get done. So to do lists are my jam. I write everything down. That is the only way-
Caro Griffin 28:18
Do you physically write it down, or do you have a preferred app for this?
Megan Bianco 28:20
I need to cross it off. I need that joy of crossing it off.
Respect to people who can do it digitally. I type all day, every day. I need to, like, remind myself of what my grandmother taught me and write in cursive, and write it out, make it look beautiful. And then cross a line through it.
Caro Griffin 28:37
Yeah, and there's nothing better than having this beautiful to do list and then, at the end of the day, it's like a hot mess, because you've crossed through all of it and made notes. Yeah, love it. I can't really-
Megan Bianco 28:46
Re-writing it so that it's like clean and organized and nice.
Caro Griffin 28:50
Man, we're such ops people.
And speaking about us being such ops people, when you're when you're looking for your people as a hiring manager, what do you look for when hiring another ops person?
Megan Bianco 29:02
Well, I have so many things.
Caro Griffin 29:04
Give us the list. I know you have a list.
Megan Bianco 29:08
Let's break it down.
Okay, there's a couple that are just like important for people in general who work at startups, and that's definitely the lens I come through because that's where I spend most of my career, but one is that you thrive in ambiguity.
As far as I'm concerned, this is a non-negotiable in any startup but even more so in an ops role. Because there is no such thing as "inside my job description," right? You're constantly being thrown random (poorly defined a lot of time) projects and you being able to work in the gray is crucial to your success and the company's success.
I think second to that is really strong communication skills. In the world of remote work, ops typically acts as the bridge between each function and so great, asynchronous and synchronous communication is imperative. Again, across most roles, but particularly important in an ops role.
Let's see, what else... teaching and feedback skills. I want someone who is not afraid to tell me that I'm wrong. That's so important! All the time because I'm wrong often. And then, like, provide feedback on how we can improve as a business and then just like teach us things, or 25 things. That's super important to me.
Um, let's see... number four, systems thinker. You acknowledge that the role is about building really excellent interactions between moving pieces, whether that's the individuals, the technology, the teams, and you know how to navigate those pieces and that cross functional landscape to just kind of ensure that all of those elements can thrive and really, like enable and empower collaboration.
And then, last but definitely not least, you know, when and how to throw the playbook out. I think there's certain situations when it's okay to follow the playbook or best practices.
We don't always need to be recreating the wheel but, if something is not working for you, for the business, for a team, and you have a better way of doing it, break it, test it, try it, fail, learn, do it all again.
I don't care how many years of experience you have, if you can poke holes in processes and projects and products and think differently and try new things, you're going to thrive in an ops role, hands down. I think that's super important.
Caro Griffin 31:10
Absolutely, and when I think about this question, it's about something you're speaking to from the other side about triaging and, like, when is it time to make a process? And when is it time to just like, do the thing, and then figure out the process. And in what order do you do that, right?
Like, when is it repeatable enough that you need an automation? When is it rare enough that you just do it twice a year, you know? I think those are hard skills to put on a resume, to put in a job description.
Megan Bianco 31:39
100%. And then, again, like, when is the right time to make the investment in people or technology or tools to help automate those things?
My boss is constantly telling me that I need to fire myself from jobs and it's super hard to be able to, like detach from that work. But, again, you know that like, there are certain moments in time that I need to break it and move on.
Caro Griffin 31:59
Give away your legos.
Megan Bianco 32:01
Yeah, give away all of my Legos. But I really love Lincoln Logs so we're gonna stick with Lincoln Logs.
Caro Griffin 32:07
Okay, okay, give away your Lincoln Logs. I'll keep the Legos all for myself.
Megan Bianco 32:11
Caro Griffin 32:11
Well, I'm shifting gears a little bit before we wrap up today.
It can be really hard to show off your work as an ops person, I think, because exactly what we're talking about. It's hard to quantify and generalize in a way that's helpful. So, consider this your brag book!
I want to dig in to an operations project that you're really proud of, or like a win you've recently had. I think you have two options ready for us. So, yeah, set the stage. What was the problem you were trying to solve? I can't wait to learn more about how you solved it.
Megan Bianco 32:42
Okay, so I had a really hard time with this, because literally everything that I work on is a team effort. And so I'm going to talk about something that was 100% team effort, because, again, most of the things that I do here are as such.
It's something that is pretty massive, and like not a super fun project but something that like, I think myself and the entire leadership team are pretty proud of organizationally. And that's ultimately supporting a travel company in the middle of a global pandemic, which was basically a masterclass in running a business in crisis management.
We were definitely challenged over the course of the last couple of years. We send flights to our members. And it's not been the easiest thing, not being able to be one of those people who hops on those flights as often as we liked. So there was like a mental drain on our employees, and also a concern over what the membership was gonna look like in the future. So, definitely a massive challenge, but just kind of laying the groundwork there that COVID meets travel tech startup equals bad combination, challenging combination, and especially for an ops person who gets to see all of those moving pieces. That's the problem that we're gonna talk about.
Caro Griffin 33:51
Okay, great. As an avid user of Scott's Cheap Flights, and a follower on social media, I so loved the content that came out of the pandemic from you guys. And like, it was just such a valuable resource as someone who, you know, did used to travel full-time and has a lot of friends that still try to do that. It was a resource that was constantly being thrown around like, well, check this recent blog post from Scott's Cheap Flights where they outline what you do and do not need to enter this random country.
So I am excited to dig into kind of the decisions that I'm sure led to that, but also like what it looked like internally. So do you want to start at the beginning, like, the pandemic happened in march 2020. We're rewinding the clock. How did it hit you guys first?
Megan Bianco 34:37
We actually were together in March and had a leadership on-site.
Caro Griffin 34:41
Megan Bianco 34:42
I can't remember... I think we were in Austin or somewhere. We had a really long conversation about it like, how is this gonna impact our business? How concerned are we about this? And I think we probably mentally downplayed it, but we were like we need to get prepared regardless, right? Preparation is important.
So, we went our separate ways and started thinking through, you know, what happens if this impacts our teams? What happens if this impacts our business? And started coming together and kind of figuring out what the process needed to look like.
It probably wasn't until June that we like had a bigger conversation with the employees. And, look, there's not exactly a textbook or an example on how to tackle this one, but we really looked at it from kind of two perspectives: What does the business need? And what do our employees need?
We outlined this seven step plan with our employees to help them understand exactly what we were going to do to ensure that, one, they felt really secure in their role but, too, to continue to feel confident in the financials of the business. Which, the two kind of tie together, right? And so we started doing twice-a-week leadership announcements on everything from product developments to member accounts to financial wins and losses, even posting if there wasn't anything super exciting to share just to show the team that we wanted to be open and honest about everything going on, and that they would constantly be hearing from us.
Two, we added more content like we, as you mentioned, added this like awesome new newsletter from Scott. We added some awesome new travel content in the destination letters, which is really fantastic. And then the kind of other thing that we did from a product perspective, is we rolled out domestic deals.
People were still traveling domestically and people needed to get to their family, and so we leaned into that. We've never done that before. It was a huge hit. I love it. We just rolled out weekend getaways now too, so, little aside. Now, you can just like, you know, hop on a plane for the same price that you probably could take a train or take a bus or you know, drive across the country for pennies on the dollar to go to Vegas, or San Francisco or wherever. And that was that was also a huge boon.
And then the kind of last thing that we did is we changed our sick leave policy to a physical and mental health time off policy, just trying to emphasize and remind people that your mental health is so incredibly important during this time, and you needed to take time off. We pushed it pretty hard. And leadership set the example that we were going to take mental health time off. And that was hard.
We could talk about it a bit later but, again, travel company, middle pandemic, all of our hobbies are traveling. Not an easy combo.
Caro Griffin 37:18
I saw that at my company last year too. Everyone I think is in the habit of wanting to save their vacation for travel, for going to do something exciting, and I think it's really hard for people to take vacation when they don't have plans, when they don't have something exciting to use it for. It feels like a waste.
But, especially during a pandemic, like you're saying, the mental health was so important. And, even as a remote company who knows firsthand that this is not remote work—this is working from home during a pandemic—I've, you know, worked remotely for six, seven years now, and I've never really worked from home. You would have found me at a cafe or co working space every day.
So, like, I knew the mechanics, but like it's different. We're all going through this. And so I love that you made that change to support your team.
Did it work? Did people take more time off?
Megan Bianco 38:00
Somewhat, it was definitely not easy. It's, again, people wanted to save their time off to travel and do fun things and, you know, celebrate on the other end of this.
It's hard to have a staycation when your home is also your office so folks came up with really creative ideas to enjoy their time at home. People like learned new hobbies or some people just like me that just lived their best lives with batches of soup and cookie dough and movie days and just like leaned into that lifestyle.
But, really, at the end of the day, I think the leadership, one, had to set the example. That was really imperative to people feeling like they had permission to take that time off and we pushed it. We checked in a ton with our teams. What do you need? What can we help with? Give me a number, one to 10. How's your brain feeling? Are you tired? Do you day off? Do you need to reset?
And it was hard work, right? We're pushing flights in the middle of a pandemic. And so you're living inside of the ecosystem that you can't take part in and that was draining. So we had to really like help our team balance and some people did, some people didn't. We're all still learning together. But people at least knew they had permission and the space and time to be able to take that time off. That was the most important thing.
Caro Griffin 39:15
Yeah, you did what you could do as a company, it really sounds like, to support that. You know, like, encouraging your team to take off, you're being really transparent about financials.
The question I would imagine is on every team member's mind is, "Am I going to lose my job?" So, what did you do to help, I guess, calm those nerves? Or be transparent? Like, what was the reality of that situation?
Megan Bianco 39:36
Almost weekly, we walked through where we were in that seven point plan and that seven point plan was everything from like applying for [the Payroll Protection Program], cutting expenses. We did go on a hiring freeze and we froze raises just to like be really conscious of our budget.
And then there was this kind of "if necessary" bucket, like Scott and Brian were gonna take $1 salaries, the leadership team was going to take a pay reduction, then employees over a certain salary would take a pay reduction, and then we'd cut benefits where needed. And then layoffs was the very, very last resort. We knew, and we were very clear about the sequence of events that were going to happen there.
And every single conversation, we had every single town hall, every single leadership meeting, we kind of like said, "Hey, we're at number three on this list, like we've done the pay reduction, we haven't even moved to Scott and Brian taking $1 salaries. So like, the business is fine." And we had like, "when our member count hits x, this is what will happen." And so keeping people just really updated and being really transparent about the financials and the numbers and where we were in that sequencing was really helpful, I think, to people, knowing that they could stick around and feel confident in their job.
And look, at the end of the day, we had zero layoffs and zero pay reductions and zero cuts to benefits. And that was a huge win for us. And, again, just being able to prioritize our employees the way that we really like to and and want to now and in the future.
Caro Griffin 40:59
That's a huge win. I want to say it again for you because, yeah. I feel like there's a takeaway here too for anyone who's going through, like, Change Management 101 and trying to get their team through a difficult time.
You know, be transparent and communicate really frequently, probably more often than you feel like you need to, and through several different methods. But, also, I love that you clearly laid out - here are the seven steps, we are on step three, but also what the triggers are for those steps, like when members get to x or y.
That's, I'd imagine, so reassuring for the team and it's great that you didn't have to go all the way down the list. It sounds like you didn't even have to go halfway down the list... for this once in a lifetime catastrophe that we all lived through and are still living through.
So, it sounds like a lot of things went right. If you could wind back the clock, is there anything you would do differently?
Megan Biano 41:50
I don't know. Again, it went right, so it's hard to say. If we had done something different, you know, butterfly effect.
As far as challenges, it was really hard to stay the course on our strategy. The core of our business model has been sending flight deals. Well, no one was flying. There were a lot of conversations about shifting our plans. Scott's Cheap RVs was definitely thrown around a bit.
Caro Griffin 42:09
Megan Bianco 42:10
But look, at the end of the day, we chose to stick with what we know, and build and iterate on our product and make it such an incredible experience that our members that couldn't stick with us felt like they had to come back because the product offering was just so dang good. And, so, that's what we did. We focused on just sticking with our vision, moving forward with the plans we had already had.
We were just dedicating heads down, focused time to building for future members, for members we had lost, and continuing to iterate on the product so our existing members just stuck with us and continued to love it.
And, look, talk about things that right. We ended the year 5% down in revenue.
Caro Griffin 42:52
Megan Bianco 42:53
Yeah, our members are awesome and our employees are badasses. It was a rough year for travel and we are extremely, extremely lucky that we were able to succeed the way that we did.
Caro Griffin 43:07
Not just a rough year for a travel... but you're not just a travel company, you're a flight company. That's the part that was happening in the least. So, yeah, pausing here to say, go team! Go Megan, go team! Everyone involved, that's amazing. Do you have any big takeaways from this whole experience?
Megan Bianco 43:32
I mean, the things we talked about. Mental health time off is so dang important, finding ways to empower yourself and give yourself that space and take those days.
The listening audience doesn't know this but we were supposed to do this interview two days ago and I said, "Hey, I need a day. My brain is just not in the right headspace to be having this conversation." Surrounding yourself with people who are like okay with that and encourage that and empower that... that's what we try to be as a team to our employees now. It's okay, work is really hard and when you have work and life and your own brain all at conflicting odds sometimes, you've got to take the space to focus on you and your health and your brain and what you need.
So that's been big for us as a company. And recognizing that you can't and shouldn't split your brain and work all the time. So that was a big win.
And, look, at the end of the day, our team is incredibly resilient and our members are arguably the best and most loyal folks on the planet. Continuing to build things that they're excited about and that they want to come back to is really our big priority now. We've learned a ton over the last year.
Caro Griffin 44:44
Yeah and, like you said, you've launched so many cool things both on the content side and also the product side. I feel like every other month, I'm saying something like, "Oh! I can do x now on this..." And then you rolled out business class flights and I was like, "Oh, whaaaaaat!" That's been on my Scott's Cheap Flights wishlist for years.
So it's been fun to be part of that community and just follow along and also hear your insights on the backend and, now, to have you share those with the Opsy community is really great.
Thanks for sharing all of this and being on the podcast and being your awesome badass self. I very much appreciate you being guest number one, even though I know it was out of your comfort zone. You did it! You didn't asynchronously communicate with me. You talked to me live on this podcast!!
Megan Bianco 45:31
Thank you for having me. Thank you for being such an awesome friend. And I love that you're a member of Scott's and you knew about Scott's before I knew about Scott's, which is also pretty amazing because I get to pick your brain about, you know, what used to be. This was a ton of fun and I'm excited to hear who's next and continue to learning from them. And yeah, this was fun.
Caro Griffin 45:53
Absolutely. Everybody, check out Scott's Cheap Flights. It's just scottscheapflights.com. I know it well, it's very much bookmarked.
And, Megan, I know you have LinkedIn. Do you have other social media or anything else that you'd like to share with folks?
Megan Bianco 46:09
I wish I was Twitter famous. You have a way amazing Twitter. I mean, you can follow me on Twitter. It's mostly me talking about what I'm eating for dinner. That's really what's there.
Caro Griffin 46:19
I mean, you say that like it's a bad thing.
Megan Bianco 46:21
I mean, it's nothing exciting that I'm eating for dinner. It's normally like a weird combination of what's in my fridge. I had pickles and cottage cheese last night so...
Caro Griffin 46:29
Ok, guys, so sneak peek of what you can expect if you follow Megan on Twitter. If there was ever a sales pitch, there it is. Cottage cheese.
Megan Bianco 46:39
But, yeah, connect with me on LinkedIn. If there are questions that I can answer or anything... I'm, generally speaking, am a pretty open book on all things ops and life and Megan Bianco. So I'd love to connect with anyone that wants to.
Caro Griffin 46:57
Great. Well, thanks again for coming. And thanks, listeners, for being part of the Opsy community and tuning in to hear from Megan and I.
And, with that - stay opsy, folks!