The best and worst thing about the BlueChilli startup studio model is that because our team get to build so many awesome startups in the course of a year, sometimes a member of our team will love the founders, the customers, the problem/solution fit or the platform they’ve built so much, they’ll leave BlueChilli and join the startup.
That happens again today with the bittersweet news that Tony Burrett, our Chief Delivery Officer, is leaving to join Anna Wright and her small team as Chief Product Officer at BanjoMaps, a startup which came through our first SheStarts female founder-focused accelerator in 2017.
Sweet, because we know Tony’s going to play a key role in making BanjoMaps the world’s first choice for helping people with a visual impairment navigate the world. Bitter, because Tony has been such a big part of the BlueChilli family since he joined as part of the acquisition of The New Agency’s team in December 2013.
My own history of adventures with Tony stretches farther back than many remember (including the two of us, some of the time). We cofounded startup foundry The New Agency in 2011, worked together at CarsGuide before that, and we cofounded Western Sydney University’s first student newspaper in 1987. In-between we’ve completed countless Oxfam Trailwalkers, WildEndurances, Tough Mudders, Spartan Races and gruelling bush walks together and with each other’s kids over the years. He was even Best Man at my second wedding, and punched my boss on the dance floor at my first wedding. He’s brave, resourceful, takes action and does what he says he’ll do. Come the Zombie Apocalypse, I wouldn’t choose to be trapped in a shopping mall with anybody else.
At BlueChilli, Tony has contributed under various job titles, but his key function has been to act as a safe and reliable pair of hands on processes that involve many fast-moving parts and people, such as planning for our changing operational needs, our financial fitness and the NASA-level strategic complexity of managing the challenges of building as many as ten startups at once when we run one of our idea-stage accelerator programs. Outside of work he’s pulled on a BlueChilli t-shirt in sporting events, industry events, mentoring for founders and students, pitch judging, and all manner of the extra-curricular activities that make BlueChilli not just a great place to work but a great team to belong to.
If you ask everyone what makes Tony special they will tell you pretty much the same thing; that Tony’s ethical and just, makes considered decisions but can also make a sound judgement call in the absence of conclusive evidence, and that he listens not just to the speaker but also to their intent. As a person he is patient, generous, kind, doesn’t seek the spotlight, and always highlights the contributions of others. He’s also funny (often intentionally) kind and forgiving.
So I did actually ask everyone, and this is what they had to say about their five years working with Tony:
“I’ll never forget the first time I met Tony. It was for an interview for the BlueChilli job. I saw this guy sitting at a cafe ready to chat to me. He had a pretty stern face on him, clearly in deep thought. I had just shaved my head for the Leukaemia Foundation and noted that Tony was a little thin on top. Plucking up my courage, I walked up and said, ‘Well this is awkward, we both have the same haircut!’ To which he burst out laughing. It was the start of a fun relationship with someone who at first appearances might not look like a joker. I think that’s part of Tony’s charm, people assume he’s going to be serious, when in reality he’s always up for a laugh and a warm conversation. Unless it’s about invoices, then he’s sterner than a dad with a daughter on a first date.”
“For me personally Tony has been an inspiration to getting fit again and enjoying running not to mention recruiting for BC running club. He has also provided invaluable advice and humor too many times to add them all up.”
“It’s not one moment for me, it’s all the moments with the one common theme – tony’s kindness. his big, caring heart. “
“In the toughest moments he’s there to respond with compassion, for our team and our founders. he’s the person I turn to when the lines get blurry, because his inner compass always points true North and steers us toward what matters – the people. (Oh, and he laughs at my bad jokes, most of the time.)”
“I valued and will miss Tony’s enthusiasm and humour around the office. His antics when we did our 5-to-9 (overnight weekday hiking trips) were memorable!”
“That time Tony told me he had to fire someone for saying the word “vagina” too many times during their first week of work!”
“Not many people know this but early in Facebook’s life Tony was actually the only industry professional in Australia to have Facebook’s authorisation to use the word “Dick” in a Facebook ad.”
“I have a video of Tony falling off a box jump at our Cross Fit session that will forever warm the cockles of my heart.”
“When Tony was telling us about his first job, which was working at the Quarantine Station looking after the cats and how he had to read the owners’ letters to them every day and his boss would check. His description about the fluffy one that always scratched him.”
“I remember the time when Tony came out with the “flat out like a lizard drinking” line – and I looked at him with this really confused look on my face. He was adamant that everyone knew what the saying was. So we went around the office and actually nobody knew it. Tony thought we were all crazy ones for not knowing. This really stuck with me because of Tony’s sense of humour. Seeing him bounce up from around his computer and say random comments in the office will be greatly missed!”
“I have more Tony moments to last a lifetime, but my favourites are where we have sat together, looking at the pluses and minutes and thought ‘How are we going to make this work?’ And then we did. Tony always had my back, always cared, and always helped.”
“Any time anyone was being difficult, Tony always being the one to call it and be the voice of reason.”
“Tony started a Slack channel for the two of us where he gives me advice as my ‘future self’. Since then he has advised me to both ‘Calm down. Everything will turn out ok’ and to ‘Stop wearing high heels because my future-me’s back is now very sore.’ It’s hard not to love Tony all day, every day.”
“Knowing that Tony always has your back.”
“Why are all my favourite Tony moments NSFW?”
“Also, any photo with Tony in it.”