Why former Twitter executive Aliza Knox left the global tech giant to join Australian startup Unlockd

Aliza Knox COO Unlockd

“Aggressive humility”, culture and potential are the three core reasons why Twitter’s former Asia-Pacific vice president Aliza Knox decided to step away from one of the world’s largest tech companies to work for an up and coming Melbourne startup.

Knox, who hails from San Francisco and is currently based in Singapore, says while she has loved working for Twitter, the team at Unlockd blew her away with what it has achieved to date and where it’s going.

“It wasn’t that I wanted to walk away from anything at Twitter, it’s just this came up and I had to jump in,” Knox tells StartupSmart.

Unlockd, which closed a $15 million in Series A funding this time last year and counts Carsales.com.au founder Greg Roebuck and Lachlan Murdoch among its investors, is building a global mobile ad platform that enables users to get discounts on phone bills for viewing targeted content and ads when they unlock their mobile phones.

After a contact in Singapore’s startup community recommended Knox connect with Unlockd founder and chief executive Matt Berriman, it sparked the opening of a new chapter for her.

“We started chatting [at the end of 2016] and really hit it off and we kept chatting for the next couple of months,” says Knox, whose last “official day” at Twitter was on April 11.

Knox says she loves working with companies through the “scrappy” prototype-building, startup phase and she believes there are many others out there like her.

“For me I consider myself a builder,” she says.

“Basically I was at Google when there were very few people around in Singapore.

“At Twitter, when I joined there were 10 or 12 people in Japan and no one else in the Asian region.”

Drawn to the challenge of “getting something off the ground”, Knox says she’ll be bringing a wide range of experience to her role as chief operating officer at Unlockd, from hiring and retaining talent to focusing the business on its most important priorities and creating culture, while also diving into a new learning journey.

“It’s really exciting,” she says.

“In terms of value, I’ve got a really strong background knowledge of Asia so I think I’ll be able to bring a lot of help to expand into to Asia and also Latin America … There are things I can bring and there are also things I can learn.”

The power of “aggressive humility”

Knox says she has been approached by many startups in the past but it was Unlockd’s team and culture that made it stand out from the crowd.

“It’s [also] a business that I believe has legs,” she says.

In addition to feeling strongly aligned with the founder’s vision and there being a real fit in terms of what she could add and get out from the experience, Knox says Unlockd is deeply focused on creating value for its customers and employees.

“I was looking for something I cared about … I was looking for a company and founder with what someone else helped me call ‘aggressive humility’,” she says.

“[It means] they’re aggressive and really directed in what they want to build and yet they’re humble and the company is humble, which is not the case for all startups.”

Another big draw card, Knox says, was that Unlockd shares her passion for diversity with a team of people from all over the world and a “good complement of women”.

“I really have a passion around that … I did suss that out as I joined,” she says.

Why startups should think big when building teams

Knox believes she’s not alone; there are many highly experienced professionals in the tech sector who are keen to sink their teeth into startups, she says.

“The startups who read [StartupSmart] actually have a good chance of getting people like this,” she says.

When Sheryl Sandberg left Google for Facebook, Knox says it wasn’t as “obvious” at the time that Facebook was going to become so successful.

She says the same applies for former Google executive Claire Hughes Johnson, who became the chief operating officer of Stripe back in 2014. Stripe is now a multibillion-dollar global giant with more than 500 employees.

Read more: Four tips for building a startup from the founder of $6 billion tech giant Stripe

“They get a chance to learn and grow too, so maybe startups need to be a little less self-doubting in that regard,” Knox says.

If an ambitious startup is achieving traction and has a strong vision, Knox says its founders should think just as big about the team it builds.

“Startups stretch themselves in so many ways and I wonder if they stretch themselves hard enough in this to go for people that really have experience,” she says.

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