[00:00:00] Bernadette Butler If you're going to be working for a company, you don't have to hide that you have a family. We all have family. And you've got to be able to bring your whole self. And I'd say that's one of the number one values we hear when we're hiring people or in the recruiting experience is that that's the one value that they're really excited about is that they come to work in, you know, their child sick or they've got to take their mom to the doctor's like, yes, that comes first. Your family comes first.
[00:00:27] Michael Hello, I'm Michael Hainsworth. The CIBC Innovation Banking Podcast explores the world of startups, growth stage companies and late stage companies that have made a big splash in their industries around the world. StoryTap co-founder, Bernadette Butler is keeping it real. Realness is the basis for her business model. StoryTap turns consumers into evangelists, not by using fancy, high quality video, but by using the videos the consumers submit themselves. And Butler believes the secret to StoryTap success is applying that authenticity to the business itself. So right out of the gate, describe what your company does, like you're talking to your grandparents.
[00:01:16] Bernadette Butler StoryTap is a video platform, and we help big brands get lots and lots and lots of video at scale, very specific to story. So different types of stories. For example, an unboxing story versus a story about quality. And we do that without having to edit each video. It's ready to use video, and that gets distributed directly to websites, to social media, like TikTok, etc. We measure the data that happens with those videos so we know which videos by real people. Our platform only works with real people in terms of real customers or real staff members or real community members versus actors or influencers. And we measure the data of the performance of what that real, authentic story is doing for your business.
[00:02:01] Michael I can imagine it's really powerful to turn a consumer into an evangelist.
[00:02:06] Bernadette Butler It's incredible. And I think when brands kind of get to experience this for the first time, the initial reaction is like, this story's incredible. I can't believe that they said this. And there's a little bit of magic around our patents. It's really around helping people tell incredibly great stories. So the fact that the brand wants the story, and that customer authentically felt like that was their story is this wonderful energy that happens between brand and customer.
[00:02:36] Michael So how does it actually work out?
[00:02:39] Bernadette Butler So we are a SaaS platform, so we're a technology play. It's cloud based. How it would typically work is there's a lot of automation with our platform. For example, the simplest example is retail. You've bought a pair of shoes, and after you’ve purchased the shoes, our platform will know, look, the shoes are going to arrive ten days out. They would receive an email. They would, the customer would, be ready to do video or not. And then we send some reminders, asking for video isa bit of its own thing. They would click that email right from their phone, tablet or desktop, and then we gently kind of walk them through a potential story. And it's not scripted, but there is some light direction. So just in terms of we'd love you to hold up the shoe or wear the shoe, and we'd love you to talk about what does it feel the first time your foot goes in that shoe. What are you feeling? What are the sensations? And so we're kind of gently pulling out a story that the brands are really excited to have. And every person that clicks that link could in fact be directed for a completely different story.
[00:03:39] Michael So you've got an algorithm that figures out what stories are the most effective, and then you help guide that customer with that product into telling a story that's not only effective for the end client that you've got, but also for potential future customers.
[00:03:56] Bernadette Butler That's right, so when site visitors go to the website, they get a very personalized experience. They then can navigate videos that are relevant to them, whether it's by gender, by age, by location, by however the brand sees that, whether they're an athlete or they're a casual walker, for example. And then, you know, our data on the on the underbelly of it really tells us, boy, based on this customer's ICP, you know, these are the videos that are most relevant to them. They're learning authentically about what matters. And it's the shift for the brand is instead of just having a YouTube strategy and, you know, people are aren't reading anymore. They're watching. And so that applies to your website as well. And people just really want to see real people tell real stories versus, you know, manufactured videos from the brand that think they're telling the story, but it doesn't quite help them make a good buying decision.
[00:04:51] Michael So then what's the benefit to the person who's making the video? What do they get out of it, even if they absolutely adore the shoes that they bought?
[00:04:59] Bernadette Butler Yeah. Good question. So we're a very transparent, authentic platform. And part of that is sometimes the brand will incentivize the customer to record a story. Other times they sometimes just ask, and people are that excited, they will just they'll tell that story. Incentives range from, you know, enter to win. A lot of the current sweepstakes they already have would then be applied to the video. That said, we have many customers that don't incentivize at all. They simply just ask. So there's there's generally a mix. So sometimes the videos are incentivized, and it really depends on how competitive the category is, whether they do need to be incentivized. And really there's this element of when you're asking somebody for a video, there's kind of a natural thing where that person goes, well, what's in it for me, you know, if I'm going to send a video? I would say the transparency comes through with is actually with the video. It will always say whether they entered a contest, received a discount or nothing. They weren't asked. But were very, very transparent across the board. And that works beautifully for those that are seeing the videos for the first time. They have all the data they need to make a decision.
[00:06:07] Michael I'm curious to know, what kind of brands or what kind of company doesn't need to incentivize? What are we most interested in creating a video for where we don't care whether we get something in exchange for. What’s the stickiest of the brand type environment?
[00:06:27] Bernadette Butler Well, you know, for us, we play in so many different verticals. I'd say the two that come to mind that they really don't need to incentivize would be one is health care. So we do storytelling. One that I'm thinking of is nephrology story. So what it's like to donate a kidney. What it's like to receive a kidney. And these people are just so motivated to help share what it's like to donate a living kidney because you're saving lives, that they're willing to grab their cell phone, and tell a story about that real experience of how hard or how easy it was. And then the other category that doesn't typically need to incentivize is higher education. So I guess it could be that the student is so excited to be on, you know, for example, UCLA is one of our customers on UCLA website that they're pumped to do a video.
[00:07:14] Michael So it's not somebody's brand new smartphone or anything like that. It's actually more altruistic reasons. That's fascinating. Tell me about things that are hard, like your first startup. This is your first startup. What was it like going from working for the phone company in 2011 to working for yourself?
[00:07:31] Bernadette Butler Oh, you know, I think one of the first things that I can think of that I found incredibly challenging is just when you've got it all figured out, and you've done your your marketing plan, you've built out your spreadsheets, you've figured out your pricing, you've got it all nailed, and you have a clear direction about what product you're going to build. It never occurred to me that I would fail. I am an achiever, so I don't like failing. Fast forward, I love failing because it's the failing that unlocks the next leap forward. If you have to get it wrong, you're never going to get it right out of the gate. I would question anybody that claims they got it right out of the gate, but I just don't think it's that common from the user experience of the product, to the pricing, to the positioning, the works. I mean, ultimately, our product is still, it has the nuance, as the same as where we started, but we in fact started as a life story platform. We were capturing life stories from baby boomers, very different to where we are today. But it's that where we started is why I believe our tech feels so easy to use. It does not feel like technology, and it's because we started with the baby boomers who were a little tech reserved, if you will. So that was the biggest shock. And obviously not having a regular paycheck, that's another big shock when you, you know, I did raise a bit of capital out of the gate. But one of the stipulations of that angel check was that I did not take a paycheck. And at the time, I had two young babies who had to go to daycare. And it was tough. It was tough. But, you know, there is this element of you're hungry, you've got to figure it out. And that does propel you forward like nothing else when you're losing sleep, and you've got to figure this thing out. So that would be the biggest thing I experienced.
[00:09:23] Michael I think you once described to me moving from a desk job to working for yourself as being a punch in the face.
[00:09:31] Bernadette Butler With a chair. Yes.
[00:09:33] Michael Wow.
[00:09:34] Bernadette Butler It's different. I mean, it's liberating and incredible. I think you're just, you know, when you talk about this idea of freedom to fly, freedom to fall. Oh, you will fall, but you could also fly. It's very different than in a corporate world where you make a mistake. I mean, I don't know, maybe, maybe worst case, you get let go because of that mistake, but you could find another job. When you become an entrepreneur and you walk in those high heels, as I do, and you, you know, it is very different like you are, I'm responsible for, you know, 30 people, their livelihoods. That's a much different weight on your shoulders than just being an employee and hoping you do a good job.
[00:10:19] Michael When the comes at the topic of, you know, flying or falling, I can imagine when you're flying, it helps to have a copilot, and you have one in your co-founder.
[00:10:28] Bernadette Butler I do. I do. I am so fortunate. My co-founders name is Sean Braacx. We are very, very different people. He is a fullstack developer, loves to refer to himself as a CPO. So he's all about the product even though he's basically the CTO. He's obsessed with the product. Yeah, we met quite early on, and I'm so grateful because it's a hard gig. When I meet solo founders, I'm like, oh, can I buy you a glass of wine? Like I feel, I feel for them. It's a lot. And so when you have a co-founding team and again, it's just really Sean and I, it helps tremendously to weather the storms, especially when you're dealing with failures, as all founders have, to have someone to talk to about it because it can be quite lonely and to then have that creative brainstorm constantly happening and those meet-ups to kind of unlock what we learn and how to rapidly move forward.
[00:11:25] Michael Well, you could have just hired him to be your user experience designer, create a product to employee number two sort of thing. At what point was it that you thought, you know what, this is my partner in crime. This is the person who I want to co-found this company with. How do you establish what that criteria is and make that happen?
[00:11:45] Bernadette Butler That's a good question. I would say, you know, so we're based in Vancouver. I started to work at a coworking space that was based on impact because the first concept was life stories. And I had many people that have been doing this for a while, approached me and say, oh, you don't have a co-founder. You should really think about that. By the way, I know a guy, by the way, I know a guy. And at first I think, I had a reaction to that of like, no, I've got this, like, you know it can’t be that hard, I've got this. When I started just to really get into it, that's when I actually did hire Sean on contract. And he did work, but immediately, it was meant to be, like, we worked really well together. And all of a sudden he was weighing in and other things. And I still remember the day I hired him to do UX, just UX of the tech. I had already had a developer, and he said, ah, I'm kind of a full developer. You are? And sure enough, we all kind of met the developer. Sean and I, and the developer pulled me aside and said, like, he really knows what he's doing. And he just, I don't know, it just it happened within three weeks. And I was just do you want to be my co-founder? He's like, yup, just worked. I think it had to work equally for him. It's a huge investment with uncertain paycheck, early, early days with a tech company, whether he wanted to invest. He also has a very young family, as did I. It is a big risk. And I think he was just equally excited about what we were going to achieve together.
[00:13:19] Michael Tell me about side hustles in life at the phone company, and how that helped inform who you became with StoryTap.
[00:13:29] Bernadette Butler So yes. Okay. So the first side hustle I did, it was actually called Wealthy Wellness. The name comes from the movie Good Will Hunting. Good Will Wilma, and the premise of the movie was he received a Harvard education at the public library for free. At the time and I think a lot of people have experienced this, the side hustle shows up at a moment in time when in your personal life something's happened whether you've had a baby. And in my instance, my father just passed away. And I was sitting at my desk, managing six million that quarter. On a personal level, my personal finances weren't where I wanted them to be. And I had this moment of why? Like, I don't understand why. And I started so I just immediately started a book club, and I bought the first financial book, and my reaction to financial books were, like, oh they’re so boring. I'm going to have to like trick people into reading these books. And that was really the premise. And it grew quite quickly to 500 members in six different countries. And we had cohorts, and we're booking boardrooms at banks as big as they would lend us. And we'd have opera singers come in, and we'd have all these predominately women, we'd be reading books together and discussing and financially moving forward. And it was the first time ever that it wasn't a paid gig. So I actually had a boss once tell me, she was honest, this a worthless wellness. And I went, that hurts because I bought my first house two years after I started it. And that tech company. Yeah, that was a hard one. That was hard. But it taught me a ton. And I think when you get that taste, you want more. And so here I am.
[00:15:18] Michael So key to StoryTap success is finding the right people. After meeting Sean Braacx in Vancouver, it became evident that he had strengths she did not, particularly in user experience and software development. Eight years after launching StoryTap, Butler tells me she's firmly in the growth stage. But getting there was tough, and the lessons learned about fundraising helped her get to where she is today.
[00:15:43] Bernadette Butler Yeah, I think at growth stage, you've got to have a semblance of product market fit. So you've got to have customers that are not only buying your product but renewing with your product. It's not as hard to sell. People are really excited. And I think it's it's always a bit of a combination of the why-now? Like why for StoryTap, why now? And I think a little bit is the pandemic and things of video are starting to explode. And there's this new appetite with Gen Z coming up that, you know, Gen Z really is only interested in raw, authentic and even even on the far extreme, slightly messy videos they really reject perfect and anything perfect. So, you know, I think there's a lot of things that are in our favor that are helping frame up our growth strategy. And I think our product as well, we took on seed capital in 2021, and so we've grown a ton and we have, you know, pretty substantial product team now and are launching new code continuously that constantly help to reinforce, and help that product market fit. So I think the first part is to you have a product that people are willing to pay for and that isn't a hard sell and then are they renewing? So we have, for example, incredible net retention, you know, 130 percent net retention, which is such a great signal in that, they are constantly renewing and growing. You know, they're, hey we're working with StoryTap. You should work with StoryTap too. That's what they do, so a lot of referral business that comes in, so it feels really good.
[00:17:14] Michael I could imagine too, you know, I've read that you've saw some tremendous growth through the pandemic. Growing 400 percent. But when it comes time to own a category regardless as to what industry you're in, what widget you're making, you're going to have to take some capital. So what was the hardest lesson to learn about fundraising that got you to this level?
[00:17:35] Bernadette Butler I think the number one lesson I learned, and it was a hypothesis, would it be possible to raise capital from investors that were incredible humans, that we got along really well with, and really understood where we were going. At a seed stage, investors are really investing in the co-founding team. They are looking to the product, they do want to see what's starting to work, but it ultimately the bet on us. But most importantly, if I were to share my thinking with other founders, it's a bet on them. You're getting married. And that was the number one thing. And, you know, Sean and I, we really went back and forth on this quite a bit. We were bootstrapped for some time, and then we basically said, boy, we want to land on the moon with this. So we need more capital, more people to achieve that goal. And so we were really careful when we were meeting with investors, of could I be 100 percent myself on calls? As you know, and I find myself for me anyways, when I'm wearing a sales hat or marketing hat, you're shifting who you are. But ultimately I need to show up as a 100 percent me. I have a wacky idea at seven o'clock in the morning. Can I call my investor to say, here's what I'm thinking? Can you help me make this come to life? And I like to say that I have Jerry Maguire investors, investors that wrote the memo on being great people and supporting the founders throughout. And so that's really what we have. And I hope we'll continue to have investors that are that quality in that caliber.
[00:19:08] Michael You have Jerry Maguire investors. Does anybody ever scream, show me the money into the phone?
[00:19:12] Bernadette Butler I've never heard that, but I love that. Now they're just they wrote the memo on what it's because ultimately it's you know, it's a financial transaction. They're betting on us, but you're betting on them. I mean, I think a lot of founders are sometimes in a position when they're raising on an idea or they're cash starved and they need to make that deal. For us, we were seeing crazy growth, and it was just we are already making great money. We weren't desperate for it. It was, we thought it was just the next logical step. So we were in a much different position to negotiate, and then kind of find those incredible investors that made a lot of sense for the company. So that would be.the other thing is timing.
[00:19:53] Michael I'm fascinated by the point that you made about wanting to be yourself on the call, not trying to be who you thought that the investor needed you to be, and that you would naturally find an investor that would be synergistic with you and invest in you. Which is interesting to me because your entire company is about realism in the first place.
[00:20:19] Bernadette Butler I'm also a female founder with little children, and I needed to show up as that. I will travel. There's lots I will do. And and I'm a morning person. I mean, there's a lot that goes into which I didn't fully understand. I thought I did. When you are getting married to investors, I mean, you are talking 24/7. And if you don't show up as your true self, and if I back that story up, I would say early in our journey, being a female founder, I'd have other female founders talk openly about, when you're raising capital, like try not to wear bright lipstick and don't wear dangly earrings and like try to lower voice. And I remember thinking, that's nuts. I can't. And I found myself in pitches doing that, just, oh, we'd like to I found it. It's so weird. And I just made the decision, like, I can't do that. I got to be fully me, goofy jokes and all, kids running in the background and all, this is just who I am. And once you make that decision, it's always the right decision.
[00:21:28] Michael Butler believes the secret to StoryTap success isn't just about fundraising. Learning to ignore the stereotyped advice that suggested she be something she wasn't was a huge part of what made her and her company possible, realness. It's not just about getting customers to provide a real review of a client's product. It's about applying that ethos of realness to the way she conducts herself and her business. You've written in Forbes Magazine that we're living in an era of unprecedented realness. And I think we got a sense of that as far as how you're applying that to the product that your company provides to its clients. But how should a CEO apply realness to the way they run their company?
[00:22:15] Bernadette Butler Well, that's a great question. You know, we are 100 percent remote. And so with that, one of our first hires was an H.R. person, and her name is Jasmine. And she is incredible and really worked hard on our values as a company, being authentic, being transparent. And one of the things that we really pride ourselves on is that authenticity, honesty. So we really hold everybody accountable to those standards because it, you know, you couldn't do what we do if we had people that would be willing to say anything to get a deal. That's never going to fly here. And so we're very conscious in terms of who we hire, who is a good fit, as all brands are, but really specific to authenticity and realness. It's really, really important to be a good person. And as the c-suite of the company, we're really clear on transparency. We meet every week and we go through all the details, all the nuts and bolts, all the rose, the button, the thorns of the company and where we're headed. And I think I think people really like that. They like to see they know they're working at a startup. They know everything isn't figured out. And just the fact that my co-founder and I are so transparent and so authentic with our door always open, I think does add value and strengthen the company on that pillar.
[00:23:39] Michael Well, you've even put your core values on your website leadership, integrity, creativity, family, high performance, of those core values, which one is the one that sort of speaks the most to you?
[00:23:50] Bernadette Butler Family. I worked for so many companies in my time and as did my co-founder, and we just took a real strong stance on that. In that, if you're going to be working for a company, you don't have to hide that you have a family. We all have family. We all have family. And you've got to be able to bring your whole self. And I'd say that's one of the number one values we hear when we're hiring people or in the recruiting experience is that that's the one value that they're really excited about is that they come to work in, you know, their child sick or they've got to take their mom to the doctor's like, yes, that comes first. Your family comes first. You know, we're your priority, but we're not the priority. And we echo that through a lot that we do. It is about family.
[00:24:35] Michael So then you mentioned that you're 100 percent remote. Does that mean you don't actually have an office, and you apply this sort of family as core value? Or was this more of a COVID pivot?
[00:24:47] Bernadette Butler It was definitely a COVID pivot. You know, that's a good point. Prior to COVID, I was very, very bullish around being in office. That's my entire career spent in an office, and I like it. And my co-founder, being the developer is like very comfortable being at home, just going out to get coffee with for meetings. And so we always had a little bit of this happening. And then COVID happened. Well, he won the argument because you started to see it normalized talking to customers, and I can be at home, and they were at home, everything got normalized. And then that was the big shift for me to kind of get on board with that. And so then it became, well, how do we really have incredible culture remotely? And it does mean we yes, we do get together as a company. Right now it's once a year. We're hoping to make it every quarter if we can, and then have mini meet ups wherever the people are. So we're in Vancouver and Toronto. We have lots of little mini meet-ups so folks can just connect on that personal level.
[00:25:45] Michael So you're still exploring how to build a remote culture?
[00:25:48] Bernadette Butler Yeah, yeah, exactly. I don't think anyone's really figured that out, but we're trying.
[00:25:52] Michael So what is the biggest lesson to come out of COVID-19 for you?
[00:25:57] Bernadette Butler Oh, my goodness. There's so many. You know, I think for us, we had a lot of product innovation during COVID. When COVID hit, as every company sat back and went, oh, my goodness, what does this mean? What does it mean to us? What does this mean to the people you've got working for you? What's the impact really going to mean? We didn't actually anticipate, you know, just when it happened, that video would surge as it does. We kind of think you think it's going to be and you hope you can capitalize on it. But, you're not sure. For us, we went into incredible product innovation growth. We started to think through things that COVID accelerated. For example, at the time of COVID, we really had video solutions around video reviews, video content, storytelling, specific. When COVID hit, it became this this obvious thing for us of like, oh, man, like customers need a way to communicate with the brand and get a video so they don't have to go to the store. You know, how can I ask the brand, how heavy is that barbecue? And have them do a quick video of, well, this is how heavy the barbecue is. It's not that heavy. And I'm five foot four, I can manage it and just to really bridge the gap between what always happened in an in-store level to what would be possible from the online. And that one product has really transformed our company. It is, it replaces the faq section on a website. It lives on product pages. And if it wasn't for the pandemic, I don't know if we would have realized that one as quickly as we did.
[00:27:29] Michael Bernadette, thank you so much for your time and insight. This has been fascinating.
[00:27:33] Bernadette Butler Awesome. I really appreciate it, Michael. This was fun.
[00:27:37] Michael Family may be a core value for Butler, but when it comes down to it, it's about staying real. Fundraising in her startup stage required her to ignore bad advice about changing who you are to fit a venture capitalists view of your world. Staying real leads to a real relationship with those who help fuel your early success, both from a financial perspective and an interpersonal perspective with your co-founder and early executive team. And for Bernadette Butler, that realness is what she built her business on with her clients, giving them an authentic customer response that helps drive everyone's business further. I'm Michael Hainsworth. Thanks for listening.