Chuck Gose: So many in communications are familiar with the Bananatag name, but they probably don’t know the history of how you three know each other.
Isaac Oslund: The short answer is that we’re childhood friends. But the story is a little more interesting than that.
Corey: Yeah, Isaac and I were best friends growing up, and Chris is my brother.
Chris Wagner: It was good being a friends and family company, but then I married Isaac’s sister so Bananatag could simply be “a family company”.
CG: This sounds very mob-like.
Corey: Why do you think we chose a super serious mob-like name like Bananatag?
CG: Let’s get to the name. This is a question asked by a lot of people. And now that we know there are mob ties to it, are you able to explain where Bananatag comes from?
Isaac: The tech behind the scenes isn’t the most interesting thing to talk about -- SMTP relays, email analytics.. so we thought we’d like a fun, less serious name. A lot of competitors were using names like Systech and Aviato. We wanted something that was different.
Chris: We went through fun things like animals and fruits and realized no one had claimed banana… which was crazy. Who picks apple before banana?
Corey: Bananas are definitely the best fruit. I challenge you to think of a funnier, more hilarious, fruit.
CG: Do you think the choice of name has helped define the culture there at the company?
"Bananatag as a name is a good indicator of the cultural tone we’ve set here. I think we’ve really grown into it."
Chris: I think the name showed us the company we wanted to be before we even knew it ourselves.
Isaac: 'Bananatag' as a name is a good indicator of the cultural tone we’ve set here. I think we’ve really grown into it.
CG: So it started with the three of you and you now have more than 40 employees there. Has it been a challenge maintaining the fun culture as you grow, spread across offices in Vancouver and Kelowna?
Corey: Great question and it’s something we all think about a lot. We actually had an advantage because Chris and Isaac are based in the Vancouver office, so we had pretty good promoters on each side. As we've grown we realized we have to be very specific about who we add to the team, we look for cultural fit above anything else and I think those things combined are what’s allowed us to grow and maintain the culture.
Isaac: And given the constantly growing team, the culture has always been in a state of flux and we really have to be constantly vigilant about the direction we’re going.
Chris: It’s also been a benefit to us in that as a 40 person company we are experiencing some of the challenges larger companies face which give us some insight into our customers pains.
CG: So you talk about insight into customer pains, what have been some of your more challenging growing pains?
Corey: When we were at about 20 people, we were flying along, we had great process (I love process) and we were executing really well from a business perspective. One of our original team members asked to chat and told me that lately they’ve just felt like a number. That was the point for me where I had that "ah-ha" moment and realized it wasn't enough to just be nailing our process. We had to make sure we always investing heavily into the culture and the people.
Isaac: Absolutely. And for product development, the systems and processes that work well for a team of five can end up causing dramatic problems for a team of ten. The entire team really needs to be open to constant change as we continually update and add new processes. For me, one of the biggest growing pains is really knowing when it’s the best time to make these types of changes.
"One thing we've done is to try to celebrate small wins and just have reasons to get together and spend time outside of working hours."
CG: Corey, what are some of these investments in culture that Bananatag has made?
Corey: One thing we've done is to try to celebrate small wins and just have reasons to get together and spend time outside of working hours. We started doing company events biannually where both offices and significant others attend and we go to cabins in the mountain, or to the lake for a couple days and just spend time together. A lot of the more recent events are actually being driven by people at the company rather than from "bananagement".
We have a company softball team that hopes to win a game one day and our curling team came out of the season with a perfect loss record ;). Above all we make sure that we have great people and great things happen from there.
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Isaac: Outside of events and office hangouts, we aim to promote a culture of continued learning. At the individual level, it means being able to acquire skills that you can move you further in your career. This means taking time for lunch and learns, classes/courses outside work hours and going to conferences.
CG: I think it’s important to note that your software wasn’t initially created for internal communicators. But it was the IC market that reached out to you.
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Chris: That’s right. We had no idea what internal communications was. We started as a sales tool for tracking one to one conversations.
Isaac: When we first had communicators adopt the product, we actually told them that Bananatag wasn’t designed for their use case and suggested that they use a email marketing platform instead. But it was the persistence of the early adopters that made us decide to pursue this product from an internal communications perspective
CG: And then what did you learn about the email challenges that internal communicators had in front of them?
Chris: That they were operating in the dark with a toolset that was nothing close to what their external counterparts were using. That it was near impossible to prove their strategy or improve how they were communicating without solving those challenges. And that this was a problem companies of every size were experiencing.
Isaac: Discovering this really prompted a stage in the company where we invested a lot of time in learning about the internal communications industry. We immediately began building a solution that was tailored to the needs of communicators.
Chris: And because we were unfamiliar with the industry, it put us in a position where we were forced to really listen to communicators to understand their needs which has been a big part of our success.
"Communication is the cornerstone of any successful organization. The larger the company gets, the more difficult it is to disseminate information and get meaningful feedback."
CG: And so what have you guys learned about internal communication now that you’re invested in the industry?
Isaac: Communication is the cornerstone of any successful organization. The larger the company gets, the more difficult it is to disseminate information and get meaningful feedback. As our company grows, this has become more obvious. With how important internal communication is to success, it’s really surprising how siloed the conversation about it is.
Corey: In the tech world there's a lot of talk about culture and the importance of driving culture. What we realized as we’ve grown is that it becomes harder and harder as you scale and the crazy thing is that there are companies with thousands of people, where one single individual is tasked with internal communications. They’re essentially tasked with trying to drive culture for the whole organization and most of time don’t have anywhere close to the resources needed to accomplish such a huge and important task.
CG: And this week is a big one for internal communicators with both IABC World Conference and PRSA Connect, and you’re the sponsor for the ever popular Canada party at the 2017 World Conference. Why is it important for the company to be active at these conferences and other IC events?
"Most of the work [internal] communicators do is hidden from public view. Every conference is an opportunity for us to learn how we can help communicators find success."
Chris: Internal comms is a difficult profession to learn about as most of the work communicators do is hidden from public view. Every conference is an opportunity for us to learn how we can help communicators find success. It’s also a great opportunity to network. I’m curious if we’d be doing these Chuck Chats if it wasn’t for our meetings at events.
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Corey: I think if we want to really help, we need to listen and understand. Being based in a small town in BC, there aren’t a lot of big companies, or internal communicators based here, so these are amazing opportunities to actually speak with real people about their challenges and their successes. Plus communicators are the nicest people on Earth so it’s always great chatting. It’s like being in Canada.
CG: What are the channels that Bananatag and you as leaders use as part of your own internal communication efforts?
Chris: Primarily Slack, face-to-face and of course, Bananatag.
Isaac: One interesting channel that we’ve invested a small amount of time into is digital signage. We built our own product for this that, among other things, allows the offices to be connected by live two-way video stream.
CG: It’s been a fail that we’ve gone this entire chat without a Banana pun so I’m going to change that. What’s so a-peel-ing about the future of Bananatag? What can communicators expect in the future?
Corey: Glad that I got the first answer because everyone else was potassinating. The whole bunch of us over here are really excited about some of the things coming up but I'll split and let Isaac banana. ;)
Isaac: Thanks! Most of the work we’ve done over the past two years hasn’t yet been released. Now, through our latest add-in for Outlook users, we're able to deploy new features to internal communicators much faster.
The longer we’re in this industry the more we’ve been able to understand the challenges it faces. We can address these challenges with our product, and this is what's bringing us closerer to becoming a full-featured platform for internal communication.
CG: And the last question all Chuck Chats guests get is this one. Describe your feelings about internal comms via an emoji.
Corey: I'm gonna be that guy: