Barbra Gago is the founder and CEO of Pando, where she’s democratizing career progression. Previously she worked as the Chief Marketing Officer and Global Head of Marketing at Miro, where she helped create an entirely new software category for the space, and also served as VP of Marketing at Greenhouse, where she led go-to-market strategy. In today’s episode, we cover three main topics: category creation, branding and rebranding, and building opinionated software. Barbra discusses how she was able to rebrand Miro and launch a whole new category—and why her attempt to do that at Greenhouse failed. We cover the benefits of building your own category, and when it makes sense to do so and when it doesn’t. She also shares the importance of getting to know your users, why a great brand is informed by its values, and why Pando is built in an opinionated way.
Where to find Barbra Gago:
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/barbragago
• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/barbragago
• Pando: https://www.pando.com/
Where to find Lenny:
• Newsletter: https://www.lennysnewsletter.com
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/lennysan
• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennyrachitsky/
Thank you to our wonderful sponsors for making this episode possible:
• AssemblyAI: https://www.assemblyai.com/lenny
• Stytch: https://stytch.com/lenny
• Vanta: https://vanta.com/lenny
• G2: https://g2.com/
• Software Advice: https://www.softwareadvice.com/
• Marketo: https://www.marketo.com/
• HubSpot: https://www.hubspot.com/
• Gainsight: https://www.gainsight.com/
• Greenhouse: https://www.greenhouse.io/
• Miro: https://miro.com/
• Gartner: https://www.gartner.com/
• Forrester: https://www.forrester.com/research/product-management/
• Oyster: https://www.oysterhr.com/
• Deel: https://www.deel.com/
• Atlassian: https://www.atlassian.com/
• Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity: https://www.amazon.com/Radical-Candor-Revised-Kick-Ass-Humanity/dp/1250235375
• The Art of War: https://www.amazon.com/Art-War-Sun-Tzu/dp/1590302257
• Kafka on the Shore: https://www.amazon.com/Kafka-Shore-Haruki-Murakami/dp/0099458322
• Cautionary Tales podcast: https://timharford.com/articles/cautionarytales/
• The Sandman on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/title/81150303
• Nancy Duarte on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nancyduarte/
• Al Gore’s TED Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/al_gore_the_new_urgency_of_climate_change
In this episode, we cover:
(04:04) Barbra’s background
(05:06) Barbra’s startup
(06:07) Category creation vs. winning in existing categories
(07:49) What is an applicant tracking system, and why have they been problematic?
(09:57) What is a product category?
(13:06) Examples of product categories
(14:05) Greenhouse as an example of failed category creation
(16:46) How Miro successfully created a new category
(18:37) Utilizing user feedback
(21:15) The mechanics of category creation
(21:22) How to advocate for your new category with directory sites
(25:53) The middle ground between new and existing categories
(29:37) When is it time to rebrand?
(38:51) How to create a lasting, global brand
(41:18) How values inform brands
(43:13) Insights into developing company values
(44:24) The elements of a brand
(46:37) What is opinionated software?
(47:57) The benefits of opinionated software, and why Barbra’s software is opinionated
(51:23) Lightning round
Production and marketing by https://penname.co/. For inquiries about sponsoring the podcast, email email@example.com.
Get full access to Lenny's Newsletter at www.lennysnewsletter.com/subscribe
Barbra Gago (00:00):
When you're building a category, you need to make sure that there is a category that's validated by analysts and directory sites and things like that. But also, you want to have a lot of traction in terms of thought leadership like why is this the category? What are the unique value propositions of this particular thing? What are the pain points it solves? And then of course, getting a lot of content around because when you're generating a new category, you're also needing to educate buyers that there is a category that they can now budget for and why they should allocate budget for that.
Welcome to Lenny's podcast. I'm Lenny, and my goal here is to help you get better at the craft of building and growing products. I interview world class product leaders and growth experts to learn from their hard learned experiences, building and scaling today's most successful companies.
Today, my guest is Barbra Gago. Barbra was chief marketing officer and global head of Marketing at Miro where she helped build their global brand and create a whole new software category for the space. Before that, she was VP of marketing at Greenhouse where she brought the product to market and led their go-to market strategy. And she was also head of marketing at CultureAmp where she helped build their go-to market plan and close their first 50 customers.
In our conversation, we focus on three topics: creating your own category, when it makes sense to explore that, when to avoid it and how to go about it; building your brand and rebranding when it makes sense to, and building opinionated software. I've never seen a post or a podcast get as deep into category creation or rebranding, and I'm confident that you will learn something valuable from this podcast. With that, I bring you Barbra Gago.
This episode is brought to you by AssemblyAI. If you're looking to build powerful AI-powered features in your audio or video products, then you need to know about AssemblyAI. AssemblyAI is the API platform for state-of-the-art AI models that thousands of product-led growth companies like Spotify, Loom and CallRail are using to infuse AI into their products. With simple APIs, developers and PMs can get access to powerful AI models for transcription, summarization and dozens of other tasks that are fast, secure and production ready. All of their models are researched and trained in-house and continuously updated by their team of AI experts, which for a PM makes it easy to build and ship new AI-powered features.
Product teams of startups and enterprises are using AssemblyAI to automatically transcribe and summarize phone calls and virtual meetings, detect topics and podcasts, pinpoint when sensitive content is spoken, redact PII from audio videos and way more. Visit assemblyai.com to try AssemblyAI's API for free and start testing their models in their no code playground. That's assemblyai.com.
Do you want to reduce friction in your onboarding flow? Then let me tell you about Stych, and that's stitch with a Y. Stych is on a mission to eliminate friction from the internet. They're starting by making user authentication and onboarding more seamless and more secure. They offer super flexible out of the box authentication solutions for companies of all sizes, from email magic links to SMS pass codes, one tap social logins to even biometrics. Stych is your all in one platform for authentication.
Stitch customers have been able to increase conversion by over 60% after spending just one day integrating. And with their API and SDKs, you can improve user conversion and retention and security, all while saving valuable engineering time. Your engineers will come and thank you for using Stych because Stych keeps you from having to build authentication in-house and the integration process is super fast and super smooth. To get $1,000 in free credits, just go to stytch.com/lenny to sign up, and that's stitch with a Y.
Barbra, welcome to the podcast.
Barbra Gago (04:07):
Thanks, Lenny. Excited to be here.
Just to start off and set a little context for our listeners, can you give us a 55-second background on some of the wonderful things you've done in your career and what you're up to now?
Barbra Gago (04:21):
Definitely. So I've spent pretty much my entire career in B2B SaaS tech, building and scaling through hyper growth, oftentimes with disruptive technologies at the center of people, tech, future of work. I would say I helped bring products like CultureAmp and Greenhouse to market in the people space. Before that, I did some work in enterprise social networking in the Yammer days. And most recently, I was the CMO at Miro where I also led the rebrand and introduced that product to the world, which was very exciting.
And you've got a startup now, so maybe you just mention that briefly and then we'll talk about it at the end again. Yeah. What are you working on now?
Barbra Gago (05:08):
Yeah. And now, I'm building a product which we'll see about the category what it ends up being, but it's what we call an employee progression platform. So basically, from the work that I've done as a leader, building and scaling teams and also the exposure I've had in the people tech space, I just have found that there's been a lot of tools lacking for leaders to really coach and develop their team in the right way, creating enough structure and transparency into the process that creates accountability on both sides. So yeah, we're taking on the big goal of killing performance reviews.
Holy moly. Cool.
Barbra Gago (05:50):
Performance reviews. Very exciting. It's true. We'll talk about that a bit at the end more. And there's a bunch of stuff I want to dig into. You have such a cool background on so many interesting experiences. The first is something that you mentioned just now, which is category and category creation, which I know is near and dear to your heart. I was reading a bit about your background, and I learned that at Miro, you invented this category that's now called visual collaboration. And at CultureAmp, I think you helped lead the creation of this category, employee experience. I imagine at Greenhouse, you did something similar. And I know startups are often trying to decide, should I create my own category? Should I try to win in an existing category? And so I want to spend some time talking through your experience there.
And so the first question is just say at Miro or Greenhouse, can you just talk through your thought process of trying to decide, should we invent a whole new category that we're going to win or should we just try to win an existing category and how did that go?
Barbra Gago (06:45):
They're both great examples because in one, we did create a new category and in the other, we tried and abandoned ship. With Miro, I think when I joined the company, there was this concept of an online whiteboard, which also is a category, but it's a much smaller category and it wasn't something that a lot of people searched for. And I think the biggest motivating factor of thinking about category creation at Miro was how do we become something really big and needed by every company and not just this little thing that maybe product teams would use or maybe engineering teams or schools or something like that.
When you're thinking about category creation, it's really, for us, it was really about the scope of what we're trying to do and not wanting to be in something too small. And I think with Miro, the platform that it is, there is so much possibility. I used to joke that it was, even as a company, we were the ever expanding universe. There's just so much to do there, but online whiteboard was really small.
Greenhouse is in the ATS category, which is applicant tracking system. And at the time, applicant tracking systems had a really bad name. I don't know if folks that listen to this know of Jobvite or remember Jobvite, and there were a lot of systems before that. Jobvite had come in the mid-2000s as the new and improved ATS and it was all about social recruiting, but it was very transactional and it wasn't very strategic. And so we wanted to steer clear of the ATS space even though we were an ATS. We can talk more about what we tried and what we ended up doing, but I think the main factors when you're thinking about category creation is really what budget companies have, if they have a budget, if they don't have a budget. Companies did have a budget for ATS, for example. Until now, I don't think companies had a budget for visual collaboration. For example, what's the language and the words that people use to describe their pain points and their situation, the things that they need? And then is their competition?
And sometimes, competition, you would think like, "Oh, we want to not have competition, so let's build a new category." But ultimately, you're not building a category until there is competition. It's not officially actually a category until there's more companies that do that. And that was a big learning for me in this whole process of category creation, is that it's actually okay when new companies come in that say they're that category because it's just validating the fact that there is a new category. So I think it's really ... If and when is really about what the overall objective is and also what the current situation is with competitors and the space. The ATS market is still the ATS market, for example, and Miro has created visual collaboration as a category but also ticks off boxes for other categories as well.
I have a thousand questions I want to ask to dig deeper. Before we get in there, can you just define, well, what is a category? Folks that are just like, what the hell have you been talking about? What is a product category? What's the high level way to think about this?
Barbra Gago (10:04):
When we talk about category, I think it's really what would be a good way to explore your space and your relevant categories would be to go to G2 Crowd or Software Advice or any of those type of review sites or directory sites and learn about how they've categorized products based on feature sets. And so within each industry, there's going to be a bunch of different types of categories. Those categories are typically products that solve, at least in B2B products, that solve a certain pain point or a set of pain points, and they can be very wide like all in one and big solutions or they can be narrow. There's this all in one versus best in class, for example. And I think that's where the granularity of category comes into play and then how big the market is. Obviously, maps to granularity versus more broad and when are you granular versus when do you go broad? But I think ultimately, it's just a set of features or products that are solving a specific pain point that customers most likely have a budget allocated for.
And then the category ends up, the way you use it is it's the way you pitch your product often. It's like the big part of the headline, part of the way you sell it. It's like you come back to this we're the leader in visual collaboration, for example, or that's how it practically ends up being used.
Barbra Gago (11:31):
Exactly. It's interesting because I would say that if you're building a category as well, you can sometimes be selling into a category while you're still building the appetite for a different category, which is a nuance, which is all about where's the budget and how do customers describe their pain points?
This reminds me, I was just trying to pitch my podcast in this little dock I'm writing. And initially, I was like, "Oh, it's like a top hundred business podcast." And I'm like, "No, it's the number one product and growth podcast in the world," which is true, but I created my own category. How about that?
Barbra Gago (12:09):
There you go.
Was that a good idea?
Barbra Gago (12:11):
I think so. The thing is it's like when you talk about ICP for how you're going to sell your product and really build a repeatable sales process to scale that piece of your business. And the more specific the thing is that you're selling initially, obviously you're going to have more relevant users. They're going to spread word of mouth, etc. You could always expand that scope later. The category can also evolve. You mentioned CultureAmp earlier. The category now is people experience. Actually, when I was there, it was more about people analytics platform or people intelligence platform because we were providing a deep set of data that companies didn't have before, but that category has since evolved as their go-to market has changed, as they've added new products to their platform and new features and things like that.
To make it even more concrete for people, what are other examples of categories that come to mind that are either invented recently or just generally?
Barbra Gago (13:14):
In the early days, I was working on market automation, for example, so Marketo, now HubSpot, fits into that, even though back then, they were more of this inbound marketing platform/category performance management, which is the area of Pando. We've talked a lot about people, products. I think Gainsight did a great job with the customer success platform, so this is a different problem that they were solving within the organization for a group. The customer success team, basically how are they going to make their customers successful?
Barbra Gago (13:50):
Yeah, customer success. It's a well name.
Barbra Gago (13:53):
Okay. There's many benefits to try to create your own category, right? We're number one. That's one main category. Two is you can lead the charge on understanding or just defining what's important. I imagine there's other benefits maybe you could share, but there's also probably a lot of downsides. You mentioned oftentimes, it doesn't work and it just ends up being a lot of wasted money. Maybe just talk about what are the reasons to pursue trying to create your own category and then some of the reasons you maybe shouldn't.
Barbra Gago (14:20):
Greenhouse is a great example to talk about a failed approach at creating a category. So I mentioned before the ATS or the applicant tracking system category at the time was just, it carried so much disdain. People had such bad experiences with that whole category of products. No matter what, they weren't strategic. They didn't help people be good at recruiting. It was just a pretty terrible, very transactional experience. And I came in and it was like, "Okay, let's reposition ourselves. We're going to create a new category." We tried several things.
One of the main things that we zeroed in on was recruiting optimization platform, and it was really like we are doing that. We're helping companies really structure the process, identify where they have gaps, where people are falling through the cracks, where they're flying through the process and really tweak and iterate it and improve it. And we spent time getting content out there, talking to press about it, positioning it in this way. And ultimately, at the end of the day, the budget that customers had and the way that customers talked about what we did, no matter what we called it, was applicant tracking.
So it didn't really make sense to continue to go against the grain of, no, we're going to be this new thing or we're going to call it this if everybody, even seeing the value and seeing the differentiation of our platform to others, still called it an ATS. We abandoned that process. But I think the main thing that we understood then was instead of spending the time and money to build a new category, we were going to spend the time and money to elevate the value of this category. So rather than changing the category to something else which we could value at whatever it was, we were just going to spend all of our resources to make this whole category much more valuable to the users, to companies. And that really was, along with what CultureAmp was doing at the time in the same space, what set off this whole trajectory of really good, strong people practices and people organizations that were really doing cool stuff on the recruiting side as well as employee engagement.
You mentioned a few components of when it makes sense to come up with a category. One is there's budget already against it. Two is people use the words associated with that category. I imagine with Miro and this idea of, what was it, visual collaboration, there wasn't budget for that yet. So how does that work?
Barbra Gago (16:53):
No. That is more of the vision piece, I would say. Sometimes you can have a vision that customers, they don't have it yet or they don't share it, but they can grow to share it and they did in that case. And I think that with Miro, we still worked to optimize where we could in terms of the categories that we did fit into or how people talked about us, but it was also such a new format and it was really a disruptive product that didn't exist before in the enterprise so that it was called a lot of different things. So it was much more fluid and people talked about it in different ways, and this was our way of hearing the feedback about how people talked about it as online whiteboard or lots of jobs to be done were framed, mind mapping platform or diagramming or whatever, all of these little things.
And so visual collaboration was our way of putting a nice bow around this thing that could then be an enterprise product that solves a lot of different problems for a lot of different use cases and different types of users. We started out selling and having a lot of users that were in product and in engineering and teams that were used to using whiteboards anyway and then needed to do it in a distributed way, but very quickly packaged different types of jobs for HR teams or marketing teams or design teams and pretty much anybody in the organization. But it needed to all come together cohesively; otherwise, it was like everybody in the org just calls it a different thing because they use it in a different way.
Part of what I'm hearing is that you don't stop working on the other categories that it already sits within and just keep optimizing those but in parallel, start to try to pull together, hey, there's this bigger vision of where this could be. Does that sound right?
Barbra Gago (18:50):
I think so. And it's really where you get the inputs from your customers and your users. We heard all these things. Miro, we did a lot of content marketing. That's a big piece of doing category creation generally I would say. But there's a lot of different ways that people talked about it, and so that's an opportunity to actually come and say, okay, here's what it is because no one knows, and it's all of these things and all of these things together equals this now. And then that created momentum where other companies started thinking like that and then they started tagging themselves as that category as well, and then you had a category of multiple companies now that were doing similar stuff.
Yeah, absolutely. How do you know when it's probably a bad idea to try to create your own category?
Barbra Gago (19:41):
The sooner, the better if you're going to try and fail and iterate. I think if you already are well established, I don't think category creation is really a meaningful effort if you already have ... It's not going to be necessarily a way to just all of a sudden generate new business by creating Q&A new category once you've already gone far enough down the path. I think that if you're not getting ... With the Greenhouse situation, as much as we used this other language and it did get picked up a bit in terms of context that people would use to talk about Greenhouse, it really just wasn't sticking. And so I think it's good to try things and also abandon them and that's okay. You can always sit back into the category. If you really don't fit into any other category, then you probably do need to figure out what the category is and package that. And that's going to be done mostly by continuing to talk to customers and listening to how they talk about things. It all comes from what you hear from them ultimately and what will resonate.
So I think, yeah, if you're already established, if you really aren't differentiated from other categories in your space, then you probably are in that category. And doing category creation is a lot of work that is not going to be fruitful if you're pretty squarely in something already. And then if you really aren't but you need to figure it out, you're just going to have to keep iterating until you figure out what makes sense to your customers.
For founders who are listening to this and they're just like, "Oh, this sounds interesting. I want to try to think about a new category maybe for my product." Can you just talk about the mechanics of going through this process of trying to decide what category it should be called, how to roll it out, anything you could share by just the tactics of creating a category?
Barbra Gago (21:36):
The main thing which we've talked a little bit about already is really understanding your customers and their pain points and how they talk about things. All of my best marketing and positioning literally comes from having a million conversations with customers and listening to how they solve problems and how our system helps them solve problems and what they're doing and how they talk about stuff. I think that's step one, is really understanding who those buyers are, how they talk about the product, what's the unique differentiator and selling points?
One thing that's really important in category creation as well is actually PR. You need to get this category and positioning out there at a high level in order to test it out and see if it makes sense and if it's resonating. And then the other piece is really those directory sites, which the analysts like Gartner and Forrester and all these guys, at least in B2B and enterprise, they really shape for customers what the categories are. And you need to build relationships with them. You need to work with them to create your category as well. So with the visual collaboration, for example, we weren't ranking, we weren't categorized in visual collaboration on G2 Crowd, and we had to meet with them and explain what it was and talk to them about the differentiation of this category versus other categories in terms of features and all of that stuff so that they could understand how they would differentiate this category from another category.
So I think those are really good channels to look at. And then tactically, it's a lot of content marketing and a lot of thought leadership. When you're building a category, you need to make sure that there is a category that's validated by analysts and directory sites and things like that. But also, you want to have a lot of traction in terms of thought leadership like why is this the category? What are the unique value propositions of this particular thing? What are the pain points it solves? And then of course, getting a lot of content around because when you're generating a new category, you're also needing to educate buyers that there is a category that they can now budget for and why they should allocate budget for that.
Sounds like a hell of a lot of work.
Barbra Gago (24:03):
It's a lot.
I'm curious. What percentage of say B2B companies do you think should pursue creating a category? Is it almost none or is it a meaningful percentage?
Barbra Gago (24:13):
It goes in waves with the tech innovations. So for example, when there was the whole first web wave and then there was this whole social enterprise and consumerization of IT was a big change in how technology occurred in the workplace and a lot of new categories came at that point. So I feel like it's less about the raw percentage and more about general inflection points that are happening that are causing the need for this.
And I take COVID for example and this very quick shift to distributed work was one of those type of inflection points that has changed a lot. A new category that has grown extremely fast is, and I don't even know exactly what they call it, but it's these employment platforms like Deel and Oyster that have cropped up and grown significantly fast and also have created a new category where there was already the ability to hire people in all of these distributed places, but you had to find a company in that place that would then hire the people. And then of course, they created these platforms where, hey, here's a system, you can manage it all here, we'll go and build all those relationships on the ground. And Nayya is a new set of a new category with four or five companies just in the last three years that have cropped up. So I think it's more about what the market demands and what's happening in the market rather than whether or not one company it makes sense for, if that makes sense.
Yeah, makes sense. It depends on where the tide is pulling everyone. I think that makes a lot of sense.
Barbra Gago (25:52):
Maybe one last question about category creation. So on the surface, there's this binary choice. Either try to become the best ATS platform or we're not ATS, we're employee recruiting automation. Is there a middle ground? Do you have to go one or the other or is there some in between route, maybe positioning a little bit differently or how do you think about that?
Barbra Gago (26:13):
There could be some middle ground. I would say for Pando, for example, performance management is a very established category that we technically fit into, and also there's a line item on the budget and people have money to pay for performance management. But we're introducing this concept of employee progression, which is more of a long tail strategy. So while we want to educate the market and build this new category of employee progression because it's related to the differences between what we're doing and traditional performance management, we're still going to rate ourselves in directory sites, for example, or categorize ourselves as performance management and talk about performance management and sell to companies that are looking for performance management. But ultimately, we want to shift everybody's mindset and change the category.
So it's not necessarily one or the other, but I do think the investment is high if you want to build a new category, and we're committed to an investment of time and thought leadership and content and all of that stuff, but it's also not our strategy right now to go and create employee progression and own and dominate this. We're going to work our way up to that over time.
Got it. That connects to what you talked about with Miro. It wasn't like we're switching, we're now visual collaboration. It's like we're still whiteboards, we're the best white boarding tool, but let's also start building this brand of visual collaboration so that people start to learn.
Barbra Gago (27:48):
Exactly. And I think it's a bottoms up mentality much like our business model was there because with marketing automation, it wasn't a progressive buildup. It was marketing automation. That's what the category was. I was working for a company that was doing marketing automation. There was Eloqua and Marketo and several others and we all were just telling everybody, educating the market on what that was, and that was very top down.
Awesome. This episode is brought to you by Vanta, helping you streamline your security compliance to accelerate growth. If your business stores any data in the cloud, then you've likely been asked or you're going to be asked about your SOC 2 compliance. SOC 2 is a way to prove your company is taking proper security measures to protect customer data and builds trust with customers and partners, especially those with serious security requirements. Also, if you want to sell to the enterprise, proving security is essential. SOC 2 can either open the door for bigger and better deals or it can put your business on hold. If you don't have a SOC 2, there's a good chance you won't even get a seat at the table.
Beginning a SOC 2 report can be a huge burden, especially for startups. It's time consuming, tedious and expensive. Enter Vanta. Over 3,000 fast growing companies use Vanta to automate up to 90% of the work involved with SOC 2. Vanta can get you ready for security audits in weeks instead of months, less than a third of the time that it usually takes. For a limited time, Lenny's podcast listeners get $1,000 off Vanta. Just go to vanta.com/lenny. That's V-A-N-T-A dot-com/lenny to learn more and to claim your discount. Get started today.
I know another area that you spend a lot of time thinking about and you've done a lot of work around is branding, rebranding even and just go to market in general. I know at Miro, you led the charge on rebranding Miro. It used to be called I think RealtimeBoard, the little two capital letters and no space.
Barbra Gago (29:52):
And with Greenhouse, you basically led the go-to market plan. And so I want to spend a little time here I guess just around rebranding. At Miro, it's a rebrand. How do you know it's time to rebrand your product and it's worth investing there?
Barbra Gago (30:06):
RealtimeBoard was interesting. I almost didn't join because it was called RealtimeBoard. Honestly, I was like, "Oh my, god. This is so literal." While I was walking the dogs with my husband, I'm like, "Am I really going to join a company called RealtimeBoard" Can this be a big company with that name?" I was really concerned about it and ultimately, I spent more time with the leaders there and I was like, "Okay, I think they'll be open to changing the name." So I think there's a maturity piece. A lot of companies are started and you just come up with a name and you don't put a lot of thought into it and then you grow to a certain level. At that time, I think we were a million users, maybe a couple of million in revenue so it was very early days. You had a name, you came up with it, you got the website and then the business grew, and at some point, can it be as big as we want it to be, as we think it can be with that name? And I think that was my biggest thing.
With RealtimeBoard specifically, it was so literal and matter of fact and the product itself had so much more potential than the name was doing justice for. So I think at some point, it's common for companies to do a rebrand once they go into scale mode before you have too many people and before you invest too much obviously in building that brand. So I think the sooner, the better like rebrand before I even joined. Will they let me change the name was my criteria for joining. And I would say in general, the sooner, the better, but obviously after you know that you have product market fit and you have something to scale, so you don't want to invest too much in a brand that isn't going to get you as far as you want to get if you're going to obviously scale.
I was going to ask you what it took to convince the founders to rebrand because that's often a big challenge, but it sounds like that's part of your employee agreement. I will join if you give me the right to explore this.
Barbra Gago (32:08):
They were pretty receptive to it. The company was not US-based. I had spent my whole career in Silicon Valley a lot of time with brand and inbound and community-focused brands. So they were pretty receptive. It was not that hard to convince them, which was great. I think the scary part for them and many people was just there was some equity. They did have advocates like how would this impact the people who really loved the product right now? And so one of the things that was really important as we transitioned was that we kept as much of the essence of the initial brand. Before, the logo was like a Post-it and then RealtimeBoard. And so that Post-it, for example, that yellow became the new M that we used, and we actually proposed a hot pink M initially and the yellow M was the, okay, we don't want to go too far from the RealtimeBoard with the yellow Post-it and this was a way to nob to the early base of customers and keep something that was pretty standard and pretty core to the initial brand and name.
Looking back, do you think that was worth the effort and time to worry about those folks?
Barbra Gago (33:29):
Barbra Gago (33:31):
Oh, the early folk, we definitely got feedback from along the way. We did case studies throughout the process. We got feedback on logos. We got feedback on brand and designs, and there were plenty of people who were like, "Oh, I like RealtimeBoard. It's straightforward." They loved their product, but ultimately, we kept many of them informed and we really involved them in the process to the degree of not slowing us down but still getting feedback, because we did all of this in a very short period of time on top of it. And I think it was worth it because they felt really good about the outcome as well.
And a big part of rebranding also means that you have to bring the whole company along too and make sure they feel really good about the outcome. And that was probably one of my big takeaways, is just at that time, we were already about a hundred people, so it wasn't a super small company, and everybody had thoughts and feelings and the company had been around for quite a long time before that. So it was a big change for many people.
Any other learnings from that experience about just going through a branding or rebranding? Maybe just focusing on rebranding. Any other learnings for future rebranding efforts?
Barbra Gago (34:46):
So rebranding is just the visual aesthetic, and I think that's important to make sure you can transition in a way that you're still nodding to the original things but you've reinvented it or transformed it in a way that makes more sense for where you're at and where you're going. If you're changing the name, it's way more complicated because everybody has to be involved, legal, all the contracts, the website, the product, all the links. We changed our URL. Everything changed. And so I think it's really important that you have to mobilize and align and have a very clear vision about the process and the steps and be very transparent about it. I think a lot of times, marketing teams just go and do their thing and come back and it's like, "Here we go."
With the rebrand at Miro, it was very much rebrand as a product approach. It was very much a product development process with sprint teams and agile, coming back, and you had owners for different parts of things and all reporting back and it really required everybody in some way to be involved. As I mentioned, we did it in a very condensed period of time. I think we kicked off the naming process in end of October and we launched publicly at South by Southwest with a fully three dimensional booth in March. So it was very short to get a name, and then once we had the name, to do all the actual brand and then not only that but produce an entire booth and event collateral and all of that stuff. So I think mobilizing, having a really strong clear process and delegating and letting go in the marketing role, not trying to own everything. It has to be owned by everybody else because you need sales decks and it's just everything.
I think there's also luck involved with any success and also in rebrands because a million things could go wrong. We got our domain name changed to miro.com, I think it was 48 hours before the event.
Barbra Gago (36:54):
All the material had been printed with the new URL. We had to just make a leap of faith, super stressful, but thankfully, we had luck on our side. But ultimately, team process, clear structure, transparent for everybody, getting feedback from customers and making sure stakeholders feel like they're involved. I think ultimately, it's a really powerful way to create defensibility for a product and a brand in the market, but it's also a lot of work related to category creation.
I was just going to say that. It sounds like everything you do is just a hell of a lot of work. The rest [inaudible 00:37:34].
Barbra Gago (37:35):
It's fun. I love work.
Me too. I always joke that I work for a workaholic, which is myself.
Barbra Gago (37:40):
Yeah, I do. I know. I just love it. So I get into this stuff and I think rebranding and category creation and brand in general, I think what our goal with Miro was to create ... There's this concept of a love mark rather than a straight mark. It's like how do you build a brand? I think Airbnb has done a great job with that as well, but how do you build a brand that people really love and so committed to and invested in? And that you have to put a lot of thought into it, and it needs to be authentic for it to really work, but if it does, it's super, super powerful.
Yeah. I was there during the Airbnb rebrand. It took I think a year and a half for them from start to finish to get to something they were really excited about ready to launch. And there's also actually a similar story to the domain story shared with the font. I don't know how much I could share, but they didn't have the right to use the font until the last day or something. It was a close call.
Barbra Gago (38:43):
Yeah, but you have to just like, "It's going to happen." There's some blind faith.
Right. It helps close it. We're launching. I wanted to talk about just branding in general. You've worked on such great, big, successful brands and you've helped craft these brands, and I'm just curious what advice you have around just building a brand, a lasting brand, a global brand. What's important when you think about creating a brand for your startup?
Barbra Gago (39:06):
I think it's something that companies should think about as early as possible and have it not be an afterthought. The product and the brand are the main things that will get customers and keep them and also keep them loyal and engaged. So I think you have to have both. You can't have one or the other. You could have a great brand and if the product sucks, there's only so far a brand can go. And you also can have a great product and maybe not that thoughtful of a brand, but what I've found is that the more the brand is interchangeable with the people at the company and the company itself, the stronger it is, the more authentic it is. When you talk about Google, you also talk about its people. They're one and the same Googlers. And a lot of companies have that same approach.
And I think with Miro, we definitely incorporate our values into the brand. Our whole mission was to help companies build the next big thing. This is what we want to do. We want to be the platform that helps companies build the next big thing. We also had to be a big thing. We need to show what big things are. And so your company values, for example, can shape how big and how deep you go with your brand, how authentic it is to the experiences that people have because ultimately, values play a big part because values are foundational to how people behave at the organization, how they work together, how they work with one another, how they work with customers, how they talk to customers.
The best way to incorporate your brand and how people are interacting with people that you are selling to, customers or whoever, partners, is to have those values incorporated because then it's every touchpoint isn't something that you have to train people, okay, these are all the touch points and this is how the brand needs to manifest. It already will because it's part of the DNA of the company. So I think really integrating the values can help with that and also, of course, make the brand itself human and authentic and something that people really feel emotional connection to.
What's an example of value informing the brand or change or helping you make a different decision maybe at Miro or CultureAmp or Greenhouse to make that a little more concrete?
Barbra Gago (41:27):
Authenticity as a value. Candor as a value. Thoughtfulness as a value. If you have a value around a bias for action or something like that, these things can translate to how the brand manifests in terms of the language that's used, the colors, the objects. With Miro, for example, we had each character of the word Miro in a different shape, and each shape had different characteristics and those were tied back to different values so they each represented something different.
What's an example of that? What were Miro's values while we're diving into there?
Barbra Gago (42:06):
One of them was around agility. And so, one, I don't remember which letter it was. Maybe the I. It was shaped wiggly, and then we also had a visual manifestation of it so they all behaved differently. They all had their own behavior. And one of the things that was really important to us is that we were creating a visual system or a visual language so that people that were from different parts of the world, working together could understand each other without necessarily speaking the same language. And so this was a way to invoke this connection of different perspectives and different languages in a way that got all pulled together.
Got it. Cool. There's a lot there. The way you all visualized the values were using the name Miro. I imagine there's four values then.
Barbra Gago (42:53):
And then Agility as a value informed the product. It needs to be agile and make sure people can be flexible in how they use it.
Barbra Gago (43:01):
Definitely. How we build the product, how people around the product act, and then that shape itself was agile and moved and agiley.
That's awesome. I love that. Were you there for coming up with the values? People are always wondering, just how do we come up with our company values? Do you have any insights into just developing company values?
Barbra Gago (43:20):
We did iterations of it while I was there. They already had a stake in the ground. What I have done in the past with values is we just did an exercise with my leadership team, for example, where we did a workshop format. We actually used Miro where everybody just brain dumped their ideas around values, and then it was, okay, from there, let's group them into themes. And then from there, let's vote on the most important things. And then from there, how do we start to articulate and define these things? Ultimately, coming up with the definitions is not really something you can do as a group because it's just not very productive. It's better if somebody who knows how to write well can come up with the first stab of the sentences, if it's operating principles, if it's values, and then get feedback on it. But you can get everybody's input and make the process pretty structured by doing something like that where it's like brain dump, group, vote, and then you have your short list of things that you can then work to define.
Awesome. Maybe one last question around brand. People that aren't in, say, marketing hear brand and it's, okay, it's this fuzzy thing that I feel about our company. When you think about creating a brand, what are the bullet point things that you come up with? There's a logo. There's color palette. Can you just talk through, what is a brand when you're creating a brand and building a brand, what are the elements of it?
Barbra Gago (44:47):
So all of those things that you mentioned. I would say the logo, the colors, the fonts, all the general aesthetic. Do you have photography? Do you use illustrations? Is it all illustrations, all graphics, whatever? You decide those things. You need to understand what the voice is of the brand, how the brand sounds when you write things, when you market it, how people talk. All of that stuff is part of the brand. If you want to build a brand that's really scalable, you think about it more as a system like a brand system. So this is creating things that ... With Miro, for example, we had the letters and we had the colors and we had these concepts of agility. I don't remember all of them off the top of my head, but all of these different concepts that then were represented by different shapes or different colors that could be used in various forms. So it's really like how does it become an extension of all of the different things that you're going to be doing visually or when you talk to customers or how you present the product, etc.?
And all of that combines to this feeling you get eventually from the brand. All these things create that fuzzy feeling.
Barbra Gago (45:56):
Yeah. It's interesting you don't remember all the values at Miro. With Airbnb, I'm just like, I will never forget the Airbnb values. They've been so drilled into our heads.
Barbra Gago (46:05):
Yeah, it's because they were too long. It was something that we were constantly working on because they were too long and there were too many things in them to remember. That was the problem.
That's a great learning there. Make them simple, but also don't make them generic.
Barbra Gago (46:21):
Yeah, it can't be generic, but it also can't be too much that nobody knows what they are. They need to be simple and straightforward and easy to remember.
And potentially, illustrated with your company name. That's a really cool idea.
Barbra Gago (46:36):
Last topic I want to spend a little time on is something that I know you're really passionate about, which is this idea of creating opinionated software that has clear opinions about how you should be using it and how you should be doing your work. And so maybe as a first question, just what is opinionated software? What's important about it?
Barbra Gago (46:54):
Opinionated software is basically software platforms that essentially have either best practices or maybe some rules integrated into the system. You have systems that you can customize any which way and however you want and then you have other systems that enforce a certain way of behaving or doing work, as you said. And so I think probably a pretty well known example for your audience especially is Atlassian really building tools for agile workflows and agile teams.
And Greenhouse is another example from a recruiting perspective in terms of what we called structured recruiting. There was a very specific way to create a pipeline, build an interview kit, and all of that was important because it made recruiting better and more transparent and obviously less bias and all of those things. So it's principled, I would say. It's anchored in some values. And because of those values, there will be certain rules that are built in that you can't really work around.
Do you have any advice for when it makes sense to be very opinionated about how you make people use your product and do the thing they're trying to do versus just optimize for flexibility?
Barbra Gago (48:11):
I think Atlassian built around a process that was already happening and growing momentum and it was like, okay, let's build a solution to enable companies to do this with technology. So there was already a process that didn't have a technology integrated, and then with Greenhouse it was like, there's a better way to do it and this is how it should be done. So I think there's two different approaches. Either find a process that just doesn't have technology that is a best practice or growing best practice. I think the same thing happened in DevOps with many different tools. And then Greenhouse, which is more like, what are companies missing? How can they do it better? How can we train them and teach them a better way? And then by the way, our software helps you do that.
With the product and company you're building now, are you looking to make it very opinionated and here's how you should be doing performance reviews or how are you thinking about it?
Barbra Gago (49:03):
Yes, we are. It is opinionated, and it's opinionated because the current way that performance reviews happen are full of bias and there's a lot of problems with it. It's like the best thing that companies can do and therefore, they continue to do it, but that just perpetuates a lot of issues. The reason that companies have to go and look at compensation data and fix pay gaps is because they have systemic problems with how people are promoted and progressed in the organization. So if they're recruited in a certain way, they may or may not be developed and then they're evaluated on their performance, which ultimately results in compensation and what people are paid, and that as we know, there's plenty of problems.
So companies are fixing this compensation issue by updating the comp every year, but that doesn't fix the systemic problem. And so yes, we have opinions about how to fix the problem and therefore, our building a system that when it comes to performance evaluation, employee progression, we require companies to be more transparent about the levels at the company, the expectations for different levels and competencies, and we create accountability both on the employee and the manager side, but it's also the right thing to do. Employees should feel that they're evaluated fairly, and without a system enforcing some of these things, there's too much subjectivity in the process to make it good, unless you really do a lot of work, which most companies don't do to create the right system. You don't have to use a platform to do it, but if you don't do the work anyway, you won't have the outcome that you want, which is people feeling good about their career and paid fairly.
Yeah. I found performance reviews to be one of maybe the most powerful tool as a manager to change the way people operate, help them improve, make them fulfilled and happy with where things are going. It feels like that's the core of management, is the performance review cycle and giving people feedback on how they're doing it and then continuing to come back to here's where you're underperforming, here's what it'll take to get to the next level. So I'm excited about what you're working on.
Barbra Gago (51:22):
We've reached our very exciting lightning round where I'm going to ask you five rapid fire questions and you just tell me what comes to mind. We'll go through it pretty fast. Does that sound good?
Barbra Gago (51:34):
Okay. Awesome. First question, what are two or three books that you recommend most to other people?
Barbra Gago (51:41):
Definitely Radical Candor. We give this out to customers. It's really good for management and best practices around giving feedback. I love the Art of War just as strategic thinking. And then not work related, a book called Kafka on the Shore. It's one of my favorite Murakami books that I highly recommend.
What is that one again?
Barbra Gago (52:01):
Kafka on the Shore.
Kafka on the Shore. Wow, cool. I haven't heard of that.
Barbra Gago (52:05):
Awesome. Going to use these in the show notes. What's a favorite other podcast than the one you're currently on?
Barbra Gago (52:13):
I love Cautionary Tales. I don't know if you know this one, but it's a great podcast that basically identifies and tells stories about the mental mindsets that we're in and the biases that we have and then historic events that have happened and just crazy things that have resulted from things that we do as humans because we're biased.
Barbra Gago (52:37):
It's really good. Yeah.
What's a favorite recent movie or a TV show that you watched?
Barbra Gago (52:42):
I watched Sandman. I don't know if you've heard of this.
I've heard of it. I haven't seen it.
Barbra Gago (52:49):
It's based off of an eight-part graphic novel series by Neil Gaiman. It's really good. The TV version of it isn't exactly about the books, but it's about the characters, and I feel like the way that they portrayed the characters was really interesting and super diverse. It's a great show.
Awesome. That's more plus one for that show. What's a favorite interview question that you like to ask when you're interviewing people?
Barbra Gago (53:17):
Everybody hates it, but I like asking what someone's top 10 accomplishments are. They hate it because it's like, "Oh, God. Ugh." But it's really interesting to understand the level of quantitative versus qualitative in their accomplishments, what they value. And also if it's a, "Oh, I ran a hundred miles or I have a great family," whatever it is, it's really interesting to get to know somebody and also what they value.
Who else in the industry do you respect most as a thought leader or just influence on your career life?
Barbra Gago (53:52):
Early days, I really appreciated Nancy Duarte. She is based in the Bay Area. She has an agency called Duarte Agency. She does a lot around storytelling and visual communication. She's been really great for me just in my career as a mentor. I've worked with her a couple of times, but also just following all the work that she does. She's amazing.
Awesome. I remember learning about her when Al Gore gave his TED Talk and her whole agency was a-
Barbra Gago (54:17):
Yes. She's done an incredible thing with her agency because they started as making presentations more visually appealing, and then it migrated to storytelling, and then it's evolved to change management and how to use story for driving change. And she's also evolved the agency so much over the years as well. She's done a lot of impressive work.
Barbra, thank you so much for being here. This was amazing. Two last questions. Where can folks find you online if they want to reach out and learn more, and how can listeners be useful to you?
Barbra Gago (54:52):
LinkedIn is probably the easiest place to find me /BarbraGago. And for me, we're building a product in employee progression, so anybody who wants to share their stories or feedback, our insights around their experiences there or if they're interested in getting product feedback, we're really interested in actual user feedback, even though we're selling to HR teams.
And what's the URL?
Barbra Gago (55:18):
Awesome. Barbra, thank you for being here.
Barbra Gago (55:20):
Thank you so much, Lenny.
Thank you so much for listening. If you found this valuable, you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast, Spotify or your favorite podcast app. Also, please consider giving us a rating or leaving a review as that really helps other listeners find the podcast. You can find all past episodes or learn more about the show at lennyspodcast.com. See you in the next episode.