How hitting rock bottom can lead to a successful pivot.
A successful marketing career working for big brands (complete with awards) and being the CEO & Co-Founder of a startup sounds like the perfect set of accomplishments that many of us dream to have checked off.
Did I also mention that she began her startup with a 4-month old baby? Talk about taking risks and following her dreams.
Bernadette’s startup, StoryTap, is redefining how stories are being told. The StoryTap team is creating innovative tech for brands to tell a more compelling, engaging, and authentic video story.
BERNADETTE BUTLER: CEO & CO-FOUNDER OF STORYTAP
A few things in particular stood out to me during my conversation with Bernadette. First off, the incredible accomplishment of starting StoryTap while being a mother to a newborn baby.
I also admired how she took her passion for storytelling to new heights by creating her own company. There’s no doubt that she loves what she does. I could see the light spark up in her eyes every time we talked about StoryTap.
And of course, her genuine, down to earth nature which made her a delight to talk to. I truly enjoyed our conversation, where she shared how she turned her startup around…after it hit rock bottom.
💭 LIFE BEFORE THE STARTUP
Bernadette was a marketer for over 20 years, spending a lot of time in film and making ads for companies. During this time, she noticed a huge shift to social media for marketing.
Before creative agencies had one goal: to create ads that win awards and be a hit on websites. Nowadays, if ads want to catch attention and be engaging, they have to hilarious, educational and/or authentic.
This sent a panic through the creative industry. Now, they had a new problem: How do you create “ads” for clients that fit the constraints and expectations of social media?
The big idea?
Create technology that allows brands to curate a story and the brand’s users to share their personal experiences in an authentic way on video.
⚡️ THE BEGINNINGS
Bernadette always wanted to be an entrepreneur but didn’t have the financial guts to be one full-time.
But after having kids, Bernadette was stuck. She had fallen out of love with her current job. She had ticked off all the little boxes for a successful marketing career. But she also had to think about the financial risks of beginning a startup and how that would affect her kids and family.
She had a big question to answer: go back to her 9–5 marketing job or follow this burning idea she had for her starting her own company?
In the end, it was her passion that won.
🚀 THE JOURNEY
The journey of StoryTap was far from smooth sailing. It had ups and downs…only before they hit rock bottom.
StoryTap was spiralling downwards. Bernadette had already gone a long time without a paycheck. She couldn’t raise the second round of money that she desperately needed to keep StoryTap alive.
It was what every startup fears: after months of blood, sweat, and tears, StoryTap had run out of money.
To make matters worse, her husband began nudging her to go back to a stable job. She had bills and daycare fees for her kids piling up. Emotionally depleted, out of resources, feeling the financial pressures and the stress of fulfilling the role of a mother, this was her rock bottom.
But Bernadette just wasn’t done yet. There was something about the startup world and what StoryTap was doing that she couldn’t let go.
She regrouped her troops, drew a goal board, and did some meditation. Serendipitously around the same time, two businesses called, interested in using the technology and were willing to pay for it.
💡 The Pivot
It was this rock-bottom moment when Bernadette realized that she had to pivot from selling to customers to selling to businesses. With a new target consumer segment in mind, Bernadette began the slow climb back to neutral ground.
There were still a few bumps along the way, but two years and one pivot later, StoryTap has found their footing. Bernadette and her team are conquering bigger challenges and reaching new milestones every day.
📍 STORYTAP TODAY
StoryTap is a web based platform which carefully guides video storytelling and then prompts social distribution. Whether you want video testimonials, case studies, employee engagement, feedback or content stories — their platform make it easy for you to collect video from anywhere in the world.
🔑 LESSONS LEARNED
Be prepared not to take a paycheck for two years.
When people are financially stressed they make terrible decisions because they’re in panic mode. You can’t be smart in panic mode.
Whether you have to cash in your RRSPs or downsize your house and scale back, give yourself two years to give your startup dreams a shot. That’s enough time to build something, throw it out into the market, pivot once, twice or maybe three times.
In startup land, get used to wearing many different hats.
One hour you’re a lawyer trying to make sense of contracts or an accountant figuring out how long you have left until you run out of cash. The next hour you could be a salesperson making pitches to potential clients and then back to being a CEO putting out and starting fires.
You will find yourself excelling at certain skills and being terrible at others. In the early stages, you don’t have the money to hire the best talent. But…
You have to be okay with not knowing everything. Be ready to learn at lightning speed.
Fail fast. Sometimes your screw-ups take you further.
Sometimes it’s going to be a slow bleed and you don’t realize that you’re failing. Other times you want to climb to the next cliff. But there are times when you have to realize that your current approach isn’t working. You have to listen to your gut, make a firm decision, and choose a different route.
It’s fight or flight. One bad decision can sink you.
As an entrepreneur, one of the most rewarding moments is seeing how your product impacts the world.
Every morning you can catch Bernadette sitting at her computer, coffee in hand, watching new videos recorded on the StoryTap platform. Being able to see how her work makes an impact on other people’s lives adds fuel to her fiery passion of innovative storytelling.
For example, one of her clients received a $100,000 donation from one video. Another one of their clients in the health literacy space believes that StoryTap’s tech can help save lives. People who are terminally ill will watch stories of other people who have lived through a specific disease. They can learn from and be inspired by authentic, personal videos much more than through blogs or books. Being able to see a human face behind a candid testimonial creates a stronger and lasting impact on the viewer.
Even though she’s helped creating the prompts and can anticipate the type of user responses, she’s still surprised by what people say!
The best stories have the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Storytelling is a difficult skill and not many people are good at it…myself included. It’s something I’ve been trying to get better at. For startup founders, a great story can make or break a sales pitch.
So before I wrapped up our conversation, I had to ask Bernadette, who has more than 20 years of experience as a marketer and a passion for storytelling…
What makes a great story?
According to Bernadette, the magic ingredients to make stories that people love:
- Speaking from the heart.
Stories that come from ego tend to be boring. “Ego stories” are ones where people only feature their highlight reel, share moments that fit into the constraints of their public image or when they try to paint themselves as an invincible leader.
Everybody has hardships; it makes each person who they are.
Share stories that are true to yourself. Don’t be afraid to show the audience your personality, hardships and mistakes. Add a touch of vulnerability.
If you want to connect and engage with others on a more thoughtful and impactful level, you need to be sharing these types of stories.
👣 STORYTAP’S NEXT STEPS
In the short-term, Bernadette and her team are working on building brand awareness. They are also working with media, more non-profit companies and increasing their presence in the health sector.
Her big dream? Taking StoryTap to motion pictures. Bernadette believes there is a lot of room for “based on-true stories” storytelling and StoryTap could be a great collector of authentic story content.
Hey I’m Celine, Content Creator for Launch Academy 🚀, Vancouver’s leading startup hub. I’m also a 4th year marketing student at the Sauder School of Business of the University of British Columbia. I love trying new healthy recipes🌱, working on creative projects 🎨, and picking the brains of ambitious and inspiring people 💡. Here, I share my conversations with local entrepreneurs who are making a mark in our community.