“Play Into All of Your Strengths and Own Your Eccentricities” 5 Startup Tips From Amanda Greenberg CEO of Baloonr
“Every strength makes up your competitive advantage. Before founding Baloonr, I assumed that what I found to be easy and natural, everyone else also found to be easy and natural. Advisors, team members, and investors helped me to better understand characteristics that were actually anomalies and unique — things I could use to my advantage in growing a company. Listening to the advice of those who truly believe in you is critically important — they see things in you that sometimes you don’t see in yourself. Having this understanding has helped me grow Baloonr more strategically.”
I had the pleasure to interview Amanda Greenberg. Amanda is the co-founder and CEO of Baloonr, an app that removes bias from collaboration, decision-making, and innovation so that companies gain access to otherwise unreachable insights. Their tech (web/iOS/Slack) levels the playing field, by removing the most costly cognitive biases (e.g., groupthink, pattern recognition, anchoring, gender bias) from the workplace. Prior to founding Baloonr, she was a public health researcher and evaluation specialist in DC, managing projects for the U.S. EPA, CDC, and DOE. Amanda designed, developed, implemented, and evaluated national public health behavior change campaigns. She was in the inaugural, QIT Health Innovators Fellowship class and co-led a showcase-winning team in the national Health Design Challenge. She graduated from Dartmouth College (2007) and received her Master of Science in Public Health degree from UNC-CH Gillings School of Global Public Health (2009), graduating first in her class.
What is your “backstory”?
Before starting Baloonr, I was a public health researcher and scientist in DC. I developed national behavior change campaigns for the U.S. EPA, DOE, and CDC. I went right into that role from graduate school at UNC-CH Gillings School of Global Public Health, which I entered immediately following undergraduate at Dartmouth College. I was planning to head to medical school and continue working in public health, but as a public health physician. My plans changed when I became obsessed with solving a problem, and I made the jump to founding a company.
In my role as a researcher, I noticed a number of trends that were negatively impacting the firm — more louder, senior voices dominating conversations and people’s ideas and feedback being evaluated differently based on who they were. Since I was a researcher, I dug into the research (across many disciplines) and what I found shocked and surprised me. In short, current collaboration tools, information collection tools, and processes don’t actually follow well-studied, research-supported best practices for how you get the best, the most, and the most diverse ideas out of a group. Our productivity and collaboration tools don’t provide psychological safety or mitigate all of the costly biases that stall innovation, drive down productivity, and result in really bad decision-making. We took a holistic, research-focused approach to developing Baloonr — that largely came from my work as a researcher and in public health education focused on fixing broken systems and translating science into programs and messages that made people change behaviors.
Also, in my previous work, I knew that something wasn’t clicking — that it wasn’t right for me. I learned a lot about myself — what I wanted and what I didn’t — and that there were parts of me that I couldn’t ignore. Those parts — the drive, the hungriness, and the need for autonomy and unlimited creativity — felt immediately fulfilled when I dove into this new problem and started my own company. I was (and am) obsessed with the problem and solving it. I haven’t once looked back or considered a different path.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I started Baloonr while very pregnant. A lot of people thought that was interesting and admirable, but also incredibly courageous and crazy, and it definitely resulted in some hilarious moments. Like, closing one of our first piloting customers while in early labor in the hospital, or pitching to a roomful of 200+ investors six days after birth. There was something incredible about birthing two babies at once. I think everyone around expected me to be scared, but that wasn’t me. I intuitively knew that I was doing what I was meant to do, and our early investors believed in our founding team and we kept exceeding expectations. I hope that being pregnant while starting and/or leading a company becomes normalized because men have started families and led companies for years.
So what exactly does your company do?
We work with companies to drive new levels of productivity through bias mitigation. Baloonr levels the playing field by removing the most costly cognitive biases (e.g., groupthink, gender bias, pattern recognition, anchoring) from decision-making, collaboration, and innovation. As a result, companies and organizations balloon unreachable knowledge and foster an idea meritocracy. Our app is used by Fortune 50 companies, leading hospitals, hot startups, and top universities.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Creating a level playing field in the workplace, providing organizations with information, feedback, and insights that they can’t get any other way, and amplifying voices that are oftentimes unheard and/or ignored. I try to also help other founders through intros and making connections, especially those who are very early in the process of starting their own companies. I often reflect on what I wish that someone had told me or sage advice that I’ve received over the last few years, and I try to share that openly.
5. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why.
- Trust your intuition and make fast decisions. I received a million different pieces of advice from a million different people. One of those pieces of advice was that everyone is going to offer you advice, but no one is you and knows what you do, sees what you do, or has the life experiences to create and grow the company that you are growing. You should listen to yourself and trust yourself to make the right decisions for your company. Even if it isn’t the right decision, if you make it fast enough, you will have time to make more decisions. The few decisions that I regret making as CEO were the ones I felt uneasy about beforehand.
- You are ready because it is absolutely impossible to actually be ready. The sooner and faster you dive in and start leading a company, the closer you are to having a product ready to launch, getting those first customers, and hiring that first employee. The only way to gain experience is to actually experience things. I don’t know one CEO who thinks, “I wish that I had waited to start this company or step into this position.” Start now.
- No one is you. Play into all of your strengths and own your eccentricities. Every strength makes up your competitive advantage. Before founding Baloonr, I assumed that what I found to be easy and natural, everyone else also found to be easy and natural. Advisors, team members, and investors helped me to better understand characteristics that were actually anomalies and unique — things I could use to my advantage in growing a company. Listening to the advice of those who truly believe in you is critically important — they see things in you that sometimes you don’t see in yourself. Having this understanding has helped me grow Baloonr more strategically.
- There will be a lot of valleys, and most of them won’t make any sense. The parts that you think will be easy will be hard, and parts that you think will be hard will be surprisingly easy. When I first started Baloonr, things would surprise me. The sales that I thought would be hardest to close, would end up being the easiest. Some of the investors that I thought would be interested in what we were building, weren’t. Now, NOTHING surprises me. Everything is variable and dependent on a ton of different factors. Very little seems “logical,” and certainly not “fair.” I can control how hard I work and how fast I move past disappointing outcomes, and I have found that this is the key for me to drive success.
- Forge strong, authentic relationships built on trust, care, and shared interests. I grew-up in a small college town in Ohio, where the relationships you build with others are everything. Creating trust and true care between you and others is a way of life — it was how I was raised. People have to trust you and respect you to want to help you, buy something from you, invest in you, or join your team.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I think that there is something to be learned from every single person, so I’d welcome a meal with any person that wants to give me the gift of their precious life-minutes. I would love to share a meal with Ray Dalio because of his profound understanding and groundbreaking implementation of systems that drive idea meritocracies and transparency. I would also love to share a meal with my childhood idol, Dr. Jane Goodall. I was always interested in primatology, and looking back now, I realize how significant it was that she is a female scientist leading a field with grit, fire, and data. It would be an honor to share time with her.