Human resilience. Pandemics and economic disasters have come before, and they will come again, but humankind prevails — and we will this time, too. The only thing we can do is try to come out the other side more informed and more connected.
The power of science. As a global community, we’re unified in our efforts to identify and develop therapeutics and vaccines, and we learn more every day about COVID-19.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Greenberg, CEO and co-founder of Balloon (getballoon.com), a platform that solves systemic organizational issues by transforming how teams digitally interact. Along with her husband and CTO, Noah Bornstein, she built Balloon specifically to cut out bias and harmful group dynamics in order to facilitate real change in the workplace. Balloon is currently used by several Fortune 50 companies, high-growth startups, national sports teams, and more. Prior to founding Balloon, she was a public health researcher in Washington, D.C., where she developed national behavior change campaigns for the EPA, CDC, and DOE. She currently works from home with her family in the Bay Area.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Before founding Balloon, I was a public health researcher in Washington, D.C. Over the course of several years, I studied, noticed, and personally experienced both systemic discrimination as well as common pitfalls borne of cognitive flaws in the workplace. In layman’s terms, there were so many instances of prejudice, bias, fear, and miscommunication that were holding individuals, teams, and even entire companies back from true innovation and progress. I knew there had to be a better way to work and circumvent these issues.
On the personal side, I’ve always lived in pursuit of truth in some form or another. My parents — both of whom were educators — instilled in me the importance of education, hard work, critical thinking, awareness, and curiosity. Once I began my professional career, I realized how that love of learning is so often what drives companies forward — but I also realized that so many adults lost that quality somewhere along the way. Ultimately, that perspective is what catalyzed me to found Balloon; I wanted to build a product that made learning and harnessing true insights a simple, habitual process.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
There are so many interesting moments, and some I’ll take to the grave 🙂 A few that immediately come to mind are bootstrapping and moving in with our parents and a newborn to build our first version of product and get first revenue, closing our first pilot from the birthing suite in the hospital, flying across the country to close our first Fortune 50 customer, closing incredible investors, and winning a reality TV show. It takes many steps and interesting stories to grow a company. Some of them are embarrassing, but it’s fun to look back and laugh and also realize how far we’ve come. All of these stories make up the history of our company, and we’re proud of each step.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have a lot of big projects in the works — a few of which we can’t share just yet! But I will say this: One of our main focuses right now is to elevate voices of truly groundbreaking leaders, not only in business but across all industries. Solely listening to voices from within your workplace bubble only creates an echochamber; we have to dismantle the barriers between professional fields, because there are people from all walks of life with insights into how to solve universal problems. And sharing the wisdom that lives within people who have navigated challenging circumstances is particularly vital in times like these.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m grateful to my husband, Noah. He’s my co-founder and CTO at Balloon, and he’s my partner in every way. We’ve known each other since kindergarten (our dads taught at the same university, and we even played on the same t-ball team).
People sometimes ask us how we could start a company with our spouse, but I see our partnership as one of our greatest strengths as founders. We think and approach problems very differently, which is so powerful when you’re building a company from the ground up. There are some obvious ways we complement each other at work — such as our experiences and skill sets naturally leading to us managing different parts of the company — but our balance comes from more than just our skill sets. Some of our core personality traits are complimentary in the best way possible. As a duo, we’re seamless. So when people ask us why I’d start a company with my husband, I say, “Why wouldn’t I start a company with the smartest, most creative, most ethical, hardest-working, all-around best person that I’ve ever met?”
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
The impact that COVID-19 has had on the citizens of this country and of the world is unprecedented, and while everyone is in a difficult situation, I want to recognize that single parents and essential workers have truly been forced into an impossible situation. Being a female leader is difficult, but I’m incredibly lucky to have a true partner at work and at home. We carry equal loads when it comes to our children, our home, — every aspect of our lives. That’s made these new challenges — like homeschooling (or whatever you want to call it!), a lack of time, anxieties about health and safety, and the sheer mental stress that comes with building a company during a global pandemic — so much more manageable.
That being said, we don’t have the same access to the rest of our support system as we used to. Our families live thousands of miles away, back in Ohio, which has been both practically and emotionally difficult. I gave birth to my second son in early April, and Noah and I had originally planned to have our parents here to help us with him and our 5-year-old in those early weeks. Now, everything’s different, and our parents still haven’t met their grandson. When I dwell on it, it can be absolutely heartbreaking.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I have no control over most of these challenges, but at the end of the day, I’m an eternal optimist, and I’ve been able to take solace in some unexpected upsides amidst all the madness. For example, I expected to be traveling a lot just a few weeks after my “maternity leave,” but because I’m pretty much permanently at home, I’ve been able to nurse with more freedom and less restrictions, which has been very convenient and much more efficient. Also, spending so much uninterrupted time together during an especially stressful time has bonded our family in new and beautiful ways. For me, maintaining a persistent, deliberate sense of optimism and hope has been essential.
We’ve also been Face-Timing our families and maintaining connection in that way. I feel so thankful for the power of technology to connect us, now more than ever.
Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
The challenges I’ve faced at work since March have been two-fold: Not only is every individual on my team experiencing an unprecedented level of uncertainty and anxiety, but the companies that use Balloon have also been thrown into a totally reshaped (and reshaping) market. Everyone’s trying to cope, so as a leader, I’m doing my best to guide my team members and my customers to a place where they feel calm, stable, productive, and innovative.
Then, of course, there’s the personal issue of simply figuring out a workable schedule in this world. I’m leading a high-growth startup, attending external (virtual!) events, speaking on panels, and caring for my two young children — and I still have to find time to (kind of — ha!) sleep!
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Referring to my earlier answer about helping our customers feel calm and stable, Noah and I have been making sure our users know that Balloon is designed to help leaders harness true opinions and insights.. And because of that design, the platform is directly positioned to help companies address virtually every issue that’s come to the forefront in the past six months: widespread transition to remote work, enduring diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, navigating shifting markets and uncertainties, and so on. The more information leaders have, the better equipped they’ll be to handle anything that comes their way.
More specifically, we started holding more frequent livestreams and “office hours” sessions, just to be really accessible to our customers and to exchange knowledge and resources. We developed flight plans (the templates on Balloon to guide discussions and decision-making) that focused on innovation during uncertain times, remote collaboration, and focus in the face of turbulence. . We also re-prioritized our product roadmap to align with a changing world, and we shortened our sprints to push new product features faster. We’ve also added new features like shortlinks that increase efficiency even more than Balloon already does by making it easy to use Balloon in Zoom chats, Slack channels, etc. (remote workers are spending 29% more time in team meetings and 24% more time in one-on-one meetings since COVID hit, so you can bet that anything that will cut down on meeting time and Zoom fatigue is at the top of our list). We’ve seen so many new use cases around elevating marginalized voices, combating anxiety, and addressing uncertainty as a company. Those outcomes have been so inspiring.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
I wish I could tell you I had some all-encompassing answer, but the truth of the matter is, it’s a national catastrophe with huge economic impacts that’s put parents in an impossible situation. Everyone is doing the best they can to take care of themselves and their loved ones, and I know different strategies work for different people. And with that in mind, I’m doing my best to lead my team with empathy, and that’s really bolstered the trust throughout our team. My colleagues know that they can work their own hours and don’t need to clock in from 9 to 5, and, in turn, they don’t bat an eye when I take a meeting with my camera off so I can nurse the baby!
For me, too, flexibility and creativity are key. Recognizing and accepting the fact that these are strange but temporary times is helpful. For example, Noah and I have acknowledged for a long time that this isn’t going to be a normal school year, so we had to get resourceful: We’re planning to share childcare and teaching with another family this fall.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
Can someone let me know when they figure it out?! Ha! Staying home with a newborn and 5-year-old hasn’t been easy, that’s for sure!
In all seriousness, though, I think our children have actually made this time immeasurably more livable for Noah and me. Kids are incredibly resilient and profound — and they have a surprisingly keen understanding of what is happening in the world. The other night, I said to our 5-year-old, “I know that it’s really rough to be stuck at home right now without your friends” and he said, in the most matter-of-fact way, “I don’t care about any of that, Mommy. It’s just sad that so many people have gotten sick and died.”
It can be so disheartening when I see people refusing to wear masks or subscribing to false, anti-science beliefs, but when I hear my son say things like that, I feel an immense amount of hope for the future.
There are also little things, new family traditions that we’ve started to do to pass the time inside and give our boys a sense of normalcy, including take-out every Wednesday evening and movie night on Fridays — currently, we’re making our way through all the Marvel and DC movies, which weren’t quite my thing before quarantine, but now I love them! Maybe it’s because they show the power of Good vs. Evil and what happens when everyone works together?
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Human resilience. Pandemics and economic disasters have come before, and they will come again, but humankind prevails — and we will this time, too. The only thing we can do is try to come out the other side more informed and more connected.
- Unprecedented collective action. I believe that most people pursue the same things in life: purpose, belonging, love. Despite a lack of national leadership, the degree of large-scale community effort that I’ve seen across the globe in the last six months makes me extremely hopeful for the future.
- The power of science. As a global community, we’re unified in our efforts to identify and develop therapeutics and vaccines, and we learn more every day about COVID-19.
- Children. Like I mentioned, children are uncynical, creative, and inherently hopeful. Not only can their minds offer new ideas that adults might never think of, but they give us a reason to fight and to make this world a better place than the one we brought them into.
- Democracy. Election day is coming. If you don’t like what’s happening in our country now, this is the chance to change it. Vote!
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Everyone responds to anxiety and fear differently, but ’ve noticed three behaviors that almost universally help to put things in perspective.
- Talking openly about anxieties and uncertainties. Especially when you’re in a position of leadership, showing vulnerability is so powerful — it can create an incredibly strong sense of solidarity. Even if you’re navigating totally different situations, knowing that others are experiencing the same emotions can make everyone feel better.
- Humor! Laughter truly heals, and sometimes if we don’t laugh, we will cry (although it’s also okay to do both…even at the same time!). I find laughter in the face of fear empowering and cathartic.
- Maintaining a mindset of adaptability. You can’t be prepared for everything, but you can know that no matter what happens, you will work to figure it out. Just think of all the times you thought you couldn’t do something, but you did it anyway! I never thought I’d have to deliver a baby alone in the hospital during the beginning of a global pandemic, but I had to, so I did. No matter what happens, remember that you will be okay.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are a lot of quotes that have stuck with me over the years, but one quote, scribbled on a sticky note lost somewhere in the depths of my bag, has been a constant for me throughout the past decade:
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.” — Henry David Thoreau.
It’s a reminder to take risks and go for it, always.
How can our readers follow you online?
They can follow me at my personal Twitter, @akgreenberg, but I’m also active on our company social media, which is @balloonplatform on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!