In Conversation with Amanda Greenberg of Balloon
Describe your business in a few words?
Balloon is a collaboration app that uses research-backed solutions to remove cognitive biases and other harmful group dynamics, ensuring every idea is shared, heard, and evaluated fairly, no matter who it comes from. Balloon reduces meeting time by 70%, and 80% of what is shared on Balloon is brand new.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
While I was working in Washington, D.C., as a public health researcher, I developed national behavior change campaigns for the EPA and CDC, so I spent several years researching how groups interact: what works, what doesn’t, what pushes change forward and what holds it back. I quickly realized that our business tools and processes—meetings, email threads, Slack , surveys, focus groups, and so on—don’t address the way our brains actually work in a group setting, and they don’t address how humans share information and make decisions. Group dynamics like groupthink, hierarchy, biases, and fear undermine the collective brainpower of teams—and they don’t just block leaders from making informed, innovative decisions, they actually trick decision-makers into taking clumsy, expensive missteps. It’s the biggest unsolved problem and opportunity in the workplace, so we built Balloon to solve it.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I grew up in a small town in Ohio called Oxford. My parents were both educators—my dad was a professor of anthropology, and my mom was a science teacher and guidance counselor—and they taught me a lot about the importance of curiosity, empathy, and perseverance. I loved my childhood in Ohio and will always feel connected to my Midwestern roots, but I left when I was 18 to get my undergraduate degree at Dartmouth, and that’s where I discovered my interest in public health. From there, I completed my Masters of Science in Public Health from UNC-CH Gillings School of Public Health. As mentioned above, before starting Balloon, I worked in public health as a researcher in D.C. I planned to go to medical school with the aspiration of becoming a public health physician and ultimately the U.S. Surgeon General! All of that changed when I became obsessed with the problem that Balloon solves.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I will say, no, but when I think about my strengths, my upbringing, and my passions, it is no surprise at all that I became an entrepreneur! I definitely didn’t found a company for the sake of becoming a founder—I founded Balloon because I knew it was what the world needed but didn’t yet exist. In many ways, it chose me. I love building (both teams and products!) and sharing what I’m passionate about, so it is very natural. Watching your vision come to life is one of the most thrilling experiences you can have. There is truly nothing like it in the world. Seeing something that you created bringing value to someone is unbelievably rewarding.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
Since the beginning, word-of-mouth has always been impactful for Balloon. We’re an incredibly mission-driven company—Balloon increases efficiency, but it also gives everyone a voice in decision-making and makes workplaces more equitable and fair. When people believe in your mission and the value of your product, they tend to want to share its benefits with their networks. That marketing strategy also taught me how powerful customer champions and power users can be: Not only do they help spread the word and open doors to other customers, but they help guide the product by sharing invaluable feedback you can’t get if you’re only talking to people within your company.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
Creating something truly new can be challenging. The world loves routine and familiarity, and it has a certain rhythm that doesn’t like to be disrupted. In particular, the problem that Balloon addresses—the pitfalls of traditional methods of collaboration—is so common that a lot of people think it can’t be solved, so it can take some convincing to get people to understand that they don’t have to live with this costly constraint! But that’s one big thing I’ve learned as a founder: When people think it’s impossible, it just means there’s a big opportunity for innovation.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I’m most proud of starting and growing our company and our family. Seeing Balloon and my sons grow alongside each other has been pretty amazing. I’m also proud that I haven’t compromised my expectations or my standards (and they are very high!)—both professionally and personally.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
I always ask, “What do you do when a big task or project doesn’t go your way?” Answers to this question are really indicative of how people handle disappointment, setbacks, and conflict, all of which are the foundation of building a company. .
Hiring is a vital process when you’re building and growing a company. In the early days of a startup, an individual’s ability to be resourceful, responsible, and hungry for responsibility and execution is way more important than expertise.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
The entire professional world is being completely reprogrammed by COVID, and every company out there is grappling with so many questions: how to master remote and asynchronous work, how to support their teams, how to genuinely foster equity and diversity, and so much more. Balloon’s mission has always been to enable all teams to harness the power of true insights, no matter where or whom those insights come from. Leaders need new ideas to solve these new problems, so Balloon is more relevant than ever. Our team has approached this era as an opportunity to help companies that are now realizing how much they’ve been missing by doing things “the way they’ve always been done.” Our team has focused on creating flight plans, or templated flights, and other resources on Balloon to help guide company leaders through this difficult period and make the best decisions.
Within our own company, Balloon was already a distributed team, so we were already used to working remotely. Of course, however, every team member is navigating new, uncertain territories when it comes to social distancing, childcare, mental health, and so on. As a leader, I’ve done my best to support my team however they need, because when people feel supported and understood, they’re able to produce truly incredible work.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
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. Sharing the wisdom that lives within people who have navigated challenging circumstances is particularly vital in times like these. We know Balloon can help make the world a more thoughtful, equitable place, so our biggest goal is to be used by every team in every function at every company in the world—and we won’t stop until we get there.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
I’d like to think I knew this before, but if 2020 taught me anything, it’s the vital importance of constant 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 had my second son in early April, and 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.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
A lot of people are going to give you advice, but there are really no rules. Remember that at the end of the day, it’s your company and your vision and your reputation. You can navigate and build it however you choose, and no one knows what you’re capable of except you.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
Balloon’s mission keeps me energized, day in and day out. I so deeply believe that teams and companies need our product to survive and thrive, and that core passion pushes me to stay focused and drives me to execute on whatever task is at hand. Other than that, my two young sons—I have a 5-year-old and an 6-month-old—keep me grounded in the moment while also acting as a constant reminder of the future we need to build, where equity, sustainability, and empathy are at the core of everyone’s life.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
It might seem controversial, but I don’t really believe in the concept of the work-life balance, because trying to mentally separate things that are so enmeshed just sets people up to feel stressed and overwhelmed by trying to achieve some impossible, “perfect” state. I don’t see a stark separation—for me, Balloon is my work and my passion, just as my family and children are my work and my passion (and no one can tell me that building, raising, and nurturing a family isn’t work!). Both fulfill different aspirations, and they all add up to my full identity.
Of course, being a founder is a 24/7 job, so my biggest tip for sustaining your passion is to build something you truly believe the world needs. It helps to maintain that sense of urgency, and at the end of the day, if you don’t completely believe in yourself and your product, no one else will. Our kids need to see us working hard, contributing to the world, and building something we believe in, because then they’ll believe in their abilities to do the same.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
Maybe this won’t surprise anyone (ha!), but I love reality TV! It just doesn’t get any better in terms of human dynamics 🙂
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
1. Schedule weekly meeting-free days and, if you can, carve out a few hours of heads-down time every day. It’s nearly impossible to get into flow and do your best work when you’re being pulled into a meeting every 30 minutes. Also, pay attention to your natural preference for working hours. Personally, I do my best creative work late at night or early in the morning, so I use the afternoons for email, meetings, and other tasks.
2. Do the most challenging thing first. Better to get the thing you’re dreading out of the way early than have it weighing on you throughout the day.
3. The easiest way out is through. If there’s a project you’ve been stuck on, just get it done. Sometimes we spend so much time and energy trying to get everything perfectly organized, but really, you just have to get it across the finish line. That attitude really helps me charge forward with confidence and focus.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Being an Entreprenista means having the grit, resilience, and vision to change the things that people think are unchangeable. Never quitting, never stopping, and taking every single opportunity that comes your way.