Boardable has launched! During our first “live” months we want to introduce the people behind Boardable with a blog series of founders interviews. First up, Jeb Banner, CEO. Julie Heath, newest team member and VP of Partnerships, asks Jeb about the origins of Boardable.
J.Heath: Let’s go back to early 2016, to the earliest days of what would become Boardable. Think about what was aligned and what challenges had been articulated by nonprofit leaders. Can you tell me about one of those early moments, especially a moment when you could see the potential for the tool that we now call Boardable?
J.Banner: I think it goes back even further. The first time I thought, “Hey there could be a solution here” goes back to 2009, when we were building a website for Keep Indianapolis Beautiful and they requested a board portal for document sharing in the content management system. So we built a very simple board access portal. I remember thinking, “there is something here... a need for board access.” And it kept coming up, particularly with nonprofits. So the question of how to create an interactive board portal was simmering in the background. When a client came to Jason, Joe, and me in early 2016, and asked if we could build a board management tool, the scoping process illuminated to us that we were ready for that type of product.
The most recent “Aha” moment for us was the day that Jason came to me and said, “Look, the client is not going forward with the custom build. Their board thinks it should be a product; I think we could build this product, and I’ve started wireframing what it should look like.” I remember being in the Gravy Lab offices, pacing, and thinking that this makes a lot of sense. Jason and Joe got the ball rolling. They brought it back to me and I was immediately sold on what I saw.
JH: Let’s talk about how your impression of the tool was informed not just by building websites for nonprofits, but by your experiences as a nonprofit board member. What was the first nonprofit board you joined?
JB: It was the Speak Easy. Worth noting: it was a working board. I had been on advisory boards. But this was the first nonprofit working board—it was a group of people who were trying to bring something to life.
JH: It sounds like a nonprofit startup. Can you tell me a bit more about what you were trying to do? What was your vision?
JB: It was in 2010, 2011. It was Kristian Andersen, Andy Clark, Dave Castor, me, and a couple other folks including Eric Tobias. We were the initial working board, meeting every other week, a real heavy cadence. Our vision for the Speak Easy was to create —as Kristian put it, “a Moose Lodge for geeks.” Kristian had been going to South By Southwest with his team for several years. I went down in 2010 and hung out with him and his group. Loved it, went back and took my team. The funny thing is that we were connecting with all of these tech people from Indianapolis in Austin. So we’re going to Austin to meet other people from our own tech scene?!? And having these really great exchanges. It was the desire to figure out how to build community here in Indy, where we had this fledgling tech scene. We also described the initial Speak Easy vision as a love letter to the burgeoning tech scene. Here’s this place to meet and gather; it was also inspired by Verge, which was getting traction.
JH: This is fun to hear because I came to know the Speak Easy after it was up and running full-throttle. When we moved to Indy, I asked around about coworking spaces, was told to check out the Speak Easy, and what I found so compelling in addition to the physical space, was the sense of community.
JB: I suspect that because it is a nonprofit focused on building community, it has a unique energy. So the Speak Easy was the first nonprofit, and nonprofit with a working board. Another organization that I was involved with getting off the ground was Musical Family Tree, which began in 2004 and became a nonprofit in 2013 or so. In both organizations, I sensed the pain of not having the right tools, whether a CRM or board management. It felt like every meeting was a reset, getting everyone up to speed from a month ago. It felt like there was no momentum in between. And certainly very little was being captured, so each time we brought someone new to the board, they were in the dark. I wanted a better way for that new board member to easily, quickly get oriented. The more we talked about this with other boards, these were the three things—taming the chaos, continuity, speed—that we realized many boards want improved.
JH: Was the Speak Easy the first organization where Boardable was used?
JB: Yes, once we had the minimum viable product built in April, we brought it to Andy Clark, who was then President of the board. Andy saw the potential, had the Speak Easy begin use it, and gave us feedback. Andy brought new energy to this effort; he works in tech, he understands software, and has vision for how good software is built and brought to market.
JH: You have mentioned that you believe the nonprofit market is underserved by good software solutions that are built for nonprofits. And I have observed that when nonprofits are under-resourced, they do not have the capacity, money, or time to figure out what software tools could best help their operations. Operational pain points grow slowly over time and can be difficult to untangle. When implementing a successful solution, time is saved, headaches are reduced, stakeholders engage…
JB: …a paradigm shift, in how things are done.
JH: Have you had a moment like that with Boardable? Or are you too close to the product?
JB: Good question, you know, I think I’ve had that with our (Boardable) team because it shows me how far we’ve come. I look back at our meetings or polls from a few months ago and realize how much progress we’ve made. It’s the momentum thing--I can look at it and see the activity we’ve had and how the product has changed through the "window" of our own Boardable account. All the important things are there. And I notice it the most when I compare it to SmallBox. Most of that information and interaction at SmallBox still flows through email, so there isn’t that window to quickly see the progress. And of course, when someone leaves an organization, those emails, that activity, sort of goes with them. Now that I’ve seen the value of that high-level log, I can’t imagine running the company without it.
JH: Hmm--testament—the company that makes the product uses the product. I think you’re also saying something about the value proposition being visible six months in, looking back at those milestones.
JB: Yeah, in that way it’s good I guess to drink our own Kool-Aid. It becomes more valuable the more months that pass. And of course, we’re improving the tool to give people who use it better visibility.
JH: Great segue. What feature are you/we working on now that excites you most?
JB: I am super excited about the scheduling tool. That’s my favorite. I feel that pain so acutely all the time, of trying to get people organized for meetings. It’s such a time sink--a drain--and it affects every board I’ve been on. It’s almost done and I’m excited to test it with our advisory board to schedule our next meeting.
JH: Is there a board management best practice that you’ve embraced?
JB: Just having an agenda. Having an agenda, a consent agenda, in the meeting invitation. I’m not a person who necessarily thinks that way. I’m more inclined to say let’s just sit down and work. I credit Andy for this; he’s always good at getting the ducks in a row. And I think we can get even better at taking minutes in the minutes template right there during the meeting.
JH: Right. Getting a streamlined habit built around agendas and minutes is a huge step of forward momentum.
Soon we will feature an interview with another Boardable co-founder, Andy Clark.