From startups to the Fortune 100, meetings are a way of life for business professionals. Though vital for collaboration and project management, they are (too) often viewed as impediments to productivity.
Running productive meetings is a challenge even when everyone is face to face in the same room. That’s even more the case now when so many professionals are working from home, many for the first time. From videoconferencing technology challenges to kids running in the background to people talking over each other, virtual meetings seem even less useful than live ones.
But meetings are essential. So how can we make them better?
That’s the question Amber Christian set out to answer. After sitting in too many unproductive meetings, she realized there was a better way to think about meetings, and began developing a technology tool to support that. Even when most meetings were still happening in conference rooms, her approach sparked the interest of many professionals she talked to.
But now, due to the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic, her ideas have even more urgency. As she notes:
The honeymoon phase of work from home has worn off for most people. Remote work requires us to re-think the meetings we took for granted. We have to be more organized and thoughtful in our planning. And now is a great time for us to consider how a few more minutes of planning can help minimize anxiety for everyone attending our meetings.”
Amber realized that with the right combination of planning, approach, and technology, business meetings can be more productive for everyone involved. So she set out to create a tool to enable that. Here’s the story of Bella Scena.
Bella Scena helps individuals and companies manage meetings as a process. In Amber’s words, “She helps align expectations and accountability through planning, communication and meeting tracking. Our integrated to do list and calendar adds to your overall productivity by seeing your meetings and work all in one place.”
The software makes it easier to communicate and track meetings by treating them as a process instead of an event on the calendar. Through a focus on visual design, customers are gently nudged into behaviors that help create more effective meetings.
This benefits not only the meeting moderator, but all the individuals participating in the meeting. The ability to rate your meeting brings new information to light on how meetings are really being run in your organization.
Bella Scena should be thought of as something to add in addition to your existing calendaring processes, filling in the gaps with existing tools by helping you treat meetings as a process.
Amber adds, “We are a great fit for anyone that wants more structure and organization to their meetings. We tend to find significant interest from companies that are running EOS, whether self-implemented, or implemented with a partner.”
Year founded: 2017
Funding rounds: Self-funded
Current size: Most of our team right now is contractors as we are still in the early days of being in the market. There are seven of us working on Bella between employees and contractors.
Webbiquity: What inspired you to work on a solution to this particular problem?
Amber Christian: I’ve spent the last 20 years in technology. The idea came from siting in one too many meetings that weren’t productive! I transitioned to remote work five years ago. Coordinating and planning work when everyone isn’t in the same room requires planning and communication. Many of us are learning this the hard way right now.
During our journey to build Bella, we did considerable research with individuals on challenges with meetings. Through our research, we learned about meeting anxiety, power dynamics, unclear expectations, and many other challenges with meetings. We also learned what makes meetings successful.
Research for me continues to provide inspiration and creativity to build new solutions. I’ve also embraced human centered design to build software, which is simply a fancy pants way of saying I talk to customers a lot! Working closely with customers, understanding their needs, and coming up with creative solutions adds fuel to my inspiration tank.
Making work flow more smoothly so that individuals can bring their best, most creative selves to meetings inspires me.
Webbiquity: What were the most effective channels or methods for you to get the word out to prospective customers when you first launched your product?
AC: I am less than a year in to launching in the market, so I am still figuring this out! When you are building a product, all kinds of people tell you it’s a great idea and they want to buy it. That doesn’t mean they actually will buy it.
I have spent a lot of time at different types of networking events simply having many conversations about the product. I noticed what kind of questions I was being asked, and by what kinds of companies. It is through these conversation that I am learning where to focus my current efforts.
And then the pandemic hit, and poof—my whole sales strategy went right out the window. Much prospecting was done via in person events and at conferences. These pipeline-building activities are now gone. This has left me with a “Now what?” question and new considerations.
We have been relying on social media content, word of mouth, virtual networking, and webinars. We are revising our strategy in light of the pandemic. We have recently started a webinar series to share more of the fundamental skills around productivity.
It’s helping to go back to the basics. We’re finding wonderful participation and engagement talking about some of these skills that most people assume we all have. And now we can all look at them with a fresh lens and share what works for us.
One area that has been challenging for me: my product was built from the ground up with the idea that people are not in the same place. It’s a fundamental part of our design. But it feels weird to try to sell right now, even though I know how much my product can help.
I keep reminding myself that our product makes this work easier, and to keep sharing what I know of remote work. But it’s a strange line to walk.
Webbiquity: Finish this sentence: “Knowing what I know now, if I were starting over today, what I would do differently is…”
AC: Get to the market faster. I spent too long feeling like I had to have things perfect.
Webbiquity: What’s the most important advice you could offer to an entrepreneur starting out today?
AC: There is no such things as too proactive. During the entrepreneurial journey, many things will take significantly longer than you expect. It’s best to clarify expectations early and often along the journey. This can help prevent surprises or fire drills later.