StoryTap founder Bernadette Butler on how she overcame the “shocks” of entrepreneurship

How Butler transitioned from telecom manager to startup founder.

Starting a company has its own unique set of challenges, even for those with years of business experience. On the #CIBCInnovationBanking podcast, Bernadette Butler, the founder of StoryTap, explained how she overcame two major “shocks” as she transitioned from a corporate career to a startup CEO.

“I would question anybody that claims they got it right out of the gate.”

Before starting StoryTap, Butler worked in corporate Canada for a major telecom company. Eventually, she realized—despite managing a multi-million dollar book of business at work—that her personal finances were not where she wanted them to be. In response, Butler started a book club to read personal finance books with friends and learn from one another; that club grew to include hundreds of members in multiple countries.

Butler’s experience with the book club—starting and growing something successful from just an idea—also inspired her journey into entrepreneurship.

“When you get that taste, you want more,” said Butler.

After getting that taste for entrepreneurship, Butler wanted to start a business that would sustain her financially, leading her to found StoryTap in 2015 as a platform to collect the life stories of baby boomers. With little upfront capital, she hired Sean Braacx, a full-stack developer, to do some freelance design work. The duo worked so well together that Butler offered him the co-founder spot after only three weeks. Braacx accepted and the two got to work on the fledgling idea.

Years later, StoryTap is thriving, but success wasn’t instant or easy. On the podcast, Butler recounted two major shocks during her transition from employee to entrepreneur.

The first was overcoming her own dislike of failure. Butler explained that she leveraged her corporate experience in planning and strategy to build all the spreadsheets, pricing, marketing plan, and product direction for StoryTap. The part she wasn’t expecting, though, was when the plan met reality and little problems tripped her up. As Butler put it, “it never occurred to me that I would fail.”

Butler said overcame this hurdle by switching her perspective on failure. Instead of seeing it as something bad or to be avoided, she learned to see failing as the thing “that unlocks the next leap forward.”

“I would question anybody that claims they got it right out of the gate,” Butler added.

The second shock came from the pain of not having a regular paycheque. Butler explained that she had some small angel funding to get StoryTap off the ground, but the investor had an explicit clause that she could not draw a salary from the money.

“At the time, I had two young babies who had to go to daycare,” said Butler. “And it was tough. But, you know, there is this element of you’re hungry, you’ve got to figure it out. And that does propel you forward like nothing else when you’re losing sleep, and you’ve got to figure this thing out.”

After Braacx joined full-time, the duo ultimately decided to pivot the company away from baby boomer story collection into what it is today: a platform that helps companies collect customer-generated video testimonials and advocacy. After the initial angel capital, Butler bootstrapped the company for a few years, consistently adding additional features to the platform and growing its customer base. Eventually, she and Braacx decided to raise for the future—they had big growth plans and realized they’d need extra capital to do it.

“We were seeing crazy growth, and it was just, ‘we are already making great money,’” said Butler. “We weren’t desperate for it. It was, we thought, just the next logical step.”

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Photo courtesy of StoryTap.

Stefan Palios

Stefan Palios

Stefan is a Nova Scotia-based entrepreneur and writer passionate about the people behind tech. He's interviewed over 200 entrepreneurs on topics like management, scaling, diversity and inclusion, and sharing their personal stories. Follow him on Twitter @stefanpalios.

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