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Secrets of Growth-Stage Success

From Startup to Growth Stage: A Kelowna Tech Success Story. Written by Emma Bullen.

Recently ranked as the top entrepreneurial city in Canada by the Financial Post, Kelowna is being taken seriously as a destination for entrepreneurs to kick-start their businesses. With the support of Accelerate Okanagan (AO) programs and mentorship, 15 Okanagan tech companies have grown from founders to teams of 15-50 in the last five years. One of these companies is Bananatag, a growth-stage company with offices in both Kelowna and Vancouver.

Bananatag, a client of Accelerate Okanagan since 2013, enables users to track their emails so they know when, where and how a contact has interacted with their message. CEO and co-founder Corey Wagner explained why joining AO has been beneficial to the company.

“My co-founders and I were working full time and working on Bananatag in the evenings,” he said. “We worked the math of ‘with the program cost do we believe we will be able to get 20 more signups to offset the price of the program?’ We signed up and right away there was more payoff than we’d ever expected.”

The customer driven company’s journey is not the typical Silicon Valley story of a startup that went out to raise a lot of money. They are a revenue based and revenue-backed business who have transitioned from charging $5/month for consumer plans to corporate plans priced at $1000/month.

For the co-founders, moving into the Accelerate Okanagan office in 2013 was the first step of focusing full-time on their business. Leaning on the mentorship and support of AO, they gained funding from a government National Research Council - Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC - IRAP) and piloted the Business Innovation Access Program (BIAP). Within a year they were able to hire people, and transform their business.

“I was doing Support, Sales, and about five other things, so the next step was hiring people and Accelerate helped us,” says Wagner. “We hired two people, and that changed the business. We suddenly had a team that couldn’t just help, but who could lead.”

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Accelerate Okanagan’s Secret Weapon

From their early beginnings, Bananatag has seen huge company growth, and their relationship with AO has continued with benefits to both parties. For each stage of the company’s growth, Bananatag has been AO’s pilot customer — taking advantage of programs like the Venture Acceleration Program, FastTrack, Traction, and RevUP. 

The Venture Acceleration Program and RevUP are two of the many entrepreneurial services offered by the BC Innovation Council, a crown agency that fuels innovation around the province through programs and funding that support access to new talent, new capital and new markets. The council plays an integral part in building our province’s economic engine, creating high-paying jobs through the exchange of innovation to traditional industry.

Bananatag's most significant intervention point has been key to AO’s success, changing the growth stage program from a single Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR) matched with a single founder to an EiR team-based program to support for multiple team members.

“As we grew, we had access to one EiR, which was really helpful,” says Wagner. “But what we were lacking was coaching for my co-founders, so we worked with Accelerate to put a program into place. With RevUP, we individually get coaching from three EiRs who can help set up systems to take the company to the next level.”

Creating an Engaging Culture 

The Bananatag team possess a strong company culture with low turnover, which is not typical for a startup. They have become a thought leader on company culture with a strong blog following on the topic; they sit on panels, and lead conferences on employee engagement. This dedication to engagement comes from both internal and external influences.

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“When we released the product, we were a Sales product for people to get more intelligence about their emails,” Wagner explains. “We still do that, but we realized large corporations were using Bananatag to track email to drive employee engagement. We started branching off and creating that product for internal communications and these days it’s the bigger part of our company.”

Around the same time, the company moved into new offices and changed their team dynamic. “I remember the day that one of our original team members told me that they felt like they were just a number at the company,” Wagner said. “We realized that our own team of thirty needed to solve the same problem that our clients - who had 10,000 people or more - needed to solve. That changed what we do and how we try to do it.”

Today, the Bananatag team leads by example when it comes to driving culture. They compete in 5K runs, Tough Mudders, and curling tournaments in banana suits. They have a happiness meter in their office to track how their team is feeling. This exuberance spills over into their Marketing and Sales—they’ve even sent their team members to conferences in their banana skins.

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A Return on Investment

Giving back to the Kelowna tech community is part of Bananatag’s ethos. They have become subject matter experts on the Predictable Revenue process, which re-defines what a sales model looks like. They are giving back to Kelowna by teaching this model to the local tech community and also funding a number of events for AO. Additionally, Wagner has participated as a judge for the UBCO Entrepreneur Bootcamp for several years.

The next move for the company is to move into new offices at the Okanagan Centre of Innovation, where they look forward to regaining some of the culture that comes from working in a communal environment and gaining space where they can all meet as a company. “I think that being part of that building will have huge benefits for all of us,” says Wagner. 

Written by Kelowna freelance writer, Emma Bullen.

For more information about Accelerate Okanagan program offerings, please contact Thuy Tran, Accelerate Okanagan Program Manager at thuy@accelerateokanagan.com.