During the last year, I’ve seen a lot of activity in the field of visual collaboration tools – including the recent rebranding of RealtimeBoard to Miro. I recently caught up with its chief marketing officer, Barbra Gago, to learn what’s behind this decision and what’s happening in the world of visual collaboration.
As I expected, it reflects an ongoing evolution in the way that teams brainstorm, prioritize and execute work today.
Background about Miro
Chuck Frey: Please briefly explain what Miro is.
Barbra Gago: Miro (formerly RealtimeBoard) is the leading visual collaboration platform for cross-functional teams of product managers, project managers, designers, developers, and marketers. We have more than 3 million users worldwide using the platform to collaborate as if they are in the same room.
Frey: Who uses it, for what types of business applications?
Gago: Our initial product-market fit came with product teams, for a couple reasons: First, there’s been a growing trend of distributed teams primarily among product and development, then there has been growing popularity of frameworks like Agile Development and Lean. And finally, these frameworks and techniques generally rely on ceremonies that revolve around a whiteboard.
The bulk of our user-base is product managers, designers, marketers, developers, scrum masters, agile coaches, and consultants. Tech companies, large consultancies, and consumer goods industries tend to be where we see the most traction, but the need for “feeling like you are in the same room” when you’re working with someone across the world is growing in all industries and across all departments.
Frey: What makes Miro unique, compared to other, similar whiteboard-based collaboration tools like Stormboard and Mural?
Gago: For us, the whiteboard is just the start. We work with a lot of organizations that consolidate their collaboration stack into Miro because we offer a robust set of built-in collaboration tools like in-app video conferencing, chat, @mentions, tagging, voting, presentation mode, etc.
We have an open API and a growing developer community that are doing some really cool stuff, and we prioritized enabling deep integrations with other critical tools in our user’s tech stake with bi-directional syncing so Miro can become more of a single-source of truth (these integrations include: Google Apps, Microsoft Teams, Box, Dropbox, Slack, Jira, Confluence, Rally, etc.). We also provide an infinite canvas for collaboration so we are able to accommodate large numbers of collaborators working simultaneously in different areas of the board (think Large Scale Scrum or Product Increment Planning).
Frey: When did your product originally launch?
Gago: The company was founded and the original of the idea launched in 2011, but our product platform as it is today was introduced in 2015.
Frey: What was its original mission? What problems was Miro designed to solve?
Gago: It was created as a digital whiteboard tool, to help distributed teams collaborate as if they were in the same room. The product was aimed at helping teams gain a shared understanding and therefore alignment, by enabling collaborators to visually articulate their ideas.
Frey: How has Miro evolved since then?
Gago: Our core mission is the same, but we’ve evolved into much more than a “digital whiteboard.” We’ve invested a lot in understanding how teams collaborate and how this visual medium can be at the center of it, but also realized that we can solve for things beyond simple use-cases like brainstorming or diagraming (which were some of those early use-cases).
Now we are thinking about visual collaboration in a broad sense, enabling better project management, being a platform that’s the single source of truth for work that revolves around visual assess or enabling large-scale (100s of users) collaborative sessions and workshops that companies could spend $10s-$100,000 on and not get the same quality of work and outcomes. Customers like Netflix, Twitter, HBO, Salesforce, PwC, and Deloitte are leaders in innovation, and we are enabling them to create value for their customers faster and stay competitive by enabling teams to work from all over the world as if they’re in the same room.
The evolving nature of collaboration
Frey: What is changing in the nature of work that makes a visual collaboration tool like Miro really important?
Gago: There are a few trends reshaping how work happens. First, companies are increasingly moving from co-located to distributed teams, or fully remote teams. Workplace collaboration tools like Zoom, Slack, and Miro make many variations of remote work possible – even if you’re all in the same geographical area, most teams will have at least one member working from home or traveling at any given time.
Second, organizations are under more pressure than ever to stay ahead of the competition. To innovate faster, they’re adopting modern methodologies like Agile and design thinking, as well as leveraging tools that enable real-time, cross-functional collaboration for every stage of the development process, from ideation and brainstorming to tracking tasks and giving feedback. Again, many of these practices require a whiteboard, and with a distributed team this can be pretty counterproductive and costly without the right tools.
Third, the structure of teams themselves is changing – from hierarchical to squad-based and from siloed to cross-functional. With 86% of employees and executives citing a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failure, companies adopting these paradigms are seeing higher revenues, shorter time to market, and a more engaged workforce.
Frey: It sounds like design thinking and agile are two of the driving forces. How do they drive the need for a visual tool like Miro?
Gago: Both design thinking and agile practices are visual and iterative. They require teams to use a whiteboard to brainstorm ideas and keep track of tasks. When teams aren’t in the same room, Miro can provide a virtual space for this type of real-time collaboration.
Frey: I noticed that integrations are very important to Miro. How important is it for teams to have a whiteboard tool that seamlessly integrates with other collaboration tools they’re already using, such as Slack and Teams?
Gago: I think most knowledge workers have experienced “tool fatigue” at one point or another. You’re viewing designs in InVision, hopping over to Google sheets for project tracking, then into Jira to update a task for developers. One of our goals has been to enable people to bring all of their work together in one central hub, reducing complexity and providing end-to-end visibility into a project.
Frey: Your relaunch blog post declares, “We’ve found that a digital, infinite, virtual whiteboarding space unlocked incredible potential for teams—and fundamentally changed how they worked.” – How, specifically, has it changed the ways in which they can work?
Gago: It’s linked to our idea of “collaborating without constraints”: between the distance, time zones, unreliable technology or some hacky solution, teams are constantly blocked or constrained in their attempts to collaborate effectively. Practically speaking, our platform does offer an unlimited working space — the ease of collaboration.
Frey: You also refer to Miro as providing “a universal visual language?” How does it do that?
Gago: We think that every company has its own language. Their values, their quirks, their inside jokes, acronyms they use to talk about their business or teams (metrics, meetings or rituals)…we definitely have them. So Miro enables companies to communicate consistently in their own visual language – one that is understood by everyone, no matter what language they actually speak!
Rebranding to Miro
Frey: What convinced you it was time to rebrand the product?
Gago: We had been thinking about a new name for a while. While RealtimeBoard was familiar and beloved to our users, the length created challenges (imagine it on swag or at a trade show!) and people weren’t consistent in how they capitalized and spelled it. It was also very functional, not arousing curiosity or provoking an emotional response.
Earlier this year, we raised $25 million in venture funding from Accel and decided it was the perfect opportunity to think about the company we wanted to become. Miro allows us to tell a more compelling story, about a bigger idea and draw influence from an artist that inspires us.
Frey: What does the Miro name signify?
Gago: We took a lot of inspiration from the Spanish artist Joan Miró. We were inspired by his iconoclastic work, which pushed people out of their comfort zone, and saw a thematic alignment in how we are disrupting the way people work and collaborate. We also saw an opportunity to build a visual brand full of colorful visuals, exploring the subjectivity of communication. Different roles and teams speak different “languages,” and we aim to create a space where those barriers don’t exist and teams can develop a shared understanding.
Frey: You mentioned that you accomplished this rebrand in only 3 months. Did you “eat your own dog food?” That is, did you use Miro to manage this big project?
Gago: Of course, we did! First, we ran a brand sprint, which involved founders and executives across all four of our offices. Miro provided the perfect canvas for all six exercises in the Google-devised workshop. Then, our in-house Brand team worked with an agency and used Miro as a central hub to manage the project from end to end. We used mind maps, workflow diagrams, and frames to structure content. And we used sticky notes and comments to communicate with each other. We couldn’t have completed the rebrand in that ambitious timeframe without Miro.
Frey: What’s next for Miro?
Gago: Currently, we’re focused on scaling our own distributed organization across the world. We have offices in four countries, with a timezone distance of 12 hours. We are now about 180 employees and have doubled in the last 12 months. From a product perspective, we’re working on creating more automated frameworks built into the platform to make some of our popular use-cases like kanban or user-story mapping even more effective, we are also working on unlocking collaboration opportunities for our largest customers.