“As we navigate internships, full-time jobs, and negotiating salaries, we’re also including that in the episodes because a lot of the conversations we have in our personal life reflect the majority of conversations that people our age are having.” – Stacey Speranza, co-founder of The Business Casual
Courtesy of The Business Casual
The Business Causal podcast first started in July 2020, has since aired in 65 countries and gained at least 20,000 listeners. Co-hosts and sisters, Stacey and Marianna Speranza interview different female trailblazers every episode to discuss topics based on their guests’ careers, personal lives and everything they have learned.
Stacey (22) and Marianna (19) started The Business Causal at the ages of 18 and 16 when Stacey had just finished her first year at the University of Toronto, and Marianna was in high school. Now, more than three years later, the sisters have begun creating their own paths for themselves, as Stacey graduated from the Rotman Commerce program, doing a Specialist in Management and a Minor in Economics and is currently working as the Assistant Marketing Manager for Molson Coors. Meanwhile, Marianna is in her second year at Western University, studying a dual degree in Computer Science and Business and was a trades finance intern for Scotiabank last summer.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Stacey and Marianna to discuss more about their journey with The Business Causal.
Courtesy of The Business Casual
So, let’s start right at the beginning. What inspired you to create The Business Causal?
Stacey: “I had the idea around May 2020. I had just finished my first year of university, which was cut short due to the pandemic, and I had a lot of time to really reflect on my first year of university – all the conversations I had, everything I learned – and I wished I had been able to record those conversations and share that with family and friends. I had quite a few friends asking me how to coffee chat with people and how I was able to network and navigate that learning curve. My sister and I had this idea that it would be really cool to record these conversations with people regarding career, personal development, career development and post that as kind of a resource and hub that other people can go to without having to do much work, to listen to conversations and start their networking journey.”
“We spent a few months working out the branding. We take a lot of pride in the brand that we’ve built, and everything that is posted onto our Instagram and the podcast is very curated. We have a very specific kind of identity. Marianna does all of the graphic design and at the beginning was editing the podcast, while I do all of the guest relations and the actual hosting. We launched our first episode in July 2020, and from there just became in love with the brand, with building it. We had a really great response from not only our family and friends, but from those in the community and here we are more than three years later.”
What made you want to do a podcast specifically, and not something like a blog?
Marianna: “When we started it in 2020, we were trying to think, ‘Oh, should we do YouTube? Should we start a blog? Should we post on Instagram or do TikTok reels?’ But we were also thinking about how everything was so oversaturated that if we were to start this, we would never get big because we weren’t early enough. At that time podcasting was starting to take hold and get a lot of media coverage, so we thought that we would take the forefront and get into a growing and flourishing entertainment area. I think it’s way better hearing the voices because it’s a lot more inspirational, a lot more eye-catching to hear from the woman telling the story.”
Marianna, when Stacey pitched the idea to you, what was your first thought? What made you want to jump right into it?
Marianna: “At first I wasn’t really sold on it. I was trying to do well in school. I was always kind of an academic keener, I wanted to get perfect on everything and this just seemed like it was going to take up a lot of my time. But as I started doing more of my own coffee chats and I started hearing more women for myself, I was like, ‘No, this actually is such a good resource for students and girls like me to get into.’ I don’t think I would have pursued computer science if I hadn’t listened to women in the industry. That’s kind of what sold me on it, just kind of hearing it for myself, and once I did, I said, ‘We have to get in on this.’ I was looking at podcasts to get an understanding of what [Stacey] was talking about, and there wasn’t really anything like it. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of business podcasts out there, but nothing targeted toward women. It was all finance ‘bros’ talking. There was no younger women perspective and I think that’s really important.”
Stacey: “Even still, when we started the podcast, only 11 per cent of top business podcasts in North America were hosted by women, or were targeted towards women, so we think about how little that is considering how much of a gender split we see in the workplace. There’s so many podcasts that weren’t from a female perspective, so there definitely was a gap in the market there.”
How did it feel in the early stages of planning everything out? Did you feel confident in what you were doing?
Marianna: “In the beginning when we were trying to reach out to guests, it was really discouraging. I think we sent out 100 cold emails to women in business, and almost all of them said no. So, you’re constantly just getting back emails saying, ‘Sorry, I’m too busy right now. Reach back out to me.’ That was really discouraging because we couldn’t find any guests, but you only need one person to kind of get it off its feet, and that’s what happened. We started reaching out to people we knew closely, and after it took off from there. Once people started to recognize us they were more willing to get on the podcast.”
Stacey: “At the beginning, we never thought it was going to be as big as it was today. We didn’t really have any big expectations or goals. Obviously, we wanted it to do well and reach people, but we never thought it would reach as many people as it has today. For us, if it was 14 people listening, if it helped one person that was enough for us. So it was discouraging, and there were moments where we were spending so many hours researching, editing, scheduling and filming and we weren’t really seeing the results or that same excitement from people actually listening. We always knew that if it could help one person then that was worth it for us and that’s all we could really focus on. But we were also really lucky to have great guests early on in the podcast who have helped open up more doors for us, introduced us to other trailblazers who have come on the podcast, or posted us and shared us to their network. So, it definitely became like a domino effect, in kind of one thing leading to another, and, as Marianna said, just never giving up and never giving in to the no’s and always pushing through knowing that the next person might say yes.”
So, July 2020 was when your very first episode aired with Natalie Putman, the CEO of Delivery Circle. I can only imagine the mix of emotions both of you must have been feeling. How did it feel doing that first interview, doing the edits and officially making that first upload? What was going through your mind when releasing this episode?
Stacey: “It’s really funny. So, Natalie is actually someone that our dad worked under many years ago, and there was like that added level of pressure because we had a personal connection to her. But I remember sitting down to plan the first episode and I realized that I had no journalism experience. I never really thought about the journalism perspective until I got to that first interview and I had no idea what questions I wanted to ask. I didn’t know how to set up the interview, how to send the questions to her beforehand; I wanted to be seen as professional. At that point, I realized I didn’t have any experience going into this and I’m learning from ground zero. It was exciting, also super nerve-wracking. I didn’t have a proper filming setup. I had bought a very cheap mic from Amazon, so we were really just going for it and dove in head first. I remember that I sat in a closet to film it because I had read online that in a closet there’s not much echo, so any audio quality can be better and crisper for the laptop to pick up.”
“As I look back on that episode, is it my best? Absolutely not. There were so many things I learned, but that was also the exciting part of The Business Casual. For the first time, especially because it was the pandemic and I was doing university online, it was a project I was very excited to take on because I felt that I was learning in a new way that I hadn’t before. It was a lot of hands-on learning, a lot of creative work that I got to do on my own. That was definitely interesting in the learning curve of marketing, and understanding how we market a podcast and how it’s different from marketing in general, how we can leverage social media, and the editing was a whole other part of that and how much time that took. I also had to learn a lot about, from my perspective, interviewing, how to carry myself, speak in the mic and limit my filler words. All that type of stuff you don’t really think about, and I really didn’t think when the podcast started. It was very exciting, but addicting as well. Once the first one came out we were like, ‘Okay, when’s the next one?’ It kind of caught on like that, and like I said, it wasn’t something we thought was going to be super long term, but it was really addicting and we loved it so much.”
Was it difficult prioritizing time to continue with the podcast while both of you were in school, or had any work?
Marianna: “I actually would say that we have it a little bit easier because there’s two of us. I know there’s a lot of podcasts with only one person and kudos to whoever is able to do that because even with two people I think it’s a lot. During this, I was doing my applications for university so it was really tricky to manage both of them, and university got a little bit harder. But I think because there were two of us, we put our efforts into where our assets kind of vibe. I was never really one to go speak in front of the camera, that was never really my strongest area, so I let Stacey take the lead on that. My area was always the tech side, whether it was the editing or making the graphics. I think that’s how we were able to get to where we are now, learning what we’re good at and what we’re not good at.”
Stacey: “And kind of picking up where the other person was lacking. If someone was really busy, it was planning ahead that was really important for us, knowing when our episodes were coming out. Obviously, because we’re an interview-based podcast there’s a lot of scheduling, so ensuring that we were trying to schedule people as early as possible, record and batch as many episodes before exams, for example, so we didn’t have to edit or make any graphics during finals. Being really proactive, keeping a really tight schedule, having our calendars always up to date and just really good communication helps us balance that.”
Given the number of episodes recorded, there were a lot of different topics discussed with many different women. How did you come up with all these ideas? What was the creative process like?
Marianna: “We based it around the women that we interview. That’s the beauty of having an interview-based podcast, every episode is different. Because we focus on the specific industry that that person is specializing in, there’s so much to explore and every episode is something new. I think that’s where the creativity lies, within our guests, and we can unfold their industry from within them and through their perspective. We only really have one question that stays the same throughout all our podcast, it’s, ‘What advice do you want to leave listeners?’ Other than that, everything is different. That’s why I think our podcast is fun and different each time because you never know what you’re going to get.”
Stacey: “Also going back to why we started it, always thinking about the issues we’re having in the workplace, or questions that we have and always bringing in that kind of Gen Z, female, 20-year-old perspective. As we navigate internships, full-time jobs and negotiating salaries, we’re also including that in the episodes because a lot of the conversations we have in our personal life reflect the majority of conversations that people our age are having. As we’re going through different stages of life and these big life changes like graduation or starting university, we can bring listeners along with that, and a lot of our audience is between the ages of 18 to 34.”
Courtesy of Cottonbro studio
Now that it’s been more than three years since the first episode, how does it feel knowing The Business Casual has done so tremendously well, having about a thousand global listeners, and being able to attend business conferences across North America?
Stacey: “Yeah, it’s really exciting, we’re really grateful. We’ve built a really great community, and we’re so grateful for everyone that’s part of the community. We’ve had so many people who have been our biggest cheerleaders since the very beginning, who’ve been following us since day one, and there are people who have just joined our community now. We’re so lucky to share these conversations that should be shared with the world, with all of our listeners. We’re also really grateful to all of our guests for taking the time to come on our show; all of them volunteer their time and we appreciate that they take the time out of their busy schedules. We are really excited for the future, we have a lot of things planned. We had our first event in March 2023 for International Women’s Day, so bringing our community to life and in person, and how we can strengthen those ties and really foster mentorships and relationships to people who are in more industries, make new connections, especially coming out of the pandemic at a time of isolation, how we can bring that all together.”
You both have talked with several guests on the podcast, and out of all of them, who would you say is one that has stood out to you the most?
Stacey: “It’s really tough. So many of the conversations are so wonderful, and depending on what industry you’re interested in. I can talk about one: Karen Zuccala, who is the current brand director of strategy for YouTube Canada, and she had a really great journey to where she is today. She is super authentic and engaging in the episode, and gave really great advice about her career and how she ended up where she did because it wasn’t a conventionally traditional path. I also loved Alexis Robinson, who is currently the head of security at Amazon Web Services. She’s someone who has a very high-stress, high confidentiality job, has so much personality and so much excitement for the next generation. You can really tell through an episode when someone is excited and really wants to be there, and all of our guests bring excitement but Alexis was definitely one that stands out.”
Marianna: “I think for me, we had Kelly Burroughs come in who is a set designer for Marvel. She gave us the insight on how she got her job at Marvel Studios. We’ve had a couple of people in the entertainment industry, including one other Oscar nominee, but seeing her insight into Marvel and Disney and all the contracts and non-disclosure agreements that she had to work with was really cool. I think that was another one of my favourites, and was one of our most popular too, so that was kind of cool to see that side of the industry.”
So, Stacey, you mentioned in The Varsity that the lack of mentorship for women in business was the spark for The Business Causal. As future trailblazers yourselves, what is one important thing you both have learned, whether it be from creating the podcast, something a guest had spoken about, or even from the overall experience?
Stacey: “I think one thing I take away in both the podcast and what our guests speak about is the worst thing anyone is ever going to say to you is no, and so perseverance is really important. Whether that’s reaching out for coffee chats, messaging someone on LinkedIn, applying for jobs that you might not think you’re 100 per cent qualified for, switching industries, starting a business, whatever it might be, the worst anyone is going to say is no. You should always try, you should always ask questions, whatever you want to do you should always go for it, because the worst someone will tell you is no and then you’re going to be in the same spot. A lot of our guests talk about how some of their biggest ‘Aha’ moments or career-changing moments are times when they took a risk, and someone said yes to them, and that changed the course of their path, or introduced them to someone who was pivotal in their lives. I think that’s a really important piece and is something that gets brought up a lot throughout the podcast.”
Marianna: “I would say maybe the most useful thing that I’ve learned, I guess because I’m younger than my sister, is professionalism and the power of mentorship. Being on a podcast, whether it was doing the interviews, or creating business professional posts, I’ve gotten an insight into the business world while I was in high school. Talking with such senior specialists in their industries kind of helped me get a head start in the business world.”
Courtesy of The Business Casual
Now that Stacey, you’re graduated, and Marianna, you’re in university, what are the next steps for The Business Casual?
Stacey: “I think that we’re both excited. We’re at really interesting points in our lives – starting full time work, entering university – and the industry’s changing all the time. With Marianna being in computer science, we’re seeing the development of AI and computer learning and all these different tools that are coming out, so I think we’re excited to bring our community and guests along with that journey, share the ever-changing business world and walk through those milestones with Marianna and I. We’re also looking to do a lot more events and how we can engage our community in person. We did a fundraiser in December 2020 for the Alzheimer’s Society, so potentially looking into more community service and fundraising, bringing that aspect to The Business Casual as well, and just continuing to putting out content all the time, to grow our community, trying to leverage TikTok and Instagram reels now, continue promoting The Business Casual and sharing the stories that are on our podcast. We’re looking forward to seeing what the future holds.”
Now, for one of the most typical questions I can ask, where do you both see yourselves 10 years from now?
Stacey: “Both Marianna and I are very entrepreneurial, and we’ve always had this side to us since we were little kids. We wanted to make videos together, start a YouTube channel, try to make our own movies and we’ve always loved leaning into that creative side. I think in 10 years from now, we hope to obviously still be doing The Business Casual, hopefully, it’s evolved and turned into something even bigger than a podcast, like I said with the events. We hope to continue growing it, but I think we both hope to have our own business, whether that be alongside the podcast or unrelated to it. We hope to still be co-founders together, and, yeah, it’s tough to say, but I think that’s where our vision lies.”
The Business Casual is available to listen to on all platforms, including Spotify, Apple, Google, and iHeart Radio. You can follow the podcast on Instagram at @business.casual.podcast.