ND Founders Profile #76: A Chance Meeting on a Plane Changed this FouNDer’s Life and Inspired a Company

Author: Melanie Lux

Facebook Web Nd Founders Troy Bagne


Company Founded: Wanido Year Graduated: 2000
Title: CEO and Founder Degree: B.A., Marketing and Finance
Location: Fargo, ND Residence Hall: Morrissey Manor

Looking back at his four years at the University of Notre Dame, Troy Bagne grows a bit nostalgic. Not about his time as a Division 1 hockey player, which lured him from Minnesota to South Bend in the first place, but for lessons learned that he didn’t fully appreciate until a few years after graduation.

“I was attracted to Notre Dame because of its reputation of being a top school for student-athletes and the academics. I expected a lot of Notre Dame but it was more than I ever dreamed of. I didn’t totally realize what I’d learned until I was gone,” Bagne says.

The epiphany occurred on a business trip. Bagne was in his thirties and more than a decade in sales and was focused on making money. A fellow Notre Dame alum in the seat beside him on the plane noticed his gold watch from the Monogram Club, an organization of former Notre Dame student-athletes and student support staff members and struck up a conversation.

“He asked me what I thought of Notre Dame and eventually asked about my job. He then asked me how I was bettering people. I didn’t have a good answer. He answered it for me: The point of a Notre Dame diploma is not to get out of school and make a lot of money, the point of a Notre Dame diploma is to make the world a better place,” Bagne recounts.

“That conversation changed the course of my career.”

The change was likely not obvious to a casual observer; changes in mindset rarely are. The pivot was internal, from personal financial gain to figuring out something—a product, a company—to help people. Over the next 10 15 years, Bagne laid the foundation for that “something.” He remained in the employee benefits industry, working in sales in teaming-up with employee benefit brokers and consultants. In 2010, he switched roles and lead a team to better understand and learn more about current employee benefits technology and how to streamline the data for the employer and leverage the data to better employees.

In 2016, Bagne struck out on his own, co-founding a human capital management firm called OnCore HCM with an employee recruiting, payroll and benefits platform. It didn’t take long for Bagne to see it wasn’t a new health insurance plan or cool recruiting tools clients wanted. They wanted to know the root of their issues and the why underneath the data. Why are employees disengaged at work? Why do we have a retention problem? How can we bolster productivity?

“For decades, the employee benefits market has been a shell game focused on healthcare costs and trying different health insurance models to bring down costs. But the real pain point for companies is employee engagement and well-being. Rebranding the same problems and creating superficial bells and whistles doesn’t solve that,” Bagne says.

“The real issue is understanding employee well-being and the inter-connectivity of who they are at home is the same person they are at work. They’re thinking ‘I popped a tire on the way to work. How am I going to pay for it’ or ‘My child has been diagnosed with this disease, what am I going to do now?’ These personal issues also hurt the bottom line if they are not addressed. What companies really need are ways to help people with what matters, get them back to being engaged at work, which decreases turnover and absenteeism and ultimately, increases productivity and profitability,” he continues.

Recognizing the opportunity to truly help people and perhaps thinking back to that plane ride, Bagne sold OnCore HCM to his partner to found a new venture, Wanido, an organizational health company that leverages technology to get to and resolve the root cause of workforce culture and engagement issues.

Bagne shares compelling statistics for a dramatic change in how companies manage human capital. According to Gallup and others, 70 percent of Americans are disengaged at work, 50 percent are living paycheck to paycheck, and 40 percent are living unhealthy lifestyles. The opportunity cost of understanding your employee’s well-being and measuring an employer’s organizations health is on average 4.65 percent of payroll.”

“Employee well-being is the secret ingredient of highly successful companies,” Bagne says. 

Wanido, pronounced wanna do, challenges old models of achieving, or attempting to achieve, employee well-being. The company is different from the traditional single solution providers in that it uses data to address and solve individual employee issues around money and health that stress people and cause them to become distracted and underperform on the job. It also uses data to help human resources professionals and the C-suite executives solve issues they grapple with but until now have had no way to truly address them except on an individual employee or anecdotal basis. Wanido does so through artificial intelligence-powered social architecture and robust data collection and analytics platform that gather insights from employees, provides individualized resources to employees to help deal with personal finances and their health, and ultimately addresses the tough culture issues that hold many organizations back.

Bagne says Wanido delivers the same class of data to human resources that other C-suiters have had for decades. “CFOs have their financials, COOs have their reports, and the sales team has Hubspot and Salesforce data. Now, human resources executives also have high-level data, presented in dashboards and de-identified to protect employees’ privacy, to determine what is really going on in an organization’s workforce, by single or multiple locations. These insights equip employers and employees with the tools to influence change where it’s needed most.”

He adds, “We believe the key to retention and success is to engage employees while investing in their personal well-being. When employees are happier, healthier, and more financially secure, so is the employer.”

Given the country’s robust economy in 2019, Bagne and a core group of investors launched Wanido in January 2020. Less than two months later, the United States shutdown the economy and sent workers home in an effort to thwart the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, the solution companies expressed a desire for was pushed to the backburner as they dealt with the bigger issues of business continuity, keeping employees safe, adapting to supply chain and other disruptions, and responding to changing government mandates.

Despite the unprecedented challenge, Bagne didn’t worry. “I knew what we built would work and was what employers and employees needed. So we did something no other full-stack HR technology company had ever done: we made the decision to offer Wanido to companies free of charge in 2020. “Our board of directors was supportive of doing the right thing.”

Bagne himself used this time to continue building out the Wanido platform based on user feedback and market need, likening it a “doctoral class.” Meanwhile, new pandemic-driven pain points emerged. Remote workforces were causing issues with company’s culture and overall performance. “I’m a huge data and research guy and what I saw was working remotely sounds great, but it doesn’t always work, particularly for medium and smaller companies. The data is now showing very few people are driven enough and can do a great job without face-to-face accountability, connections at work, and a true sense of belonging,” he says.

In 2021, other troubling trends have surfaced including people dropping out of the workforce because of fear of COVID-19, high unemployment benefits that paid more than their job, and people “ghosting” employers by quitting without notice and not showing up for interviews. Bagne believes these trends make the case for implementing Wanido as a means of attracting and retaining people even more compelling.

“In North Dakota, people can’t find workers. They can’t bid a job for a new building for example because they can’t get workers. Restaurants are closing because they can’t staff it.  We educate them on the financial impact of implementing our solution and how it benefits their bottom line. For example, a large payroll or human capital management company will give you a lot of statistics on cost to hire but they don’t tell you the potential cost of turnover and most importantly the why. We are challenging the market on what it means not to have the data,” he says.

Bagne motivation is high because of his passion to do the right thing, the knowledge that Wando’s platform works and the fact that companies “get” the need to connect with employees and provide individualized solutions that are a true benefit. As companies are resetting and people return to work, employee engagement and employee well-being will continue to be a top issue as employers adapt to the new market dynamics.

“In the past, companies thought they could solve morale and retention issues by bringing in a food truck or ping pong tables, hosting a potluck, or handing out tee shirts. That’s a shell game; you’re just moving the ball and not getting to the root cause. People stay when they’re part of a mission. They want to be a living breathing part of a company. Wanido helps get companies there; we help them do what they ‘wanna do,’” he says.     

Bagne offers this advice to future company founders. “Have a core team that believes in the same mission and vision as you do. With a startup, you’ll have highs and lows but if you share a core belief in your company, you will come out stronger. It’s the lowest of lows that make you stronger and more successful in the long run.”