Firing Squad: Lluna's Jess Podgajny
Empowering your team with flexibility and choice just got a whole lot easier. That's the promise of startup Philly-based Lluna, who offers flexibility and choice for employees ... whatever the hell that means. Can founder and CEO Jess Podgajny explain all that jibber-jabber and survive the Firing Squad? Gotta listen to find out.
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SharkTank INTRO (1s):
Like Shark Tank? Then you'll love Firing Squad! CHAD SOWASH & JOEL CHEESEMAN are here to put the recruiting industry's bravest, ballsiest, and baddest startups through the gauntlet to see if they got what it takes to make it out alive? Dig a fox hole and duck for cover kids the Chad and Cheese Podcast is taking it to a whole other level.
Oh yeah, we got Philly in the house, Chad Philly start-up. What's up everybody? It's your favorite podcast and guilty pleasure. This is the Chad and Cheese podcast. I'm your cohost Joel Cheeseman joined is always my Chris Rock to my Will Smith.
And we are happy to welcome Philadelphia resident. Sorry, Jess. I had to do it. Jess Podgajny! She is founder and CEO of Lluna! Jess welcome to the podcast and firing squad.
Thank you so much for having me. Glad to be here.
Before we beat you up, give the listeners a little Twitter bio about Jess
Chad (1m 1s):
Who be Jess?
Joel (1m 1s):
And how many times do you run up the stairs that are in the Rocky movies?
Jess (1m 6s):
Oh yeah. I'm from Philadelphia. I can't even count the number at this point.
Joel (1m 10s):
There you go.
Jess (1m 10s):
So thanks for having me today. I let's see I'm a mom to three young kids. I've got a six year old, a three-year-old and a two-year-old. So life is busy.
Joel (1m 24s):
Jess (1m 25s):
I have about two decades of experience, mostly in management consulting, working on the people side of projects. So a lot of organizational change, org design, culture building, helping large global organizations achieve their big goals by motivating their people. And I am turned a startup founder because of my own personal experience, as well as the experience as a consultant. And I also did a stint as a Chief People Officer, which led me to realize we needed more personalization in the future of work.
Chad (2m 3s):
We'll talk about that.
Joel (2m 5s):
I'm sorry. How many kids again?
Jess (2m 7s):
Joel (2m 8s):
Oh, there you go. All right. I have three too, by the way. All right, Chad. Let's let's tell Jess what she's won today.
Chad (2m 15s):
Well, Jess, you have two minutes to pitch Lo-la-la Luna at the end of two minutes, Joel's going to give you that bell and we're going to hit you with rapid fire Q and A. If your answers are droning, and you get bored. Guess what? The crickets are coming, you need to tighten up your game. At the end of Q and A you're going to get one of these three ratings. Big applause. Motown Philly's is back again. That's right. Maybe all the Philly steaks you can eat. Golf clap. You might want to call Carson once for some pointers because you need some help. Last but never least, the firing squad. Parents just don't understand and neither do we. Hit the bricks!
Chad (2m 56s):
This thing ain't going nowhere. That's firing squad. Are you ready?
Jess (3m 1s):
Joel (3m 2s):
All right. She's not backing out gang. All right. In 3, 2, 1. Tell us about Lluna.
Jess (3m 11s):
All right. So Lluna helps companies make it easy for companies to offer a personalized employee experience to employees. Really what this is all about is, let's think big picture. We can personalize our coffee orders at the local Starbucks. We can personalize medicine. It's now time we were able to personalize our employee experience, to meet our work and life needs. And Lluna's technology makes it really simple for employers to offer. They have the control, but you're empowering employees with choice, that really spans all aspects of that employee experience. From work-style to team culture, to PTO, maybe five more days PTO for less salary or less PTO for more salary to professional development, to work location and working days and working hours.
Jess (4m 2s):
We're really looking holistically at that employee experience to empower employees and to retain them in organizations longer and serve as an employer differentiator in that talent acquisition process. Our website is hellolluna.com. And you can find out more about us there.
Joel (4m 23s):
Well enough. She didn't need two minutes. She need about a minute and 22 seconds. All right, Jess, you listen to the firing squad. You know, what's coming. I got to know about the name. Where'd you come up with it. Hello Lluna. As a former Clevelander, I love the hello to anything. Hello, Cleveland. There's two L's instead of one, like explain the name to me.
Jess (4m 45s):
Okay, perfect. So Lluna is a nod to the moon, L U N A. And really the idea that the moon has phases and we, as humans, as people also go through different phases, the extra L in our name is for life,
Joel (4m 60s):
The extra "L" is for life. That's kind of warm and fuzzy from someone from Philly.
Chad (5m 5s):
Jess (5m 6s):
Hey, hey. We've got feelings here too.
Chad (5m 11s):
Joel (5m 11s):
Yeah. And what was the inspiration for this business? You could have done a lot of different things. I'm sure why this thing?
Jess (5m 18s):
Yeah. You know, I had this point of reflection. This is going back to about 2017 where I was thinking back on my own career, I was sitting in the CPO chair. I had worked with some amazing clients and team members. And generally I was like, wow, what I wanted or needed from my employer has drastically changed over time. And at about that time, I'd had my first child. I was like, oh, like, I, I can't work 14 or 16 hours straight. I have a tiny human to go take care of. And I realized that, you know, flexibility was going to be important at that point in time. But going back when I first graduated from college, I was like, I wanted PTO.
Jess (6m 0s):
I was like, I want to travel the world. Kind of like Chad's doing right now. I wanted to get out there and
Chad (6m 5s):
We all want to be, Chad.
Jess (6m 7s):
We all want to be Chad. So I realized I would have taken less salary if I'd had the opportunity to have more days off and started to ask this question of like, why can't we sort of toggle things up and down based on our needs or wants at a particular point in our career to better stay with an organization and not go look for another place to work that might have the composition of things that we want. So that led me, it really kicked off a journey for me to research. Like I sort of assumed there was another company out there that was making it easy for companies to enable something like this.
Jess (6m 48s):
And, you know, I mentioned it in my minute and a half that, you know, we can personalize so many things in our world. Why can't we get more personalized around work? Which we spend so much time doing. So all of that led to, there was no technology offering what I'd come to call personalized employment, and I couldn't stop thinking about it. So I needed to build it.
Chad (7m 12s):
Well, just so you know, Jess sucking up, we'll get you everywhere. But why doesn't this exist? Cause you have plenty of examples of where it exists out in the market. Why do you think it doesn't exist right now?
Jess (7m 28s):
Yeah. Great question. I think HR tech historically has been a very niche market. So you've got your perk platforms or your kind of professional development platforms. It's all sort of separated out. And I think that that's part of the ease of go to market. So if you go to market in a really focused way, it can, you know, you sort of make headway, get traction in an area and then it sticks and hopefully it takes off for you as a company in the HR tech market. On the flip of that, what we're seeing now is employers are saying like, gosh, another platform, another technology. So I think that we're approaching this point of convergence or a need for more convergence.
Jess (8m 17s):
And I think honestly, the reason it doesn't exist is that there's, it's a lot to bite off because we are thinking holistically about that employee experience. But I think the market's ready for it now and I think the pandemic really accelerated the appetite for it.
Chad (8m 31s):
Or over the last, I don't know, century or so employers just didn't give a shit that might be one point.
Jess (8m 36s):
I think that that could be a piece of it as well.
Chad (8m 39s):
So let's take a look at your experience so far. So we've got life sciences, management consulting. You were in HR for less than a year. You landed a Chief People O.fficer gig first and foremost. How did you do that? And number two, why did you take that position?
Jess (8m 58s):
Yeah, so let's see. I had been with that company for about eight years and I led their life sciences practice. I've led several of their key accounts. I helped them open up a second office location. I I'd really kind of grown up through the ranks of the organization. I'd done a little bit of everything and was recognized as a leader within the, at the time they were about a hundred people. So I, I consider myself an accidental HR person because.
Chad (9m 29s):
So does everybody else?
Jess (9m 32s):
Oh my gosh, because the opportunity presented itself, the founder at the time and CEO said, I'm ready to scale the business. I need to appoint a COO and ultimately the title became C P O. Even though I had responsibility for talent technology facilities and marketing, it was more of a CA role, but that particular company was very people first, very culture driven, very focused on investing, investing in people to get more, more benefit for customers ultimately. So the CPO title made, made a lot of sense and it was a great learning experience for me.
Jess (10m 13s):
I think the opportunity to see things from that perspective and engage with talent in that way, taught me a lot. And, it really sparked a lot of the thinking that led to what Luna has become. And so I did make the decision to move on for a variety of reasons. Some of it was not feeling like I had quite enough runway in the role itself. I think that the founder wanted to scale, but maybe didn't know how. And I also had this light bulb moment where I was like, I want to go figure this out. I want to explore if Lluna could really be something and that entrepreneurial tug led me there.
Joel (10m 51s):
And your therapist said it would be better for your mental health. Right.
Chad (10m 56s):
So was COVID a good thing or was it just bad timing?
Jess (11m 2s):
COVID was a good thing for us.
Chad (11m 5s):
Jess (11m 5s):
So, you know, I think if we could go back and erase the last couple of years, I'm sure a lot of people would, would wish for that. And, maybe I would too, but I think my talk track, the ability to sell into teams and to companies would be a lot harder. because now flexibility and adjusting to employee needs is recognized as something we need to do. I was recently out at a conference in Vegas, HR Transform conference. And if, you know, I heard it once I heard it a million times, like we must now meet employees where they are.
Jess (11m 46s):
And COVID really taught us that. I don't think that companies would be saying that if we didn't go through what we've just been through.
Chad (11m 53s):
I've been saying that for years. Yes.
Jess (11m 56s):
Well, we should have listened.
Joel (11m 59s):
People are our greatest resource.
Jess (12m 2s):
They certainly are.
Joel (12m 3s):
Jess, you raised an undisclosed sum in August of 21, which is very mysterious, but I'm curious, what did you do with the money? And is there a plan to raise more money in the near future?
Jess (12m 15s):
Great question. So we raised friends and family in the first half of 2021. We are currently raising our pre-seed round. We're raising a million right now. We're about halfway there. We used the funds from friends and family for building our platform. I'll call it V2 of our platform. We built our MVP on bubble.IO, a low-code, no-code technology. We use that to get to market quickly, effectively be able to iterate based on feedback really rapidly and then once we knew what the requirements were, we started building in our own custom environment. So that's really what that first round went towards.
Jess (12m 57s):
And we're raising now focused on marketing, sales and talent hiring.
Joel (13m 2s):
Gotcha. And what is a typical customer look like? Is, are they big companies? I mean, is it mostly like east coast? Is it a regional kind of thing based on sales? Like what does a typical customer look like? And is that the kind of customer that you currently want? Are you looking to bridge out into a bigger, smaller, different?
Jess (13m 23s):
So currently, we have two primary customer types. The companies that utilize our technology, I would say are in the SMB market, currently and I expect that we'll stay there for a period of time, but we are seeing the size of company that's interested and beginning to adopt our technology grow. So between 250 and 1500 employees is the sweet spot at the moment. But I do expect over time that will continue to get larger and larger. The second customer type that we have is really just managers inside of companies. So it can be anyone who leads a team, maybe a division. And we see managers signing up that have a team of five or a team of 30, and really the value prop to those leaders as buyers is a self service tech platform that can centralize a lot of what I'll call that revolving door of flexibility chaos that leaders are experiencing.
Jess (14m 21s):
You know, can I go work from here for two weeks? Can I live in Portugal for a month? Can I, you know, have this professional development instead, it's kind of centralizing choices in one place, to make it fair, equitable, and inclusive.
Joel (14m 35s):
And are you comfortable telling us how many customers you have and what your revenue is?
Jess (14m 42s):
Yeah, sure. So we have about a dozen customers right now. I would say seven are companies and the other five, are teams. Our team platform, our plan is relatively new. And in terms of revenue, we've got about $50K in ARR currently, and that's starting to ramp pretty significantly, which I'm excited about. So we started off slow. We spent 2021 really focused on feedback. So we've still got a handful of companies that are our friendlies that are not paying customers, but `we're working to transition them over. Now,
Joel (15m 20s):
What's your biggest hurdle to making a sale? Like what's the pushback that you typically get in a demo or sales call?
Jess (15m 29s):
Yeah, I think the bigges thing that I hear, especially from HR leaders is the, like where to start. So, because they're, you can, when you look at that entirety of the employee experience, it can touch so many things, so many policies within an organization. So what we'll end up doing is really distilling it down, perhaps focusing on let's just dig into like return to office. What kind of choices do you want to offer people in that return to office process? Right now? And then let's look at how we can expand that over time to further personalize the employee experience. So it can be, I guess it could be a little overwhelming at first to like you have that aha moment, like, yeah, this is where things are going, but wow this really could touch a lot of different things.
Chad (16m 16s):
Yeah. So where exactly do you fit in the HR stack? Tech stack?
Jess (16m 24s):
That's a very good question. We are a new category in HR tech. So I would say you could liken us to a perk platform to an extent we could handle some of that through our technology. You could kind of pull professional development, pretty close to where we are, cause you can think about asking choice, asking people for their preferences around professional development, but this is new. This is definitely a new space. So we tie a lot of different pieces together.
Chad (16m 57s):
Okay. So having seven companies as clients right now would say, you probably don't have many integrations. What is your integration strategy?
Jess (17m 4s):
Yep. So we have an open API. We have the capability to integrate with payroll or HRIS, we've initiated some of that already with some of the companies that, we actually just kicked off one integration for a Workday with one of our customers, but the strategy overall, and I would say longer term bigger picture is that not only do we have the capability to integrate with the HR tech stack and the different players that organizations are already using, but also that we're able to embed key kind of offers and benefits inside our technology.
Jess (17m 46s):
So anything from team building to certain, maybe like more fertility benefits, you could just toggle that option on from Lluna versus having to go to another vendor to access that particular benefit. So we intend to become the hub for the employee experience with integrations, to both those benefit providers and service providers, as well as to the technologies that really maintain the employee data for a company.
Chad (18m 11s):
Okay. Talk to me about go to market. What's your, what's your main focus on go to market when it comes to sales revenue driven?
Jess (18m 20s):
Yup. So the two primary areas that we focus on are direct to C-suite. So certainly going into heads of HR, even CEO, CFO, and that's really the effort where I spend my time. I also have some sales support as well. And then we also work with partners. So HR consultancies, or other benefit providers, benefit brokers. And they love us because it's, you know, a cool thing that they can discuss or suggest to their customer base. So we have kind of referral partnerships in place with a handful of companies. We intend to grow that pretty rapidly this year.
Chad (19m 2s):
So the prospect of going around HR directly to the C-suite. It's not a bad idea. How do you intend on doing, because getting to the CEO is not the easiest thing in the world. Right? Who, how do you intend on doing that?
Jess (19m 17s):
Yeah, so far the way that we've done it is through warm introductions, connections or networking at conferences or other kind of in-person opportunities. And the intention is not to circumvent HR. It's just that when you think about this employee experience, overall, it's as much about HR as it is about like leaders inside of the companies. And when you know, CEOs do care about how their people are managing and how they're retaining their employees. So we ultimately will talk to HR whether we come in that way or not, but often the CEO, it's an attention grabber for a CEO to say like,this is a new way for you to differentiate not only your company and your brand, but to better retain the talent that you have on the team.
Joel (20m 10s):
You should just hire Rocky Balboa to do your sales if you want to get in front of executives JEss!
Jess (20m 15s):
Joel (20m 15s):
But if that's not an option, you know.
Jess (20m 19s):
If he's avaialble.
Joel (20m 20s):
You gotta do what you gotta do. You went to Penn, you got a little Wharton business and you as well, I see on LinkedIn, I'm guessing that you heard at one point in that education, that choice or too much choice is a bad thing. People don't like to think, you know, when they're presented with too much choice, the choice they make is no choice.
Jess (20m 44s):
Joel (20m 45s):
Are you, is it unfair to say that your product giving employees so much choice, although sounds is a bad thing, or are you seeing something different or would you refute that? And the choices, forgive my gen X reference, the choice of a new generation.
Jess (21m 4s):
Okay. So, well, first I needed to clarify, I went to Penn for, I did some coursework at Penn, but I'm a Penn State graduate. So just to make sure I'm not offending any Penn.
Chad (21m 18s):
A couple of Buckeyes.
Jess (21m 19s):
Joel (21m 19s):
It will not be part of your grade by either
Chad (21m 27s):
Speak for yourself.
Jess (21m 28s):
Oh my goodness. All right. Well, hopefully it won't be, but here's the thing when we, what we recommend to customers, whether it's through kind of our resource center and tutorials or through onboarding a new company, we don't recommend offering a million choices that will be overwhelming and not effective. So there's certainly a sweet spot. What we see when, even if it's a handful so anywhere, but let's call it between five and 10 choices offered to an employee. We see that satisfaction scores, especially with diverse talent, go up really significantly their intention to stay with the company increases significantly.
Jess (22m 14s):
And we also see a lot of benefit around in gender differences. So for females specifically having that permission to have choice and flexibility engages the female workforce in a really positive way. So I think there's absolutely a balance to be struck. I would not recommend anyone says here's 30 choices. And like overwhelming people is it's too much, but just a few things actually goes a really long way and they don't have to be earth-shattering. They don't have to be net new budget. They can be as simple as you know, how, like, do you want to work remotely two days a week or three days a week?
Jess (22m 56s):
Just even saying that as a choice is empowering to employees.
Joel (23m 2s):
And your, your website is a really robust with screenshots of your analytics. What do I get in your analytics package i`f I'm a customer, can I kind of customize what I see? Don't talk about the data that is in your dashboard.
Jess (23m 15s):
Yeah. So the data that you're getting from Lluna I'll say is like, think about it as that real time data about what your workforce needs to be supported and to be effective right now. So if engagement survey data is a look back at what happened, a regular survey of what would you like to see happen is a look ahead. Our data is the right now, it's the here and the now. And you see that as at the aggregate level. So across your team, kind of, where are people choosing to work? When are they choosing to work? What type of professional development is interesting to them? It can help with like perk and benefit utilization even so understanding like, wow, no one's picking this one thing or seeing kind of how your team works best.
Jess (24m 1s):
So when do you do your best thinking, or when do you prefer to have meetings? You can see how that stratifies across your team or your organization. And then you also have access obviously to the data at that individual level as well. And we encourage the manager and employee to use that information as part of one-on-one meetings to lead to more effective leadership and better expectation setting and transparency overall.
Chad (24m 28s):
Excellent. So tell me a little bit about remote and hybrid. Is this really driving heavily off of the new need, the new want to be remote and hybrid?
Jess (24m 41s):
Yeah, I think that's a big piece of it. The two most popular dimensions within our technology right now, or I'll say the three most popular, are work style.
Chad (24m 51s):
What does the work style mean?
Jess (24m 52s):
Work-style could be? How do you like to receive feedback? When do you do your best thinking? How do you, and then, so it works out professional development and like flexible schedule design. And in that flexible schedule it's choices, like, do you want a standard work week? Do you want to compress your work week to four tens or four nines and one half, do you want to work remotely two days a week, three days a week, no days a week. All of those are incredibly popular at this moment. The thing I think is really interesting is the choices offered within Llunas technology are time-bound. So it might be you pick what you want for this quarter or for this next six months or maybe next year, but at least that frequently.
Jess (25m 40s):
And the, what we're seeing is that as people refresh, as they kind of go through the next cycle and pick their choices, the next time around they are changing what they want. So the idea that hybrid is a specific policy. You know, a lot of companies right now are saying, come back to the office, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Monday and Friday, you can be remote and employees are like, yeah, no, I'm not going to do that. I don't like that at all. And I don't want to be told what to do. So I'm going to go find a new job. And so what I always say is if the company said, Hey, we want everyone to be in the office at least one day. Let's say that's Wednesday, pick two more days via Lluna, where you want to be in the office.
Jess (26m 21s):
Can I tell you, people are going to pick Tuesday and Thursday, but now they had choice. They had a say. And so it's the same end result. It's just framing it in a different way. And ultimately, I think what companies are maybe missing right now is that what people say they want today is going to change, and you don't want them to leave, to find the thing that they want elsewhere. You want them to stay. So in order to do that, you've got to create a process and hopefully utilize our technology to enable that.
Chad (26m 54s):
Okay. Talk to me about cost. What's the price behind this? A customer at seats. How do you guys do this?
Joel (27m 2s):
Sounds expensive, Chad.
Jess (27m 3s):
Yep. No, it's not. It's not. So listen for less than $200 per employee per year, you get to have access to the Lluna technology. You get access to the reporting. And when you look at the cost of losing an employee, it's 50% to 200% of their salary. And I would argue that number is probably rising. So for less than 200 bucks a year, I feel like there's good ROI on being able to retain people, even if it's just for a little bit longer.
Joel (27m 32s):
So you were founded in 2019, you've raised a family and friends round.
Jess (27m 37s):
Joel (27m 37s):
You're looking to do a sort of a pre-seed three years later. What's your end goal? Is this, you know, sort of a nice local business that you want to build? Is it a, you want to build this thing up to, you know, 10 million ARR or a hundred million ARR, like what's the grand vision? What does success look like for you for this company?
Jess (27m 59s):
So our tagline is work designed for life, and I firmly believe that everyone should have that opportunity and that, that should be the way we approach work moving forward. So my goal with this business is to grow it as big and as fast as possible to reach more people and impact more lives. I think happier employees means happier people, happier citizens, and just a better world overall. So work designed for life or bust.
Joel (28m 27s):
And work designed for life. Let's dig into that for a second. That means almost nothing to me when I read it. Should I read more into that? Is that the mantra? Is that the rallying cry for the company?
Chad (28m 39s):
You're a gen X-er. That's why.
Joel (28m 41s):
Is that? Why does it mean anything to me?
Jess (28m 45s):
I mean, I have so many questions about what goes on inside your head now.
Joel (28m 48s):
Work is designed for life.
Chad (28m 49s):
You don't want in there, you don't want in there.
Joel (28m 53s):
We don't want to go down this rabbit hole. Okay. Well, well,
Jess (28m 57s):
No, listen, no, no, we can't. We can let's do it. So, so we, for a long time, have we get a job offer from a company? We say, okay, that salary looks good. And then we see the list of benefits or policies or programs that we have access to. And they may or may not meet our needs. They may or may not be anything that we utilize at any point, but we just say, okay, I'm going to conform into your box company. Here I come. And I think there's a new opportunity for us to instead approach this in a way where I'm going to, I'm going to do great work. I'm going to deliver the best outcomes I can deliver to my company, but I'm going to do it in a way that works for my life and not let at the sacrifice of my life.
Jess (29m 44s):
And I don't know, my, my early career days. And you could argue for the better part of my career overall. It was the grind I went, I did it. I put my head down. I worked as hard as I could and that was just the way it was done. And it was, it was very much more life designed for work. I fit life in where I could and I, otherwise I was just working. And I think we can flip that.
Joel (30m 10s):
I would go with like customize your work benefits, but that's just me. I'm an old guy. I'm an old guy. All right, Jess, are you ready to face the firing squad?
Jess (30m 20s):
Chad (30m 21s):
And there she is.
Joel (30m 22s):
You got it. All right, Chad, get her.
Chad (30m 24s):
All right, Jess, first and foremost, like