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Kudoboard says You’re Kind of a Big Deal

Employees love to be recognized. It’s not just promotions and big deals, however. We’re talkin' birthdays, anniversaries, adopting a cat, everything. OK, maybe not a cat adoption, but you know what we mean. That’s why we brought Aaron Rubens, cofounder and CEO at Kudoboard to the show. He runs the online workplace appreciation solution for special occasions, shout outs, and everything in between, helping to replace the card that’s passed around and signed on birthdays, holidays, and special occasions for generations. Crazy thing is, they’re crushing it. To find out why - and how - you gotta listen.

Intro: Hide your kids. Lock the doors. You're listening to HRs most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry, right where it hurts complete with breaking news, brash opinion, and loads of snark. Buckle up, boys and girls. It's time for the Chad and Cheese podcast.

Joel: Oh, yeah. What's up everybody? We're live from the Aaron Booth at SHRM in Las Vegas. This is your host flying solo, Joel Cheesman of the Chad and Cheese podcast. And today we welcome Aaron Rubens, co-founder and CEO of Kudoboard. Aaron, welcome to the podcast.

Aaron: Joel, thanks so much for having me. Excited be here.

Joel: Long time listener. First time, live podcast like most people on the show. So our listeners who don't know you, tell us a little about you, what makes Aaron tick, but more about the company, what you guys do.

Aaron: Sure. I'll give you the, the genesis of the company then I'll tell you a little about me and, take it from there. So I used to be a high school math teacher a long time ago.

Joel: How does that work with the ladies at the bars? Is that a big...

Aaron: It's not great.

Joel: Good enough.

Aaron: But I was married by the time I got into it, so no a concern...

Joel: Oh, okay.

Aaron: And at the end of each year, I'd have students write their name on a piece of paper and they'd pass it around the classroom. And the idea was they had gotten pretty close over the course of the year. The instructions were, "Hey, each person write a little nice thing on the paper," and it comes back around. You get, 15-20 people writing something nice to you. And to be honest, it's one of these throwaway exercises that some other teacher told me, "Oh, it's a good way to like, capstone, bring people together, blah, blah, blah." Subsequent years, I had several students come up to me and say, "That was really special. Or I put it on my wall, or something that, like, it meant something to me." I never knew people thought that way about me. And I'll say, I would not do that at the beginning of the school year.

Joel: Yeah.

Aaron: You get, you get probably some bad stuff by the end you build the right culture, you bring people together. And this idea kind of stuck with me. And it wasn't until several years later when one of my good friends was turning 30 and we were all spread out across the country and we're like, all right, we gotta figure out a way to do some kind of birthday card for them.

Joel: Yeah.

Aaron: And we ended up putting together a website and each person recorded a video on YouTube and we upload, it was super janky and terrible.

Joel: Yep.

Aaron: We're like, well, there's gotta be a better way. And that was sort of the genesis of Kudoboard. It started as an online sort of replacement for the card that's passed around and signed.

Joel: Yep.

Aaron: And it's, primarily used in the workplace for things like birthdays, work, anniversaries, get wells, farewells, really anything where you want to bring a group together and celebrate an individual.

Joel: And you were founded when in 2015.

Aaron: It's been... It's been a road.

Joel: Roughly. Yes. So it's been a road.

Aaron: It's been a road. Yeah. And it started really as a side project. I had this thing I wanted to solve and I was like, well, we'll see if we can turn this into something.

Joel: I would imagine the pandemic was great for you because you are replacing the card in the mailbox at the headquarters...

Aaron: Yeah.

Joel: That everyone signs at, lunch hour with a digital version of that. Talk about the pandemic and the impact.

Aaron: Yeah. No, it was, I mean, we had started to get enough traction where, in the beginning it was part-time, and then it was full-time and I got a couple employees, but it was still super small.

Joel: Yeah.

Aaron: And then the pandemic hit and it went crazy and we grew 2000%

Joel: That's crazy. Yeah.

Aaron: Which it's partially it's low base.

Joel: Yeah. We don't know where we're going from but...

Aaron: Low base. But, it's this thing that was already sort of awkward and cheesy passing the card around.

Joel: Yeah.

Aaron: And then add the pandemic in and now it's awkward and cheesy and impossible...

Joel: Yep.

Aaron: To do. And so you come in with a solution that's easy, that's fun, it's not just writing, but you can add pictures, videos, gifs, just make it fun. Just make it like light.

Joel: Yeah.

Aaron: And convenient. Right.

Joel: Yeah. Make it for the kids.

Aaron: Exactly.

Joel: One the kids could use.

Aaron: For the kids. And you can print it out as a book. You get like that physical version that some people like to have, particularly like retirements, things like that.

Joel: I'm dating myself but do you remember the SNL skit, frank singing songs that the kids will enjoy?

Aaron: Yes.

Joel: And it's Frank Sinatra. Okay. Look it up on YouTube kids if you don't know what I'm talking about. So you're a bootstrap business. It looks like you haven't taken any money or any significant money a little bit. So talk about that, the pros and cons. A lot of companies out there are bootstrapping, give them some advice.

Aaron: Yeah. It was a road and part of it was, I think in the beginning I just didn't know, is this a venture scale business? And so I wanted, but I felt like I saw a path to bootstrap success.

Joel: Yeah.

Aaron: And I still remember like the nights in the... I dunno if you ever saw that show Silicon Valley.

Joel: Yeah. Yeah.

Aaron: But I remember the night where I was in the bathtub, nothing's in the bathtub. Just laying there. Like, "What did I do? Why did I get into this? This is terrible."

Joel: By the way, you're still married to the woman you...

Aaron: I'm still married. I'm still married.

Joel: Okay. Good.

Aaron: And she's been incredible. But eventually we sort of reached a point, we actually did raise a pretty large round of growth equity, about a year and a half ago now.

Joel: Okay.

Aaron: We kept it pretty quiet. Not secret, I mean, it's out there, but we didn't do...

Joel: Can you tell our listeners the number.

Aaron: We actually we don't announce it publicly.

Joel: Interesting.

Aaron: But...

Joel: Interesting.

Aaron: We usually play it close to the vest.

Joel: CrunchBase doesn't know, and our listeners don't know what is going on. Wow.

Aaron: Crunchbase doesn't know. Our listeners, don't know. We raised it from a firm who they really focus on, "Hey, we don't need to bet on a hundred businesses. So that one of 'em becomes Uber and the rest of them fail." Yeah. We want have 25 businesses that we all believe can three to five x and that gets us to a great outcome. And it's just a different model, you have to be profitable and to a certain level of profitability for that to make sense. And we were but...

Joel: I wish I would've had that advice at the roulette table the other night 'cause I bet it all on black.

Aaron: Hey.

Aaron: And lost unfortunately.

Aaron: At the roulette table you gotta go for it. Right.

Joel: Talk about the competitive landscape. I'm guessing a lot of our listeners won't know some of the competitors and the competitive landscape. So talk about that.

Aaron: Yeah. The primary competitor, they're actually at this conference as well. They're called GroupGreeting.

Joel: Clever.

Aaron: As you imagine they do group greeting cards, and where we sort of have differentiated ourselves from them over time, is oftentimes people start with this card that... But and it's shaped like a board, Kudoboard, whatever.

Joel: Yeah, yeah.

Aaron: But we've started to do a lot of like, big company events and shout outs and kind of moving the use case beyond just a card to more sort of engagement opportunities. So we have a lot of organizations, for instance, in June, a lot of organizations use it for Pride Month and they'll invite their whole organization to say, "Hey, how are you celebrating Pride Month or whatever." And different months different thing, Halloween, they'll do a Halloween costume contest and everyone can post their Halloween pictures and everyone votes on which one they like the best. So there's just these different ways to bring people together that expand the idea of like what a card can be. Sorry, I'm away from the microphone.

Joel: That's okay. Happens all the time. Happens all the time. We can't all be professionals.

Aaron: I'm a newbie. I'm newbie. I'm figuring it out.

Joel: Talk about pricing 'cause that's gonna lead into my next question.

Aaron: And I will be honest. I feel like we're still figuring it out a little bit.

Joel: Okay. Eight years on, we're still figuring out the pricing.

Aaron: I know. So there's kind of two ways you can engage with the platform. You can pay for it one board at a time, just like you'd go into a store and buy a Hallmark card. It's pretty limited in terms of the features that you get. But obviously the barrier to entry is super low. So we have thousands and thousands of people every day that are buying them individually. And then we have broader subscription options for companies. And it ranges from organizations of a few hundred to, you know, we have several customers, 50,000 plus employees that are using it organization-wide. And they'll pay hey 50,000 to 55,000 employees, this is the price. So tiered, essentially tiered pricing on the subscription side.

Joel: And what's the typical client look like? I'm guessing it's on the, the SMB side, but I could be totally wrong on that.

Aaron: No, I mean, we have a lot of healthcare organizations. So one way that they use Kudoboard that's a little unique is that we have them set it up and then they can collect notes of appreciation from patients or stakeholders in the community.

Joel: Okay.

Aaron: So one thing, a lot of like recognition or engagement solutions are very internal focused, only. Because Kudoboard's a lot more flexible you can also collect notes externally, sort of out to in, which makes a difference. But we work with a lot of large health systems. And then we also work with a lot of tech companies, basically people who are kinda remote. So like Gusto, Asana, folks like that, that have it available across the organization.

Joel: Talk about the marketing 'cause the the pricing is pretty reasonable. So I haven't seen you on the Super Bowl, And I'm assuming I won't anytime soon, but talk about marketing. How do you guys get recognized?

Aaron: Yeah. And this is something that like everything, it's evolving, but the way that we've grown primarily is based on sort of the, the natural viral mechanism of kudoboards. So like, if I create one for you, let's say it's your birthday coming up, I create one for you, and I invite 25 colleagues to post some percentage of those 25 colleagues eventually create their own. And it goes on and on and on. And we have 10 million plus people registered on Kudoboard, but at any given month we have 4 million plus people using it.

Joel: Okay.

Aaron: And so that's been a really nice, really low cost way to spread it far and wide.

Joel: Is it like Hotmail where at the bottom it says powered by Kudoboard.

Aaron: We haven't done that, but I think it's just you use something and you're like, oh, that was cool. Maybe like six months later, but I come back and do it again. So that's been our primary mechanism of trying to make that virality really smooth, really easy. And then what we find is over time we go to a company and we say, Hey you already have 15,000 employees that are registered on Kudoboard. Maybe rather than having them all buying individually and 10 team plans over here in this, let's move to a single company-wide plan. It is more expensive, but you get your integrations, your single sign-on, all that stuff that company's want.

Joel: Does everyone get the gifs, that's the important thing.

Aaron: Everyone gets the gif.

Joel: Everyone gets it no matter what the price point. That's good.

Aaron: What you get at the larger company is the ability to filter out gifs.

Joel: And definitely not the naughty ones that I send to people.

Aaron: Not the naughty ones. No. It's true. We have a very specific talk track around like, hey, this is how we screen out. Non-G rated gifs from Jiffy and all that kinda stuff.

Joel: That's awesome. That's awesome. What's the global opportunity?

Aaron: Yeah, I mean, right now we're about 70% of our revenue is in the US, 30% is, is outside the US. And to be honest, where we're limited is we're primarily in English speaking countries because the site is in English. And so I think like the next big step for us in terms of taking the product more global is going down the path of like translating it to Spanish or German or French or all those sorts of things. It requires a level of ongoing maintenance that we're not ready to do quite yet. But it's an opportunity that we're gonna take at some point.

Joel: Got it. So this is primarily a recruiting employment show. Obviously onboarding. Welcome to the company, makes a lot of sense to me. Talk about that piece and then also how companies might look at creative ways to recruiting retention with the product.

Aaron: Yep. No. Great question. One of the use cases that we push pretty hard and we see people have a lot of success with is to your point, that onboarding one and there's kind of two points at which it makes sense. So one is the point where someone gets an offer and you say, Hey congrats on your offer. You get everyone who's on the team who interviewed them to say great to meet you. We're really excited, we hope you join. And it goes out to them and it's just you get, obviously there's the hard parts of the offer. Like by that I just mean like there's the salary, the concrete things.

Aaron: But then there's that softer thing that is trying to just give that little nudge. So that's one point where it makes sense. And then the other point is at onboarding. So you know, you're collecting posts from the colleagues who are gonna join and then the day their first day on their job, they come in and they get 25 emails on the different systems they need to sign up for and this that. And then they get this really nice thing from their colleagues saying, "Hey, we're so excited you're here." Some fun gifs and all that kind of stuff.

Joel: Sure.

Aaron: So what we have is a lot of large companies that have kind of built it in to their workflows. So it's like, Hey here's our standard onboarding workflow and step seven is create a Kudoboard, invite the team. And schedule it for delivery. And it takes two minutes for someone to do. So it's a pretty low lift. But it's just a nice thing to kind of separate you, you have someone with three offers and they're all great. You're trying to give 'em that little nudge.

Joel: Yeah. And you have... You have sort of a keepsake component where you can print out the board. And frame it, etcetera. Talk about that a little bit.

Joel: Yeah. So you can print it either as a poster or as a book. And the book is actually quite a bit more popular than the poster probably because the poster, the sizes could be kind of crazy just depending on the amount of content. But what we see is a lot of people for things like farewells, retirements things where like they're getting people writing really nice, less Gifs, but like really nice stuff. And they wanna save it. Sometimes they worked at a company 20, 30 years and they get these really nice notes and they get a book printed and shipped to them with all these notes after. And so we've had some companies, you asked earlier about like creative ideas. We've had some companies who just recently we work with one who had a, a voluntary buyout where they said, Hey, if anyone wants to take this, they can, they had a decent number of people take it. And they said, we're gonna create a Kudoboard for every single one of those people. Everyone's gonna sign it and then we're gonna ship 'em all a book at the end. And so it's just a nice way to like, give you something tangible to remember things by.

Joel: Got it. So not something for the exit interview that people are using so much.

Aaron: No, not so much the exit interview. The farewell use, it's funny 'cause the farewell use case is actually one of the most powerful. 'Cause people it's, they kind of, I only wish you had told me all these great things when I, when we were actually working together. But it's not the one we sell at the corporate level as much because it's not at that point, it's kind of beyond, they're on their way out. They're focused more on, to your point, like the onboarding, the ongoing experience things like that.

Joel: Sure. ChatGPT, maybe you've heard of it being able...

Aaron: Once or twice.

Joel: To automate content and certainly the ability to write nice messages is now automated or AI powered. Is that making its way into the product or are you gonna keep it kind of human?

Aaron: Yeah, it's, we have discussed it. And I think where we're leaning is offering a chatGPT assisted option for people who need a little inspiration. And that might look like Hey, what tone do you want? Oh funny or more serious or whatever else or tell us something interesting about the person you write a little thing and you kind of input some things. And then it kind of helps you form it into something. We're experimenting with that. I don't think we ever want it to be where, Hey, this is fully automated. You don't have to do anything. You just click a button and it does... 'Cause at that point, what are you even doing?

Joel: Sure.

Aaron: This is a product that's meant to like be authentic and bring people together. And yeah, you could automate that and hey you can automate the sending too. And you never have to even go in the product. It's just sending messages back and forth to itself.

Joel: Yeah.

Aaron: And it gets kind of silly. So I think we're probably not going to get to the fully automated place.

Joel: Yeah. I wish some version of that would have existed for my yearbook signings. 'Cause the number of people just said to "a cool dude, have a good summer", was a bit repetitive.

Aaron: Maybe a little illustration in there.

Joel: Yeah. So anything else future wise, this product evolution, you mentioned chatGPT, you mentioned more languages, anything else that you're looking in terms of evolution?

Aaron: Yeah. So, I mean, I think in the near term roadmap, one of the big things we're thinking about is just like, how do we make this more integrated and automated for our largest customers? And by automated, I don't mean the actual content. But like, Hey, we want to make sure that every single one of our employees get this for their work anniversary. Well, to do that, we need to integrate with your HRS system. We need to integrate with your, if you use teams, we need to integrate teams. And we have some of those integrations built. But getting them deeper and more powerful so that it works across the board for companies. It's big because it just drives a lot of engagement.

Joel: Yeah.

Aaron: And it doesn't require, what's really powerful is it starts with this bottoms up ad hoc use, but at a certain point you want to have a solution that says, "Hey, and if you do want everyone to get this, we can do that." So that's really where we're going in the next year or two.

Joel: Sure. Integrations while a pain in the ass are a necessary evil...

Aaron: They are.

Joel: In this business. Aaron, for our listeners who want to find out more about the company or connect with you, where would you send them?

Aaron: Yeah, absolutely. So they can go to to sign up and there's a free trial. You can always just get started super easy. And if you want to reach me,

Joel: Very cool. That is another one from the Aaron Booth at SHRM in Las Vegas in the can. Thanks Aaron for joining us and we out.

Outro: Wow. Look at you. You made it through an entire episode of the Chad and Cheese podcast, or maybe you cheated and fast forwarded to the end. Either way, there's no doubt you wish you had that time back. Valuable time you could have used to buy a nutritious meal at Taco Bell, enjoy a pour of your favorite whiskey, or just watch big booty Latinas and bug fights on Tik Tok. No, you hung out with these two chuggle heads instead. Now go take a shower and wash off all the guilt, but save some soap because you'll be back. Like an awful train wreck, you can't look away. And like Chad's favorite Western, you can't quit them either. We out.


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