Storytelling about Fitbots with Vidya Santhanam and Kashi KS
Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 129. This week we have storytelling about Fitbots with Vidya Santhanam and Kashi KS. During this episode, Vidya, Kashi and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing Fitbots.
Vidya is the co-founder and CEO at Fitbots and an expert in all things performance and metrics events, having previously led performance and leadership building Mindtree. Kashi is the co-founder and CTO of the company, specializing in data-driven decisions with a background in building greenfield systems as an engineer and architect. The two co-founded Fitbots in 2018 and have been going strong ever since.
Today we discuss what makes Fitbot unique, highlighting Vidya and Kashi’s passion to take OKRs to companies globally.
Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.
Show length: 28 minutes
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Vidya Santhanam, Co-Founder & CEO
Vidya leads Growth and Customer Success for Fitbots and is passionate about building a SaaS business, and Kashi is a passionate technologist who loves tinkering with ideas and solving business problems. The two founded Fitbots in 2018 with a passion to take OKRs to companies globally.Follow
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. You’re listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today we have Vidya and Kashi on from Fitbots, and we’re going to be learning about their firm Fitbots. I’m really excited because I know both of them and I’ve interacted with them a bunch, and I like Fitbots, so it’ll be a fun show because we all like each other. So without any further ado, Vidya, will you introduce yourself and then, Kashi, introduce yourself and then one of you introduce Fitbots to the audience.
Yeah, thanks. Thanks, William. And we’re absolutely excited to be here. Hi everyone. My name is Vidya, I’m the CEO and co-founder of Fitbots. Started Fitbots with a lot of passion to take OKRs to companies globally. In my past life, before I started Fitbots, I used to lead performance and leadership building for a billion dollar company named Mindtree, and that’s where the idea started, and from there, there was no turning back.
Hi everyone, I’m Kashi, I’m the co-founder and CTO of Fitbots. Prior to this, as an enterprise architect, I found the concept of data-driven decisions, very enticing. That got me into looking more into decision-making frameworks and strategy execution frameworks, and OKRs is the most powerful frameworks of all, hence Fitbots.
Why don’t one of you take what Fitbots is, what it does. Solution, problem, all that stuff.
Yeah, absolutely. So Fitbots is an all-in-one OKR company. That’s how we like to call ourselves. The reason why we say this is because not every problem in the world can be solved only by software. And we realized that, especially when Kashi and I started Fitbots, we realized that there are many teams who are new to OKRs. So we have a SaaS platform that helps companies get comfortable to track and manage OKRs, but along with that we have our network of OKR coaches who help people get spun up on the processes [inaudible 00:02:44]. So that’s what we do, we help our clients get OKR rollouts right the first time, so that CEOs or CXOs can align and engage their teams.
I love that. So let’s start with the basics of OKRs. For those that are acronym challenged, what are OKRs?
That’s a great question. In fact, I got a running joke in my house. I just recently got a golden retriever pup. And when I say OKRs, she actually sits right up. So that’s how it’s just inbuilt into what we do. So a little bit about OKR is it’s an acronym, as you rightly said, William. It’s objectives and key results, popularly known as a strategy execution framework. But the way we like to think about OKRs is that it shifts organizations from thinking on tasks to thinking outcomes. And it shifts organizations from thinking about me to we, which is when teams come together and set high velocity objectives and key results. They’re together able to move the organization forward. So that’s just a little primer about what we do.
I love that. So, for the folks that, that are steeped in data-driven decisions and strategy and OKRs, you’ve SaaSified and made it easier for them to then be able to track and manage and plot and things like that. So let’s deal with the folks that… we’ll just go beginner, intermediate and advanced. We’ll start with folks that have just… This is all new to them, but it sounds fascinating and they want to get started. How do you, and of course, you’ve got clients all across the spectrum of course, how do you start that? Because you all are both OKR experts and for folks that are beginning on their journey to learn and to master OKRs it can be a little intimidating, right? Like anything when you’re starting. So how do you coach and help your clients that are starting on that journey?
Yeah, that’s a great question. And the way we look at OKRs is it’s something which is very permeable even into somebody’s personal life. So for instance, let’s say somebody wants to take this big objective or a New Year resolution of losing weight. They probably would put it on a little post-it, stick it on the fridge, and forget about it and then go on to eating a cheeseburger.
But really it’s not only about taking that goal, but it’s actually seeing it through. So if we were to explain this to somebody who was novice at OKRs, so let’s say if the big objective is to lose weight so that I can feel like, let me take my favorite movie star, probably somebody like Ashton Kutcher in his younger days. And the key results would be decrease my body weight from X to Y, get increased sleep hours from let’s say four hours to six hours, and probably reduce carbs from X to Y. Simply put, you take a big objective, which is achievable, and then convert it into very measurable steps called the key results so that it helps you get from point A to point B.
I love that. So, you break something big down into smaller digestible chunks. And also I’m assuming that there’s milestones and kind of pre… things that are dependent on one another, right? So for the beginners that are listening to the podcast, what it does is it takes a big, in Good to Great, they call it BHAGs – big, hairy, audacious goals. You take an objective and then you break it down into its most fundamental elements. And then it makes it easier because you’re just focused on smaller bits. Is that, is that about right, Kashi?
That’s right, William, it’s more than we breaking down. We think slightly differently. When it comes to OKRs what we would like to see is a shift in culture from me to we. If you take the highest performing organization on earth, which could be something like U.S. Navy seals, or highest military departments, you’d often find that they often tend to succeed when every single person, the team, works towards one common goal, which is defeating the enemy. Today if you look at the organizations today, if you look at the traditional frameworks, it’s all oriented towards individual performances and individual goals. When we talk about OKRs, apart from going into breaking down the big objective, we are trying to shift the organization culture from me to we. So that gives about whole different angle to how we approach OKRs.
I love that. And for both of you, what I love about OKRs, and we’ve talked about it in the past, is once you identify the objective, you’ve got to articulate the… it’s easy to say, “Okay, we want to increase sales by 20% next year,” now it’s articulated, but you’ve got to then start communicating all the pieces of that. And the transparency that Fitbots brings to the table is then again, here’s how you can get to that. So now everybody on the team, that me to we, everyone on the team can see the same thing. It’s what the military calls clear intent. Everyone has a clear line of sight into what is the mission.
And so there’s no… If for whatever reason that day you don’t talk or don’t email or whatever, everyone still knows what the mission is. Which again, I love that about OKRs in general, but I love that about Fitbots. Let’s move to folks that are your clients that are more intermediate. They’ve done OKR Work in the past, they already kind of get the bit, but they’re new to using Fitbots. Now you don’t have to explain, you don’t have to define, you don’t have to explain the acronym. You don’t have to explain the importance, they get it, but now you’re going to take them to the next level. What does that look like?
Yeah, absolutely. And in fact, when some of our clients already have the basics of OKRs in place, they want to know a little more about what are some of the advanced challenges in OKRs. So the first and foremost is how exactly do we write a high quality objective and a key result? So the way we like to explain it to teams who have probably got the foundation and want to write high quality objectives and key results is that objectives should actually tell you what exactly you’d like to accomplish, but most important is it underscores the importance of business value. So every objective in OKRs must have a business value, irrespective of whether a leadership team, or let’s say a frontline team, is taking an OKR. It must resonate with a business value and contribute to a high velocity business team. So that’s the first step.
The second is, when you think about key results, teams want to know how to actually pick the right key results. So one of the ways in which we explain OKRs to them is, “Hey, think about not only the lag indicators to your business, because lag indicators is something that you can’t really control a lot sooner, but think about lead indicators, because those are the indicators, if you control a lot sooner, you would be able to control your lag indicators a lot better.” So that’s one. And the second thing about key results as we articulate to our clients is that it must move you from point A to point B. Because unlike traditional goal frameworks, which basically just help you measure a certain point of time, OKRs is about progress. So we pretty much would think about these points. Kashi, what do you think? What would you like to add onto this?
Yeah, I call it the sandwich theorem. Where you take a set of key results which are a sandwich with lead on the top, operational on the between, and probably the lag indicators at the last. So pretty much, that’s what we look at OKRs as a way to execute.
What’s beautiful about that, again, organizations that are now using an amusing phrase, intermediate, but basically folks that have done it before but now they’re going to do it in a more sophisticated way, is you’re learning. So once you go through this process, you set that objective, you set the key results, and then you start moving towards that. Once you’ve reached it, there’s all kinds of learning. That’s packed in there. That the next time you set either that objective or something similar, you’ve learned some thing, there’s some institutional knowledge that’s there that then they can make that objective even more attainable, and things like that. So I love that as well. Now let’s move to the folks that are, your clients that are pushing you, I don’t want to say the expert level, they’ve been doing with OKRs about as long as y’all have. They get it instantly, you talk to them and they’re like, “Yep, got it.” How are they using Fitbots?
Clients who are at the stage of what we call the master level, they pretty much like to adopt the software. So today Fitbots has got both the SaaS platform, as well as the coaching. They probably may not need the coaching, but they’re very comfortable in adopting software and tracking the managing insights. What they lean on Fitbots for is for a consultative layer on what can they preempt, especially when they roll out OKRs, because we have a lot of experience of having… Kashi and I have personally coached about 450 teams ourselves and together with our huge network OKR coaches we’ve put in about 8,000 plus coaching hours. So they lean on this native knowledge that we have to basically preempt as to what is some of the traps that we could fall into once we roll out OKRs and how do you think we should manage them?
That’s the change management part. That’s beautiful as well, right? Not everyone’s on the same page, but this is a way to get everyone from me to we and get them on the same page. But obviously you’re dealing with human beings, right? And not everyone’s on the same journey, not on the same path, so getting people to adopt and make sure they understand why they’re adopting and how important it is, et cetera. I can see that also for the folks that are master level. I can see them being intrigued also. And just trying to refine, I mean, they’re fine tuning at that point, right? And they want to just make sure that it just gets… there’s less friction in all of their OKRs. Kashi, I interrupted you. What were you going to say?
You were bringing about a beautiful point a moment ago called organizational learning. If you really look at how that actually transforms in our master level clients, there’s a way they utilize that learning in the very early process the OKRs tend to be a more like KPIs or business as usual OKRs, but as a graduate, they start taking bets. Bets on decisions, or metrics that they have never measured before. That’s where the organization’s learning really kicks in. The second thing that we see, especially when they use Fitbots OKR software, is the power of cross-functional teams taking shared OKRs. They often realize that, with the degree of transparency we provide, that there are more opportunities to collaborate. Lastly, we see that it’s not just they look at how they’re done in the past. We have an in-trail audit log of what went right and what went wrong at different instances of time. So they’re able to time travel back and forth into the entire OKR cycle so that they’re able to establish how their future can look like. And that’s where power of Fitbots really comes in.
What are the two or three failure points or pitfalls when… and this is something that you all resolve obviously with Fitbots, but what are one or two of the things that people need to look for and look into when they want to do OKRs at a successful level?
It’s a great question. We call this the OKR traps and the landmines and some of the traps and landmines that teams could probably fall into, one is just about setting and forgetting. And that goes back to that little post-it example of losing weight and it’s there on my fridge magnet, and I forget about it. That’s an absolute no-no in OKRs. So it’s really about taking it week on week through a discipline of check-in meetings, which helps teams avoid the trap of set and forget.
The second trap that we find is the point that Kashi just mentioned, which is on writing OKRs in silos, because OKRs actually is a silo buster. So it’s best written when cross-functional teams come together and pick up shared metrics. So the eye on the prize is, let’s say if I want to increase my engagement on my product in the week one of onboarding from two minutes to 15 minutes, then there are different teams who can align their activities to that one outcome metric. So it’s really about writing them together. And if it’s written in silos, that’s another trap.
And the third one is just taking too many of them and just carpet bombing the organization with too many OKRs. So in OKR less is always more, as we say.
I love all three of those, and I love the way that y’all frame them in terms of traps and landmines. Let’s go to the demo real quick. And when y’all demo Fitbots to someone who’s never seen it. Kashi, what did they fall in love with? What do you just intuitively, you get to the part in the demo and they see it for the first time. What are some of those things?
Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I think there are three things that sets Fitbots apart. The moment they login, they see the first cultural element. We have two tabs: Me and Organization. So right there we enforce this culture of organization, our team, as powerful than an individual. That’s right up in the software. The second thing they love is our OKR builder. When it comes to driving consistency across the organization, it’s important that everyone speak the same language. And our OKR builder gets it right for them. And of course we have our alignment boards, which are different and best in class. We have, in fact, two classes of them. One is by the entire organization, other one is by individual OKR, which helps them track and identify those key results, which are really blinking red and take corrective actions across the board. I’ll just add a last thing. For some of the geos we serve printable reports are big thing, especially in eastern geographies. We have best in class printable reports as well.
So one of the things that I picked up, I think it was on the second one, is when things are starting to get off track. So instead of waiting and having to do a post mortem to then figure out what went wrong, this is something that in real time you can see, the wheels are starting to fall off the bus, or you’re going off the rails a bit here, so you can take corrective actions. Did I get that, right?
Absolutely. That’s one of the differentiators. We do that through not just the software. We send them notification emails and encourage people to act on it. In OKRs we usually also help them train with the culture, we have inter-academy to help them to do so. If something’s blinking red and [inaudible 00:20:19] we ensure that there’s a 24 hour organizational SLA to at least respond and act on it, which gets the organization going faster and smarter.
I love that. Vidya, do you have anything to add to the demo?
I really liked the points which Kashi mentioned, those are my top three favorites as well. I would probably go back to the OKR builders because that’s the ah-ha moment for many of our clients who are new to OKRs, especially who come in the novice to the intermediate stage. And that also gets them to think about how you write a high quality OKR. So I’ll go with what Kashi says.
I like that. Well, if they’ve never done it, this is something that prompts them on not only how to do it, but how to do it really well. Because you’ve also got the coaches around them, you’ve got a support system. That’s going to make sure that they’ll be successful. So it’s not just set it and let it go. I love that.
Favorite customer story so far. And we can do Vidya as well, why don’t you take this on, but what I love about customer stories is sometimes they use it in ways that we hadn’t thought of initially, or we talk to them and then all of a sudden they’re just killing it. They’re just doing really, really well. You’ve probably got thousands of these, but just your favorite or your most recent customer story.
Yeah. I definitely have my personal favorite. And this is with an organization which is an ed tech major, and the way that we find them use OKRs on Fitbots is that initially we didn’t realize that teams were actually using it not only for a weekly check-in meeting, but they went one step beyond and they started using Fitbots to actually bring in more teams so that they can foster collaborations, cross-functional alignment, with others. So let’s say there’s a specific team and they find that a key result needs to be written with a team who’s not on Fitbots. The internal team members went about coaching others, bringing them onto Fitbots to say that, here come and collaborate with me, and this is the outcome-based metric that we’re all working towards. So that’s something that we really found fascinating.
The other thing that we also find in this particular customer is that while there are many team members in their early career, the entire language of business outcomes has started setting in. So for instance, if they take a specific key result, they’ve now started asking each other, “Hey, is this really going to impact our top line? Or is it going to move the needle on a customer experience?” So those are the kinds of conversations that we find with folks who are very, very early in their careers. And that was just fascinating. So this would be my favorite.
Kashi, Let’s go ahead and get your favorite customer story, first.
I wanted to add to the story that Vidya is telling. In fact, the kind of motion that it set in the organization was quite fun. I was coaching one of the teams as well. Often when we look at organizations, the culture of me to we is difficult to change. We found that the team members did not wait for the organization to recognize them, and they won. They did their [inaudible 00:24:16] times, they did virtual pizza parties, which are lunch parties, all by themselves without even having the organization chime in, and that’s quite inspiring. And being part of that is even more inspiring.
A unique story I just wanted to add, is one of our customers took Fitbots to their board and started using it to drive investor conversations. And that was like, wow. This was a real aha moment for us that, hey, there’s other use cases with that we never thought of and Fitbots is answering them.
What I love about that is if the board is using it and thinking in that way, then that helps permeate the entire organization. It just watersheds through the entire organization. First of all, I love that. Smart of them to actually do that. And for their board to be bright enough to then go, “Yeah, this would be a great way to manage.”
One of the things I think we’ve touched on in a couple of different ways is the connectedness of objectives and outcomes. And again, I love the way that both of y’all have pulled this together. Cross-functionally, getting out of silos, me to we, you’re pulling these things together. So we set an objective, like a sales goal, and that’s not just a sales goal. There’s a bunch of other people that are involved in making that both happen, and then happen successfully.
And so I love that, both about OKRs, but I love that about Fitbots in particular, that you’re thinking about all of that connectedness. And you’re getting companies to think about it. You know, you’re getting them to then break down some of those walls and silos and things like that. Last question, and it’s just on a pricing side, and we don’t have to get to dollars and cents or anything like that, but you’ve got a SaaS model, traditional SaaS model for the software, and the coaching, how do you go about that? Do they buy buckets of hours? Or is it kind of baked into some of their SaaS? What does that look like?
Yeah, we’ve tried to standardize as much as possible. So we have three plants for the software. The Starter, the Surge, and the Scale plans, and the features become richer as you go into the Scale plan, which are laden with integrations, the OKR academy, and so on. For coaching, we have two plans. The Starter, which is learn and write OKRs, and then for those who want more coaching support, for 90 days, it’s the entire full stack as we call it, learn, write, check-ins, and a retro reboot. The standardizing of the plans also has helped our clients understand what exactly can be a preempt when they start pulling out OKRs.
I love it. I mean, you all know how much I love Fitbots. First of all, thank you for coming on the Use Case Podcast and breaking down both OKRs and also Fitbots and explaining what y’all do and how you go about it. I appreciate you. And I also appreciate everyone that listens to the Use Case Podcast. Until next time.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.