Aaron Rubens
Co-Founder & CEO Kudoboard Follow

Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 274. Today we’ll be talking to Aaron from Kudoboard about the use case or business case for why his customers choose Kudoboard.

Kudoboard helps you celebrate someone with an online group card filled with messages, GIFs, photos and videos.

Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think. Thanks, William.

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Show length: 27 minutes

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Announcer (00:02):

Welcome to Recruiting Daily’s Use Case podcast, a show dedicated to the storytelling that happens, or should happen when practitioners purchase technology. Each episode is designed to inspire new ways and ideas to make your business better as we speak with the brightest minds and recruitment in HR Tech. That’s what we do. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

 

William Tincup (00:24):

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s William Tincup and you’re listening to the Use Case podcast. Today we have Aaron on from Kudoboard, and we’ll be learning about the business case or the use case for why his prospects and customers pick Kudoboard. Aaron, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and Kudoboard?

 

Aaron Rubens (00:42):

Absolutely. William, first of all, thanks for having me on. I’m really excited to be here. As far as some background, my name’s Aaron Rubens, CEO of Kudoboard. And what Kudoboard is, it’s essentially a workplace appreciation platform used for things like replacing the card that’s passed around and signed on birthdays, work anniversary, special occasions, things like company events, and then also shout outs back and forth, peer appreciation, things like that.

 

William Tincup (01:10):

Historically, we would’ve looked at this as a recognition, total recognition. The category originally might’ve been service awards, that you work somewhere for 50 years, you get the gold watch, whatever the bit was. And the category has grown over time. And I like the way that you’ve… Workplace application or appreciation platform, I like that because the focus is on appreciation, which is really, really nice. I mean the workplace, yes, that’s where, and the platform and software, got it, but the emphasis is on appreciation. What are you seeing trends wise now in the wonderful world of appreciation?

 

Aaron Rubens (01:53):

Yeah, I think the big thing that gets people excited about Kudoboard specifically is that it really is bottoms up and driven by employees as opposed to being a top down implemented platform.

(02:10)
The way Kudoboard is typically introduced in an organization isn’t someone from HR reaching out to us through an RFP or an RFI or whatever, it tends to be an individual employee saying, “Hey, it’s my colleague’s retirement. I need some way to pull together a bunch of my colleagues to wish them happy retirement.” And maybe we’re not all in the same office anymore. We’re remote or we’re hybrid. We’re looking for a way to bring everyone together. They find Kudoboard.

(02:37)
And we have options where people can use it ad hoc for an individual use case. They’ll do that, and then people will see it and it’ll spread and spread and spread. And by the time we’re usually talking to someone in HR who’s buying it more broadly, we can say to them, “Hey, you already have 3,000 people at your organization using this one off.” I don’t have to make the case that, “I swear people are going to love it,” there’s already that proof point. To me, that’s really the big trend that we’re seeing is how can this be something that, really, employees are driving that’s really almost consumer in how easy it is to use? And then use that as a proof point when you’re looking to engage more broadly with the organization.

 

William Tincup (03:24):

I love that. In a way, it’s a rogue adoption. You can get people outside the organization to use it. And then once you’ve got some density, then you can go into the front door and say, “Hey, your folks who are using this. Why don’t we figure out an enterprise model?” Et cetera. Is that correct?

 

Aaron Rubens (03:43):

Exactly. And to be frank, I don’t know if we’ve made a single large enterprise sale without already having substantial ad hoc density.

 

William Tincup (03:54):

Oh, that’s cool.

 

Aaron Rubens (03:55):

And sometimes, to be honest, it’s not even HR that brings us in, it’s someone in IT who’s like, “Hey, I’m seeing all these people using it, but they’re not on single sign-on or they haven’t gone through our vendor onboarding process and it turns out everyone’s just using their card paying $5.99 or $19.99 at a time.” And so they’ve gone around the process. IT brings us in because they want us to go through the front door, get single sign-on set up, get the integration set up, all that sort of stuff.

 

William Tincup (04:26):

I’m squarely Gen X so I’ll ask a generational question. Is there anything that you’re seeing that’s playing out with either millennials, elder millennials or Gen Z that’s playing out in terms of what they want from appreciation?

 

Aaron Rubens (04:44):

Yeah. No, it’s a great question. We do see a pretty wide swath of people using our product because everyone has a birthday, right?

 

William Tincup (04:53):

Right.

 

Aaron Rubens (04:53):

Everyone has a work anniversary or whatever else. We have a particular density in tech companies, which probably trend a little bit more millennial and Gen Z. And what we often see is Kudoboard specifically, you get a canvas, this board that people can add, whether it’s a picture or a GIF or they create a video or add… There’s all sorts of different components that people can add to it in order to essentially express themselves and give someone appreciation in a really authentic way.

(05:28)
And one of the big things I see is there is that demand, particularly among our tech customers, to allow people to be authentic and give them the tools to express themselves in that way. Again, I don’t know if that’s a generational difference, but I don’t feel like I get a lot of the questions around, “Hey, can I just get 10 prefabricated birthday messages that I can pick one of them?” It’s more like, “Hey, how can I have fun with this and create something that’s a little bit special for the recipient?”

 

William Tincup (05:58):

Oh, that’s fantastic. Now, is there a social component to Kudoboard? The software itself, do they things inside? Or do they do externally through Twitter, TikTok, et cetera? Where do they appreciate? Where do they show their appreciation? I guess is the question.

 

Aaron Rubens (06:20):

Yeah, so there’s a few different ways that it’s used. Within an organization, it tends to be mostly internal use. I mentioned the birthdays, work anniversaries, things like that. There are also other larger events. It’s October right now; we have a bunch of organizations that are using it for a Halloween costume contest where everyone can post themselves on the Kudoboard in their costume, and then their colleagues can vote on which one they like the best. And maybe there’s a little surprise associated, things like that. But it’s still something that’s internal to the organization that’s being shared on the internet or things like that.

(06:59)
That said, we actually have quite a few non-profits that use Kudoboard, and they tend to have much more of an external focus. I’ll give you an example. The Carter Center uses Kudoboard each year to wish Jimmy Carter a happy birthday. He just turned 98 a few weeks ago. They blast out on social media and invite their list of however hundreds of thousands of people, and they get tons and tons of posts, and it’s everywhere. And it’s being re-posted frequently on Facebook or Twitter or other social media. And so in those cases, it tends to be more of external in terms of where you gather people to post and then where they share it back out after the content is collected. But that tends to be more organizations like nonprofits or other ones that want to have that more public facing-

 

William Tincup (07:51):

Yeah, they want people to see it-

 

Aaron Rubens (07:54):

Exactly.

 

William Tincup (07:54):

… so that they can then do something with it.

 

Aaron Rubens (07:56):

Exactly.

 

William Tincup (07:58):

Obviously we talked about the employee experience. What’s the administrator’s experience? What analytics or… Because I’m thinking specific. I’ll tell you what I’m thinking. A lot of folks have tried to bring appreciation and tie it to performance in some way, shape or form, right?

 

Aaron Rubens (08:19):

Yep.

 

William Tincup (08:19):

Dotted line or straight line or whatever; they’ve tried to tie it to that. I’m wondering with your customers and even your prospects, from an administrative perspective, what do they want out of Kudoboard?

 

Aaron Rubens (08:33):

Yeah, great question. And I’d say I’ll share where we’re at today and where we’re going. On the administrative side, there’s a lot that you can do in terms of obviously setting privacy levels, managing users, all that stuff. On the data side, you can obviously see number of boards being created, number of posts being created, dig in, drill in more deeply, oh, this many are for shout out boards for peer recognition, this many boards are being created for birthdays or for get wells or whatever. You can dig in there.

(09:11)
But I will say that we’ve pretty explicitly stayed away from trying to turn Kudoboard into a performance sort of, “Hey, here’s how this ties to performance.” And the reason is… And I’m not saying we haven’t had customers ask, because we have sure, but we believe that for people to really feel like this is a fun, authentic place to tell people in your organization or even outside that you care about them, it almost has to be divorced from your review at the end of the year.

(09:52)
I actually discourage customers like, “Oh, we want to track how many… Make sure everyone gave at least 50 posts in the year, and that’s going to be one of their whatevers.” And not many people say that, but when they do, we try to say, “Hey listen, your people are already using it. You know that it’s driving value in the organization today. Let’s not try to cloud that by making it a requirement,” because suddenly it’s not a fun thing to do and it’s something that you have to, and it’s not something that makes…

(10:18)
Because fundamentally, I believe companies adopt these platforms because it brings their employees closer together, closer to each other, closer to the mission of the organization. It creates that connective tissue, particularly for these hybrid or remote organizations where that’s more difficult. And you can really cloud that by trying to turn it into just one more thing you have to do. Long story short, we have a little bit of a line where we say, “Hey, it is this, it’s not so much that.”

 

William Tincup (10:47):

I love it. Does Kudoboard, in terms with your customers, what do they ask that it needs to be… Or do they? Shouldn’t be assumptive. That Kudoboard needs to be integrated with in terms of other technologies or workflows?

 

Aaron Rubens (11:02):

Yeah, it’s definitely something that we’re thinking about more as we continue to grow. One of the first things that we did a while ago was create integrations with some of the other communication platforms that customers used, things like Slack and Teams where a lot of their time is already being spent and making sure that you could automatically deliver a Kudoboard into a channel or notify a person when they’re tagged in a post through Teams or whatever else. That’s already in place.

(11:32)
And one of the next things that we’re really excited about and we’ve already started to launch is how can we allow them to integrate some of their HRIS systems with Kudoboard? So that if there are specific events that you want to happen systematically, you don’t necessarily have to do it in a manual way. Let’s say you want every new employee to receive a welcome Kudoboard on their first day on the job and you want every single one of them to have their team sign it. We already have a lot of companies doing that right now, but they’re doing it-

 

William Tincup (12:12):

Oh, I like that idea. Yeah, that’s a great-

 

Aaron Rubens (12:14):

Oh, sorry about-

 

William Tincup (12:15):

No, no. Well, it’s a wonderful extension of the onboarding experience.

 

Aaron Rubens (12:19):

For sure. And right now, again, it’s right now in the hiring manager’s hands to do that, and they’ve had a ton of success. But we now are getting the question, “Hey, this is going great. We want to do it across the entire company, so how do we automate that?” That gets more to the HRIS integrations, which is something that’s on our roadmap for Q4 and beyond.

 

William Tincup (12:38):

Let’s do some buy side stuff real quick. One is your favorite part of the demo. When you show Kudoboard to someone for the first time, what’s the aha moment for them?

 

Aaron Rubens (12:52):

Yeah. Yeah. I almost never come with slides to a presentation. I immediately have a few different sample boards that we have permission to share that exemplify these use cases we talked about, whether it’s a special occasion or a company event or a shout outs. And I pull them up and talk through some of the features that are on there, but then ask them, “Hey, are there any company events that you have coming up that this would make sense for?” And that tends to be where things get exciting or when they start to engage with how they would use it or could use it, particularly if there’s multiple people in the demo and they can bounce ideas back and forth off each other. That tends to be a real aha moment.

(13:42)
I use the example of a Halloween costume contest, but next month is November, and a lot of organizations do various gratitude events with Kudoboard. And sometimes they want to have additional control. “Hey, we’re going to invite 5,000 people to participate here. How do we moderate it?” And so showing, “Oh yeah, you can actually just toggle this on and new post, go to a queue, and you can see them first before they go live.” And just showing them how easy it would be to set up an event for a large group of people can get them really excited, particularly because oftentimes before it was like we send out a Google survey, and then we combine it all together, and then we present it out. And there’s all these steps that they’ve combined other tools to do it, where now they just have to click one switch on and launch it.

 

William Tincup (14:29):

I love that. Difficult question, but… Not necessarily difficult, but it’s one that I know that practitioners probably struggle with is how do they build a budget for appreciation? The math. Is it a dollar amount per employee? How do you help them navigate that, how much they should go and get in terms of budget for appreciation?

 

Aaron Rubens (14:57):

Yeah, it’s a great question. And I don’t think we’ve fully answered it yet for every organization. Or perhaps a better way to say it is organization’s a little bit different in how they think about it. Usually when we come in, we can say, “Hey, this is the number of people already using it. This is how much they’re already spending. This is the additional features, functionality, et cetera you’d get by moving over to an enterprise plan.” There is that little bit of a reference point of spend already occurring.

(15:29)
But usually, when it’s someone in either internal comms for more of the event uses or HR for more of the appreciation uses, they already believe it’s important so I’m not having as much conversation with them about what their budget is, it’s more a question of are they slotting us in or do they have another in-house solution or are they going to keep doing it ad hoc or whatever else? But it’s not convincing them that appreciation should be a line item because that’s why we’re talking to begin with.

(16:04)
And I think part of that true, William, to be honest, is we do very, very little outbound selling. The only people we’re talking to are ones who have come to us or already have substantial penetration of Kudoboard, and then we reached out and said, “Hey, you have 10,000 people using it, let’s talk.” And down the road, I’m sure we will be thinking more about what’s the message that we send to someone who’s not yet bought into appreciation as a thing that should happen within an organization?

 

William Tincup (16:33):

Your favorite, most recent customer story without brand names or company names. Company that’s using Kudoboard and you’re like, wow, just blown away by the way they’re using it.

 

Aaron Rubens (16:47):

Great question. Give me a second to think about that one.

 

William Tincup (16:52):

And while you’re thinking about that one, my other question I was going to ask is an extension around budget. It’s understanding the importance of recognition and appreciation in terms of values. Have you seen candidates or even employees care more about appreciation post-COVID? Or even because of COVID, have you seen more of an uptick in people caring about it, people having more empathy? I just wanted to get your take on that as well. Customer story, empathy story.

 

Aaron Rubens (17:33):

Perfect. I know obviously you focus a lot on recruiting and that initial part of the employee journey, so I’ll talk about a particular use there. And that is I mentioned earlier, certain organizations, every new employee gets a Kudoboard the first day of their job, but what we’ve seen more recently is some are actually going a step further, and when they make an offer to an employee, the group that had been on the hiring team will put together a congrats, we loved getting to know you, we hope to you soon, that sort of thing. And it gets delivered.

(18:07)
And that had always been the case ad hoc, but we’re now seeing some organizations do it at scale where it’s across the recruiting organization as something that gets sent out to new employee offers. Someone’s not going to hate a job and be excited about it and get a Kudoboard and, “Oh, I’m going to go.” I’m not going to make that claim. But I do think that these little touches let people know, really from day one, or even in this case from day negative one, that you care about them and that this is going to be a special place to work. And so that’s just been an interesting one that I was working with a customer on last week and was really cool to see, particularly at scale when they were doing thousands of these and seeing how they manage that.

 

William Tincup (18:52):

I love it. And then empathy, what have you seen in terms of, again, appreciation, praise, recognition? And a lot of these, I don’t know if they’re synonyms, but the way that people think of them, there might have been a way that they thought about them pre-COVID and a way that they think of now.

 

Aaron Rubens (19:12):

Yeah. We saw a huge uptick in demand during the early days of COVID, but really that’s continued to this day. And that’s mostly been driven by I think two things. One, the core of Kudoboard was the reinvention of the card that’s passed around and signed. And it’s since expanded from there, but obviously that’s not possible when you can’t actually pass around a card and sign it. And so people who are looking for other ways to do that thing, to recognize their colleagues on these moments that matter, and so there was a huge tailwind there. But I think it went hand in hand with all of these organizations trying to think about how do we keep people feeling connected, valued, and engaged when they’re not all in the same place?

 

William Tincup (20:04):

It’s easy enough to do when they’re three chairs over.

 

Aaron Rubens (20:06):

Exactly. Exactly.

 

William Tincup (20:08):

Janet, that was fantastic. That was awesome.

 

Aaron Rubens (20:11):

Exactly. And so I think those two things hand in hand were huge boons, but really not things that we’ve seen slow down materially since even now as what work continues to evolve. I would say though that now that we’re in a macroeconomic environment where there’s more uncertainty in terms of where things are going and whether things need to be cut back and all that kind of stuff, that conversation comes up. But I will say that Kudoboard, relative to other options, is substantially less expensive. And so we can typically say, “Hey, listen, you can either buy each of your employees a cup of Starbucks a year or use Kudoboard for the year. What would be more valuable, one cup of coffee per employee for the year or having all this?” And so we can connect it to some of the other perks that they offer that aren’t wildly expensive that still are on par with what they’d pay to make Kudoboard available to their entire set of employees.

 

William Tincup (21:22):

Aaron, what I loved about Kudoboard is I’m really super sarcastic in personal life, super, really. Most people have no idea, that sarcastic. And also, when I’m being sincere, people then don’t trust it. It’s not that I have a problem with sincerity, it’s that they don’t trust it because I’m so sarcastic. That’s why I love something like this is like I can show appreciation and there’s no contact, there’s no other stuff related to it. And so I love what you’re doing, man. And thanks for coming on the podcast.

 

Aaron Rubens (22:02):

Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it. Really good to talk to you.

 

William Tincup (22:06):

Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the Use Case podcast. Until next time.

 

Announcer (22:11):

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Authors
William Tincup

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.


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