Tell us about the work you do.
I’m a co-founder and Co-CEO of KÜDZOO, an app that rewards students based on their academic achievements. KÜDZOO serves as a resource for schools to increase student engagement and connects brands with Generation Z through a collaborative, educational lens.
What issue inspired you to pursue your current path? Is this what you envisioned to do when you were younger?
We are all aware of America’s falling world rankings in math, science and reading comprehension. I never felt suited to solve this, but I knew that I wanted to help so I turned to the ones doing the hard work and making the difference daily: the teachers and administrators.
After speaking with educators from different districts, grade levels and socioeconomic backgrounds there was a common issue, a lack of student engagement.
With students checking their phones an average of 150x/day, why not leverage the relationship that students have with their smartphones to engage them in the classroom?
Too often, smartphones are seen as distractions rather than tools to opportunity. This, combined with my co-founder, Trevor Wilkins’, idea to reward students for grades inspired us to start KÜDZOO. (& we are launching a web-based app for schools who do not allow smartphones)
As cliché as it sounds, I always knew I wanted to make a difference. I do not believe in coincidences and I was fortunate to grow up in a household where my parents instilled that if I work hard, I can achieve absolutely anything I set my mind to. Did I envision starting a mobile app? No. Did I know I wanted to work for something larger than myself, recognize a societal need and help to make a difference? Yes!
How did you get over your initial fears or barriers and take your first step?
Every stage in life brings an opportunity to overcome a fear, from your first classroom presentation to your boardroom pitch. The fear of regret always trumps any initial fear I have. I encourage others to launch to learn. Perfectionism leads to procrastination.
Billions are invested in education every year, yet America continues to lag behind our peers across the world. The average classroom hasn’t changed much, in terms of classroom management and instructional style. Why is that?
To properly address this question, I will leave it up to the experts, but my two cents from traveling to and working with schools across the nation, leads me to reflect on the expectations we set on our teachers.
First of all, any discussion of learning should take into account the context in which that learning is taking place. Teachers often face overcrowded classrooms and still need to come out of pocket for supply. These and numerous other challenges need to be taken into account.
What can we focus on?
On the one hand, teachers need to be held accountable for their students’ learning.
On the other hand, if they are held accountable, they ought to be for more than standardized testing and quantitative scores.
What qualitative measures are we tracking? Who is identifying these metrics?
If we want to see a shift in classroom management and instructional style, we need to place more respect and priority on the teaching profession, hold teachers accountable by the ways they engage students, and allocate funds efficiently to serve the students directly, through blended learning initiatives to properly prepare them as a global citizen.
We often hear about the different “stakeholders” in education, but how often are all of the different stakeholders involved in creating the creating the learning environment. There needs to be a place to foster classroom innovation through a collaboration of all parties involved, the administrators, teachers and the students. Leading districts such as DCPS, have begun this process by included student surveys in their teacher evaluations.
What is the most common form of resistance you face, and how do you overcome it?
People still seem to confuse social impact with nonprofit. Too often, when I pitch KÜDZOO, some recommend that we become a non-profit or they’re surprised when I tell them we aren’t already.
In this new age of marketing and really, the world, It’s ok to be unapologetically for-profit and mission driven. KÜDZOO is free for students while we generate revenue from partnering schools and brands sponsors.
I overcome this learning curve in my pitch by describing this unique positioning of merging purpose and profit. Because soon, (hopefully) merging purpose and profit won’t be so unique.
What keeps you going?
The students. It’s easy to get caught up in start-up jargon while running an app. For example, we often focus on “user acquisition”, however, at KÜDZOO it’s engrained in our culture that users are students- you know, actual humans not just tabs on the hockey stick chart in a pitch deck.
The students have made KÜDZOO what it is today, from their honest feedback to their endearing support throughout our growth.
When we first began, we wanted to bring cool back into the classroom and an educational focus onto smartphones. Students have taken KÜDZOO to another level by giving their parents their gift cards for groceries, to taking their grandparents out to lunch. The best part is, these rewards weren’t given to them. They earned them through their achievements. So it’s an empowering win/win.
How can people support the work you’re doing?
Students can download the free app, brand sponsors can connect with Generation Z while supporting their academic achievements and school administrators and educators can bring KÜDZOO to their school.
Last but not least, keep inspiring! Students do not need rescuing, they need access to opportunity. Be the role model.
I’m called the Batman of Social Impact. What would be your superhero name?
Logan (wolverine), clawing through the glass ceiling.