The average person checks their phone about 110 times a day, according to a 2013 report. 110 times.
Here in Philadelphia, it’s also no secret that city schools are facing an uphill battle in improving graduation rates.
Take both those trends and at their intersection sits Küdzoo.
It’s a new mobile app that allows students to cash in their report cards for different rewards, ranging from discounts on pizza to — no lie — a shoot-a-round with NBA star Kevin Durant.
Küdzoo’s pitch to its student users: “Good Grades = Great Rewards”
Created by Chicago native Trevor Wilkins and Logan Cohen, who lives in Malvern, Pa., Küdzoo debuts in the App Store as early as Thursday, Cohen says, and on Google Play soon.
The concept was born about a year and a half ago, said Cohen, initially as a web-based platform. Since that time, they’ve switched to mobile and picked up four additional full-time employees.
Wilkins is the company’s CEO, while the 23-year-old Cohen is the COO. Thanks to an impressive list of well-connected investors, Küdzoo — which was created in its current mobile form just four months ago — appears to be on the fast-track to landing big national brands. That’s quite the trek from an initial conversation between Cohen and Wilkins at a Phillies game four years ago.
Technical.ly Philly had a chance to chat with Cohen at length, where she gave us a better idea of Küdzoo’s mission, and how the idea came about.
(Edited for length and clarity.)
What is Küdzoo?
We reward students for their academic achievements. The grades, attendance, even grade-average improvement. It’s all about increasing student engagement. The reward could be a tour of JPMorgan or a shoot-around with Kevin Durant or a tweet from a favorite celebrity. We work together with different organizations to make that happen and reward academic achievement.
Where did idea come from?
My other partner, Trevor Wilkins, thought of the original idea. He’s from the South Side of Chicago and he wound up going to Princeton, [but] he’ll be the first to tell you that no one is his family is a brainiac. Incentives really paid off. His parents would give him ten dollars for every A, five dollars for every B, and so forth. He said there were friends that were smarter than he was, but went down a wrong path.
Opportunities through education really changed the way his life went. He said to me, ‘What if we could provide these tangible rewards, instead of waiting for years, to hopefully get a scholarship and possibly go to college?’ So I loved that idea. And I said, ‘Why focus on a solely [high-needs] market? Students in suburbia love a discount on movie tickets too.’
We built it up as a web-based platform, about a year-and-a-half ago. Kids were actually printing out coupons, going to a local sole proprietor, the proprietor would cross out the barcode manually, and the concept was proven.
Do you and Trevor live in Philly?
I live in Philly. Trevor just moved to New York. We just finished out initial seed round. Following this second seed round, I’ll be moving to New York as well and we’ll have an office there. The launch [this week] is actually going to take place in Philadelphia. I teach a course on entrepreneurship at the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber, and our kids will be the first to have it on their phones. We want a controlled population for June’s soft launch. Our real national kick-off will be around back-to-school [in September].
How do you determine who gets what?
Grades are always weighted the most. There are about 16 different variables that go into making a point-by-point [determination] for our ‘Küdzoo Cash.’ It determines a student’s shopping habits in correlation to their attendance. Which kind of classes that they excel in, whether it’s math and science or history and English. We have 160 variables.
What are Kudzoo’s long-term goals?
Originally — as you can imagine, you can’t have kids entering in their own grades — we were dealing directly with the schools. And it was great. School were embracing it. We’re completely free for schools and students. We only charge the businesses. But then when the end of the marking period would roll around, we were chasing down IT coordinators. I mean, they’re busy; it’s not the top on their list. And Trevor and I realized this was not sustainable.
One day, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with optical character recognition [OCR], but I was submitting a paycheck on my Wells Fargo account. I said, ‘Why can I deposit this check, but kids can’t deposit their report cards?’ That was huge for us within the past few months, because that took down a huge barrier to entry with the schools. We could literally go to a concert, sign up kids and they’ll be our users.
Do you partner with schools?
It is a partnership, however, it’s more symbolic. We are endorsed by a number of school districts. Chicago, D.C. — we’re working on Philadelphia right now — Baltimore and New York City. They endorse the program and let us into their public schools. But, really, the target is the student.
How do you make money then?
We serve as a marketing tool. We have four different streams of revenue. We want to include any kind of business. We want it to be local, so you’re looking at sole proprietors. Let’s say Johnny’s Pizza wants to offer free soda with a purchase with a slice of pizza. So they actually pay per transaction. We want to make sure that we’re getting students in their store, we’re not charging them a fee or anything like that. As soon as they make money, we take a percentage of how much Küdzoo Cash is used. And then you look at national brands, and it’s a campaign by campaign basis. Let’s say a Foot Locker.
We also have an aspect on the app that’s called ‘Trivia and SAT Question of the Day.’ We get national brands to sponsor it. So if we have a science question, Pfizer can sponsor it. We also have the experiences like we mentioned before. If Tide wanted to sponsor the shoot-around with Kevin Durant, they get exposure, they get an impressionable demographic of 13-to-22-year-olds.
Has Kudzoo been active in the Philly Tech Scene?
We just started getting into it. I have to be honest, I was not aware of it. Then we had a meeting with John Fazio at Jarvus and it was just incredible. He really opened the doors. As soon as he told us about the hackathon, we wanted to get in there, sponsor it. Also our participation at SLA Beeber. Those kids are extraordinary. They’re teaching me more than I’m teaching them. And whatever Christian Kunkel at Slate is doing, as well as John at Jarvus, we’re looking to sponsor or participate in any way possible.
As someone who doesn’t have a tech background, what’s it like entering this world?
It’s humbling as well as inspiring. Chicago Public Schools for example — we’re teaming up with them for their Digital Literacy Program — by middle school, a kid has to take a certain number of coding classes. And then you see the hackathons in Philadelphia. This is the next generation. If we can be a proactive form of social media through Küdzoo, that’s exactly what we’re aiming for. Kids check their phones over 250 times a day, on average. That can be their academic engagement.
But coming from someone who doesn’t have a tech background, I always joke that Trevor and I smart enough to recognize that we need to hire smarter people. I’m learning everyday. It’s challenging, but it’s great. I have the best job in the world and I can’t wait to build this thing up.
Knowledge is power!
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