Cash For Good Grades? Kind Of. New Küdzoo Mobile App Incentivizes Student Behavior
In today’s world, reward points can be earned for various activities such as dining, traveling, exercising, and providing reviews. Considering this trend, it seems natural that students should also be able to earn reward points for performing well in school. This is where Küdzoo comes in.
Küdzoo is a mobile application that aims to increase student engagement in their academics by rewarding them with "Küdzoo Cash" for good grades and attendance. This reward currency can then be exchanged for gift cards, discounts at restaurants and stores, and other benefits.
Initially funded by friends and family, Küdzoo has recently become a recipient of Princeton’s inaugural Alumni Entrepreneurship Fund. They are also in the process of closing a seed round to expand their partnerships with brands and sponsors for additional student rewards. With just a year of existence, Küdzoo has gained significant momentum, reaching a user base of 130,000 this month.
The Seventy Four had the opportunity to interview Küdzoo co-founder and CEO Trevor Wilkins, discussing topics such as the role of technology in the classroom, the app’s first year, and their future plans.
Lizzie Thompson: Let’s begin with the origins of the idea:
Trevor Wilkins: The idea came to me during my senior year at Princeton. One of the main reasons I believe I was accepted into Princeton was because my parents incentivized my siblings and me. They would reward us with $10 for every A, $5 for every B, and we would lose $25 for every C. This motivated us to excel academically. It worked for me, my brother went to Yale, and my sister is currently studying at Penn.
So, during my senior year, we started working on a basic platform. When we graduated, my co-founder and COO, Logan Cohen, came up with the concept of bringing it to the mobile market.
In early 2014, we began development and had a soft launch in August. We then conducted weekly focus groups in west Philadelphia, where students helped us understand their preferences in terms of visual aesthetics and the type of deals they would like to see.
This feedback was crucial during our development process. Throughout the 2014-2015 school year, we tested different deals with students, observing their interaction. Interestingly, Küdzoo gained popularity towards the end of the year, in June. We then heavily promoted it through social media, using grassroots marketing techniques. Our user base grew from 4,500 students in June to 55,000 in August.
Impressive. What do you attribute this significant growth to?
Social media played a major role. We collaborate with influencers who have a large following on platforms like Instagram or Twitter. This strategy allows us to reach students from all 50 states and around the world. Küdzoo is being used in 100 different countries.
You mentioned being incentivized by your parents. How do you think incentivization in the classroom and the integration of technology impacts education?
Technology is crucial and relevant to education. Students check their phones around 200 times a day, so it makes sense to incorporate this behavior into the classroom. There’s a misconception that phones in the classroom are solely used for texting or tweeting. However, our aim is to provide a productive form of social media. Since students will be on their phones anyway, Küdzoo incentivizes them to perform better and go the extra mile.
I have to ask, how did you come up with the name Küdzoo?
Küdzoo is the name of the fastest-growing plant in the world. It’s a Japanese plant known for its invasive nature, taking over homes, cars, and even neighborhood blocks. We want students to be just as relentless and passionate about their education.
Can you explain how the app functions?
If you’re a student, you can download the app for free, create your profile, and then earn "Küdzoo Cash" through various activities. These activities include uploading your grades, tracking your progress, and answering trivia questions covering different topics like general knowledge, SAT, and financial literacy. You accumulate Küdzoo Cash through these activities and can use it to purchase discounts, gift cards, access to unique experiences, and even scholarships.
Could you elaborate on what you mean by "once-in-a-lifetime experiences"?
What is the value of Küdzoo Cash for a LeBron shootaround?
The cost for a gift card or a shootaround with LeBron would be approximately 850 Küdzoo Cash. To put it in perspective, achieving straight As, maintaining a consistent GPA, attending school regularly, and participating in daily trivia would earn you about 180 Küdzoo Cash. We aim to make these rewards attainable and meaningful to students. One aspect that has been particularly successful for us is our presence on social media. People have been tweeting at us and promoting us, which adds a sense of reality to the rewards students can earn.
So you have been in the app store for about a year?
Yes, we have been available on the app store for about a year. However, we consider the upcoming school year as our official launch.
In the past year, what has been your most challenging and most rewarding experience so far?
I try to maintain a positive outlook, so there have been many good days. However, there have been times when our servers became slow due to high engagement. A few months ago, when we experienced a surge in traffic, everyone logged on at once searching for a specific reward. Although the system did not crash, it did slow down. On the other hand, the best moment was when I was able to relocate from Chicago to NYC for the full-time pursuit of this venture.
As a young startup, what are some other apps and entrepreneurs you admire?
To be honest, we are really focused on what we are doing now. My partner Logan is a big admirer of Sheryl Sandberg, whereas I have always looked up to Arne Duncan. He is from my neighborhood, and growing up, I saw the importance of education and the changes he was implementing. I was inspired by his efforts.
So did your interest in working in education develop during college?
Yes, my interest in education and its potential was cultivated during my college years. Having an educated population has a profound positive impact on our society. It may sound simplistic, but consider this: there is an entire generation in public schools (and I say this without denigrating public schools, as I am a product of them) that has been failed, and they pass along the belief that education is not necessary. Education has the power to empower individuals across all walks of life.
How does Küdzoo acquire rewards? Do you collaborate with partners?
At the moment, we are still in the process of building a large user base. Once we have more students, we will bring on partners. Currently, we obtain rewards from gift card companies and various deal aggregators to distribute them to students. Additionally, we are in discussions with companies that are observing our growth and engagement.
What is the ultimate, once-in-a-lifetime experience that you would go to great lengths to offer a student?
One experience that would be truly priceless is the opportunity to spend a day with the president in the Oval Office and accompany them on their daily activities.
With the new school year about to begin, what are your plans for the future in one, two, or three years?
Currently, a significant portion of our focus is on back-to-school initiatives. We are engaging with community organizations, leveraging social media, connecting with schools, and gaining press coverage. I envision this year as being heavily MVP-driven, where we concentrate on our core model. Our next version will have a stronger social aspect, allowing students to see how their friends are progressing and what rewards they are acquiring. They will be able to share their achievements on the news feed. Additionally, we are implementing features that enable students to check into school, earn credit for extracurricular activities through school and after-school programs, and make education more relevant in their daily lives, all while utilizing different rewards.