January 24, 2024

1Huddle Founder & CEO Talking Tech, Skills, and Future of Work on SkillUp America Podcast

Dana Bernardino

In a recent episode of the SkillUp America podcast, Mike Fazio sat down with 1Huddle’s Founder and CEO, Sam Caucci, to discuss game-based learning for employee training and the importance of empowering frontline workers by investing in them. 

Sam also shares that the future of work calls for workers who are cross-skilled, and this can be achieved through organizations investing in career development for its employees. Check out the full episode here.

Full Transcription

Mike Fazio: Hi everyone. Mike Fazio back with you for another episode. And I’ve got somebody who, I mean, I’m the furthest thing from cool, but when you meet a cool guy, you know it. So, Sam, I give you the title of cool guy, tech guy, innovator, and I’m really looking forward to having a conversation with you. How are you today? 

Sam Caucci: I’m great. Thanks, Mike. Happy to be here. 

Mike: You’re coming to us from beautiful downtown Newark, New Jersey?  

Sam: Beautiful Newark, New Jersey. You know the airport?

Mike: Very well. At least I didn’t ask you what exit number you’re from.

Sam: No, no, no. I wouldn’t know. I’m originally from Miami, so I did the reverse commute. But the company moved to Newark right before the pandemic and we’re fighting strong.

Mike: Yeah, so listen, you mentioned briefly before we started to record about Newark and being a tech hub and it’s not what most people think of Newark, New Jersey, though. As a tech oriented area. Tell us a little bit more about that. And then of course, we’ll talk about 1Huddle and all the other things you’ve got going on. 

Sam: Sure. Yeah. You know, the city of Newark is–, it’s interesting, you know, as a long story. And when we moved to Newark, we were an early technology company. We were trying to figure out where to plant our feet. And we were kind of following the leaders saying, we got to be in New York city, right?

You know, we work in New York and one conversation led to another. And I got introduced to Don Katz. He’s the founder of Audible, the audio book company. And they were one of the early investors in 1Huddle. And part of their investment, they said, ‘What do you think about moving to Newark?’ And I said, ‘I don’t feel any way about it.’

And they said, ‘Well, we’ll give you free office space.’ I was like,’Okay, I’ll be there right away.’ So that’s what kind of brought us to Newark. And yeah, fast forward to today, the city has, you know, Prudential, Panasonic, Mars Wrigley, Audible has brought a ton of, you know, technology companies to the city. And a ton of technology startups have emerged just in the community that maybe didn’t have the same opportunities as other ecosystems. But the city has brought a lot of workspaces and coaching education programs and coding bootcamps.

And, you know,  we are very proud to be planted here. And I think in many ways, we don’t build the type of company that we build if we were anywhere else. Just the city of Newark has really taught us a lot. 

Mike: I like the way you said that. So what type of company are you? How do you describe yourself when somebody meets you at an event and they say, ‘So what do you do for a living?’

How do you answer that in like, you could probably do that for an hour, but how do you capsulize that?  

Sam: Yeah so 1Huddle was everything an employee needs to know in a game on their phone. And it’s, you know, we are a technology company. We are, you know, just out of being a startup, but I still like saying it cause it’s fun, startup still sounds cool.

So but we are, you know, we are a technology company. We help companies onboard upskill workers quicker, but we do it using games.  

Mike: Yeah, I mean, you know, from a Metrix Learning Standpoint, we utilize the 1Huddle platform and I know from our customer base that it is very engaging and it does create and stimulate activity that we normally wouldn’t see. 

And that is because of this evolution of that little thing called the smartphone. What do you see coming down the road for smartphones and 1Huddle? Like, how can we be even more interactive? How can we even advance this technology further? It seems to me, and I’m probably wrong, but at these annual kickoff events for Samsung and Apple, it seems like they’re really stretching and reaching for something. To do better than the smartphone does today. ‘Cause it kind of does everything. How do you improve on that? 

Sam: No, you’re right. The movement to mobile was really interesting. Before the pandemic. When we started 1Huddle, we hung our hat on the fact that we would be mobile first. It just made sense. And, you know, being not, you know, maybe a little naive as a founder, not realizing the market and learning as you’re going.

Yeah, you’re right. I learned really quickly that HR teams inside of private sector companies were not so enthusiastic about mobile. And now post COVID,  I had a lot of companies that called us two weeks into COVID and said, ‘Hey, can you turn that mobile feature on now?’ So it definitely has accelerated adoption.

But I still think we’re in a stage where mobile still has a lot of opportunities, a lot of space. You know, today, a lot of older enterprise technologies have been resistant to changing their products to be more mobile first, they may be mobile and enabled, but from an end user experience perspective, you kind of know when, you know, you’re experiencing the app  Like in a native fashion versus going to Facebook.com.

It just feels different on the app. So I think there’s still a lot of space. I think that there is you know, today we have, I think I saw a stat the other day. So there’s more people globally that have a smartphone than have access to a toilet. You know, and so there’s tremendous potential that still exists. And I don’t think that we’re going to be going backward anytime soon.

Mike: Yeah I mean especially as you know the Gen Z’s and the Gen Y’s and and they start to really matriculate and take over the world of business I think we’ll see further implementation of mobile based work mobile based activity there’s nothing you really can’t do on your phone anymore I’m sure there are things.

But for the most part, I use it for everything from, you know, booking travel, finding my way to a location, finding restaurants, buying tickets, banking, and, you know, a million other things. Do you get pushback sometimes because you use the word ‘game’ or game is so accepted now that it’s okay, but maybe it’s the HR people with the old guard.

That’s the game based learning. And it’s like, well, we don’t play games here. I want my people to work in and learn stuff. What do you mean games today? Did they still get thrown off by that?  

Sam: Yeah, you know, I think that, you know, as we look at it at 1Huddle in our business development process and our client development process, you know, or HR teams and individuals fall into two camps.

You know, some look at a game as a bad thing. They don’t understand it. They’ll say things like, you know, they’ll look at gamification as a fad or something that is, you know, play is not serious. That group requires a lot of education because, I don’t know if you go back in history and you go all the way back, you learn a lot through play and you can learn a lot through the power of play.

So that group definitely requires education and I would argue that that group is also part of the old way of command and control management of their workers. You know, only allowing a worker to do what they say they can do when they say they can do it. No sense of autonomy. And they’re probably not a good fit for a game platform like ours because the most important ingredient in a game is player autonomy.

Giving a player the choice. Do I go left? Do I go right? Do I go up? Do I go down? Do I wear red? Do I wear blue? Screwing up as part of the exploration process, which creates the best learning outcomes. And when organizations try to buy us, because we’ve sold to some of those, you know, sometimes you want a client you shouldn’t have.

And you sign some of those who, you know, they only used us for like the worst compliance training imaginable. And the end user just, it’s not a game. It’s kind of rigged. There is a second camp though, which I do feel is growing, that are people-leaders, that don’t look at humans as resources. They look at them as talent to be developed and skills to be tapped into, we see this on the Metrix platform, the skills a worker has.

And those organizations are taking a more stack approach to their tech where when you go to the gym, you don’t just go on the treadmill. You probably, if you want to get fit, you do a bunch of things from a bunch of different angles to be, you know, in the best position possible.

So, games are a part of the formula, you know. You need, you may have an e-learning tool, you may have an assessment platform, you may have a survey platform, you may have a game platform. That second group to me looks at it as a recipe and not just as a kind of you know, a one trick pony.

Mike: Yeah, I kind of look at it as maybe like one spoke on the wheel of learning that your organization is doing. When you’re talking about autonomy, the word comes into my mind of empowerment where people have control as opposed to being controlled by their superiors, which is more old school management still works in a lot of cases.

But today, as I’ve seen in the employment environment, is that people are looking to feel empowered and they want more responsibility. And that means letting go from the top because I can tell you when the pandemic hit the sister company that Metrix Learning has called Workforce 180, which I’m the co-president of as well.

We got tons of calls from executive directors around the country because they had to have their employees work from home. They were totally not used to that. And they said I know what I’ll do to keep them busy. I’ll give them online training to do so I’ll buy some of your online training so that fear management kicked in. If I can’t see him I can’t be near them I can’t control them. And gaming gives you or you giving the power to the learner to control their speed, their process, and ultimately their outcomes. 

Which is scary probably for a lot of people too. Does that backfire sometimes with the users? It’s like, I’m afraid to be wrong. I don’t know which button to push. 

Sam: Yeah, I think that, you know, building a game–, and we have a 25 person team here at 1Huddle, all backgrounds in consumer games from EA Sports to Duolingo to Trivia Crack, all over the board.

And, you know, one of the things we talk a lot about in our product meetings over the years to this day is making sure that our end user experience is optimized. Even though they’re inside of an enterprise with a manager who, you know, the manager may say, I want everybody to know the menu for tonight and I want them to know it in this way and in this format. But we have to make sure that when the manager creates that game on 1Huddle and sends it out that we can kind of supercharge it and sprinkle things around it so that it isn’t just a you know, a gamified test, you know. I can always say, you know, when you’re just being tested.

So we do things like, you know, different status levels and different bonus levels. We unlock different pathways for a player. So maybe I’m a bartender today, but I really want to be a manager. In most enterprise flows, you’re kind of siloed, you know, you’re in your lane, you are a housekeeper, you can only do the housekeeping training. But in the future of work, we need workers who are cross-skilled because work’s changing really quick. And our product is set up in a way that, again, some companies get it, some don’t, some will use it, some will try to control it, but we try to build our product to allow a worker to explore.

And, you know, let the best, use a game term, like let the best rise and the best will rise up the leaderboard. Maybe on some pathways you didn’t expect, like maybe that housekeeper is already 80 percent of the way to being your next bartender.  

Mike: Good point. You know, cross training isn’t the newest invention, you know, in the seventies, AT&T, you would work two years in one department and then move to another department for two years.

They did a lot of that at IBM as well. So in a lot of the old school companies, they really believed in cross training because they wanted an employee that was able to do a lot of different things, you know, kind of like a, in a baseball player, the utility player, utility man, is good at playing a lot of different positions, not great at any, but really good at a lot of different things.

And I think from a gaming standpoint, and a professional development standpoint, and an evolution standpoint for a worker, you get tired of doing the same thing over and over again after a while, don’t you? You’re not the sit still type, Sam. You’d go crazy if you did the same thing for five years in a row.

You wouldn’t be able to do it.

Sam: It comes back to this perspective of, you know, if we cared as much about the employee experience as we do about the customer experience, like, what kind of work, how strong would our workforce be and companies spend so much time, you know, in meetings, huddling around, you know, the customer experience.

And we know we talk all day long to companies that you’re going to win or lose based on the relationship that your frontline worker has with your guest.

Mike: Absolutely.

Sam: And when HR sometimes sits too many floors up too far away from that interaction, then you’re not going to be able to be as effective as an organization.

So, giving more power to the frontline allows them to tell you the things that they’re interested in, the things they are good at. And they’re able to contribute in a way that, like I said, if it’s just command control, that’s really important data that you’re not getting access to. 

Mike: Is that kind of a common thread you hear from companies? Or do you observe it in companies when you first start to work with them?

Is it something you have to point out to them? Or is it something they come and tell you, ‘Hey, Sam, I’m really concerned about these things that our organization– can your platform help us overcome that challenge?’ Or is it you that has to go in there and say to them, ‘You may or may not be experiencing this but we see it with a lot of organizations around the country. Here’s how our platform can identify whether or not your staff feels like they’re empowered and they’re advancing in their career pathway.’ 

Sam: I would love to say we see more companies coming to us and say we really got to figure out a way to engage our frontline. And I just think that unfortunately today and you know this looking at the kind of workforce space, it’s becoming too frequent for an employee to work at Google, but not for Google. The outsourcing and contracting of labor, you know, only 1 in 3 American workers have a college degree 2 or frontline. Those workers paid the least pay the most in our communities. And those workers may not get access to the same protections and development opportunities as others do. 

And that’s backwards. We shouldn’t be investing 80 percent of our training dollars into the person that went to the university. It should be going to the worker who maybe has not had the same opportunity. If you want to build a stronger workforce, you start at the foundation of it.

Mike: Right.

Sam: And I think that is a core problem today that too many organizations still buy into this trickle down training model, where they hope we start at the top and it gets frontline and it’s not. When you work in the cafeteria at a Google headquarters and you’re a contracted worker from XYZ, you know, outsourcing, that worker is not getting access to the same educational opportunities because they have a yellow badge and the person they’re feeding has a green badge. That is a missed opportunity in our workforce. 

You know, I think that that’s where we’re seeing a lot of friction. We could all call it that today when you look at different labor movements, because workers are getting a little bit louder.

Mike: You know, I’ve said this on so many podcasts and you’ve described it in a slightly different way. But I think the same interpretation is that there is definitely confusion in the workforce today. And I was looking at confusion as an opportunity, much like you did when the pandemic hit and the way we worked changed that confusion about what to do, sprang an opportunity for you to further introduce the value of 1Huddle, on the value of game learning. 

What’s gonna happen if this whole marketplace kind of stays the way it is where we have low unemployment, lower than desired labor participation, a lot of entrepreneurship and a lot of empty office space out there. Are companies making a really genuine effort to offer careering to their frontline staff in your humble opinion?

Sam: The answer to your question is they’re not doing enough. And I believe that the miss, that is, that is going to start, I think we’re in the early stages of a pretty big wave. You know, today, you don’t, you don’t quit in front of your manager anymore.

You quit on TikTok and Reddit, number one. And when you quit on Reddit, it spreads a lot faster than that one on one conversation. And when you have a wage and hour dispute with a frontline worker and they create a class action against you they turn into your community and they’re saying, I’m not eating there anymore. I’m not shopping there anymore. 

So I think this is a really important point we try to make to companies is that your employee is your customer. They are. We need more software companies. We need more education providers. We need more government programs that go direct to the community and offer development opportunities.

Because just because you win a job doesn’t mean that job’s going to develop you. If you’re an out of work worker and you win a job at a brand, you know, we can’t believe that that brand is going to do everything they can to career you the right way. We need to cover it from multiple angles better.

Mike: Yeah, perfectly said. A great way to wrap up, Sam. I hear the passion in your voice. I’m sure the audience does as well. We’re lucky to have folks like you out there advocating for that frontline worker, advocating for the development of people’s skill sets, which ultimately lead to more organizational success.

So for folks who want to get in touch with you, you’re easy to find. I know we can Google your name, but give a couple of URLs out there. How do people reach out to you in the organization? 

Sam: Head on over to our website. It’s the number one huddle, like a football huddle. So 1huddle.co, and all of our information, my information is on the team page there. 1Huddle.co. 

Mike: Sam Caucci from 1Huddle, the founder and CEO of a really, I’m going to sound, you know, like a teenager now, a really cool organization and a cool guy. So thanks so much for being here, Sam. 

Sam: Thank you, Mike.  

Mike: That’s it for us, folks. This is Mike Fazio with another edition of the SkillUp America podcast, brought to you by Metrix Learning.

We’ll see you next time, folks.  

About 1Huddle

1Huddle is a coaching and development platform that uses quick-burst mobile games to more quickly and effectively educate, elevate, and energize your workforce — from frontline to full-time.

With a mobile-first approach to preparing the modern worker, a mobile library of 3,000+ quick-burst employee skill games, an on-demand game marketplace that covers 16 unique workforce skill areas, and the option for personalized content, 1Huddle is changing the way organizations think about their training – from a one-time boring onboarding experience to a continuous motivational tool. 

Key clients include Loews Hotels, Novartis, Madison Square Garden, PIMCO, TAO Group, and the United States Air Force. To learn more about 1Huddle and its platform, please visit 1huddle.co.

Dana Bernardino, Manager of Digital Marketing at 1Huddle

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