June 07, 2023

Revolutionizing Training in Restaurants | EMERGING x 1Huddle

Dana Bernardino

Recently, 1Huddle Founder and CEO, Sam Caucci sat down with Mathew Focht, CEO of EMERGING. EMERGING has recently invested in 1Huddle to revolutionize training in the restaurant industry. Check out the press release featured in FSR Magazine.

Watch an excerpt of their conversation here. Below is a full transcription of their interview in its entirety!

Mathew Focht: Sam, it’s great to have you here! 

We’re gonna hear a little bit more about your story and 1Huddle. Obviously, it’s been awesome to kick off the partnership in recent months with the EMERGING Fund. I’ve already seen you take the market by storm here in recent months and how amazing the product is. It’s proven out already with responses I’ve seen from the existing users and people are excited about jumping on it. 

Thanks for the opportunity to work with you and accelerate this awesome product that you’ve built. 

Sam Caucci: Thanks Mat. Same here. Equally excited! 

MF: Let’s talk about 1Huddle. What is 1Huddle? 

SC: Sure. You know, I think today there’s a lot of challenges in today’s workforce. Employees are disconnected, disengaged, and oftentimes disoriented at work.

Most of the ways companies are responding to getting people leveled up, whether that’s onboarding or fired up, as we say, which is continuously excited to come to work, is just getting harder. Five different generations at work for the first time ever. You know, if everybody is tired of complaining about millennials, you can complain about Gen Z.

And I think with all of that, we realize that there’s got to be a better way to get employees up to speed and continuously developed in today’s workforce. 91% of brands today do employee training and development the old-fashioned way, which is you print the manuals, you hole punch ’em, you hope people read ’em and find them.

You create the videos that you hope people watch and even when they do, they may not recall. So, you know, setting all that up, that’s sort of the problem. 1Huddle takes everything an employee needs to know and turns it into a highly effective, quick-burst mobile skill game. Whether you are a new server and you’re trying to learn the menu, you’re a bartender trying to stay up to speed with the changing menu or new beverage program that comes out, you can learn anything to perform at work through one of our quick burst skill games on 1Huddle. We work with hundreds of brands across the globe and we’re very excited about our opportunities and the work we’re doing in hospitality and restaurant brands specifically. But, that’s 1Huddle. 

MF: Beautiful. So, why did you create 1Huddle? What was the catalyst for you? 

SC: I’d probably say there’s a two part answer to that question. First, I spent a decade in the sports performance world, training high-level professional athletes for their sport.

I was on the biz dev side, but worked very closely with athletes preparing for the NFL Draft, Major League Baseball (MLB) spring training prep, the Olympics, and along that path I worked in environments where we had to skill up new coaches, new front desk staff, new sales reps, and new marketing folks.

And, in my opinion, it was getting harder and harder to respond to change in the business, whether that’s a new coach moving up, an employee turning over, someone voluntarily or not voluntarily leaving the business. So the first part is that I realized there was a real challenge. The way we were doing it was we either print the manual or lock people in a room for onboarding. Or, we flew in Dale Carnegie or Zig Ziegler. Name your flavor of sales trainer or dinosaur that we brought in to do it. That was kind of what got me out of the gate –how do we make training stickier and faster?

You know the real answer underneath the surface, Mat, is that I grew up to two blue collar parents. My father was in construction. My mother worked for 54 years as a legal secretary, only because she grew up at a time when you don’t send the girl to college.

I grew up sitting across from her, watching her run a law office every day with a dozen attorneys. And even though she was probably smarter, more excited, more energetic, more knowledgeable than a lot of the new younger ones coming in. She never had the same opportunities that everybody else had, simply because she didn’t have access to education, learning, and development, or credentials.

Those two come together to create 1Huddle, which on one hand is helping businesses become high-performance learning environments with strong workforces at the center of what they do. But on the other hand, an environment where maybe the frontline worker or the back of house person is your next best bartender.

Like maybe the bartender is your next best general manager. Maybe just because you gave them access to more opportunities, they rise within your workforce. And those are the two reasons that I started and I’m equally excited about what we’re doing at 1Huddle. 

MF: That’s powerful. I can see your conviction comes through. 

Tell me what, tell me a success story in terms of an operator standpoint. How would they look at this? What is a success story that resonates with you and you have got feedback from?

SC: I can give you one that’s most recent, that’s hot off the press. I was just in Dallas, Texas with our friends at FB Society and they were going through the process of grand opening a new location for Mexican Sugar, a brand for FB Society. They’ve  worked with us for a number of years. They’ve worked with us across all of their concepts for onboarding, for food safety training, for menu training. But in this specific example, everybody here can really resonate with the concept of the changing nature of opening a restaurant. The things that move in ebb and flow and change up until the minute the doors open. And, for the last 30 days, Mexican Sugar has been using 1Huddle to roll out all of their front of house and back of house training and development. Whether that’s getting new general managers skilled up in the POS and scheduling software. Whether it’s software training for managers, whether it’s menu training for servers or the beverage program for bartenders or maybe even speed of protocols in the kitchen for back-of-house. 

They essentially have in using 1Huddle to create games instantly. One of the biggest benefits of our product is you can create quickly. A game can be built in minutes on our game building tool, which reduces the friction that exists with frontline managers who don’t have time to build a three hour learning course or a build a traditional training module. George Donahue and the team at Mexican Sugar were able to build games in many ways, on a daily basis with new communication to get out to their people, to get them up to speed. The outcome, in my opinion, was a restaurant with a team that was on fire with excitement and energy. There’s a confidence that comes from knowing what to do and how to do it the right way.

When you don’t have that knowledge base, you’re the opposite. That was the most recent one. We have a number of stories in a lot of environments, but I think that element of when you gotta do it right the first time and you gotta open up the right way, you only get one shot to do it.

Mexican Sugar was using our product to make sure that their entire team was on the same page and ready to roll. 

MF: It’s powerful. With how dynamic this industry is, it’s continuously evolving and always changing, that’s one thing that’s constant.

When I think of this industry and education, I think of LMS. What do you say to that? What is different about 1Huddle versus the typical products in the market that you sometimes face?  

SC: In every vertical, not just hospitality restaurants, we work with Fossil on the retail side, we work with Nike on the retail side, we work with theUS Air Force, working with fighter pilots. We also work with Novartis, with their pharma reps. So, we’re in a lot of verticals, not just restaurants and hospitality. And this challenge is seen everywhere. It comes from the fact that we’re still very much in the “first quarter” of the football game when it comes to coaching and development software.

The learning management system and the tools that are available have only been out for about just over a decade, maybe 10, 12, 15 years. They came into the workforce because those platforms ran out of colleges to sell to.

So they sold to the colleges first, and like any software, grew into the workforce. 

I think it’s important when I talk to brand to share that the software we’re using was essentially built for a world where a job doesn’t change very fast. You get hired. You get trained. Even the word trained, you know, training is, is a past, is almost past tense. You get trained. Once you check the box, you’re done. But I think as operators, we all know that the game never ends. If you really want to build a high-performing brand, you have to be able to continuously develop your people. And the speed at which our business is changing has never changed faster than ever, which means our software has to keep up to speed with it. And we’re doing this in the restaurant space with so many different products around the guest experience and the consumer experience. Now we have to ask ourselves, “are we doing it with our workforce in every way possible?”

1Huddle is not just a learning tool, not just a training tool, but we are a continuous development platform so that you can onboard, upskill, and long term continuously keep your team fired up. That concept of a game hopefully is a good visual for a lot of folks because it is not when you’re done with level one, you move to level two. As you continue to develop and evolve, things change, things get harder, different challenges emerge. So, we think that organizations that have a learning management system or have training systems in place, I always say, great. That’s great, but what next? Because how do you take that to the next level?

Because the next level to me is being able to keep your people in lockstep with the speed at which everything around your restaurant is moving. And LMS was never built for that. It was built for you to go to college and spend four years there and take a course for 12 weeks and then you go onto the next one.

It was never intended to create a workforce for the workforce environment, it was just adopted by it. 

MF: What’s the fundamental change or fundamental drivers of the product that are different than a traditional LMS or the other competition, because there’s a lot of platforms out there today that are growing because of this need in the industry that are serving up as competition for us. And if you have an existing LMS platform, do you really wanna scrap it? 

What are the foundational drivers that are different?

SC: We operate from a position of if you learn something and you can’t transfer it to the field every day,I would challenge whether you actually learned it in the first place. So there’s a difference between shallow learning and substantial and significant learning. There are three critical ingredients in our dish that have to be present to create a high-performance learner, worker, performer in your business.

First, it’s got to be challenging. The learning process has to be hard. I just got out of a meeting with literally generals at the U.S. Air Force who like our product, because you learn through failure. Struggle is a fundamental requirement of the most effective learning environments in the world. Whether you’re learning to be a heart surgeon or a fighter pilot or a first responder. The only place where there’s the absence of struggle is in an LMS where you just have to survive the video and click through enough times to unlock a certificate. So, the first fundamental for us is that it’s gotta be hard.

Whatever product you use, even if you don’t use a tech, struggle based learning, is the fundamental foundation of 1Huddle. It’s a tremendous amount of scientific evidence that proves, because we made learning easy, it isn’t sticky. So, the first part has gotta be challenging. 

Second, it’s gotta be continuous.

It can’t just be one and done. I just talked about that. Continuous development is a core principle to creating a high-performing workforce. Organizations. If your software doesn’t allow you to have a 52-week-a-year development plan for your workforce, I would argue you’re not serious about developing workers.

If you were gonna run a marathon or climb a mountain, you would probably sign up with someone that would build out a specific program for you for 4 weeks, 12 weeks, 24 weeks, whatever it is. So if you want to get to the top of the mountain, you have to have a plan. It’s gotta be scripted, it’s gotta be continuous.

First part’s challenging. Second part, your software has gotta be a continuous development tool. And third, it’s gotta be competitive. 

All of the research around how the things that the dopamine drivers are, the chemical level in our brain that get us up out of our seats and going places every day are the things that excite us and energize us.

One of the first studies I read before starting the process to build one auto, was that the average millennial will have spent over 10,000 hours on a game platform before 21. So you think about the fact that we have a generation of workers, by the way, millennial/Gen Z is now 55% of the U.S. workforce, so they are the majority.

If you have a daughter or young child like I do, you have Gen Alpha. We’ll talk about that at the next interview about Gen Alpha. But this workforce is fundamentally wired to compete. Harvard Business Review just had a study come out say 9 in 10 millennials when asked say they’re better than a coworker.

They’re literally, I got it. I’m good. So that competition factor, which drives your sales contest or drives, you’re already using gamification, maybe from a motivational perspective in your kitchen or in your restaurant. So, how do we get people to want to train every day? Well, we use the power of competition and it gets people to come back continuously.

It’s why we see high levels of voluntary participation. Those are the three ingredients. You could take those three and build their products off of those concepts. But it’s gotta be challenging. It’s gotta be hard. You gotta fail through. You gotta struggle. You gotta wrestle with it.It’s gotta be continuous. It’s gotta be competitive because it creates this world where employees want to get better. They don’t just feel like they’re in the 13th grade or they’re being told they have to just because it’s the way we’ve always done it. 

So, you have great clients. TAO Group, FB Society, Loews Hotels. Obviously you’re mentioning you know, the U.S. military. But in the hospitality space specifically, a lot of these groups, these higher end restaurants, these guys that are focused on culture, they look at, am I offsetting my culture to a technology platform? Am I going from this hands-on one-on-one experience, you know how I educate and train my staff…am I pushing it off to an app? They may be thinking this. How do you address that? 

SC: Yeah. You know, again, if I were to go into surgery, I’d probably hope someone’s got me locked up to a heart rate monitor or some type of technology that’s giving, giving the folks around me a pulse on my people.

I think the most important part of our platform isn’t that we’re using a mobile app to communicate. It’s not that it’s games. It’s not that it’s digital. Those are all important parts. I think the most important part of what we’re doing is we’re sitting on a very important data set that we can surface for an operator that tells them what your people know right now. Which is not even part of the kind of the intention of an LMS. We are trying to say in real time all the time, every one of my employees is walking around. Let’s use a game example, like a little number bubble over their head from zero to a hundred. A hundred is, they know everything like that. They could tell you what’s in every cocktail, tasting notes, spirts, like they’re the som, they got it. And you know, as you go down, they’re the 75, 50, it’s gonna be a little spottier. 1Huddle is essentially double clicking on every worker in your workforce and there is a bubble that says, you know, Mat is a 95 out of a 100. And if I double click on the 95, it says, of your 10 most important topics in your restaurant that you, that Mat needs to know he’s an 88 on this one, 99 on this one, a 92 on this one, and a 95 on this one. 

Those insights surface to the store, the manager, the director of training, the L&D person, the operations person, so they can make more informed decisions around how to do the live coaching you’re talking about. Because I would argue that we don’t replace hands-on tactile live training, the standup stuff, we don’t do that. We do enhance it. Because walking into a training and coaching with just a hunch is not the way to be running our businesses today when there’s so much data around us. And those numbers, Mat, bubble up, not just by player, they bubble up to your individual location. So if your TAO group, you could literally look at each one of your properties and say, this one’s a 95, this one’s a 98. This one’s a 65. Like what’s happening there? And we can then put a plan in place with our trainers, our coaches, our managers, to attack knowledge gaps that exist before they become performance gaps on your P&L. And I think that is what we’re trying to solve for for the operator, while at the same time creating an environment where your people are playing to get better every day.Maybe playing to beat their person standing next to them as well. 

MF: Well said. Really well said, Sam. In life, I always look back on my career and there’s been some instrumental people along my path that have helped me, refocus, and put attention where I need to put the attention, put the energy where I need to put the energy. Which, obviously, allowed me to find fulfillment in a lot of ways.

What’s your mentorship look like? When you go back in time, what’s your path? Is there some people that have been along your path that you think have been instrumental, who would those be? Do you wanna talk about that a little bit?

SC: Yep. It’s a great question. I’ve been lucky and privileged enough that there have been, uh, many, many people along the way. Starting with, you know, parents starting with and being able to watch the grit of what it takes to like work long hours every day to create opportunities for me. I could pick on my high school football coach. I played football growing up and in college and I could talk about how he definitely exemplified the, “make things hard thing” I said a second ago. The challenging part is. He definitely led with “this is how we become the best.” But, I think somebody who sticks out to me most recently– I’m talking to you from Newark, New Jersey. Oftentimes when I say that, people immediately just say, you mean the airport?

When I started 1Huddle, I didn’t know what a tech company really was. I was just figuring this out. I spent a year in the Bay Area. I came to New York because I thought what we were building was more relevant for this market. And along the fundraising journey, I got introduced to a guy named Don Katz, who’s the Founder and Executive Chairman of Audible, the audiobook company.

And, you know, Don said I want to invest in 1Huddle. I love what you’re doing. What do you think about moving to Newark. Now, I’ve recently moved to New Jersey. I don’t said I don’t know too much about Newark. He offered me free office space and I said, I’ll be there tomorrow. And I came right to Newark and over the last few years as we’ve grown, part of Don’s vision was to try to help use technology to affect the urban core of a city like Newark. If we could bring smaller Audible’s into the city and connect them to the community. Imagine if this is a model that we can duplicate, even though many have tried it and many have seen it work, some haven’t. We went from two employees, in Newark, to 5 to 10, to 20 to 30, and. When I moved here, I started walking around Newark. I walked Broad Street. I interacted and ate in the community. Our team became volunteers with the Covenant House, which is the homeless youth shelter here in Newark because those young people are our future workers. I sit on the Newark Workforce Development Board now because again, a workforce is only strong if every worker can compete, whether it’s someone returning from prison or it’s someone that’s out of work. I can literally say, and I tell Don this all the time, we built 1Huddle by just listening and walking and being in the community.

1Huddle would never be what it is today if we didn’t come to Newark and I didn’t have the opportunity to have a coach like Don, who, you know, we had a lot of battles along the way. He’d say, Sam, I know you wanna do that, but we’re Audible, we’re owned by Amazon now, so we got a different budget than you do.

I know your heart’s in the right place. 

But that process of being able to be connected to somebody like Don, who could have put Audible anywhere, but he chose this, and in doing that, created a culture in a fabric that had affected the way we built 1Huddle. It’s important what we do. It’s more important why we do what we do every day. I think that’s kind of also part of what we’re trying to do with the product. There are a lot of folks out there, Mat, who don’t have coaches and mentors like maybe we had, and they may be working in the back of house, so maybe they may be working multiple jobs at the same time. If 1Huddle could just be in your pocket and provide opportunities for you, opening doors, helping you to show the world what you know, that sometimes it’s hard to see. Employers have a hard time seeing the skills of their workers and they end up saying things like, a worker is unskilled, which is kinda like the worst thing you could say about another human.

And, a lot of this came from what Don helped me see, helping me see Newark. He helped me see the opportunity and it helped me see other people. That opportunity helped us build 1Huddle. 

MF: Amazing. Dude, you are such a good speaker. Are you on a speaker series like nonstop throughout the year?

Man, let me tell you. It’s powerful. I love listening to you and I love the cause. It’s bottom up for you and it’s pretty remarkable to see how passionate you are and it’s coming out in the product.

SC: Appreciate it. 

MF: I’m excited to be part of the story with you. Thanks for taking the time, Sam, and ook forward to tackling a lot more business together here. 

SC: Same here. Thanks, Mat.

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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