Welcome back to Work Minus, where we talk about what we need to drop from how we work and quick habits you can make today to get closer to the future of work. Today, our guest is Andrew Horn, CEO and co-founder at Tribute.co and this episode is Work Minus Withholding Appreciation. Hi, Andrew. How are you?

I am doing well. Thanks so much for having me on.

Yeah. We’re very excited. Tribute.co is your company, but I want to talk about you a little bit more personally. You’ve been involved in communication and training people for a long time. What drove you to start Tribute?

You know, it was a really great gift that I received on my 27th birthday. So I lived in Brooklyn New York and I arrived back to my apartment on the night of my birthday, and it just so happens that my girlfriend said, you get your really special gifts. So she had reached out to 25 of my closest friends and family members and got each of them to submit a one minute video telling me why they love me. She compiled all the videos together, put them into one montage, and when I walked into the apartment, all my friends are waiting there. She had this video up on this projection screen she had rented, and so she hit Play. And I start to watch all these videos playing one by one. It goes with that saying that within a couple of minutes, I was in the back of the room bawling my eyes out because it was the most emotional thing I’d ever experienced. And that when I came out of it, I just looked at her and said, wow, this is the most powerful gift I have ever received. I said, I feel like I just watched my eulogy at 27. It feels like a much better time to get your eulogy.

And I asked her how she did it. And she just looked back at me and without hesitating, she says, “Well it sucked.” And I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “You know, you can imagine sending literally hundreds of emails to get people to actually get their videos and collecting large video files through Dropbox, Drive, email, text message, and then using iMovie to cut it all together. So all in all, it took nearly 15 hours to put this thing together.” And so there I sat, just having experienced the most meaningful gift of my entire life and immediately recognizing this problem that it shouldn’t be this hard to create this gift. So I immediately had the name in my head, Tribute. I started working on branding, business plan. Within a couple of months, I got my CTO. Within about a year and a half we had our MVP up and working, raised money, and since then we’ve scaled and created about a hundred thousand plus tributes all around the world.

Go a little deeper into how Tribute works. What is it that Tribute does that people find it hard to do on their own? You talked about taking 15 hours into 15 minutes. What’s going on the background?

Yeah. Those are the three biggest things. You can think about it as when someone sets up a tribute, like let’s just say that my best friend has a birthday coming up. If I were to do it on my own, to get people to submit a video, people love a deadline. So if you’re just sending emails out and text, people are going to wait the last minute. What Tribute does is it is almost like an Eventbrite or Slash. We actually send automatic reminders to people over and over again until you get their video. So you don’t have to send countless reminders to people. We automate that reminder process. Second, we built this cool mobile-responsive website so that, essentially, people are just going to this webpage from their phone, from their tablet, from their computer. They can easily hit one button, record their video, upload a video of any size, and it just goes right into your editor. And then the third step is that we just actually built the only collaborative video editor on the web. So the only editor that allows you to ingest videos from all these other people and then edit that at that same place. So we really streamlined the entire experience to take what used to be a 15-hour process into one that’s 15 minutes.

Then the other question we get is, why don’t people just send these videos on their own? And one of the things that we go back to is when you think about greeting cards back in the day. I think that we were asking the same question why don’t people do this on their own, you say, why do people need a greeting card to tell someone that they love them? I have paper and pencil right here. I can just write this on my own.

There’s a really cool thing called the context for creativity and I learned this my friend, Carter, who runs an Art-Tech company and he was talking about it. He says, imagine someone comes up you and said, I want you to paint me a picture. Now your head is full of questions. What do I paint a picture about? What does it have to look like? What colors can be used? All these sort of things. But then if I come to you and say, paint me a picture of your favorite childhood memory. Now what happens is I just put up the context, makes it much easier to just think about a specific thing. It’s kind of what Tribute does is every single video that we create, it’s never, what is your favorite — it is never film a video for Neil’s birthday. It’s always, what is your favorite thing about Neil. Why do you love Neil? We provide these prompts which kind of automatically get people into this more authentic, loving, grateful line of communication. And that’s exactly what we need today. There are so many tech platforms that facilitate more communication, but not necessarily better communication. And that’s why, technically, we’re more connected than we’ve ever been as a society, but a lot of research back to stuff that we’re actually lonelier and more disconnected because the way that we’re communicating is not really bringing us closer together in ways that matter. And that’s what Tribute really facilitates.

Okay, you’ve sold me on getting this for my wife for her birthday next time. But we’re talking to Work Minus, so bring us into the work context. Why is something like Tribute even applicable in the workplace?

Yeah. Absolutely. When I started this, I want this to be a consumer-facing app which is what I was passionate about. This is a variety of experience. I’ve seen it impacting our customers. And then without any effort of our own, we actually thought companies trying to come in and use the platform on their own. So we saw startups in New York City who are using it to welcome people when they are onboarding. We saw people who were celebrating people were retiring from their company after 40 years. We saw people that were using this as a recognition tool. So once I saw people doing it naturally, we said, maybe there’s something that we can actually push here. And so as I started trying to sell them to businesses, it wasn’t enough for me to go in and say, this is the most meaningful gift on Earth. This is going to make your employees feel really great because for hiring managers, for executive, they need metrics. What is it going to do for the bottom line impact and engagement with the company?

And as soon as they started to actually look into what are some of the statistics about employee recognition, it was really shocking. The number one reason that people leave their jobs in America is simply because they don’t feel appreciated, and that’s a Gallup poll in 2014. When you look beyond that, companies with strategic recognition programs are experiencing 72% higher rates of engagement than those without them. One of the terms that I’ve really come to love is this idea of discretionary effort of how do you get your employees to go the extra mile. And the number one influence on your employees is not going to be compensation, it’s not going to be bonuses, it has been proven to be their relationship with their peers. So however close your employees are with the people around them, it’s really what’s going to unlock the discretionary effort that’s going to create a thriving work environment. And so anything that you can do to help your employees feel more appreciated is directly going to impact engagement and employee performance. And so, again, what Tribute is doing is providing this context for meaningful appreciation in the workplace in a really powerful, kind of technical platform.

So let’s think about your competitors in the business sense of it. So if they don’t use Tribute, what do people do to appreciate each other in the workplace right now?

So the recognition business is a very massive business in the world where any of you who held a job long enough, then you probably experienced the backpack waiting on your desk when you got to work on the first day. Or maybe you got the big gift cards to J. Crew after your company or Amex restaurant gift certificate. So right now, the majority of recognition benefits are all based on these monetary rewards. And also, one of the things that happened in the recognition world is that the majority of rewards are being allocated based on tenure. So basically, just giving people rewards for sticking around a certain amount of time. But so what Tribute really believes is that not only do we need to focus on more of these interpersonal rewards of helping people to feel their value, especially from the people they work with, but also on performance based words. Meaning that it’s really important that people are not just kind of thinking their people at a strategic timelines every year, three years, five years, but how do you actually set up structures where people are getting recognized for going the extra mile in the moment. So there are recognition programs out there that make it easier for people to communicate in real time, sending one off messages and these types of things. So there’s a few of those like Tap my Back, I Appreciate are the few that are there. But in terms of creating one of the really collaborative, meaningful gift for these major milestones, the year anniversary of the times, those types of things, there’s not a lot that has really been created that allows you to collect the appreciation of your entire workforce and get it to one person who is celebrating a major milestone. So in terms of competitors, it’s been a fun journey for us because it’s a really unique product, not only in the consumer space but still in the business space.

Yeah. Absolutely. And to think about the idea of, okay, someone’s reached a milestone. What we do for them? Get them a cake or some gift card, like you said. But the difference between that and doing these videos is the impact is obviously massive, and the effort that has been into it is really, perhaps, even easier to do the video side, wouldn’t you say?

Yeah. I actually think so. Again, sometimes, there’s nothing that competes with looking somebody in the eyes and telling them you love them or tell them why you appreciate them. But there’s also some anxiety around that. Not even at work but in our personal lives. And so you think about creating a context like this and really helping an organization to already have the words and saying, hey, here’s why it’s important to tell our co-workers why we appreciate them. Here’s how you can do that effectively. Don’t just say, thanks for being my co-worker. It is, hey, here’s what you’ve done in the past year that it really impacted me, that really helped me. Here’s what I really respect about how you work. So being able to plug in those meaningful communication structures into organization is a really powerful thing that’s really needed, because I think that within companies, it’s oftentimes difficult to bridge the gap from your day-to-day road to communication to actually opening people up to these more meaningful, appreciative lines of communication. Sometimes there can be some anxiety for your line workers so your everyday employees can say, is this okay? Is this appropriate? Can I tell someone how grateful I am for them? Is that going to make them feel uncomfortable? Are they going to reciprocate it?

So you really need your executives, you need your leadership team, you need your managers and your supervisors to be, what we call, the conversation catalyst. There has to be someone in your organization who’s stepping up and saying, “Hey, this is how we operate. This is how we communicate with one another. This is what’s important.” And once you have someone who is really kind of stepping up to the plate, Tribute really tries to be an ally for that person. We make it a lot easier to implement a solution that you can use consistently.

At the start, you talked about how some companies are using it even for onboarding. So can you explain that use case?

Yeah. Absolutely. So, an example would be SoFi, Social Finance. It’s a really large company and they are growing rapidly. I’m talking like hundreds of new employees year over year. So what can be challenging is how do you actually bring those people onto a team so they can get to know everyone so quickly? Because you don’t have time, necessarily, to have that person sitting with every single team member when there’s several new employees every single day. But you do want that person to have an experience of getting to know people. So what they’ve done is they’ve created some of these team videos where people will film a video talking about who they are, what they enjoy about the work, what they do on a day-to-day basis, so that you have these videos that they’ve created that allow them to meet their team members in a more meaningful capacity, really before they’ve even started at the company. And so it is just a thing where it’s not just the factual here’s what I do, here’s why I do it, but it’s just a little bit about me, what I enjoy, and what I’m up to out of the office, if you want to hang out. So again, just providing a more meaningful line of communication while people are coming in where they can really creatively express themselves, and that sets the foundation and the baseline of how people can connect once they are actually on the job. So that’s an onboarding example that I’ve really appreciated and we’ve seen performing really well.

Have you seen any other outlier cases aside from showing gratitude and doing an onboarding thing? Anyone else using the platform for creative purpose?

There’s so many fun ones but, I mean, really within the work context, we really focus on these milestone events. What you can do if a company is small or large is if you’re using these milestone events of major anniversaries one, three, five years, someone’s starting at the company whatever it might be, then it’s easy to set that up consistently, so you know who’s going to be getting a tribute, when and when. But then we also have companies like Teach for America, for instance, who just celebrated teacher appreciation week along with every other teacher in the country, and for the past couple of years we’ve done a campaign with them where we were making free tributes available to schools so that students and parents could create tributes to celebrate their teachers. So TFA was our partner for that. And, again, in the organization, we represent thousands of teachers who are having incredible impact in the lives of the people they’re working with but very rarely get to hear just how appreciated they are. So they partnered with Tribute and we were able to create hundreds of tributes for teachers all across the country on Teacher Appreciation Week. So that’s an example that I really love because not only is that important for our customers, those schools, but also for those teachers who I really believe are our heroes and deserve to hear every single day just how valued and appreciated they are. So that’s been a really cool use case that I really enjoyed putting up.

Yeah. It’s like something you want to start everyday, just watch that video before you get going with what you’re doing. It’s an amazing gift.

Yeah. We’ve heard that from many people especially, some of our older tribute recipients who aren’t as used to this type of communication. But oftentimes, as you say it, they’ve been watching their video every day for the last week, after they receive it. It really is a novel, unique thing to experience what it is. We’re trying to make it a little less novel so everyone expects that they’re going to get a tribute at some point.

So when you go into any kind of organization or corporation, are there any objections that you ever get when somebody comes in and you say, hey, I want to do these videos for people and it’s very easy, it’s simple. Do you ever find a lot of pushback against this idea?

You know, we’ve had people talk about some privacy stuff in the past. But we we’ve tailored the platform specifically for the corporate audience now so that when people are doing these for work, it makes it really easy to keep these things private so that only the recipient can generally see them. So we’ve overcome some of those issues. But, yeah, in terms of rejection, I think that we’ve really thought about what are the problems, what is the push back? As an entrepreneur, I always think about the idea of anticipating objection from the get-go and really thought about what would be the issues that people would talk about from the jump. And I’ve been able to create the product in such a way that people really understand the value of it and we’ve been able to integrate pretty seamlessly so that it’s kind of a plug-and-play product for existing HR departments and smaller companies.

We’re talking about a world of work minus withholding all this appreciation. So take a look into the future, what does that look like. If we work in a world where people are not withholding, they’re there giving appreciation fully, what kind of workplace does that create?

Something that’s really interesting to think about is the idea that we are going to spend a third of our lives at work and we often never think about it that way. But when you put it in those terms, it really changes our connection to work and what it is in our lives. When you think about spending a third of your life at a place, and you understand just how big of an impact that thing is going to have on your overall happiness, sense of well-being, sense of purpose, and as we talked about before you know the things that people really need as humans. We can go on our entire life without wealth and fame and success. We just can’t go through life without a sense of connection and deep relationships. And so what I would say is providing this type of recognition at the workplace is going to allow people to tap into a much deeper sense of purpose. Right now, people are spending less time than they’ve ever spent job to job. A lot of that is because we don’t feel appreciated. And I think that in terms of a better future for work, you’re just going to allow people to feel much more connected to the people that they work with. You’re going to allow them to feel more of a sense of purpose and belonging where they live. And so I think that opening up to a more emotional, more connected recognition program in the workplace is going to allow people to find a lot more connectedness and purpose from that one third chunk of their life that they’re going to be spending.

Yeah. And definitely even from the work perspective, to have those memories all captured. Because a lot of times we spend our days not knowing, hey, is my boss happy with me? Or, do the people I work with really like what I’m doing? To have that kind of anchor in the background that says, yeah, they really do, and it’s documented and you can prove it, makes for a great world too.

Absolutely. I have been fortunate enough to travel around the country and work with a lot of HR departments and also wellness conferences and one of the things that we always end our sessions on is this idea that growing up, we all heard this saying a hundred thousand times and it was, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all. And if you think about that statement, sure, it has some good sense then and there. But we realized that if you take out the two don’ts, it becomes exponentially more powerful. It becomes, if you have anything nice to say, say it all. And that simple word in your place of work can transform the way that you communicate and connect with the people you work with. And so if you’re in a position of leadership in your organization or even if you just care about creating a positive culture for everyone you work with, really you know this is a powerful idea to embrace is that we all have so much appreciation for the people we work with. We help one another out on a day to day basis and there is no reason to ever keep that appreciation, that people feel gratitude for their co-workers in our head. That doesn’t do us or the people around us any good. And so whether it is simply by executive leadership saying, hey, here’s how we’re going to communicate with one another, or taking it a step further and partnering with companies like Tribute or other companies doing more day-to-day recognition programs, we’re creating the context for recognition for workplace, it is a powerful thing that really deserves to exist.

Sounds great. Andrew, where can you leave us, where should we go to find more about Tribute?

So if you would like to check out Tribute’s core site for something you want to create for a wedding, or graduation, or birthday, you can go to our core site at Tribute.co. And if you are interested in exploring some of our employee recognition options, you can just go to tribute.co/employee and you will see, not only some of the samples from some of our partners, but some of our favorite videos that we’ve been able to create in this work vertical. We love working with great companies and we’ve seen some incredible success thus far, so we’d love to connect with any listeners who are tuned in.

Well, thanks very much, Andrew. It’s been great to have you on the show and we look forward to speaking with you again soon.

Thanks for the time. Enjoyed the chat.