My name is Kelsey Hahn and I am the CEO and Co-founder of Monark.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS. WHAT PROBLEM ARE YOU SOLVING, AND HOW DOES YOUR COMPANY SOLVE IT
Monark is a mobile-first, on-demand digital leadership training and development solution, providing real and measurable growth via the intersection of AI and behavioural science. Many current solutions pull leaders out of their jobs into week-long retreats or classroom-based courses, whereas Monark integrates into a leader’s busy life and puts development into the hands of individuals, offering a personalized learning experience featuring curated micro-learning, behavioural nudges, and real-time feedback. Training is inherently customized to a user, facilitating the process of a good leadership coach, without relying on the use of a human, whether you’re a front-line, first time manager, or the CEO of a major technology company.
Right now in the US, only 5% of people in organizations have access to leadership training which means that the other 95% of people in organizations are without training which we know leads to talent loss, dysfunctional culture and poor behaviour among employees. Monark is democratizing access to leadership development by making it more scalable, cost-effective, and available to all kinds of leaders at all phases of their career, in one place, at your pace.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START THIS COMPANY?
Personally speaking, I competed in elite sports from a young age and have always been passionate and endlessly curious about leadership and coaching. In particular, I’ve been fascinated by the complexities of sport, like how a team of less-skilled underdogs can beat a top-tier team with the world’s best talent. This curiosity led me to the view that most of the unexplainable and intangible elements of success are the result of great leadership. In my college studies, I became really interested in how these learnings in sport can translate into the workplace given the many similarities between the two environments. Fast forward a few years to when I met my co-founder Amanda, through our previous employer, where we ran a profitable consulting practice and research centre. What we saw over and over again was that leadership development interventions were failing. Broadly speaking, they’re not timely, contextually relevant, and are often not personalized to what a leader needs. Furthermore, leadership training can be very expensive and as such, it’s often not provided until a leader is in the top echelons of their firms, which can become tricky because at that point they might not benefit as much from the training or can be a bit more resistant and stuck in their habits.
So for a number of reasons we were hitting the wall with not only our practice but what we saw in the world, and felt that we needed to be part of the change we see happening in workplaces across the globe - workers that are demanding more autonomy, more flexibility, and more learning and growth opportunities that are customized and self-led.
HOW DO YOU SET YOURSELF APART FROM OTHER BUSINESSES IN YOUR INDUSTRY?
We differentiate ourselves primarily through four different components:
CAN YOU EXPAND MORE ON HOW YOU INTEGRATE THE LEARNING INTO REAL LIFE?
Absolutely! Bringing this back to sports, consider how a player engages in some kind of skill development. It is very similar to the process we replicate in our application. In sport, often when you learn a new behaviour, you immediately get to go out and practice it in real-time on the court or ice, and you also likely get immediate feedback on how to adjust or correct. We are mimicking a similar process for leaders by providing personalized insights into your behaviour and leadership style, customized goal setting, snippets of curated learning, smart behavioural nudges that encourage the application of the behaviour or skill, and real-time feedback from those closest to your work.
DO YOU PLAN ON INTEGRATING INTO THIRD-PARTY APPLICATIONS LIKE SLACK OR TEAMS?
Yes, absolutely! The integration that we envision would be with all Microsoft products, Slack, Google Suite, anything that people are regularly using so that we can make leadership development part of your everyday practice. In time, we imagine leveraging those integrations by being able to utilize custom nudges based on your calendar/work schedule, your downtime, your preferred method of communication etc.
WHAT IS THE COMPANY CULTURE YOU ARE TRYING TO BUILD?
That’s a great question! It’s a catch 22 because while we impress the importance of culture on clients, when you’re growing a company it can often be the first thing that gets pushed to the back burner. One of the things that we are deliberately trying to do is continuously step back and reflect on the company we are building and the behaviour we are modelling that is defining our culture.
We are a transparent and open culture that deals with conflict head-on. We believe that conflict, when handled the right way, can lead to greater collaboration, productivity and innovation, but I think it’s an area that a lot of startups can get derailed by. Amanda and I have the advantage of working together for 7 years together now; we have a strong foundation of trust and alignment in vision, which means we know how to appropriately challenge one another for the sake of creating a better product and better outcome.
We also feel strongly that we have an opportunity to do things differently as women founders. What we see a lot in tech is a tendency to emphasize a “hustle” culture, where work comes first and frankly, there seems to be a prioritization of product growth over the actual business itself. It seems like the building blocks of great organizations get left behind. We balance tenacity and determination with rest and re-energization; we respect one anothers’ boundaries; we are conscious about the team and culture we are building, but leave bias at the door; and try to lead with empathy. We are passionate and determined as hell to make Monark a success, but we don’t believe that means we have to sacrifice everything else along the way.
STARTING A BUSINESS CAN BE AN UPHILL BATTLE. WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO KEEP GOING?
Well first off, I like to win! I remember when we first were thinking about starting Monark a friend of mine said, “What do you have to lose, what's the worst that could happen? The business doesn’t make it?” and all I could think was “Yes! That is the worst that could happen! If we do this, there’s no other option than succeeding.”
I’m also motivated by a deep passion and love for the space. I attended a great webinar the other day and one thing that really stuck out to me about building your sales team is that the first principle is that people absolutely have to love what they are selling and be passionate about it because buyers can see through a phony effort. When you have that passion, it doesn’t feel like you are selling; it genuinely feels like you have a real opportunity to help people.
I feel like this is kind of cliche but it’s been very influential for me - as you start a company there is certainly a lot of support around you if you reach out and leverage your connections and community but with that will come a lot of opinions so you have to be confident in your north star and remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Rely on those gut instincts and principles that allowed you to take the leap in the first place. You are constantly going to have people judging you, your product, your progress, and my job as CEO is to assess the path forward. Without having clear conviction and passion around what you are building, you can get distracted and pulled in a 100 different directions just for the sake of satisfying others.
The short-term goal right now is testing our model of behaviour change, proving that we can measurably increase the capacities and skills in leaders, and demonstrating how this translates into organizational value for clients. For us, this will be our first milestone, which will lead to further product development, scaling and onboarding of early adopters in late Summer 2021. Early traction and uptake will hopefully lead us into a seed round of funding in the Winter of 2021.
Heading into 2022 and beyond, our goal will be to continue to refine and develop the product and onboard customers. Leveraging our B2B2C model with a freemium offering as an entry point, we believe that by this point will be seeing some strong lead generation from these users. A key focus will also be expanding into other global markets by leveraging different distribution channels such as executive coaches and service providers (acting as the follow-on step to support the work and accountability that falls out of instructional courses).
Over time, we envision a more sophisticated analytics dashboard for enterprise customers which would provide upper management insight into organizational outcomes and advanced talent management. The platform will also be leveraging AI and machine learning to optimize various features for leaders, such as creating deeper customization in learning paths for individuals based on one’s position, industry, or even geographic location. Lastly, we ultimately envision creating a community of practice for individuals at all stages of their careers; a community to explore, test skills and learn from other leaders.
WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
Success is really achieving our vision - building a world where every team has the best leader. We want to break down the barriers that young and middle managers face in developing their potential; we believe everyone should have access to education and development opportunities, especially if they want it. There’s no reason why we need to wait to provide support for leaders when they make it to the top. Monark is the platform that can do this - giving every individual the opportunity to lead and take control of their career growth from day one.
Broadly speaking in terms of Monark’s organizational success, Amanda and I are committed to building a company for the long haul. We are passionate, have a clear vision, and know that the market is ready for a product like ours.
Full Feature: https://www.theaccelerator.tech/blog-monark-tech