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Logan Cohen

Cofounder, Küdzoo

Cofounder of an educational app called Küdzoo, Trevor Wilkins (26) grew up on the violence-plagued South Side of Chicago —  an area without many prospects for students.

“Fortunately, he was accepted to a magnet school and then eventually to Princeton,” explains his cofounder, Logan Cohen (25). “But when Trevor actually got to Princeton, he realized the students weren’t any smarter than those he’d grown up with. So, why were they at an Ivy League school while other kids struggled back in Chicago?”

The difference, they realized, was motivation. Kids in lower socioeconomic areas lack the same positive reinforcement and expectations around grades. No one’s offering $20 bucks or Dad’s car in exchange for a good report card. So, why try?

“We felt there was an opportunity for a third party to stimulate that engagement,” says Cohen. “To step in and reward students for academic achievements.”

In 2015, they launched Küdzoo: an app that literally pays students for grades, attendance and the ability to answer SAT prep questions. It’s the first educational tool set in young people’s natural habitat — smartphones — offering gift cards to stores like BestBuy, Amazon and Chipotle in exchange for success. And with more than 500,000 sign ups and a recent nod from Forbes 30 Under 30, we think it’s safe to say: Disruption’s youngest participants to date are changing education forever.

The app that pays kids for good grades

Logan Cohen - Co-founder of Kudzoo

WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, smartphones are the forbidden fruit of education. They’re often banished to lockers, with students receiving detention or other punishments when caught ‘gramming at school.

“To us, that felt like a missed opportunity,” details Cohen. “Young people want their phones. And we all remember what it’s like to be a kid: Being told not to do something is the best motivation to do something. Why not harness that addiction for good?”

She’s right: Why not repurpose the energy spent reprimanding students for phones toward engagement? Toward speaking to students when, where and how they want to be spoken to?

“It’s not news: Social media releases endorphins,” she continues. “We get an actual high when someone texts us, or likes and comments on a photo. All Küdzoo did was embrace that stimulation for education.”

So, they created an app that one can only define as the cross between a game and a social media platform. One, it gamifys school by trading points for success at school; two, it then encourages students to post their winnings and even compete against friends.

Bringing Smartphones Into Education

Logan Cohen - Co-founder of Kudzoo
“We get an actual high when someone texts us, or likes and comments on a photo. All Küdzoo did was embrace that stimulation for education.”

KUDZOO IS FREE, asking students 13 and older to use their smartphone cameras to scan in report cards (the same way you might scan a check into your banking app). Good grades — or even an improvement over last semester — result in points, or Küdzoo Cash.

“Küdzoo Cash can also be earned from our daily trivia questions, which often focus around SAT prep,” explains Cohen. “Or you can use Foursquare to check into your school and earns points based on attendance.”

The thing is: Küdzoo Cash is actual money. 700 points, for example, equates to roughly a $10 gift card. Value depends on the size of an action — a good report card, for example, is weighted heavier than a correct trivia question — but the end result is always cold, hard cash.

“The best example I can offer is one student who messaged us saying she’d used Küdzoo Cash to buy all her makeup for prom,” she continues. “This teenager had spent months engaged in school just so she could earn a gift card to Sephora. And you know what? She did it.”

Which isn’t to say some experts don’t take issue with Küdzoo’s methods. It can be difficult to wrap your mind around physically paying students for school.

“But if you think about it, we’re paid for work throughout all our adult lives,” Cohen asserts. “Most people don’t wake up and go to the office every day for the sheer love of the job. (Although kudos to you if you do.) Money is a great motivator.”

How Küdzoo Works

Logan Cohen - Co-founder of Kudzoo
Logan Cohen - Co-founder of Kudzoo
Most people don’t wake up and go to the office every day for the sheer love of the job... Money is a great motivator.”

IT BOILS DOWN TO ONE SIMPLE FACT: Kids are smarter than we think. And with Generation Y barraged by advertisements at younger ages than ever before, education needs to catch up — learn how to inspire engagement in a way that feels organic and fresh. (Liz Eswein referenced this in an earlier Disruption article about advertising.)

So, it’s possible Wilkins and Cohen’s young age — their ability to shrug off negative connotations around cellphones and empower money as a positive motivator — is exactly why they’re so effective. It’s why they’re now just as pervasive in affluent schools as low-income ones. 

“Our users are whose approval we’re seeking,” Cohen says in conclusion. “And 2,000 of them have given us a 4.5/5 star rating on the app store. I can’t think of better data than that.”

To download Küdzoo, visit the app store. And to learn more about disruption for social good, check out how Eben Bayer is using mushrooms to replace carcinogens in housing and furniture.



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