Apr 19, 2024  |  By Upduo

An Off-the-Clock Chat with Upduo Founder Wei Sun

Upduo CEO, Wei Sun, was recently featured as a guest in the podcast "The Boon of Wireless" hosted by Jon Horovitz. In the episode, Wei and Jon delve into the transformative impact of peer-to-peer learning on frontline employee training and discuss the strategies that have empowered our clients to achieve remarkable sales growth. A huge thank you to The Boon of Wireless for hosting us and allowing us to share our story:

Wei is no stranger to using science and technology to improve people's lives and drive positive change. Prior to founding Upduo, Wei Sun was a research scientist at MIT and UCLA, contributing to over a dozen academic publications on renewable energy, computing, and magnetic materials. Dr. Sun also worked at Apple, developing patented health and fitness software for the Apple Watch.

Before we begin, why should you care about Upduo?

As a decision maker in your business, you’re making, at a minimum, hundreds of decisions a day. With new promotions, advancements/upgrades in products, or any change in offerings, you must make additional decisions on how to train your staff to confidently lead the new updates. 

Traditional training videos come with an expiration date. Upduo doesn’t. 

We’re the one decision you make that offloads hundreds of future decisions. We grow with you alongside your organization, minimizing downtime and endless, costly training decisions while maximizing frontline awareness, ROI, and time savings. Throughout this interview, we’ll show you how we’re able to offer these results. 

Dr. Sun, what inspired you to create Upduo?

Upduo exists to change the world's imagination of what learning and teaching could look like. And, we think peer-to-peer learning is the solution to scalable, high-quality learning and training.

Our origin story is based on these principles and beliefs. The idea came to my partner and I in a high school classroom. 

So my co-founder, Mike Mendelson, before he was an AI and Machine Learning Instructor at NVIDIA, was a high school math teacher, and he was trying to solve a problem: how to individually tutor every single student when there aren't enough credentialed educators in the world to match 1:1 with all of them. 

We've known for decades that one-on-one attention is much better than lectures when it comes to learning. The solution to this was to create Upduo’s peer-to-peer learning platform.

Can you explain a bit about how Upduo works?

With Upduo, people teach and learn from each other, or engage in discussion questions. 

Imagine that you’re a sales rep at any point in the training journey. You could have been with your company for years or just started yesterday. And your new job uses Upduo.

Whenever you have a few minutes of downtime, you can open the Upduo app, press a button, and quickly connect with another peer in your workplace to practice a microlearning session. 

In the 5-10-minute video session, you and your partner go over discussion prompts directly related to your job. At the end of a session, you’ll provide “kudos” (our form of feedback) and then a report will be generated to pinpoint skill gaps as well as strong topic areas for future sessions.

Since you’re able to do it on the fly, in downtime, without any added materials besides your phone or working computer, you’re more likely to join a session and continue to keep new information fresh in your mind. You feel more confident in what you know and supported in learning what you don’t know. 

Instead of having to pay attention to all the information at once in a video or classroom setting, you’re introduced to a personalized curriculum bit by bit. This changes the retention process from attention to engagement, and anything you learn will stick longer because you are actively learning. 

Interesting. Does this work for international companies?

Of course. 

Upduo was designed with scalability in mind, so all our sessions are designed to scale, no matter how big or distributed your team is. If you’re worried about timing constraints, we have Upduo learning windows that solve that problem.

And for smaller teams, is there always a match?

Smaller teams can designate learning windows or timeframes within their week when employees are more likely to get a match. If you have an odd number of employees and everyone jumps on Upduo at one time, the outlying employee can hop on single-user mode to practice prompts with a recorded session that’s followed up with a feedback report by our AI reporting algorithm.

For the frontline employees, tell us a little bit about what's involved in the makeup of that curriculum.

Yeah, there are many different ways to generate curriculum on our platform. One of the latest ones that we're going to introduce is AI.

We can take a summary, an executive summary, of what you want your training field to learn. Then, we'll be able to generate the right prompts on screen for the right Upduo experiences that they should have to learn that material.

There are also other, more traditional ways to generate this curriculum, whether it be completely hands-off automation, self-serve, or manual. You can use our curriculum editor to create content from scratch, or our extremely capable education team can also work with whatever material you have.

Are you finding that no two customers are the same, i.e. they may have different needs? And what does that do to your backend when you have to customize specific clients? 

We very carefully go into every new market vertical with ears wide open.

Every deployment has certain differences. However, we're always expanding our flexibility to new use cases.

In many frontline industries, there is a common element overlap. For wireless specifically, they're all geographically distributed companies.

What does that mean for us at Upduo? Well, for one, we know that with such distribution comes many different time zones, and many platform solutions are not mobile-first, device-agnostic, or resonant with the time-learning barriers. Upduo is one of the first micro-learning platforms that checks all those boxes and addresses frontline workers without compromising on quality.

How has Upduo been received by people who are used to classrooms or desktops? 

In old training methods, you show up to a before- or after-hours learning session in a classroom with a trainer who recites a script or sit at a desktop that plays tediously long videos. Most of the group is either half asleep in the morning or can't wait to get home at night, and they don’t retain anything because their minds are somewhere else—rightfully so, but the “training complete” box was checked.

Internally, new hires and decision-makers alike are excited about an alternative solution. 

And how about the reception from the store owners and the actual participants in the training?

In our early days, it was very difficult to convey this new paradigm of learning and teaching to people who are used to operating in a different way.

However, over time, as we built up more and more case studies, we let our results speak for itself. Historically, Upduo has been able to create between a 20 and 40% lift in targeted metrics.

This could be top-line sales, accessory attachment rates, etc. Initiatives have been proposed using all sorts of different metrics.

How do you track participation? Do you have analytics that say that participants were in session for four minutes or eight minutes and who they were speaking with? 

Yep! Our platform has two sides. One is the learner experience: pressing a button and connecting with someone for a learning session.

The other side of it is administrative and staff features. Dashboards allow managers to drill down into sub-hierarchy in an organization with detailed reports and the ability to watch the sessions. Every single session is recorded and transcribed, with the option to be processed with AI afterward.

We also have robust content editing tools. So, not only can you create content really quickly, but you can edit it on the fly. The very next day, they get updated content across the entire organization.

How do you deploy Upduo for large-scale operations and small-scale?

For larger companies, we fit into their vendor procurement processes, and that could take a couple of months, although we move much faster than many of the vendors they are used to. 

For the smaller dealers, like wireless, we deployed in as short as ten days for multiple dealers.

But how is Upduo using AI to enhance training and, more importantly, to measure your results?

I'll start by saying that Upduo holds SOC TYPE II, CPRA, and EU GDPR certifications. We only use AI toolkits that are also SOC TYPE II, GDPR and CPI compliant.

That takes care of the security and privacy pieces. We take care of our customers' data and information, full stop.

The latest AI advances have been in language and video models. As Upduo is a video conversation learning platform, we’re perfectly positioned to take full advantage of these developments.

Imagine if you could just upload documents, such as an entire product spec with highlights for frontline sellers to hit. Upduo can rapidly construct lessons to actively engage your field in the new material.

I'll paint a quick picture…

Whenever Apple delivers its annual iPhone Keynote, wireless teams spend around two weeks creating content so your field can finally sell the new iPhone.

Now, how powerful would it be if, as a wireless dealer, within hours or even minutes, you're able to have an entire curriculum for the new iPhone and within days have a fully trained frontline team out on the floor selling it before anybody else. You get two additional weeks of your company going full-bore selling these iPhones, which gives you a leg up over the competition. Nice!

What are the results that you measure? And when you deliver these results to the store owner, how do they react? 

They react really positively. 

Right now, we deliver over 1 million learning sessions a year, or about 20,040 Upduo learning experiences per week.

Upduo users outperformed other dealers in ten out of 15 metrics. 

During the very first pilot that we had, there was a smaller dealer with around 100 locations. We were able to achieve 1.8 million additional incremental revenue over a period of six months.

We believe that the best training should drive behaviors. Exposure to material is not enough for frontline workers. They actually need to actively wrestle with it and engage with it in order for it to become new behaviors that drive business outcomes. Attention and engagement are not the same things. 

Are you finding that if you require six to eight sessions a month from the sales associate, they've embraced it in some cases where they want to do more?

Yeah, absolutely. 

We have power users, and a big reason why we have power users is because Upduo is, for a lot of frontline workers, the highlight of their workday. They have just one or two co-workers that they see in the store every single day in the middle of rural Montana. But with a button press, they get to talk to someone in New York, someone in Miami, someone in Hawaii, and realize that they're part of something much bigger than themselves.

What about those people who do more sessions?

If people do more than eight sessions per month, i.e. what we consider our power users, we do see an upwards of 90% average improvement historically.

Wow. 90%. Wow.

Yeah, it's pretty incredible. One of the things that we're trying to do is increase the number of power users of the Upduo platform.

So we're doubling down on the learner experience, making it more social, more engaging, and more gamified so that people are drawn to the Upduo platform.

Speaking of the future, what's on the horizon for Upduo? What can we expect when we see you at the shows throughout the year and beyond? 

This year, we are working towards a one-stop-shop for any company's training needs, so you can imagine all the different possible training modalities available. 

Not only do we offer peer-to-peer, but this year, we launched an active solo-learning experience called Upduo Reflections. Instead of the peer-to-peer video discussion, individual learners can hop on Upduo and do a solo learning session that’s essentially a video recording of themselves role-playing the scenario with the same detailed feedback report post-session.

This solves the outlier learner problem for businesses with smaller teams or an odd number of learners. For individuals who prefer to learn solo before working up to peer-to-peer or IRL applications, this is a nice, comfortable first step. 

Looking ahead, we plan to develop one-to-many learning, which is a slightly more traditional lecture style. So watch this space for that option!

So I neglected to ask, is this a phone app, or?

Upduo is an app that is installed on either an employee's phone or an in-store device, such as a laptop, desktop, iPad, or other computer. Our desktop web app and our iOS/Android mobile app have full feature parity–an incredible technical achievement for our engineering team that demonstrates Upduo’s commitment to being where our users are.

Okay, I just watched this podcast, and I own two stores or 600 stores. How do I get involved with Upduo? Who do I call? What's the website?

You can find us on www.upduo.com and request a demo. We're happy to talk to you.

Or watch the Podcast interview here!

If you want to keep track of us, we’re pretty active on LinkedIn.

We are a fully remote company. Our employees are located in Atlanta, Georgia; Memphis, Tennessee, San Francisco, and New York.

These days, we don't all have to be in the same building to make business work, so again, it's remote, peer-to-peer.

Here at Upduo, we use Upduo.