Written for Built In SF by Ashley Bowden, March 13, 2023
Employee training is a critical part of running a growing business, but engaging people in that training is another matter entirely. Orthodox staff learning solutions might have employees fill out a quiz after watching a video or reading some text. Upduo wants to shake up the status quo by having employees teach each other directly over live calls.
Silicon Valley-based Upduo pulled in a $4 million seed funding round from lead investor Impact Venture Capital to expand its personalized learning management solution.
Based on an organization’s data, Upduo’s artificial intelligence-enabled mobile app matches employees or leadership together to learn from and teach one another with the help of guided prompts.
“Upduo is the workplace learning platform that uses peer-to-peer learning to improve key business metrics while also improving culture,” Wei Sun, Upduo’s CEO and co-founder, told Built In. “We believe the future of workplace learning is engaging, personalized, rooted in human connection, effective and fun.”
Upduo’s interface is similar to platforms like Uber where people are paired with one another at the touch of a button. The app keeps track of every employee’s progress through a given curriculum. If someone shows a thorough understanding of a given topic or skillset, Upduo will match that person to someone else who could benefit from expanding their knowledge on said subject.
The platform ties employee learning directly to measurable business outcomes, Sun said. For instance, a company might be looking to increase sales of a new product. A veteran sales representative could help a new recruit improve their sales pitch for that particular item using Upduo. The new recruit’s improvement could improve the business’s bottom line in the long run.
Once a pair has been successfully matched on the Upduo app, they’re automatically connected via video chat. Sun likened the experience to a FaceTime call with added technological scaffolding. These sessions can last up to 30 minutes and are augmented by on-screen discussion prompts for both the teacher and the student. For example, the student might be prompted to tell their partner everything they currently understand about the topic at hand while the teacher is prompted to fill in any gaps they notice in the other’s description.
After a call, both people provide feedback on their experience, helping inform Upduo on whether that pairing would work well for future training sessions. Since Upduo’s launch in mid-2021, more than 1 million user sessions have taken place on the platform, according to Sun.
“We foster a lot of connections,” Sun said. “There’s a lot of cross-pollination of ideas and cross-pollination of culture. We’ve discovered that we are very good at synchronizing companies around a culture better than some other possible ways that they’ve tried.”
So far, the app has gained most of its traction with large companies that have distributed workforces and operate in sectors like retail, according to Sun. Upduo is currently used at around 3,000 AT&T stores to train hourly employees, Sun said. Upduo has plans to move into other market verticals, including commission-based sales, with its fresh capital.
Other investment plans in the works for Upduo include expanding its platform’s AI capabilities. The company wants to use generative AI to transcribe Upduo session conversations and extract additional insights that weren’t part of its original content, Sun said. Taking this a step further, the app will then generate prompts based on those insights and ask the organization whether it’d like to include that new skill training within its curriculum.
Upduo also plans to improve its user experience by building out gamification features. The company will integrate systems like Arcade to include badges and achievements for its users. Additionally, Upduo plans to build out in-house gamification aspects, like sending kudos to partners after sessions and including a leaderboard.
With so many developments on its product roadmap, Upduo plans to expand its engineering team.
“I think that Upduo really has a shot of making high-quality learning experiences … accessible to everybody,” Sun said. “Not just in companies or in organizations that we’re working with, but any kind of community we can make self-learning and self-teaching [happen]. It could be educational institutions. It could be communities that get together and want to help each other grow and prosper. … Everyone will see the benefit of it.”