KÜDZOO founders Logan Cohen and Trevor Wilkins are putting the "earning" in learning for more than half a million students, across 46,000 schools in the country.
“I think it's really important not to underestimate the power of recognition," says Cohen, 26. “Even just a gold star on your homework makes you feel good and empowered to work harder."
With the goal of engaging students in their education by leveraging the relationship they have with their smart phones, Cohen and Wilkins launched KÜDZOO in 2015. The app, which gives kids rewards for academic success, is designed to incentivize students to perform their academic best by offering them a litany of awards; everything from gift cards to concert tickets to one-of-a-kind experiences like meeting a famous athlete.
“We are saying rather than scrolling through a mindless newsfeed, you can practice your SATS and get rewarded," says Cohen. “We see a powerful connection between recognition and academic success, and we wanted to embrace a student-first model."
Cohen says it was actually Wilkins who first thought of the idea of reward-based learning, which was based on his own upbringing. As a child, Wilkins, who is now 27, earned $10 for every A and $5 for every B on his report cards, and Wilkins would have to fork over $20 for every C. It must have worked because Wilkins went on to earn a degree in sociology from Princeton University.
"The idea of rewards instilled a competitive mindset in my siblings that has lasted us our entire lives and pushed us all to Ivy League schools," Wilkins told SWAAY. In terms of what we want to do with KÜDZOO, Logan and I see a huge opportunity to make an impact inside of the classroom so that's where we're headed! We see KÜDZOO as a mutually beneficial tool for students, teachers and school admins alike. We've seen the competitive edge KÜDZOO has brought out in students from an individual standpoint and we're excited to bring that same impact to the classroom."
The KÜDZOO app
Cohen said before actually launching KÜDZOO, she and Wilkins held a focus group with 14 to 16 year olds who gave valuable insight regarding what should be, and shouldn't be, on the platform. “That's when we realized we didn't know what was cool anymore," laughs Cohen, who says she and Wilkins made edits to the site based on the students' critique. “The kids really helped us build it out."
To capitalize on the more than 150 times students typically check their phones a day, Cohen and Wilkins designed the app to have an interactive interface in which users can play grade level-based trivia games, in subjects that range from SAT Prep to pop culture. Students can also log in to earn KÜDZOO CASH for attendance by checking into school each day, for uploading their grades, participating in survey questions, and interact with friends on a social media-esque newsfeed.
According to Cohen, KÜDZOO is rolling out an in-school version for the 2017-2018 school year, which will allow teachers to customize questions and further incorporate their curriculums and lesson plans into the platform, with an in-school version called KÜDZOOVERIFIED. “We are looking to partner with schools who want to customize rewardable actions to reward their student achievers," says Cohen.
So what exactly are the rewards offered to KÜDZOO users? Cohen says thus far, more than $300K worth of rewards have been given to students. Some were funded outright, while some were given through brand partnerships. “We are now building out sponsorships," says Cohen. “Since we built critical mass, we are now opening to school districts who can come on as partners to fund rewards for students for customizable action. For example, some schools we are working with are focused on increasing attendance, so they would reward cash for attendance."
To stay ahead of the gifting trends among her user base, Cohen says she is constantly asking them what brands they like, then bringing them in as options for prizes. Among the most requested brands by highschoolers are Amazon, because of “the spending freedom," Target, Walmart and Forever 21. Cohen says college users love brands like Chipotle and Jamba Juice. “They ask for a lot of food at the college level," laughs Cohen, underscoring that the most important element of her business is remaining authentic and listening to feedback from her audience.
“Gen Z is incredibly savvy," says Cohen. “They've been marketing to out of the womb. With Gen Z the best you can get is brand consideration and that's a win. They know if they are being advertised to, so we don't sugarcoat. We try to be very transparent. Gen Z is turned off by native ads and anything that tries to trick them."
Looking to the future, Cohen is hoping to not only work closer with schools and brands alike, but also to grow her New York City-based team of six, in order to meet the enormous potential she sees in the scholastic space. The momentum thus far has certainly been a cause for optimism.
“We are finding exciting engagement from our users," says Cohen, adding that KÜDZOO boasts an impressive average click through rate of 30.2 percent. “Something we are really proud of is that 93 percent of students said that they believe KÜDZOO genuinely cares about their success. With less than 20 percent of Gen Z saying that brands "get them" this is something we strive for."
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.