I had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Caucci.
Sam Caucci has managed and coached sales and leadership teams for publicly held, private sector and franchised companies across the globe.
Sam founded 1Huddle a workforce training platform using game technology to help organizations better prepare their people for work. With clients across the globe, 1Huddle has impacted people across organizations in a wide array of sectors, with clients including Novartis, Loews Hotels, ESPN, Audible (an Amazon Company), Madison Square Garden and the U.S. Air Force. Applying an innovative approach to preparing people for the workforce, Sam oversaw the creation of the training game platform, the first game-based platform that transforms the way organizations onboard, train & develop their team members.
Before 1Huddle, Sam was the National Director of Franchise Sales & Marketing for the Parisi Speed School where he directed the sales training program for 83 locations. He was previously in a leadership role with Life Time Fitness, serving as Director of Sales and spearheading the grand opening and overall management of the company’s expansion into the NJ/NYC market. Prior to joining Life Time Fitness, Sam was General Manager for Perfect Competition Athletic Development, a sports performance training center nationally recognized for its preparation of elite athletes from across the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS. While at Perfect Competition, Sam managed sales, sponsorship, and negotiation for the team responsible for the training and development of over 2,500 elite professional athletes.
Sam is proud to have been a part of the sales and service training of thousands of workers. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller, Not Our Job: How College has Destroyed a Generation of Workers and How to Fix it, and has been featured on Fox News, Fox Business, CNN, CNBC, The Huffington Post, ESPN, Yahoo Finance, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Bloomberg.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I spent my entire career not just as a sales person but as a sales manager. Over the years working in the sports industry, I felt like it was getting harder and harder to get a new sales rep fresh out of college trained-up and ready to sell. The tools we used were manuals and extremely long and boring learning videos. Or better yet, we would bring in these outside sales trainers who came in and did a one-day motivational “rah-rah” session and then left. I just knew that there had to be a better way.
At the same time, I was also starting to research concepts for starting a technology company…so I married both ideas. From then on, my goal was to start a training company that made onboarding, training, and engaging workers something that was more effective but most importantly, fun for workers. And then…1Huddle was born.
It was all my own money when we launched. As I started to build the product, we had the concept to take everything that an employee needs to know and turn it into a game. For as long as humans have been on Earth, games have been something that we’ve all engaged in. And I knew if we were going to be a tech company that we had to get some great people on board. So, I went out to San Francisco and I spent a year in the Bay Area growing the company and growing the product further. We ended up at a pretty big technology accelerator program called 500 Startups, which supercharged our growth.
After a year in the Bay Area, it was time for us to find a place to call home. A place that would have great access to a large amount of companies. It made sense to come back to the New York area. So, we made the move and then we got introduced to Audible, an Amazon Company. They were starting a Venture Capital firm out of Newark, New Jersey with the goal of bringing tech startups to Newark. Long story short, it was just over two years ago that we moved to Newark with 3 employees and today we have 40 employees and over 100+ logos across a dozen verticals that use 1Huddle to level-up their workforce.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I was still in the Bay Area and I was trying to fundraise. I got introduced to somebody who was a big investor and I went down to Palo Alto to meet him. Palo Alto is basically the mecca of tech. I went to sit down at a coffee shop with this investor and I had done a pretty good amount of preparation of my financials for this meeting. (Side note: for any tech pitch you have to have a good deck. The deck is the key to raising money because it includes your vision, your story, and your financials.) I had been working on my deck all night, but when you build your deck, you tend to look at other decks to help prepare.
Naturally, my friends shared their decks with me. But somehow, in the heat of looking at all these presentations so that I could put together my deck, I had the wrong financials copied into my presentation. And it just so happens the deck of the person’s financials that I had used was in the Series A round.
I get to the coffee shop, we sit down, I start going through my deck presentation and everything’s going well until I hit my financial slide. This thing says that I’m doing $10 million a year. And at this point, I wasn’t even doing $10,000 a year. Safe to say it was a completely awkward moment and I didn’t get a check from that investor that day. But I did get an introduction from him to another investor, which is kind of the way that world works anyways.
The thing that I learned from that is to double check your deck. More importantly, I learned to not take myself too seriously.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom. I learned about the power that a single person can display when they have a strongly rooted mission and vision. This is also a powerful book that I tend to go back to because at the end of the day, as tough as things might seem, there have been countless people who have been through tougher times.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I grew up in a blue collar family where my mother was a secretary and my father was in construction. They both came from an upbringing that didn’t afford them the opportunity to go to college. But they were extremely hard-working and if they had the opportunity to experience education or job training, they would have easily surpassed the positions that they were limited to.
So, when I started 1Huddle, one of the core focuses was to create a product that broke down barriers of access to people across the entire workforce. It’s my belief that while our mission is defined as “Powering the people that power teams,” what really matters to me is that we are carrying out a company that provides access to job training to anybody that’s willing to work hard enough to master it.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
This is a simple phrase that everybody on our team knows. No matter what happens on a single call, day, pitch and no matter how bad it is whether you miss the sale or miss the mark, guess what? You always have the next play. As a tech startup, we never grow comfortable with failure but we are also not afraid of it. There is always another game and more importantly, another play.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Well my three-year-old daughter running around the background of my Zoom calls is definitely a challenge. Another challenge is making sure that both mine and my wife’s needs are being met, which has become more important during this time.
But challenges can always be looked at as opportunities. This has given us the opportunity to have breakfasts together, spend dinners together, and go on walks together. These are things that as a CEO of a startup company, I rarely had the chance to do. Normally, I’m out the door before she wakes up and then back through the door just in time to put her to bed.
So, while there are a lot of challenges right now, we are also living in a moment where people will define themselves by how they view these challenges as opportunities.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Keeping our customers motivated. Our team at 1Huddle is strong and we’ve done a phenomenal job staying together. Being positive and being a number one fan of our customers is most important and most challenging at this moment. We have restaurants that we are choosing to support in any way that we can. We have retailers that we are choosing to help in any way that we can.We have sports teams that we are looking at so that we may provide support in any way that we can.
Now is the time to help your customers.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
We gotta keep going as best as we can. My wife can’t see her mother and grandmother. My daughter has her great-grandmother and grandmother that she can’t see. I can’t see my mother. Everybody is feeling all types of emotions and the bottom line is, there are no words that can completely make it okay.
I have chosen to take on the perspective of choosing to keep going one day at a time. Unfortunately, we do not know when this will end and we do not know when there will be a cure. What we can control is how we choose to take control of our emotions in tackling each day as it comes.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
The winners in a Post-Covid economy are going to be the ones that embrace adjusting their playbook, while not forgetting about the people that are in front of them.
It’s going to be really easy to put up barriers, walls, and put on masks. That stuff actually isn’t hard to do. The hard stuff has to do with making changes to your business where you don’t lose sight of your employees and what type of support, training, development, and encouragement they need as people.
And keeping your customers top of mind as well. What they are thinking and what they are going through as they experience your brand is a subject worth your time.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
The reality is that there have been changes in the way that we work. We have been trending towards these for a long time now. And that trend, which some call the future of work, we were already on the path to.
COVID-19 accelerated this new work reality by maybe a decade or more. Workplaces will be more flexible to employees who may be working while remote. Not even just working from home, working from anywhere. I think that companies are learning that maybe it’s an antiquated model to make everybody come in and sit in the same place every day.
But working in an office isn’t going to disappear altogether either. Companies are going to be more flexible with their workers working on the go or working remote. There’s already been a tremendous amount of companies and startups that completely operate remotely. People can work not just from home, but from anywhere.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
As a remote work tool, since February we have seen a 13x increase in gameplay. This surge in participation can be credited to our new work reality, where people are working remote and engaging in more tools to keep their people connected.
I feel that the opportunity in this moment is to continue to engage with our customers, connect with our employees, and challenge customers who are considering investing in our platform. This is not the time to lean back, it is most definitely a time to lean in.
One way specifically that we are doing that is by opening up our platform to all job seekers who are out of work or looking for work. As a B2B tech startup, prior to COVID-19 we focused exclusively on selling to businesses. But now given our new reality, we feel that our platform can be helpful to everybody.
So, one of our new initiatives has been not just focused on businesses who are joining our platform, but to also play a part in helping the 20 million plus Americans who are out of work across our community.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
COVID-19 has accelerated the way in which we do things at work now. Whether it is working remotely, using video-conferencing, communicating with customers, team building, all of these things have been impacted because of COVID.
First thing, is that I would encourage companies to layout a new playbook for operating. The fact is that things have changed in how a business operates. It is important now for companies to make sure that they are up to date with the present realities of work.
The second thing is that COVID-19 exposed the companies that have underinvested in the software that matters most to keep their people not just connected, but prepared. And guess what? We don’t know if there will be a second wave of COVID-19. So, making sure your people can stay up to beat through your software is crucial more than ever before.
And guess what else? Latest research has shown that there is a 1% loss of productivity since switching to remote work, which is something that most people probably did not expect. This is just something that further proves that just investing in the bare minimum, like Zoom and other video conferencing, is not anywhere near enough to make sure that your company and your people are optimized enough to still remain productive while working from home.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Do the little things.
I had a football coach growing up where after practice conditioning would consist of 10 to 20 to 100 yard sprints. He was relentless in his demand that we don’t just run 98 yards and then jog the last two, but that we ran all the way through to the end line.
The lesson that I learned from that was to always focus on doing the little things perfectly. Finishing the race the right way was something that carried over for me as not just an athlete but as a professional, as a father, as a husband, and as a friend.
It has been a big part of our company’s success as I pass that message forward to my team in everything that they do.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Learn more about 1Huddle on our website: https://1huddle.co/. Here’s how to follow me and 1Huddle:
- Twitter: @samcaucci | https://twitter.com/samcaucci
- Instagram: @sammycaucci | https://www.instagram.com/sammycaucci/
- LinkedIn: Sam Caucci | https://www.linkedin.com/in/samcaucci/
- Facebook: Sam Caucci | https://www.facebook.com/samcaucci1/