Journey to an Award-Winning Software
We met up with Mr. Fortier, Founder and CEO of KLF Group, a Montreal-based, Canadian company that just won “Best Software as a Service (SaaS) Provider 2018” at this year’s Canadian HR Awards for its newest venture Applauz Recognition, to ask him how he feels about employee engagement and try to understand the reasons behind the success of his startup.
Your company, the KLF Group, just won “Best Service Provider” in the 2018 Canadian HR Awards for Applauz Recognition, your new employee engagement software. Firstly, congratulations! You must be very proud. But before talking about Applauz, can you tell me a bit more about how you first became an entrepreneur?
Back in 2005, I was twenty-five years old then, I had just lived through a very successful exit working for a tech company and I was eager to get right back into the mix, that’s when I founded the KLF Group.
The first product we launched was Game Access, a subscription-based, online video game rental service. We were the first in Canada to provide such a service and we were quite successful and quickly became the biggest video game distribution service in the country.
Soon after, we were presented with a massive business opportunity when a Canadian bank asked us to become their sole fulfillment partner providing them with a video-game and electronic rewards catalog to supplement their customer loyalty program.
While working on the strategy to launch the Bank’s program, we realized how customer loyalty programs were undeserving their customers. We saw a weak product offering, overpriced merchandise, excessively long shipping times and almost no customer service. After we conducted a thorough SWOT analysis of the industry and how it was being serviced, we realized that all the reward distributors at the time were using a “sell-to-buy” points reward model essentially acting as a simple broker and providing no added value to their rewards program participants. The opportunity to disrupt the industry was made clear to us.
Once we understood how we could enter the market, we were determined to disrupt it entirely. So, in 2009, after extensively testing our logistics model we launched Loyalty Source, our first venture into the loyalty rewards industry. Our initial service offering was really simple. We wanted to provide a modern rewards catalogue filled with the most recognized brands, ship every order within 48 hours and offer impeccable customer service. The market responded favorably to our approach. I’m proud to say that, today, Loyalty Source is the biggest rewards fulfillment provider in Canada.
We didn’t stop there! We were hungry for more. While working in the loyalty and recognition space we again spotted an opportunity, a blue ocean if you will, the Employee Engagement industry had completely neglected to cater their services to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Really. We must have looked through dozens of Employee Engagement software solutions at the time and found them all to be expensive, difficult to use and almost impossible to manage without a dedicated HR team. That’s how our next venture, Applauz Recognition, was born.
We developed Applauz in response to what we saw as a glaring oversight within the employee engagement industry. We realized that there were over 1 Million SMBs in Canada, all facing employee engagement issues to varying degrees, but they didn’t have the same budget as Fortune 500 companies to address them.
That’s when you came up with the idea to build Applauz? Because your customers had needs that the market couldn’t fill?
Exactly! SMBs are vital to the Canadian economy since around 98% of all businesses have fewer than 100 employees! (source). Applauz was created to help SMBs build amazing work cultures where employees are rewarded, recognized and retained.
With Applauz, we set out on a mission of building a turn-key Software as a Service (SaaS) solution specifically designed for small and medium-sized businesses. So, we developed Applauz with all the most important and effective employee engagement features every business needs, without adding any of the over-engineered bells and whistles that other software vendors added to their programs. Applauz, by contrast, is extremely quick to implement and super easy to use, oh, and and it’s also ultra-affordable!
Tell me how you came up with Appy the Applauz mascot.
Well, when we founded Applauz in 2017, we were wrapping our heads around our branding. We really wanted our product and logo to reflect the many things our software embodies: happiness, positivity, teamwork, technology, modernity — we wanted it to really appeal to business owners and come across friendly and inviting. I wanted a logo that stood out from the overused lower-case letter or star symbol we say the industry adopt as a de facto standard at the time.
After going through hundreds of design ideas our designers presented me with, I saw that friendly little robot, I knew that was it! We had found our mascot. That’s how “Appy”, our robot mascot was born.
Tell me about the feedback you get from Applauz customers, and what they think of your software. What are some of the things you hear most often?
Good question! I often get people asking me “What’s the catch?”! (laughs). Usually, this question comes from business owners and HR executives when I tell them the software is free to use.
Another reaction I get oftentimes is surprise. Business owners and HR executives are taken aback by how easy it is to implement their employee engagement program with Applauz. They genuinely love the fact that everything is simple and intuitive. Really all they have to do is sign up, add their employees to the program and they’re good to go.
Is there already a specific type of SMB that registers?
Not really. At first, were thought it would mostly be technology companies, but it wasn’t the case at all. We have municipal and federal government offices, NGOs, manufacturing companies, retail businesses, you name it! Applauz users are really diverse!
Now that you’ve won your second industry award since launching Applauz, do you see a difference in how the brand is being recognized or perceived by the industry? What’s next for Applauz?
Absolutely. With Applauz we’ve set out to change the way managers and employees engage with each other every day. We believe that we can really help companies build extraordinary workplaces. It’s become our mission.
We’ve got a lot of projects going on. We’re now developing partnerships with other Human Resource software providers to make it even easier for business owners to use Applauz. We have great plans for Applauz. Our team is super motivated and their mission is nothing short of reinventing how companies value and support their internal cultures.
Last question: do you have advice for young entrepreneurs launching their own startup?
It might seem cliché but just keep dreaming, and don’t be afraid to dream big! It’s about setting goals and striving to attain them. Success isn’t easy. It was never meant to be. Work hard, dream big, move forward.
One of my favorite quotes is by Vincent Lombardi: “we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it because in the process we will catch excellence.” And I can accept excellence (smiling).
Visit Applauz Recognition at : https://applauzrecognition.com