Company culture can be the lifeblood of your company, it can inspire and fuel the great talent that is your team. But you have to be able to maintain that level of inspiration to keep your team engaged. Just recently, a 142-country Gallup report showed that 63% of employees are not engaged in their work and another 24% are actively disengaged, leaving a mere 13% of workers who are engaged at work. Simply put, 900 million employees are not engaged and 340 million are actively disengaged across the world. So how do you inspire the disengaged people to become engaged? And how do you grow a company culture that is thriving, successful, and engaging for all employees? 

On today’s episode, we talk with Scott Johnson, a tech entrepreneur, startup mentor, and angel investor who has years of experience as a leader and executive starting and leading numerous companies of his own. Scott is the Chairman and Founder of project management software company Workfront and is also the Founder of Motivosity, an employee recognition software platform that improves employee engagement and builds company culture. 

In this episode, you’ll get to hear Scott share his thoughts and ideas on how companies can successfully build and develop thriving and engaging cultures. You’ll also get to hear his view and thoughts on the tech scene in the Salt Lake City area. Tune in for more!

In this episode with Scott Johnson, you’ll learn:

  • Scott’s experience through entrepreneurship and leadership roles
  • What it takes to build a great culture
  • How to inspire employees to embrace your company culture 
  • What the tech culture is like in Salt Lake City area

If you like this episode, please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes. You can also follow us on Soundcloud or Stitcher. We have an incredible lineup of interviews we’ll be releasing every Tuesday here on the Powderkeg Podcast.

Scott Johnson quote’s from this episode of Igniting Startups:

Links and resources mentioned in this episode:

Companies and organizations:



Did you enjoy this conversation? Thank Scott Johnson on Twitter!

If you enjoyed this session and have few seconds to spare, let Scott know via Twitter by clicking on the links below:

Click here to say hi and thank Scott on Twitter!


What stood out most to you about what Scott Johnson shares in this podcast?

For me, it’s how to inspire employees to embrace your company culture.

You? Leave a comment below.


To subscribe to the podcast, please use the links below:

Click Here to Subscribe via iTunes.

Click Here to Subscribe via RSS (non-iTunes feed).

To download the PDF file for the full transcript of this podcast, please use the link below:

Click Here to Download PDF file

If you have a chance, please leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking here. It will help the show and its ranking in iTunes incredibly! Thank you so much!


Episode Transcript

Scott Johnson 00:00
You know more than you think, you know, yeah, as a founder, you know, like the core DNA of your company. You’re the one with the vision, like, don’t let somebody convince you that you don’t know that and just have more confidence in yourself.

Matt Hunckler 00:26
Hey there category fans. This is episode 108 of powderkeg igniting startups, the show for entrepreneurs, leaders and innovators building remarkable tech companies in areas decidedly outside of Silicon Valley. I’m your host, Matt Hunckler. And today, we are speaking with Scott Johnson, who is the chairman and founder of project management software company Workfront, and is also the founder of motor velocity, an employee recognition software platform that improves employee engagement and builds company culture really cool tool, looking forward to talking about that with Scott today. So Scott is a tech entrepreneur, startup mentor, angel investor, Professor as well has tons of years of experience as a leader and executive, starting immediate leading numerous companies of his own. And he is in town today, all the way from

Scott Johnson 01:11
Utah. Hey, thanks

Matt Hunckler 01:12
for being here today, Scott.

Scott Johnson 01:13
Thank you, Matt. That was a mouthful, by the way.

Matt Hunckler 01:16
Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, I mean, I had to kind of pick and choose for the intro there, because there’s a lot of things that you’ve done in your career. And I know, I know, you have a lot of cool stories. We were just talking about one of them here, just before we turn on the mics. But I wanted to go back even further from that you’ve lived in Utah your whole life. Can you tell me a little bit about how you grew up?

Scott Johnson 01:39
Yeah. So like my family situation? I was the misfit kid that didn’t fit in very well. You know, I always felt like I was on the outside looking in. That’s pretty much how I grew up, you know, jumping on the trampoline out and back by myself day after day after day. Yeah.

Matt Hunckler 01:59
And you started your own your own job. You created your first job you ever had. How old? Were you?

Scott Johnson 02:06
Yeah, I was probably I was nine or 10 years old. Okay. And I remember these little green business cards that I made, had a picture of a kid pushing a lawn mower on him. And yeah, it was Scott’s odd jobs. I took business cards to every house in the neighborhood.

Matt Hunckler 02:23
Sounds like that was a fruitful endeavor.

Scott Johnson 02:27
I don’t remember much else beyond that. Yeah. Okay. There were a few bad jobs. But

Matt Hunckler 02:32
any big lessons you took away from that first job? Actually, yeah,

Scott Johnson 02:37
there was a life lesson there that I learned. And the life lesson was always always bid your job before you give a price. I remember this, this, this old grandmas neighbor of ours called me and asked if I would weed her garden. And I said, Yeah, I’ll do it. It’s $10. I charge $10 to weed gardens. And you know, everyone had kind of the same size garden except for her. So I went over to her house, and it was probably an acre. And it wasn’t even a garden. It was just four foot tall weeds. And I did it took me a week and a half full time work. And the thanks I got was, thanks. Here’s your $10 I’ve been angry ever since. You didn’t make that mistake again. No, sir. I didn’t. Yeah, absolutely. I may have even quit after that.

Matt Hunckler 03:30
Okay, well, and I’m guessing there was something about technology that really caught your interest, you know, maybe not, not having to get the blisters on your hands might have been part of the job. But do you remember when you first kind of caught that first spark of interest in tech?

Scott Johnson 03:45
You know, I was a technology troublemaker in junior high. Okay. So our school as a pilot school for these new things called personal computers. So sorry, that’s how old I am.

Matt Hunckler 04:02
Hey, but what a cool benefit to be. Yeah, bleeding edge of

Scott Johnson 04:05
everything. But I wasn’t I didn’t, I wasn’t really a tech guy. But you know, I was like the first guy who figured out in typing class, you could copy and paste. So I again, totally rocked the typing class. And I figured out how to how to reprogram my math teachers computer so that it would give wrong math answers during the presentation. And I loved correcting the wrong answers. And so that was, you know, that was my earliest entry into technology. But I really didn’t the light didn’t go off for quite a while. In fact, I graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Near Eastern Studies. Oh no, which is probably about as far away from technology as you can get. You know, I remember part of a senior project spending time translating the Dead Sea Scrolls from Hebrew into English. So it’s very Non techie

Matt Hunckler 05:01
has probably come in very handy.

Scott Johnson 05:03
Oh, yeah. Yeah. If people ask me all the time, so why’d you do that? Yeah. And it taught me how to think I think I solve problems. Sure.

Matt Hunckler 05:13
Now, that makes a lot of sense. I mean, now that you say it didn’t make sense at first, right, yeah. That’s very cool. And so so you kind of got exposed to this early on. Talk to me a little bit about how you started to kind of put the two together, you got this entrepreneurial roots as a kid, you’re getting exposed to technology. Now you know, how to translate Hebrew.

Scott Johnson 05:35
What’s the next logical steps? Yeah,

Matt Hunckler 05:36
exactly. Um,

Scott Johnson 05:38
so I was out of college, since there are no jobs and whatever it was, I was doing. I, I was working as a part time graphic designer through college. And when I graduated, I wanted to start a digital video production company. So again, old school, everybody was doing video editing on tapes back at the time, and computers were like a new way that you could look at how you do video production. And that really caught my attention and interest. And I remember I spent $16,000, on 64 megabytes of RAM, which was the maximum amount of RAM you could put in a computer at the time, and I started working on this digital video. And that was a complete. Well, I just let’s just say I sort of had this vision of myself as a wedding videographer, and I didn’t want to go that direction. So I sold it to a company who hired me to do their marketing. And as part of that marketing, the, this was 1995 96, the Internet was brand new thing, and hardly any companies had websites. And it seemed to me like, hey, this internet thing could be a marketing tool. Yeah. And I just jumped in learn how to how to make a website and I learned how to write write software using Perl and CGI scripts. This was really, you know, street credit. This is yeah, this is bad time. And wrote a little e commerce thing so that this company could sell their their video training online. And, and I just loved the technology part of it like it was, it seemed like I had endless energy for, for learning and figuring it out.

Matt Hunckler 07:38
It always come natural to you, or did you kind of hit some stumbling blocks along the way?

Scott Johnson 07:45
I’d like to say it came pretty naturally. Like I think I had a just I don’t know, my DNA just kind of worked. I kind of get it. So. Yeah, from there, after that company, started a agency, whether it was a creative agency that was focused on Web Solutions. And did you have that

Matt Hunckler 08:06
idea for the agency while you were still working in that first job?

Scott Johnson 08:10
Yeah. Well, so I can tell you some stories, but let’s just say that company went bankrupt. Oh, my hand the FBI was involved. So yeah, and I was, right. I got out with everything, but a couple of paychecks. But yeah, another lesson. Yeah. And but speaking about culture, yeah. I learned, like the entire book of how not to on culture at this company.

Matt Hunckler 08:36
So what were some of the pages that are that? Well, you could you could write a book.

Scott Johnson 08:41
Hey, that company fired people over the PA? No. Yeah. Like when they would like if you would ask about your paycheck. You’re pretty certain to get fired over the PA. So yeah, there are some interesting and hilarious stories that talks Yeah, we used to race each other to the bank on pay day because only the first four or five people would get their their checks cash. No. Everyone else would have to wait. Oh, my God whose money? That’s brutal. Yeah, traumatizing. So anyway, yeah. So why company like totally went belly up and more shadowy? No surprise. Yeah. And I got in building Web Solutions, marketing solutions on the web, and this agency grew. And as we had dozens of employees, we needed to understand like, who’s doing what, and how much more work could we do? And is there work we’re doing that’s good and profitable and work we’re doing that’s not good and not profitable. And we wanted our customers to have really visibility into the work we were doing for them. And so I started kind of nights and weekends, writing some software that could actually do this thing because at the time Microsoft Project was not going to be would be the solution for that. Yeah. What year was? This was 9099? Okay. 2000. So, after working on that for about a year and a half, rolled it out to some of our clients at the agency, they’re like, Hey, this is cool software, where did you buy it? So for me, that’s really, you know, I never considered myself an entrepreneur at all until that point where I had an opportunity to split from the agency to sort of the the IP and, and left the agency with my partners and started my decision. Yeah, it was because I had had three kids at the time, a little young kids and a mortgage. Yeah. And had had to, you know, strike out and, and went without a paycheck for a year and a half. And nobody wouldn’t let him. Nobody would give us money because Microsoft was going to destroy us and all that, by the way, Microsoft is a customer of this company now. Oh, wow. But, yeah, so So you’re pitching it in late, early 2000s, early 2000. It was like 2000 was a rough time to be a tech. Exactly. So this thing was a company called that task. And, you know, it was a boy it was it was, you know, it was bootstrapped. It was difficult. We had some crazy experiences, going in and making promises over the phone and then writing code all night long to go do the pitch the next day of what we just promised, and try to win deals and a lot of smoke and mirrors early on, and made it happen. And that company now has 1300 employees. It’s really dominating the enterprise work management space. Tons of great people work there. Some are just beautiful, very humble beginnings for sure. He’s trapped all the way bootstrapped up to 2007. Okay, yeah. So Brian, first VC 2007. Nice.

Matt Hunckler 12:08
What was that hard decision?

Scott Johnson 12:11
It was? Yes. And no. I mean, we were trying to compete with companies that had already raised 30 to $60 million. We’ve got this little team just barely, like doing everything we can just to stay at parity with the market. And we wanted to be more than just parity. We wanted to be leaders in the space. And that required taking some capital and really jumpstarting, you know, beyond what we could do organically.

Matt Hunckler 12:41
What changed between 2002 1007 In terms of your use of raising funding?

Scott Johnson 12:49
Yeah, interesting. Several million dollars of ARR. Probably interesting, and I can show ya investment. Exactly. Yeah. Nobody had any vision until we were actually winning. Yeah, at least making progress. Yep. Uh huh.

Matt Hunckler 13:02
Yeah. Did that change the culture at all? When you went from a bootstrapped team to now we’re playing with other people’s money?

Scott Johnson 13:10
It did. First of all, you know, I look back, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes through this whole thing, too. But one thing when you bring in the VC money is you’re stepping into a new stream, right, that’s running at a new, there’s a new current, and you gotta be like, You got to be ready for that. And I think a lot of young entrepreneurs, I know, I was one, the, the investors, they know everything, right? They have all the right answers. And you look at him, like, I’ll do whatever you tell me to do. And what you don’t know from from the flip side, because now I invest in companies too. And, and you see some investors, it’s like, Hey, we’re gonna place a bet on you, and we’re really going to push you to swing for the fences, or just die. Yeah, you know, it’s all or nothing. And fortunately, the group that came in to to work from early, there was open view out of Boston, and they were pretty practical, pragmatic about it. And so it was, it was good for us. But from my perspective, I felt this pressure of, oh my gosh, you know, we’ve we’ve now got to make a return, we’ve got to do this. And it really caused me to take myself so seriously. And that can be bad for culture, you know, because every little problem, you’ve got some board members that are like, Why don’t you just fire him? You know, why don’t you just hire better people? And like, that’s kind of changes your outlook on your little team that you’ve got, right? Like, every time there’s a problem. You got people saying, How come you didn’t just fire them already and get somebody better? And so that was you know, If I would, that was a little difficult, I’m sure on the culture thing,

Matt Hunckler 15:04
I’m sure. Any advice for founders who are going through that now?

Scott Johnson 15:09
Heck, yeah, I do you know, more than you think, you know, yeah. As a founder, you know, like the core DNA of your company. You’re the one with the vision, like, don’t let somebody convince you that you don’t know that. And just have more confidence in yourself.

Matt Hunckler 15:24
Yeah, that’s good advice. If there’s anything you could do differently, is that what you do differently? Or is there anything besides having a little more confidence in yourself?

Scott Johnson 15:34
Yeah, no, that’s definitely that would be probably top of my list. Look, realize that your gut is probably right. More than you think it is.

Matt Hunckler 15:42
Yeah, absolutely. Well, it seems like it worked out pretty well. You said 1300 customers now. 1300 employees, all employees? Yeah. Wow. They’re doing really well. That’s great. Yeah. And so is that now what is now? Workfront? Yes. Okay.

Scott Johnson 15:58
Yeah. Went through a little rebranding exercise. Yeah, in like, 2012 ish. 2013. Yeah.

Matt Hunckler 16:06
What were some of the other bigger cultural milestones? I mean, that’s a big, that’s a big one raising funding. Yeah. Where did you see the other kind of like natural sort of like, shifts into the next chapter? Or was it really like the culture that you had at that time? Did that scale all the way through to 1300? Employees?

Scott Johnson 16:23
No, that’s an excellent question. We were always very focused on we always wanted to be, like, the best place to work and have work be made. Part of the reason that company even exists is because it’s important that our time of work counts for something. Yeah. Right. And so culture is kind of follows that naturally, as well. And we wanted to have the strong culture and what what I learned along the way is, there’s some points, there’s a point where you have like, 70 employees, where you start to have a couple layers of management now. And at that point, it’s really easy to lose a little bit of the core.

Matt Hunckler 17:06
And how might that manifest?

Scott Johnson 17:09
How it manifests with me, because we didn’t have a defined culture. Like, as a CEO, I knew, you know, we all knew Hey, we’re all like smart, and we’re good. And we’re out to go win. Yeah. So as you start to grow, and with the VC money, you start to look outside your backyard, and you start to accelerate some of the growth. And so we’re starting to meet people that are, you know, bigwig, sales guy from Microsoft, or bigwig, professional services leader from IBM, or you get the stars in your eyes, and you’re like, come on, and join our team. And they bring their own culture with them. Sure. And if you don’t have a define, which we didn’t have it defined what you can end up with as little subcultures in your company, and saw that happen. And when that starts to happen, it’s actually really hard to unwind from Yeah. What’s really hard to make that change. It’s because you’re, it’s culture starts with hiring people who resonate with what that culture is, yeah, you know, you go join the banner that inspires you, right? Sure. You change the banner? And it’s not like, oh, no, I’m inspired by a new banner. So yeah. Anyway, it’s just it’s, it’s a long process to kind of make that change. And, and that was, that was definitely a critical point that going from like 70 to 150. In about a year. Oh, now, it’s been great. It said that can take a culture hit. And then as you start to expand into multiple locations, that’s another sort of cultural milestone where now things need to be so operationalized, operationalize and part of the part of the core that the company can sustain. For example, an office in Armenia was 70 people or an office in London was 70 people and still be, you would recognize a work friend or, you know, whether you’re in Utah or in a remote office somewhere. Yeah. And so that was that’s, that’s another probably big cultural milestone.

Matt Hunckler 19:21
Do those offices feel the same? Thank you. Yeah. Yeah. So like, similar energy was in Armenia versus what? Yeah, okay. No work for an office in Utah

Scott Johnson 19:32
feel feel like same vibe. Exactly.

Matt Hunckler 19:35
Interesting. What are some of the things that you’ve done as CEO to make sure that that happens?

Scott Johnson 19:44
Yeah. So and by the way, I, I hired a CEO in 2012. It was when when you receive Yes, so we and we invested in making sure that So there’s ample FaceTime between offices. So bringing people out, sending people out, making sure that there’s time together, making sure that even remote locations have a clear vision of where the company is headed and their key role in it. And making sure they understand what they do is important. And then identifying those values, and articulating them and making sure they’re reinforced regularly and you know, at higher time and and beyond. Yeah, you know, I was interviewing board candidates. And one board candidate, I remember, we were driving back from the airport, and he said, you know, Scott, there’s one thing that is responsible for about 40% of your company’s success. Do you know what that is? I’m like, I don’t know. How about you tell me. And so we did. And he said, culture is responsible for 40% of your entire success. And to me, that was like, at that time, that was kind of a wake up, because I wasn’t, I had sort of made a lot of assumptions that, hey, we’re, you know, hire good people. We’re smart. You know, it’s all good. And I have since learned that, that a that is absolutely true. And be the CEO owns it. Yeah. And see that CEO in owning it needs to articulate to the company very regularly, the what the TrueNorth vision of the company is, and what those unique attributes and values are that really inspire people to be, you know, on the same team,

Matt Hunckler 21:40
yeah. How did that? How did you personally connect to those things that you then connect it to the team? What was it about work fronts, mission and values? How did those connect to you personally,

Scott Johnson 21:56
so they kind of came from me, they kind of like are part of my DNA. Yeah. And same thing with motivasi, too, you know, we have very unique values. And those, those have come because they’re like, they’re important to me, I see him as sort of recipe for life success. Yeah. Yep.

Matt Hunckler 22:19
How did you go about doing that at Workfront? And I definitely want to talk about motivasi. Because I love the product. And I want to talk a little bit about the product too. But yeah, and motivasi, you were saying at 70 employees, or sorry, at Workfront, you’re selling at 70 employees, that’s where you started the kind of first realize, okay, maybe we need to define some of this stuff. So

Scott Johnson 22:40
that it scales with us. Yeah, I was probably it was probably about that time. Yeah. How

Matt Hunckler 22:44
did you go about doing that? Did you just kind of go into a conference room, write some things down in your notebook and come out and say these are our core values.

Scott Johnson 22:53
So we really kind of know what we did was because it hadn’t been drawn up officially beforehand, we really spent a lot of time with the employees and other long term members of the executive team asking questions like, Okay, who are we really like, if you were to describe your if you were to look out here and describe the PERT the typical person you see sitting here, you know, what are the words like what, what comes to mind? Like, what is the attitude of this company towards solving problems, and, you know, like, one of our one of our values was no jerks. And it really was a result of the fact that you don’t like leadership doesn’t abuse the people under them and berate them or steal their ideas and get credit for them or, you know, treat them like they’re any like a subordinate. They’re the ones doing the work. Right. Right. And so people felt really comfortable in this level. Playing environment.

Matt Hunckler 23:59
Yeah, I like that. Yeah,

Scott Johnson 24:01
maybe a little too level. I remember. I just remembered a meeting we had an intern like a software development intern in this and it was like a small town hall type meeting. And I was sharing an idea for something and this guy goes, That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. And to

Matt Hunckler 24:30
talk about psychological safety,

Scott Johnson 24:31
yeah. And I know that guy because he’s gone on to do a very successful TEDx. Talk about rejection, and he’s a good friend. And that’s still not who he is. But it’s just like, that’s a hilarious example. Like an intern would tell the CEO. Yeah, like, that’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.

Matt Hunckler 24:53
I love that. So you get once you had your core values, at what point did you realize that You needed to kind of create sort of a set of activities and actions around those core values. Where do you start to kind of get this idea for what? And I’m, you know, tipping my hand a little bit here. But how did you get the idea for motivasi?

Scott Johnson 25:16
Yeah, so, you know, we worked on. So when I, when I exited the day to day at work front, we had unlimited PTO, we had the break room, we had the game room, we had 401k, we did fall insurance, we had company parties, we did picnics, we had the beloved company dodgeball tournament. And, you know, we did all these things that I thought we had the quarterly meeting with the MVP awards, and every department recognize somebody and and we had, you know, you’re doing this book, we’re doing the playbook. And so everybody should be thrilled. Right? Like, they should just be thrilled about being there. It’s company, it’s growing fast, doing all the right things, cares about its people. And as I stepped out of day to day, I started hearing from some of my favorite top talent, their comments like, yeah, it doesn’t feel special anymore. Or I’m not really sure anybody who knows what I’m doing. I think I might look for another opportunity. And that’s the worst a because how can you spend your whole day? Every day? Like your waking hours on something that you actually feel like, maybe nobody cares what you do? Yeah, that’s the worst. Yeah, or you don’t. And, yeah, and it doesn’t feel it just feels like a job and doesn’t feel special. And so that really started bugging me. And, you know, to me, I think that there’s a way that you can use technology is is good and bad. Like sometimes in tech founders, there are a solution looking for a problem. And if people aren’t trying to solve the problem, already, you know, tech, all it does is optimize whatever people are trying to do on their own. And the problem that companies at scale have is that you have a we don’t pay managers to be touchy feely, nice people, we pay them to get results, right. So that’s one problem. The other problem is that in companies, you have pockets of good managers and pockets of bad managers, I mean, and it’s always going to be that way. Because we get our managers from a pool of individual contributors. And just because you know how to do the job doesn’t mean you know how to help others succeed at doing a job. So sure, that’s a fact of life. So the question is, is there a way that we can wrap the company so that whether an employee has a good or bad experience isn’t dependent on whether they have a good or bad manager, and there is a way to do it, and the things that do that aren’t that hard to do? And hence motivasi was born, so started working on that really, as a result of being bugged enough to like wake up every morning at two o’clock. Just like, anxious to get started on this problem. How did you start

Matt Hunckler 28:29
once you had the idea? What was sort of that first step to kind of start testing that idea and working a little bit?

Scott Johnson 28:37
Yeah, so the whole history of the company has been kind of a set of go no go decisions. And first go, no go decision was a hypothesis around. I think that companies will spend money to have a better culture, like, and not just, Hey, let’s throw a bigger party, because let’s face it, when big successful VC funded company, has an awesome party and invites the IT band to come play. It’s marketing, right? They’re not doing that because they love their employees. I mean, they say they are but if they’re showing off sorry, if you’ve done that, anyway. So, you know, are they really willing to spend money for authentic benefit to the employees and so that took a little bit of research, and talking to people I knew and trying to figure out like, where their mindset was and where their heart was. And then the next kind of No, go go decision was okay. The way that this is going to work is a little bit counterintuitive. And it involves really a lot of elements of positive psychology and, and sort of authentic, authentically, turning the reins of culture over to Do the employees Remember, we’re trying to wrap the, you know, wrap the company so that we’re not dependent on a top down? Approach? Yeah, for culture, absolutely. Which means you have to empower employees in the way that you empower them, at least in a little bit in motivasi, is by giving him some money. And it doesn’t have to be a lot, but it has to be some money or it won’t work. And so it’s, it’s called hard currency that you use to appreciate people around the organization. And that accrues and the other part of it is, uh, you have to be able to spend it on whatever you want, like, you have to be able to get an Amazon gift card. And not just only use it to buy a company swag or office supplies, right? Or that ruins that too. So that was very counterintuitive, especially six years ago, there were a lot of organizations that were still running the playbook of more parties, more soda, more, you know, bigger break room, what do you want us to give our employees money? No way. And so it took a little bit to kind of get past. All right, we think we think companies will do this, we think they’ll buy it. Now the next decision was alright, will people actually use it. And to do that you have to build it. You have to build it in a way that. You know, we all have day jobs. And we’re all we’re all busy. And nobody wants to learn another piece of software. And so it has to be something that is so easy. It doesn’t need to be learned. And it has to drive so much value in somebody’s life that they actually want to go use it. They can’t have to be reminded and threatened or bribed to go use it. They have to just want to go use it. So

Matt Hunckler 31:43
did you have any customers teed up?

Scott Johnson 31:47
We did. Yeah. Uh huh.

Matt Hunckler 31:49
So you’re kind of like, Alright, these people have dollars are willing to spend it or maybe even committed dollars. And now it’s time to build it? Uh huh. Yep. Yeah. What’s the biggest insight once you started building the software? What was what were some of the bigger like aha moments as you’re kind of seeing people use it? But maybe you didn’t expect?

Scott Johnson 32:11
So I actually, I was really, I wouldn’t say pessimistic, but I was like, this is a this is a hard challenge, like getting people to actually use something on their own. Yeah. And probably, I think, for me, the biggest aha on that one was, we had a test customer, and they were about 800 employees. And they’re like, Okay, so how do we launch this, so that everyone’s gonna use it, and I said, here’s what we’re gonna do. You’re not going to tell anybody, you’re launching it, we’re just going to turn it on and watch it for a while. And so that was their launch, they just turned it on. No announcement, nothing. And within three weeks, they had 98% of their employees using it on a regular basis. And so for me that was in that was, you know, 800 people, it was kind of at scale. For me, that told me that, okay, this thing. This is going to be good. Yeah. And pretty good. Yeah, no, really, for sure. And then of course, the next one is alright, but will people keep using it? Because it could get tired after a month or two months. novelty effect? Yeah, exactly. So that question took, you know, a year really to answer and watching people after a year, they’re just as strong or stronger. So then that was a checkmark. And then the next question is, will the business recognize any value from this and that’s a go no go to because you’re gonna have something that’s awesome in every other way. And if the business is like me, doesn’t do anything for us. You’re gonna be struggling to sell over and over and over and it’s gonna be ugly and not very fun. So we were able to get real data, real results from customers who were able to we started hearing things like this is the best investment we’ve ever made. started hearing how they justify that investment started seeing HR leaders going to new companies and bringing this in on like day one was their new job that’s great. So we knew all right, this is they companies are seeing that this is something that is key for their company. So then after that, it’s like learn how to sell it and learn how to scale it and that’s where we are right now is learning how to scale at one

Matt Hunckler 34:35
I definitely want to talk about that but but just talk me through like a use case today. So I’m an employee. Work front. Yeah, nope. Work fronts customer. No,

Scott Johnson 34:46
they do but they were not our first customer. Yeah, I couldn’t bring myself to take it over there. If it was no good.

Matt Hunckler 34:54
So how would work? If I’m an employee at work front, how would I use motivasi?

Scott Johnson 34:59
Yeah, so the The the the core of the software is a peer to peer recognition platform, okay, so what will happen is, you’ll get a little welcome. And the company will have decided that you get a certain amount of money every month that you can use to say thanks to people, what’s the average range that companies, it’s five bucks, five bucks a month, five bucks per employee per month get right. So you think that’s like, too small to make a meaningful difference. But data shows if it’s, if you do 510 2030, it’s the same participation. Now, if you do less than five, it starts to go down yet. So five is really the kind of magic number there. So not a lot, not a ton of money. But what you’ll do is get on get on motor velocity, you’ll fill out a profile that includes a personality profile, you fill out, it’s a tag cloud of your interests, your your key responsibilities in the company, just a little about yourself a little history. And what that really does is helps you connect to other people in the company. And then you have this central area, which is like who do you appreciate? And when you gotta appreciate somebody that company values are right there in front of you. So you know, hey, values, team spirit, whatever, like are no jerks, right? Yeah, you might be like, Hey, man, my boss came in and had a correction, but was super nice about it, I’m gonna be like, hey, so appreciated the constructive criticism yesterday, here’s about no jerks, hit submit, what’s going to happen is, that person’s team is going to see it, that person’s boss up the chain is going to see it, other people are going to are going to see it, they can comment on it, they can throw in $1 of their own if they want. And that person, of course, that money accumulates, and you use it for whatever, whatever you want, whether it’s every time you you save up to five bucks, you go get a Starbucks card, or you you know, buy a guitar or something on Amazon. So that’s kind of that’s the core, there’s some other components to it that really drive that stickiness. And there’s some tools that help managers do ongoing, regular, constructive feedback and sort of give them a framework where they can know the questions they should be asking and how they can do that without being this awkward, negative experience that so many people have with their managers.

Matt Hunckler 37:34
Yeah. Well, and you mentioned, you know, six, seven years ago, the market not really being there. Yeah. It really seems like, just in general, a lot more companies are putting emphasis on culture, putting much bigger emphasis on employee engagement. Talk to me a little bit about what you’re seeing, you know, being now square and center that industry.

Scott Johnson 37:56
Yeah. So seriously, we sort of had a joke in the office about 2015, Vax. Okay, I’ll tell you two things here. In 2015, it seriously felt like we could make more money selling nuclear waste than we could selling our software, like it was impossible to sell this thing. And customers were few and far between. leads were kind of few and far between as well. And as I was looking at it, you know, go to market seemed like, maybe we’re going to be a play. That’s, that’s 450 to 150 employees. And maybe it’s just not going to get beyond that, because that’s just where the mindset was at the time.

Matt Hunckler 38:41
Yeah. How did you get through those times?

Scott Johnson 38:44
Well, we did the brilliant thing of 2016 our software was free for everybody. Wow. And that didn’t work either. So don’t do that.

Matt Hunckler 38:54
What What was that was a huge was that process,

Scott Johnson 38:56
their thought process was, hey, just figure out where the barriers are. Okay. And, you know, if it’s, if it’s a budgetary thing, people aren’t sure, because we know once they get in it, they are just gonna love it. Right. So how do we get people in it easy? Free? Yeah. But there’s there’s a bigger cost, at least when you look at something that’s supposed to be getting all of your employees pointed in a direction. It’s the it’s the political capital needed to pull that initiative off. It’s not the money. Yeah. And that’s where, and that’s back to the struggle of companies just aren’t there yet. Like CEOs like, no, that’s stupid. Why would we do that? Right? And, but now, it’s really taken off the last probably two years, maybe a little bit more than two years, but it’s just crazy. I don’t know. It’s like, it could be that millennials are getting into more managerial positions in companies. That’s probably a driver for it. gig economy digital transformation is, is definitely a driver for it, you know, you’re trying to put dis separate teams together as a common culture that and that’s a tough thing to do. And I think the playbook as wearing it’s wearing out, it’s welcome. Like, we talked to more companies that come to us and say, we’ve tried everything else. And we need something that drives results.

Matt Hunckler 40:26
And so now, it’s not just companies 50 to 150.

Scott Johnson 40:29
No, it’s like companies that are like 10 20,000 employees are actually waking up and saying, yeah, it’s worth an investment in an individual if they’re happier about being here.

Matt Hunckler 40:41
Yeah. What, what is it about culture other than, like, the warm and fuzzies that that gets you out of bed in the morning.

Scott Johnson 40:51
So a what gets me out of bed is that I, I really care about making our time count. Like, to me, I don’t know what it is about my DNA, but that’s just what I am. So I care that the people around me like aren’t wasting their time and and that they’re, they’re engaged in something that’s, that’s meaningful and matters and that they feel like a sense of accomplishment and pride in what they do so. So that causes me to really care that important that companies have happy employees. And so that’s really what we’re focused on is helping people be happy about being at work. Very cool. Yeah,

Matt Hunckler 41:33
yeah. I saw the national stats recently. And it’s 86% of people say they’re not passionate about their job.

Scott Johnson 41:40
Yeah. And you know what, that number has not changed in 20 years. Crazy hasn’t changed one bit. Yeah. And look at all the things that companies have done in the last 20 years to try and change that number.

Matt Hunckler 41:51
Yeah. Yeah. No, that might just be hedonic adaptation right there of us getting used to the new norm. Yeah, yeah.

Scott Johnson 41:59
Maybe so could be us humans

Matt Hunckler 42:02
are weird. But speaking about culture, can you talk to me a little bit about before we wrap here, I’m very curious to hear kind of a little bit more, I certainly have some friends in the Salt Lake City area, and that sort of tech hub that’s really seems to be booming right now. But it sounds like you’ve started your past several companies there. Yeah. What have you seen change there? And what’s it like today?

Scott Johnson 42:28
You know what, I love it. So a, I love Utah. And when I was trying to raise money, in 2007, we had plenty of offers that said, Hey, come move to Silicon Valley, and we’ll fund your company. Right? And didn’t, you know, didn’t want to go that way? And why was that? The The reason I love Utah, A, it’s the coolest state ever, there’s so much to do, like mountain biking or hiking or beautiful, like, there’s so much variety. But the the community culture really, is is meaningful in Utah, and I would contrast it, you know, Silicon Valley, it’s like, your life is your company. Yeah, you know, and it’s all about just winning. And in Utah, it’s about having a fulfilling life. And your job is part of that, but it’s one part of a bigger equation, that is family and, and community and outdoors if you’re outdoorsy to and, and so there’s more allowance for that. And Utah. Some people might look at that and say we’re lazy, but you know, look, there’s great companies that are growing out of Utah, and their employees are happier, because of that balance.

Matt Hunckler 43:51
1000s of tech companies in Utah right now,

Scott Johnson 43:53
right? Yeah, there are a lot. Yeah. Yeah. Cool.

Matt Hunckler 43:57
Has that always been the case? Or has that been more kind of in the recent years?

Scott Johnson 44:03
It has always been the case. What what I think has changed in recent years. I remember trying to recruit executives. Yeah. And seriously, it was people would say, I will work anywhere but Utah. So since you’re in Utah, not interested, and it would happen all the time, anywhere, but Utah, will now there’s enough of a tech presence that is pretty compelling. I mean, you look down the street and see just all these name brand companies that you know, they’re right there. So you know, there’s a career opportunity. And you know, I think people are sensing that Hey, there, there actually is something to this, this concept that life is more than just go dominated your job. Yeah,

Matt Hunckler 44:49
absolutely. Like I certainly subscribe to that feels to me, it feels Midwest. Yeah, you know, you guys are like that here in the Midwest. Yeah. But it’s it’s cool. It’s cool to you. We’re about it. I definitely want to get plugged into a visit Utah for vacation, but I have not visited yet for business. So I am eager to get in, plug in a little bit more.

Scott Johnson 45:09
Well, when you come out, we’ll show you around. Yeah, that’d be great.

Matt Hunckler 45:12
Good. Well, hey, Scott, I really appreciate you sharing your story here today. And I’m excited about what you’re doing. motivasi we’re looking forward to using it on the powderkeg team right on and we’ll definitely share more about it in our experience. Good, Matt. Thank

Scott Johnson 45:26
you very much.

Matt Hunckler 45:27
Yeah, thank you. And to wrap I just want to say that’s it for today’s show. Thank you so much for listening. Huge thank you to Scott Johnson for coming in today. Here in Indianapolis at powderkeg headquarters. Be sure to check out Scott and his company We’re gonna link it all up in the show notes at Patrick as well as links to all the resources and companies we talked about here today on the show and to be among the first to hear the stories about entrepreneurs, investors and leaders outside of Silicon Valley. Please make sure you subscribe to us on iTunes and We’ll catch you next time on powderkeg igniting startups