TrueOffice Turns Boring Corporate Training Into a Game

7/30/12Follow @arleneweintraub

It’s the memo every new employee dreads: “We need you to go to a drab, windowless conference room for a half-day session on compliance. During the meeting, we’ll bore you with details about our company’s policies on IT security, sexual harassment, confidentiality, and the like. If you don’t show up, you’ll be fired. Have a nice day.”

Obviously, that’s not a real memo, but it may as well be, says Adam Sodowick, the CEO and founder of New York-based TrueOffice. His one-year-old company, which was founded in Boston, is developing desktop and mobile games that companies can use to train their employees on internal corporate policies. The games are not only meant to make such compliance training more fun and appealing, they’re also designed to help employees actually remember what they learn. The games, he says, are based on “teaching through stories, which is how the brain is hardwired to learn.”

Sodowick hit on the idea through his previous company, 50 Lessons, an online database of 1,200 business-themed courses taught by more than 250 executives. The company, which was based in the U.K. and backed by the BBC, was bought by Skillsoft in 2011.

But before that happened, 50 Lessons got big enough that Sodowick had to implement compliance training there, and he was not happy with his choices. “What I found is that [compliance training] is a big old market, extremely unsexy, literally littered with bad products, and ripe for modernization,” he says.

Most companies offer compliance training in live sessions with PowerPoint presentations, Sodowick observed, or on the intranet in a multiple-choice testing format. “Often people will put the test on a separate screen and flip through it in the shortest amount of time possible,” he says. “There’s no retention.” Sometimes companies try to spice up the presentations with videos, Sodowick says, but he’s not impressed. “They use B-list actors or comedians to try to make a joke out of it or exaggerate it,” he says. “It tends to feel very self-conscious.”

TrueOffice offers a variety of games that can be tailored to each company’s own internal policies. The most popular game, he says, condenses 45 minutes of compliance training into a 15-minute, role-playing video game. The object of the game is to place 10 red flags in scenes where someone is violating a company policy. “Maybe a thumb drive isn’t encrypted properly, or someone’s accessing public Wi-Fi to send secure information to their Gmail account,” Sodowick says. There are 50 places total where the employee can place a red flag, 15 of which are correct.

The characters in TrueOffice’s games are drawn in the style of a graphic novel or comic book. This allows the company to customize the games to different overseas markets. And, says Sodowick, “it’s not exaggerated. It seems to resonate well with both the companies and the employees.”

Another advantage that TrueOffice offers, Sodowick says, is the ability to measure how well employees are remembering what they’re learning. In four pilot tests the company ran last year, it found that 95 percent of employees better understood their companies’ policies after completing the game.

TrueOffice was one of six companies to complete the FinTech Innovation Lab, a 12-week incubator program sponsored by Accenture and the New York City Investment Fund. The program gave TrueOffice an opportunity to further develop its technology, test pricing assumptions, and build a “product road map,” Sodowick says. “We had access up and down through Morgan Stanley, Citi, Barclays, and nine other banks. We had a tremendous amount of support. It was a big accelerant.”

TrueOffice cannot reveal the names of the companies that tested the product during the pilots, but Sodowick says the games are catching on primarily in the financial services and pharma sectors. The company is preparing for a commercial rollout soon and hopes to raise a $5 million Series A by the end of the year, he says.

Although Sodowick started the company in Boston and still maintains a technology-focused office there, he moved the headquarters to New York for access to the financial services and pharma industries, he says. “Also there’s a big concentration of talent and capital here,” he says.

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