Tarek Kamil, Founder, Cerkl

Tarek Kamil created the technology that evolved into Cerkl as a pet project to help his children’s school district better engage with families, alumni, and the community.

That project became a business a few years later in 2015, with an employee communications suite. We recently spoke with Kamil about Cerkl’s rapid growth, his vision for the future, and building a tech startup dedicated to supporting a globally distributed workforce in the Cincinnati area.

The Blue Ash-based startup recently closed on a $7 million Series A round, with plans to increase its workforce four-fold with the help of an estimated $1.6 million tax credit from JobsOhio. Prior to Series A, the company had raised $4.4 million from local angels, who are still involved. Its first customer was St. Elizabeth Healthcare, with 10,000 employees in the Cincy region.

We recently spoke with Kamil about Cerkl’s rapid growth, his vision for the future, and building a tech startup dedicated to supporting a globally distributed workforce in the Cincinnati area.

Can you tell us about your vision for Cerkl?

Kamil: We really latched on to the fundamental technology of how do you personalize communication? How can we do a better job of matchmaking and delivering a personalized experience to the recipient, instead of it being about the sender? How do we make our employees feel as though we’re talking to just them and not shouting at the whole workforce?

How did COVID affect that?

COVID caused every employer to rethink the relationship they have with their workforce and their employees, especially if they weren’t seeing them every day. So we were already talking and thinking this way, and then COVID really just accelerated the employer’s adoption of a new way to think about the relationship with their employee.

Is your solution, Broadcast, based on explicit opt-ins by the employees, or a set of personas, or other personalization factors?

Kamil: It’s a combination. So if you think about Netflix, it learns really in two ways. When you first subscribe, they would say, ‘Welcome to Netflix, what kinds of shows and movies have you liked in the past,’ and you would go through and pick. And that immediately starts making intelligent recommendations. After that, it’s all based on your behavior. It goes to the individual level. And the high-level philosophy is we want to bring a consumer grade experience inside of the organization. It has to be about the individual. It can’t always be about the company.

Your solution offers integration with HR systems. What’s the type of information that it provides back to HR?

Kamil: HR can get insights into what type of content is resonating with your workforce. For example, are they consuming it more in mobile, intranet, Slack teams, email newsletter? They can see what content is trending and they can see content and engagement by demographic. They want the same information as what’s going on in marketing. And it really it’s an internally facing marketing function.

Do you have a lot of competition in this space?

Kamil: It really is an emerging category. There are a lot of vendors out there that think about making a channel better. There are vendors that are going to give you a mobile app for your workforce. There are vendors that are going to make your intranet better. There are vendors that will integrate with Teams or Slack. Our philosophy is fundamentally different. We think the key to engagement is the experience itself, not the channel on which it is delivered.

Is acquisition part of your company’s trajectory right now?

Kamil: You know, I love the question, and people often don’t like the answer: I don’t really think about it. I don’t think about his acquisition or IPO or anything else. I think about how we focus on creating amazing value. That’s all we care about. If you are maniacally focused on creating value, then good things happen. I don’t really care about making money.

You’re growing your workforce. Will these new team members be devoted to product development or customer success, or some other growth area?

Kamil: Great question. It’s really across the board. In starting the business, we really focused on this idea of creating a bucket and making sure the bucket had no holes in it before we start filling it with water. That, for us, has been a deep focus around people culture, product engineering, and customer experience. Now that we know the bucket is solid, it is time to focus on filling it with water, which is sales and marketing. So going forward, it’ll be hiring across the board, primarily technical talent: engineers, cloud, security, DevOps, those types of roles.

How do you attract talent for a fast growing software company in the Cincinnati area?

Kamil: It really is our ability to move quickly. And for people to really understand the value that they’re providing. And that’s really what we sell, is that you’re part of a team and you’re going to know what you work on and how it contributes to our success. We have a very transparent culture all the way across. I want people to challenge me. If the intern has a better idea than me,

then we’re going with the intern’s idea.

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