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Startup Launches Benefits Platform as Its Vision Becomes Reality

Published
Jan 9, 2024
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Emeka Kanu, founder of ANI, talks with EisnerAmper's TechTalk host Fritz Spencer about transforming the corporate landscape of workforce wellness by redefining employee engagement. In this episode, Emeka discusses how his startup is advancing its vision through the launch of its corporate benefits platform and shares a lighthearted yet impactful conversation that continues to influence him as a founder.  


Transcript

Fritz Spencer:

Hello and welcome to Tech Talk, where you'll hear the latest in technology and investment trends directly from the trendsetters. I'm your host, Fritz Spencer, member of EisnerAmper Technology and Life Sciences Practice, and with me today is Emeka Kanu Canoe, sole founder at Ani, an employee benefit application, improving access to culture and creativity. Thanks so much for joining me Emeka, it's great to have you

Emeka Kanu:

Here, Fritz. Thanks so much for having me. It's great to be here.

FS:

In two to three sentences, can you explain ANI for our audience?

EK:

Yeah, for sure. So at a high level, ANI is a cultural benefits platform that provides enhanced access to arts and culture institutions, one, to improve workforce wellness, and two, to provide more inclusive employee engagement alternatives. Studies show that cultural exposure decreases stress, increases productivity, it increases mindfulness, which we at ANI think will lead to more productive employees. And the other piece on sort of engagement, when you think about what's happening with Gen Z and millennial drinking levels, and we can talk about that a bit later in the conversation with those decreasing, we feel arts and culture are a great set of alternatives for how you engage your employees. Instead of going to the local bar or resturant for the 50th time, maybe you bring them to the museum or you bring them to another sort of really inclusive cultural, cultural event.

FS:

Yeah, there's only so many pizza parties you can hold, right?

EK:

Yeah, yeah. People are doing the whole return to office. It's like, okay, you come back for the culture. Well, what's the culture in the office? Right? Is it a bit of a cubicle vibe or can we do something else together as a collective employee base?

FS:

So what is the problem that you saw specifically and what encouraged you to create ANI to pursue its success?

EK:

Yeah, there were a number of things, but I'll touch on just a few. One is when you look at, there are a bunch of reports, whether it's from HBR or Gallup, it depends on the source, but most of them cite a 55 to 65% US workforce being either unengaged or actively disengaged. So when you think about that unengaged or disengagement, you have to think what are the reasons for that? There are many reasons for that, but we believe that a lot of that is around lack of connectivity of employee bases, right? teams not being connected. Obviously, we were all working remotely during the three years of covid, and that has a lot of impact on how we actually connect as a team. When you're seeing people in these little boxes for a year or two, there's not much connectivity going on. Someones just sort of giving you orders and giving you work that there's not much connection.

So one is everything around disengagement. The other is I mentioned before around drinking levels, whether it's the 69% of millennials or Gen Z that plan to drink less than older generations, we have to think about more creative ways to engage our employees. The other piece, and this is now where the combination comes, cultural institutions following covid on average, have seen a 20% drop in their visitorship. So at Ani, we thought, how do we solve these problems collectively and allow, or really empower rather employers to provide access to something that we think is truly inclusive, low cost, and is really already in their backyard. These are institutions that are already there, and now you can engage with much, much easier and more flexibly using Ani.

FS:

Wow, that's awesome. I'd love to see some of that connection happening down here in South Florida. There's lots of cultural activities to be taken part in, and you don't see a lot of corporate events being held there. But let's talk more about your technology, the technology at Ani. How is that solution being built and what really sets you guys apart?

EK:

Yeah, so we saw a few gaps in the market. One was everything around information, and this is a pretty easy win, to be honest, which is, I won't mention some other platforms out there, but many, many other platforms, they allow you to purchase tickets or things like that, or maybe they give you discounts. What we find special about Ani, and this is our first solution, is, Hey, what about the information? Right? When it comes down to IT, people, especially the folks that we're going to be working with, whether it's consultants, people in tech, finance, medicine, law, they are used to being right. They're used to knowing what's going on. So we want to help them feel that way. So providing information on the exhibitions and shows and activities in well consolidated place is one way that the technology is differentiated. The other is allowing employers to invest directly in their employees access.

What I mean by that, well before starting Ani, I was at Google, and at Google I'd be able to go to a number of institutions by just flashing my corporate id because we were corporate members. Most companies don't have the resources to do that, especially not at scale and especially at the scale that ANI provides. So what we do is we allow employers to purchase, whether it's visits at the company level or at the individual employee level, so that way those employees can feel like their cultural access has already been invested in. But with that, we have a lot more optionality and flexibility than some traditional models. Lastly, on the cultural side, the platform generates what we think is a lot more data around visitors, their preferences, what they want to see next, so that way for the first time, the institutions that we're working with engage and communicate with the new audiences that we bring, right? It's great to bring someone to the museum or to the immersive space, but how do you get them to come back a second or third time? How do you engage them in other ways? And ANI allows you to do

FS:

That. Let me ask you, has there been a moment in your journey that you had to make a change or pivot the plan for Ani? I think

EK:

We've pivoted a lot. There was a point where Ani was just an idea in my head. Once you start putting that idea out there, so our talking to folks, you realize where your assumptions were correct, and more likely than not were incorrect. So I think some of the pivots that we had was on the fundamental business model. We sort of thought, okay, maybe we can try to replicate the corporate membership model of some of the institutions that we're working with, and that was really cost prohibitive. So we instead changed to a different type of model. When we started speaking to some of the larger enterprises, we realized, oh, a license based enrollment model, paying per employee per year, X amount of dollars wasn't going to work because this employer has 20,000 employees. So we had to develop an enterprise level pricing model. So some of the business fundamentals had to change as we understood the landscape more and more. I think having that flexibility in mind will allow you to be successful. I won't call these pivots, but maybe more so evolutions. It's just the evolutions of the product itself. Being able to add company level visits, being able to track certain elements of engagement on the app, I think had been good evolutions. I can't go into these just yet, but we have a lot of other pivots or evolutions planned as we look to enhance the product and of course, respond to the wants and desires of our users.

FS:

Got it. So it's an application that the employees get to use on their phone, which will grant them access to local sites, cultural events, and give them more vision of their community, and kind of make that outreach a little bit easier for those employers.

EK:

100%, right? It's, Hey, I want to understand what's happening within arts and culture within my community and where I live. Ani can help you do that. Okay. Once I find out what's going on, I want to actually access it in a very seamless way. Ani also helps you do that, right? You don't have to pre-purchase tickets, you just go and using Ani and you get that enhanced access. That access is automatically discounts or sometimes free if your employer invests directly in your cultural exposure. So those are some of the high level benefits. Yeah,

FS:

That's awesome. Well, I'd like to ask one question that we always ask here, and through your journey, has there been any conversation that you've had that you continue to replay in your mind and influences you day to day?

EK:

There were two conversations that I had early on in my process. One individual was a former colleague at Google, and the other is a very prominent individual in the sort of arts and culture space, has a few books about the sector. Fundamentally, they're like, Hey, always think about who you're speaking to. This was me never having sold anything, never having launched a partnership and not truly understanding. You have to put yourself in the shoes of whoever you're speaking with. So whether it's our institution, your messaging has to be aligned to them. What do they find most compelling? And whether it's a very large world renowned institution or a small independent one that's trying to get their name out there, what they're going to be looking for for Ani will be very different, and how do you structure the product to fit those needs? But of course, more importantly, how do you structure your messaging and your communication style? So I don't know whether that's the answer that you're looking for, but that's something that I always think about before I start a conversation with someone, put myself in their shoes. What do they care about? What do they find important? And let's go from there.

FS:

That's the beauty of that question is that there is no right answer. It's all about your perspective and your mindset, and I think knowing your audience as an entrepreneur is so crucial because you're going to be on pitches and you're going to have to know who you're talking to and what they want to hear, and how Ani plays into that conversation. So tailoring it backwards, forwards, and sideways is going to be your next few months, weeks, years, even.

EK:

100%. 100%. I mean, one of the things that I always claim my mind is when I'm speaking to a company, depending on where they are within their lifecycle as a company, do you first mention that Ani will save them time and money when it comes to planning events, when it comes to executing employee engagement initiatives? Because going to a museum, going to a cultural sector is typically going to be cheaper than going to a bar restaurant, or do you talk about the fact that two thirds of employees find employers that invest in cultural wellness to be employers that they want to stay with, so therefore something like Ani will help them attract and retain employees? Do you talk about that first? So it's always how do you shift that messaging? How do you prioritize and align with the employer or the audience that you're speaking with?

FS:

Yeah, you always have to tailor your focus. Well, Emeka, I want to thank you for taking the time to have this conversation with me today. It's been an absolute pleasure, and thanks again to our listeners for tuning into Tech Talk, the entrepreneurs and innovators who turn to Eisner Amper for accounting, tax and advisory solutions. Subscribe to EisnerAmper's podcast to listen to more tech talk episodes, or visit eisneramper.com for more tech news that you can use.

Transcribed by Rev.com

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Fritz Spencer

Fritz Spencer is a Audit Senior with audit and accounting experience serving both public and private entities.


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