David Kristal cut his business teeth in the restaurant world at Embers, a family-owned enterprise where he bused and waited tables as a teenager and later worked along side his dad trying to stave off bankruptcy.
Today he is CEO of Augeo, a St. Paul engagement company that develops platforms that encourage employees to work harder and customers to be more loyal. It is a spinoff, of sorts, of the legacy of Embers, where Kristal learned the value of rewards and spiffs in dealing with people and organizations.
Augeo’s clients include universities, financial institutions and major corporations. The causes promoted by the St. Paul-based company range from recycling to philanthropy.
It’s a complex business, a little hard to understand sometimes. Kristal uses words like “configuration’’ and “gamification’’ to explain what Augeo is about.
But whatever Kristal is doing, he and his company of more than 200 seem to be doing it right.
Revenue growth in recent years has been averaging 30 percent year over year as Augeo has gone from an $8 million company in 2006 to a $100 million company today.
Augeo, which is Latin for augment, has mostly stayed under the radar. It has a conservative marketing budget, attends very few trade shows and has done little public relations outreach.
“We’ve been real heads down, focused on growth,” Kristal said in an interview last week. “The vast majority of our clients hire us to drive engagement and build platforms that will maximize their interaction with customers and employees.”
Last fall, Augeo got the kind of boost that money can’t buy when President Obama gave a shoutout to a website designed by Augeo to encourage millennials to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
The website is called GamePlan4Me and includes testimonials from professional athletes and entertainers including NBA star Kobe Bryant and golfer Michelle Wie about the importance of having a game plan on the court, on the course and in life.
The bottom-line message from the website was about the importance of having health insurance as part of a personal game plan because millennials are not as invincible as they believe. And recruitment of younger, generally healthier participants in the Affordable Care Act also is considered a key to the success of the health reform law.
“Our plan was to engage certain markets where there are large populations of uninsured, and those are the African-American and Hispanic communities,” Kristal said. “We created a brand with a higher purpose. The message was you need a game plan for sports, and you need a game plan for wellness. The athletes tweeted multiple times to their fan base.”
GamePlan4Me was not a profit-making project for Augeo, but it certainly solidified its reputation as an incubator of social platforms across a variety of topics.
Working with entrepreneurial clients, Augeo developed a program called Dotopia that allows companies to give money to their employees, who in turn contribute to charitable organizations of their choice.
There’s another program called Wyrpple that provides incentives for recycling.
Augeo also has a growing presence in the college sports market. It has a Web-based fan engagement product called Fan-i-Am used by nine colleges including the Duke Blue Devils and the Drake Bulldogs. The website encourages fan participation with their team and offers games and rewards.
“This is absolutely vital,” said Duke’s Ryan Craig, director of social media for the university’s athletic department. “We need to own our own message and interact with fans in a way that humanizes us and allows Duke to have a personality. We’re a national brand without a huge local following.”
Augeo also had a role in the launch of a client’s website called FamDoo, a modern-day remake of the age-old parent/child allowance relationship that electronically links behavior and performance with rewards.
“We’re an incubator. We’ve had some very big ideas come to us over the last two years that could be transformative,” said Kristal, referring to FamDoo and a parental monitoring site of teen driving habits called DriveScribe.
Augeo’s more traditional programs include incentives for employees and business performance and consumers. Clients of certain financial institutions, for instance, are rewarded for making direct deposits and using online banking statements. Augeo also has a program that provides special benefits, such as insurance, to customers of its clients.
Augeo, created in 1999, is a private company owned by several private family investor groups and company employees.
Kristal’s co-CEO is Juan Sabater, a Stanford Law School classmate of Kristal’s and former managing director of the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs.
“We see our growth continuing. Our core strategy is to be diversified,” Kristal said. “We’ve reinvested almost everything we’ve earned back into the business.”