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Mixing business with pleasure

Alumnus promotes happiness at work

Aaron Cohn’s newest entrepreneurial venture, happybot.ai, uses HR technology to boost corporate morale and reduce employee turnover. Cohn ’10, MS ’11, returned to Binghamton University this fall to teach an undergraduate course on entrepreneurship.
Aaron Cohn’s newest entrepreneurial venture, happybot.ai, uses HR technology to boost corporate morale and reduce employee turnover. Cohn ’10, MS ’11, returned to Binghamton University this fall to teach an undergraduate course on entrepreneurship. Photography: Jonathan Cohen.

Aaron Cohn ’10, MS ’11, has long been fascinated by how many successful companies don’t know how to keep their employees happy.

“After graduating, I was the person my friends went to for advice when they were fed up with their jobs. It boggled my mind how many people weren’t happy at their jobs,” Cohn says. “I knew boosting workplace culture was a problem that many organizations hadn’t solved. I asked myself if I wanted to create a product that could treat the problem like an aspirin or a vitamin.”

In May 2016, Cohn launched his workplace happiness company. Happybot.ai (the ai stands for artificial intelligence) offers customers a human resources-based software aimed at improving workplace culture. The company uses a bot to mimic human conversations between an HR representative and manager about how employees can be happier at work.

“Basically, we’ve built HR software that uses artificial intelligence to give teams automated guidelines for happiness and culture,” Cohn says.

The software interacts with users via their preferred communication method: e-mail, online chat or text message.

“The happybot gives managers nuggets of information to make them the best leaders they can be,” Cohn says. “The bot can also arrange a team dinner or set up a spontaneous coffee break between a manager and a junior staff member.”

Managers everywhere are trying to figure out how to improve employee engagement.

According to a 2014 Gallup report, only 30 percent of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their jobs. And just 13 percent of people consider themselves happily engaged at work.

Cohn, who has degrees in accounting, started his career as a consultant in the People and Change Division of PricewaterhouseCoopers(PwC), where he learned important strategies in human resources. One of those is that people need to feel appreciated to be successful at work.

Another Gallup study found that work friend-ships boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent and that people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be fully engaged in their roles.

“I believe culture comes from the interactions coworkers have with each other. A strong work-place culture means people enjoy being around one another and feelappreciated.

“Research has also proven that culture and employee happiness have a significant impact on a company’s profitability and productivity,” he says. “And often, managers just don’t have the time to think about culture every day. But a software program can.”

A clean start

After leaving PwC, Cohn’s first venture was the dry cleaning service app LaundryPuppy, which he cofounded in 2013 with three fellow Binghamton alumni. At the time, LaundryPuppy was among the first Manhattan-based dry cleaning pickup and delivery services on the market. The company lightened the drudgery of laundry day by sending customers pictures of adorable puppies as they completed their mobile transaction.

“Since I entered New York City’s startup world, my strongest support network has always been fellow Binghamton alumni,” Cohn says.

And his entrepreneurial ideas have always stemmed from a passion for “creating really great experiences for people.”

LaundryPuppy was acquired by a larger laundry service in 2014.

The hands-on approach

In the School of Management, Cohn says that students become like a tight-knit family. “There wasn’t the competitive attitude you would expect. Everyone wanted to help one another,” he adds.

During his time at Binghamton Cohn cofounded the campus SnoCats ski and snow-board club, served as vice president of program-ming for the Student Association and served on the executive boards of the PwC Scholars Program and College-in-the-Woods Council.

“Most of the student organizations at Binghamton don’t have advisors, which allowed me a lot of freedom and the opportunity to screw up,” Cohn says.

Failure — as any entrepreneur knows — is necessary “to achieve those one or two important successes,” Cohn says.

And for an entrepreneur, learning never stops.

Happybot.ai piloted its product with American Express and Betaworks (the startup studio that created Bitly and Giphy).

“We’re trying out all of our crazy workplace happiness ideas on companies willing to let us know what they think works and doesn’t work with our product,” Cohn says.

And because the software is scalable, it can serve an office of five people or a team of 50.

“A few years ago, my dream job was to be the chief happiness officer at a big company,” Cohn says. “Today, I can be the chief happiness officer at a thousand companies.”

Last Updated: 8/30/16