Kona Raises $4M Seed Round to Foster Empathetic Management

The company is expanding beyond its Slack integration that helps remote teams embrace “squishy” emotions.

Written by Ashley Bowden
Published on Jul. 26, 2022
Kona Raises $4M Seed Round to Foster Empathetic Management
kona-co-founders
The Kona founding team. | Photo: Kona

For the average remote employee, the main way we interact with people at work is through tiny rectangles on a computer screen. Otherwise, communication hinges upon Slack messages and emails. While this digital transition has allowed us to continue to do our jobs and communicate with our colleagues, it hasn’t replaced the feeling of coexisting with other humans in a physical space.

As such, getting an accurate read on a person’s emotions or wellbeing has become more of a speculation than a direct observation. Over the past two years, finding ways to establish genuine human connection in the workplace has become an agenda item for remote managers everywhere. Kona hopes to give them the tools they need with its employee experience platform. The company just raised $4 million for its solution that prioritizes mental health. 

Kona, formerly known as Sike Insights, is on a mission to make empathy mainstream at work. The company developed a Slack integration that helps remote managers build empathetic habits and provide support to their employees. It’s building out additional capabilities with its new round of seed funding led by Unusual Ventures.

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“Despite the fact that we’ve been working remotely for over two years now, the biggest problem has always been, and continues to [be], the softer side around when you’re working remotely, building relationships,” Sid Pandiya, CEO and co-founder of Kona, told Built In. “Building trust, getting that human connection — what I call the softer ‘squishier’ side of working on a team — is way harder, and in most cases it’s just completely lost.”

The need for this kind of solution became largely apparent during the pandemic, according to Pandiya. As people began to feel more isolated than ever before, conversations about mental health became more ubiquitous. However, there weren’t many safe spaces to discuss those topics at work. Kona found that remote managers would often be unaware of signs pointing to employee burnout until it was too late.

On top of this, millennials and Gen Zers now comprise a significant portion of the workforce, and these generations that grew up with mental health support in school have the same expectation for the professional world.

“Caring about your people is a better way to operate a company,” Pandiya said. “It’s the way in which successful companies are going to be built in the 2020s, and Kona is the platform that’s enabling that.”

Kona will appear in an employee’s day-to-day Slack workflow as a little dog that asks how they’re feeling. Employees can select a color and emoji that corresponds to their mood and then provide further context as to why they feel that way. Managers then view that data and Kona will coach them on how to best address it, from bringing attention to existing company resources, to providing them with written content on relevant issues.

Since Built In last spoke with Kona at the time of its pre-seed raise, the company has recorded significant growth. What started out in October of 2019 as a team of three co-founders has expanded to encompass 12 employees. Its platform serves 350 teams at companies like Oyster, Canva and MasterClass, and on those teams, Kona has seen decreases in employee attrition, better management reviews and increased employee engagement.

Additionally, what started out as solely a check-in platform has since evolved to alert managers to real-time people issues. In addition to its written content, Kona will eventually offer online courses to coach managers to support their teams, Pandiya said. The company is building out a solution to serve people ops teams with human resource software integrations. Kona will also soon feature solutions for individual employees to help them maintain their own wellbeing, too.

“Long term, really what we’re building is the employee experience platform for remote teams,” Pandiya said. “Kona is going to be the platform on which every single culture-focused company is able to ensure that [their] people are taken care of in the way that they need to be and they’re getting the support and the care that they need in order to feel like they really love their job and are really happy about the work that they’re doing.”

As it continues to pursue its vision of empowering empathetic workplaces, Kona is building out its own team across engineering and sales.

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