How Kona revolutionizes company culture

The events of 2020 and the global shifts in the workplace accelerated many trends that were a long time in the making. The most important of those is building community, which is at the core of what we do at Gable. We support the shift to remote and hybrid workplaces while enabling companies to nurture their culture through collaboration in physical workspaces.

We’re always seeking other amazing companies and startups to support, partner with, and highlight. One of them is Kona, a company that enables building culture in remote teams. Kona is a Slack app that makes deliberate culture-building seamless and effective. Today, we’re talking to Corine Tan, one of the founders of Kona.


Corine, can you give us a bit of background on how you met and founded Kona with Andrew and Sid? Three founders is not the usual number, and we’re curious about your dynamic and how you complement each other.

Sure thing! I met Sid and Andrew at UCLA halfway through my college career. Andrew and I were leading Marketing for LA Hacks, one of the largest hackathons in California. After the event wrapped, he mentioned recently joining a startup that his friend, Sid, was running. Sid was trying to add a more human element to work; at the time they were working on a personality AI solution. They needed a Marketing person and I loved personality tests, so I couldn’t resist.

The rest is history! We mesh really well in our respective roles: Andrew does Engineering and Product, I do Customer Acquisition and Marketing, and Sid handles everything else. We do a good job of staying involved with each other without stepping on toes. We also have really complementary personalities. Sid is strategic and chaotic, Andrew is organized and structured, I’m more emotional and supportive. We definitely keep each other in check.

Corine Tan, Kona

Transparency and vulnerability

You recently did an interview with In the Know, and you emphasized that Kona sees vulnerability and transparency as two key values in the modern workplace. Can you elaborate on that?

We’ve interviewed over 600 managers since January 2020––we actually just released our Remote Manager Report 2021 with learnings from 200 of those interviews! The one through-line across all of our data is that relationship building is the hardest part of leading a remote team. And that makes sense. A manager’s job is to create a highly effective team that actively relies on each other and removes blockers. Remote work makes it harder to build trust, a key ingredient for team success.

The key to building trust and strong relationships in a remote setting is vulnerability and transparency. Vulnerability to show that there’s a human on the other side of the screen and transparency to overcome the frequent miscommunication of remote collaboration. With those two values, the most effective remote teams can overcome hurdles and build trust virtually.

Tell us about the different ways in which Kona helps remote teams, from onboarding to mental health.

Kona is the culture platform for remote teams in Slack. Every morning, Kona messages the team channel asking how everyone’s feeling. Folks can respond with a color heart (red, yellow, green) and a custom emoji.

For a simple integration, the effects are transformative. Kona creates a space for people to share what’s going on in their lives outside of work like you would in a breakroom or cafeteria. New hires and senior teammates give updates, speeding up get-to-know-you’s and onboarding. You learn a lot: maybe a teammate’s child is sick or they stepped in dog crap. In this way, Kona fosters vulnerable conversations and forms a feedback loop of team support. Teammates open up, support others, and spark conversations at work. Over time, you build the trust that’s crucial for team success.

For managers and culture leaders, Kona also tracks these inputs over time. Leaders get a whole dashboard of their team and company health, allowing them to make smart decisions towards burnout and stress.

Driving change

How do you see the overall shift towards remote and hybrid work? Do you think Millennials and GenZ are driving this change and how do you see the impact of it a few years down the road?

Thankfully, this year’s Remote Manager Report gave us a bit of trendline on the distribution of remote and hybrid work. Overall takeaway: this extended remote experiment has proven work-from-home as a viable option for most businesses. [Over a third of our managers reported a remote-first model at their company and another 50% mentioned a hybrid model in their future plans]( With only 20% going back to the office full-time, the Future of Work is going to look different than it ever has.

Hybrid remote will bring on its own swath of challenges. Remote and in-person teams may form siloes and cliques, making it difficult to bridge the gap. This can also lead to increased miscommunication and trouble with uneven team relationships. The shift to hybrid feels like an inevitability though. Millennials and GenZ-ers have gotten a taste for the flexibility of a remote workplace and will definitely move to more location-flexible opportunities in the years to come.

Like Gable, Kona is part of the Techstars community. What was your experience with Techstars and what did your team learn from that experience?

We loved Techstars LA. When we started in July 2020, the three of us were fresh out of college and uncertain about how to run a company. Techstars gave us language and processes for understanding our key metrics, business levers, and team mindset. We use the OKR system and many of the lessons on fundamentals on a day-to-day basis. We met some awesome founders and we’ve maintained these relationships today.

Attracting talent in the new workplace

How do you see the “talent war” in the upcoming period? Do you think companies will have a hard time attracting and retaining talent without flexible work arrangements, an emphasis on company culture, and benefits that support work-life balance?

I have a personal stake in this. My parents are executive recruiters and I spent a bit of time helping out the business. When it comes to sourcing the best talent, remote work opens up a world of opportunities. This flexibility removes a location bias and allows for more hiring based on merit. There’s also a huge opportunity for hiring more diverse candidates who may not have the ability or funds to move to a major city.

That being said, companies fail when they refuse to honor the trust and flexibility of a remote-first environment. The worst job I had out of college was a remote tutoring position. The company failed to retain its talent, not because of its remote flexibility, but because it operated out of fear and threats. When a working environment can encourage healthy communication and work-life balance, everyone wins.

What do you think is the biggest advantage of the new work landscape?

I want to start by saying that our current mode of remote work in this pandemic isn’t normal. Regular remote work includes breaks, social outings, and life outside of work. There’s a lot more balance overall and I’m crossing my fingers that the shift to hybrid will lead to a shift in actual remote work, too.

That being said, the biggest advantage for a remote present is flexibility. Not only do remote workers eliminate their daily commute, but they can also maximize time with family and friends. Asynchronous work allows individuals to collaborate and achieve great things without constant monitoring. I love remote work because it shifts the center focus of life. Life no longer revolves around an office building. Instead, work revolves around your life.

Companies changing the ins and outs of how we work

What are some companies you think are doing incredible things and want to give them a shout-out?

Oh, so many. The guys at Yac are doing some incredible work encouraging an asynchronous future with less meetings. Our friends at Soapbox are changing how managers grow and support their teammates. Workplaceless and Distribute Consulting help companies transition to effective and sustainable fully remote work. And as always, the folks at GitLab have always inspired us and paved the way for fully asynchronous remote work.

Kona is just one of the amazing companies Gable is happy to feature and collaborate with. Follow us on Twitter, Linked In, and Instagram & stay tuned for more!

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Andrea Rajic