As founder and CEO of financial services customer engagement platform Coconut Software, Katherine Regnier brings the lessons she learned growing up on a farm into work every day. In a recent interview for the #CIBCInnovationEconomy Podcast, Regnier explained Coconut’s uncommon founding story and what she attributes as the secrets to her success landing enterprise clients.
Coconut Software helps banks and other financial institutions with customer engagement and meeting bookings. However, the idea for the company started with a difficulty she had booking a massage. Regnier noticed that it was easier for her to book expensive flights and hotels than it was to book a simple massage appointment. She asked her massage therapist if she’d purchase a software solution and got an immediate yes.
“We need to understand what obstacles they are working through, whether personally or professionally.”
– Katherine Regnier
Despite being pregnant and awaiting maternity leave at the time, Regnier took out a small loan, quit her job, and decided to focus on Coconut Software full-time. After using the loan to hire developers to build the prototype, she followed the money and sold it to any organization that wanted her software, including TELUS. However, growth was not coming as quickly as she hoped. She later realized that many businesses she was targeting offered customer meetings as a courtesy, but it wasn’t essential to their business model.
Thinking about how she could truly build a powerhouse company, Regnier recalled thinking deeply about where Coconut’s key features – meeting scheduling and customer experience – truly mattered. She landed on banks and other financial institutions, which were at the time just starting to go through their digital transformations following the Great Recession.
Regnier noted that when customers go into a retail shop, they might book a meeting or they might browse solo. As a result, retailers likely wouldn’t prioritize investments in meeting scheduling software like Coconut. When customers go into banks, they want to talk to someone and they need their problems solved quickly, so banks were more likely to value the features that Coconut Software could knock out of the park.
Through hustle and networking, Regnier landed a contract with Capital One, a brand name she used as a credibility marker to grow. But the real secret to her success, said Regnier, is that Coconut treats their customers as partners. Beyond asking about business goals, they also get to know clients on a personal level and regularly talk about things like kids, their favourite beverages, or favourite vacation spots.
“At the end of the day, our job is to make them look like rockstars,” said Regnier. “We need to understand what obstacles they are working through, whether personally or professionally.”
Regnier said she’s proud of the lighthearted and people-centric approach she uses to build her business, but still has had to deal with people who say she needs to be more aggressive as a leader to truly thrive.
To that, Regnier said: “don’t confuse my lightheartedness for weakness.”
She said leaders get their strength not from aggression, but from clarity of expectations. As a leader, she sets clear goals in collaboration with her team. From there, her job is to play an empowerment role, ensuring everyone has the resources and support they need to get the job done. To her, being nice is about people, not about being permissive of incompetence.
“At the end of the day, people want to work for people that understand them and are empathetic to them,” said Regnier, adding that if you treat staff like responsible adults they will give you more than if you manage with aggression.
This management style of dedication, empathy, and persistence is now setting up the company for even greater success. Speaking about her upcoming strategic plan, Regnier explained the company’s “33 and 3” strategy: hitting $33 million in revenue in three years.
To hit this ambitious goal, Regnier said she and the whole team need to focus on constant change and patience through the process. However, she’s not worried about it because she learned all about constant change and patience growing up on a farm where no two days were identical.
“I think it’s a part of who I am to just question things,” said Regnier. “I always know I can be better.”