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In its first year, Coconut Software was a five-person operation - CEO Katherine Regnier included - serving one major customer, Telus Communications Inc.LIAM RICHARDS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The thought of starting her own business came to Katherine Regnier as she was booking a flight online to Boston and trying to schedule a massage.

“I couldn’t get a hold of my massage therapist who was literally down the hallway,” recalls Ms. Regnier, who was employed at the time by a software company. “It was frustrating, and I thought, ‘if I can book a flight online why can’t I book all these other things online?’”

That line of thinking, which took hold in 2005, led to Ms. Regnier creating an enterprise appointment scheduling program that became the starting point for Coconut Software Corp., the Saskatoon-based company that she founded in 2011 with a $5,000 loan.

In its first year, Coconut Software was a five-person operation serving one major customer, Telus Communications Inc. Today, backed by almost $40-million of investor money, Ms. Regnier leads a team of about 80 people in Saskatoon, Toronto and Vancouver and boasts a customer roster that includes other telcos such as Bell Canada, Rogers Communications and SaskTel as well as financial services companies such as Royal Bank of Canada, Capital One, Vancity and Morgan Stanley.

The company has also expanded its product offerings to include appointment scheduling, lobby management – designed to minimize customers gathering in a physical waiting area – and a virtual appointment product that doesn’t require users to download videoconferencing software.

Customers also get access to analytics that give them insight into high-level and granular aspects of their operations, for example, which branch and advisor have the highest number of mortgage appointments and how many of these appointments end in signed deals.

“We can also show how long customers waited in line and what the no-show rates are,” says Ms. Regnier. “These are insights that can help businesses with capacity planning so they can become more operationally efficient.”

The proof is in the numbers: financial services appointments booked through Coconut Software have a conversion rate that’s three times higher than walk-ins at a branch, according to Elissa Riddell, the company’s director of brand and communications. Customer no-shows are reduced by 13 per cent and the time it takes to book appointments is cut down by two to five hours each month per staff member.

Almost half of all financial services appointments through Coconut Software are for new customers – an important metric for banks always looking to sign on new accounts, says Ms. Riddell.

The path to success was not easy for Ms. Regnier, at least not in the first few years.

“I flopped for three years – there was just so much I didn’t know during the start-up process,” she recalls. “For instance, I initially partnered with a programmer and realized they owned all the code, so I found another company, told them they had to sign a contract to give me the IP [intellectual property] and handed them my $5,000 deposit.”

The company refused to sign the contract and Ms. Regnier lost her deposit, “so I had to start all over again.”

A positive turning point came shortly after she hired her first employee, Romeo Iula, who became a business partner and co-founder and is now Coconut’s chief product and technology officer. They were both still employed by other companies when Ms. Regnier got invited to pitch her product to Telus.

In 2016, after five years of bootstrapping, Ms. Regnier raised $700,000 in seed capital for Coconut Software. So far the company has raised $40-million from investors.LIAM RICHARDS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

“I didn’t even really have a business at the time because I had lost my deposit and I was working full-time for another company,” says Ms. Regnier. “But I took some vacation time to fly out to Toronto – and I totally blew the meeting, I was terrible.”

Still, she got the contract to provide Telus with an appointment platform that would basically mimic Apple Inc.’s customer service model, which allowed customers to book time with an in-store Apple Genius.

“I have no idea how, but I got the deal,” Ms. Regnier recalls. “Romeo and I both quit our jobs after we secured the Telus deal and we’ve been together since 2011.”

In 2016, after five years of bootstrapping, Coconut Software raised $700,000 in seed capital. This was followed by two Series A rounds of funding from investors in Toronto, Silicon Valley and Saskatoon: one in 2017, which raised $4.2-million, and another in 2019 for $6.5-million.

Last month, Ms. Regnier announced a $28-million financing round to advance its growth strategy within financial services markets across North America. The company’s success garnered them the 120th spot on The Globe and Mail’s Top Growing Companies list in 2021 with three-year revenue growth of 448 per cent.

“I really believe that our company is going to win by what we say ‘no’ to, so we decided to focus on the credit union and banking space, and to start going deep into this vertical,” says Ms. Regnier. “With that goal in mind, we launched our lobby management solution and we’re now releasing something called Coconut Connect, which is a way for managers to streamline banking online and have the whole experience take place virtually.”

Coconut plans to stay focused on North America, she adds, with majority of clients in the United States, which has about 5,000 banks versus about 60 domestic and foreign banks in Canada.

“The banking sector has a lot of different fragmented solutions, a lot of apps that are not integrated, which makes it challenging to provide personalized services,” says Ms. Regnier. “I see us evolving into a full, digital lifecycle experience – from appointment to signing a mortgage and renewing – all in one solution.”

In this series, we ask some of Canada’s Top Growing companies to share advice on finding new and innovative routes to success in an unpredictable business environment.

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