By Andrea Hansen
Photographs by Karee Davidson/Concepts Photography & Design
Katherine Regnier is the CEO and founder of Coconut Software. This fearless tech leader believes that if you work hard enough, anything is possible.
In her 10 years in business, she has had to pivot more than once. How does a company go from two people with a $5,000 business loan to a team of over 50 employees and raising $4.9 million in venture capital? From designing scheduling software for massage therapists to building an enterprise solution for banks and credit unions? It may appear all glamour, but Katherine will tell you that’s far from the truth. It’s hard work. It’s real and very raw. There’s no room for excuses.
WHAT DOES WORKING HARD MEAN TO YOU?
I believe in the saying, “It’s not how many times you fall down, it’s how many times you get up.” Hard work is building a tech company from scratch in the Prairies and not realizing from an outside perspective it was supposed to be impossible. I started with a $5,000 loan and did really well. We just wanted to build a good business.
Tech sees it more as growth. I didn’t understand the lack of resources in the Prairies for building a tech company. When we started, we didn’t really have software as a service (SaaS) tech companies. There was no ecosystem. We were so far removed from what was so normal in San Francisco and we didn’t know any different.
WHEN YOU READ STATISTICS THAT SAY ONLY 6% OF TECH COMPANIES HAVE A FEMALE CEO, DO YOU BELIEVE THAT IT’S A TOUGH INDUSTRY FOR WOMEN?
There’s this whole movement that we need more female CEOs, but I feel like there’s never been a better time to be a female CEO. There is more funding. There’s so much awareness and a push for diversity. I get a lot of attention because I’m a female CEO, which is a double-edged sword – because how about saying, I’m a CEO and I run a really great business? I hate even talking about it, because it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman, it’s hard building any business. But it does matter because we’re not at this equilibrium. I would reframe it to be more of “only 6% of tech companies have a female CEO, so what a great time to try something you love because there’s more resources and support than there’s ever been.”
It’s so important to give yourself the chance to break out of the routine, because I think that’s what keeps us going and gets us excited and motivated.
WHAT CHANGED ALONG THE WAY?
Our whole life changed when I got tired of the status quo. It’s actually easy to do in business – you hit the grind and then it isn’t fun anymore. We just decided to get out and see something new. No excuses. In 2015, we took the whole company (five of us) and went to a 50,000-person web summit in Dublin. We met Jane Gideon, who happened to be in public relations for Neal Dempsey, who is a major Silicon Valley venture capitalist. That led to a one-month CEO mentorship with Dempsey in San Francisco.
When you experience something new, it’s going to inspire you, and something will shift. The energy will flow. You can’t underestimate people being inspired to conquer things. I think it’s so important to give yourself the chance to break out of the routine, because I think that’s what keeps us going and gets us excited and motivated. Life’s too short. People get trapped and then they’re frustrated, and they don’t know why.
HOW DID THAT EXPERIENCE IN SAN FRANCISCO AFFECT YOU AND THE COMPANY?
I didn’t even know what I could be, because I didn’t see it here and didn’t even know what was possible. So I love the quote, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” It wasn’t until I went to San Francisco that I was like, “Wow, this is what I could be.” It just seemed like it was on the other side of TV – it didn’t seem realistic because I didn’t know anyone who had done it. Then I got introduced to people who sold their companies for billions of dollars and we were sitting down having a conversation, just like you and me.
Now we are changing the lives of people who work at banks and credit unions, elevating everyone who works at Coconut and turning this into a $100 million–revenue kick-ass company. I had to give up the belief that you must pick between family and your career. You can accomplish both. Great for you if you pick one or the other, but you don’t have to.
WHAT HAVE YOU HAD TO WALK AWAY FROM?
We’ve walked away from certain markets and I believe that the only way for us to build the best product is to be focused and really go deep. I think it’s really lifted the fog. I think a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with this and it’s scary to say, “No, we’re just going to all run down this path.” If you can focus and have 60 people rowing in the same direction versus 60 boats and everyone on their own path, I think we can really start to gain a lot of traction.
I had to give up the belief that you must pick between family and your career. You can accomplish both. Great for you if you pick one or the other, but you don’t have to.
WHAT BELIEFS HAVE YOU HAD TO GIVE UP?
I had to give up the belief that you must pick between family and your career. I want people to break up with the belief that it’s an “either/or.” You can accomplish both. Great for you if you pick one or the other, but you don’t have to. I also had to give up believing that I could do it alone. I think the biggest realization was how much you need a support system. I thought I was going to do it alone and I wanted to do it alone. If the ship sank, that was fine, because “I was in charge of my own destiny.” Then the wakeup call and, “Wow, there’s no way I can do this on my own.”
HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR ENERGY?
I don’t think people know how to put boundaries on themselves because naturally I think a lot of us are givers and then you end up in burnout. It goes back to learning how to say no and knowing when you need to call a timeout. I just don’t think balance exists for a lot for entrepreneurs. I think it’s a roller coaster and I think that’s why you need the boundaries and a support system.
It’s so bizarre because we’re moving so fast and I’m sometimes surprised that I’m on the ride, but it never feels fast enough. This year we are proving we can execute with the money we did raise. Then going and raising more money to grow the company, so we can go even faster. It’s a bit of “rinse and repeat.” Now we’ve done it once and it’s just more zeros.
IF YOU WERE INTRODUCING KATHERINE TO SOMEONE, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE HER?
I would say she is charismatic, authentic, and ridiculously hard-working. I would say, which goes back to my Ukrainian farmer roots, that she loves vodka and to polka…true story.
First published in the June 2019 edition of The Business Advisor.