Jan Marius Marquardt, CEO and co-founder of social intranet company Coyo, urges all companies to create an inclusive Digital Home for their employees. He talks to Kevin Elderfield, Partner at Erevena, about the company’s journey from start-up to scale-up and says bigger things are yet to come.

What does Coyo do?

We are a social intranet company based in Germany, but with a growing global reach. We are all about internal communication. Our employee app ensures everyone within a company can be reached and included in day-to-day communications – whether they’re in the office, at home, in the field or on a construction site.

What sparked your interest in technology?

I was 12 years old and reading Harry Potter, like many of my age. I must have been on about the third book – with the next one not yet published – and I didn’t want it to stop. It was a magical world. So, I asked my big brother if we could build a Harry Potter computer programme, then went online to get some friends to join in. This got me sucked into the world of technology and developing software. I think this tells you that I’m not afraid of bold ideas. I don’t overthink things, just do it.

Tell us how Coyo came about?

Fast forward from my Harry Potter days, I was 21 and studying computer science at university, but left to start working for SAP where I realised that business software didn’t have a focus on a great user experience, but more on functionality. A fellow student and I decided that software companies would have to reinvent themselves and we decided to set up a consultancy business.

Two years later we came up with the idea of Coyo while working with a German publisher. They were looking to overhaul their intranet and wanted an internal application to link people within the company. We sat down with the publisher and came up with a reinvented idea of what an intranet should be.

Where did the name Coyo come from?

We were young and naive. We thought we would bring a whole suite of products to the market and needed a name for our first one. We wanted to use a fruit but most of the names (like Apple) had been taken. So, we ended up looking at a list of exotic Latin America fruits and came across Coyo, which is a type of avocado. We’d initially thought we’d call ourselves The Fruit Corporation but as we didn’t end up developing any other products, the company simply stayed as Coyo!

How does a ‘social intranet’ differ from the traditional intranet?

It is very different in many ways. We call it a social intranet, but in reality, it is the next generation intranet. It is not an enhancement – it is a revolution. It is easier to explain this by telling you about our mission, which is to give companies and employees a Digital Home. We believe that in an ever more digital and remote world, it is so important that the software making this happen feels like home and delivers a great user experience.

Coyo is different in that we’re making internal company communications more democratised and open. Traditionally, the comms system is owned by a couple of people or a department. It is static, and difficult for other departments and employees to engage with. Coyo gives every team, business unit and individual a space that they own and through which they can publish to the rest of the organisation.

The ‘social’ element is the ability for users to customise the content they receive. They choose the topics and channels of communication, which is a key concept of the platform. This returns the power of information to the employee.

What does Coyo replace in your client organisations?

Our social app can replace internal communication channels, such as bulletin boards that are out of reach, the slow monthly magazine, and the e-mail newsletter that lacks open exchange

We typically find three different scenarios. The first is a company that has nothing in place and is looking for a more traditional internal communications product. The second is a company with a classic legacy intranet that is not enabled across different devices. And the third scenario involves SharePoint-based companies. They are using SharePoint as an intranet platform, but this fails to deliver the user experience, especially for non-IT users.

Can you expand on Coyo being a cross-device solution?

We’ve all been talking about mobile-ready business software for several years now. Coyo represents the next evolution, which is accessible across any device. Users expect to be able to switch from their PC to a mobile device, keeping them connected with work and colleagues from anywhere. This is important because a modern intranet solution should not exclude certain groups, for example, frontline workers, such as retail staff on the shop floor, or employees on a manufacturing production line. If all they’re receiving is a monthly newsletter, they’re missing out on the day-to-day company conversation.

There is a war for talent that’s not just about people with academic qualifications, but about frontline employees and craftsmen too, who all come with different skills. Being able to offer them an inclusive workplace is a real value-add for the business. Everyone has a smartphone these days, so an employer can offer its workforce the Coyo app to ensure that they can take part in what’s going on in the business.

Is there much competition in this market?

This is quite a crowded space with players coming from all directions. You’ve got the big players, such as Microsoft. Many companies with huge investments in Microsoft Office 365 simply use SharePoint, but they are missing the differentiating employee communications experience. Then there are up and coming best-of-breed companies, of which Coyo is a market leader. These are currently largely European companies with the US yet to catch up. This is perhaps due to the European working culture that is a little more advanced, with employees viewed not just as a resource, but as a critical asset to success.

What is driving your growth?

I’m going to quote Richard Branson here because this is something we live by. He said, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” This is an expression of what’s going on in the market as more and more companies see employees as a key asset. This is driving our growth, with platforms like Coyo enabling companies to run state-of-the-art communications and get people involved. It’s a bottom-up approach to the sharing of ideas and communicating across the business.

A Gallup study said that organisations with a social intranet saw a 22% increase in productivity due to increased engagement. This also has implications for employee turnover, which is a huge cost driver due to the expense of finding, onboarding and retaining talent. One figure suggests that a social intranet can result in a 65% reduction in employee turnover due to greater engagement. The increasing recognition of this by companies helps to drive our growth.

Are there particular sectors more open to adopting your technology?

I’m not sure that there are. Instead, what we find is that once an early mover in a particular sector has adopted Coyo, others follow suit. There’s a Domino effect. We currently see more interest from either bigger organisations that are a little more advanced in their use of communications technology and younger, more digitally-aware companies. The middle ground represents an enormous market for us, regardless of sector.

How important are partnerships to your growth?

Very important. We say that those companies without a modern work culture or which fail to promote a bottom-up model and are hierarchal need to change. Coyo doesn’t make this happen. Change needs to be connected to a broader programme, so we partner with consultancies as part of those programmes.

How do you attract the talent that you need to drive your growth?

I come back to the Richard Branson quote about the importance of valuing employees. This is part of our DNA. We promote our strong employee brand and this helps to attract top talent in Germany. We also use Kununu, the German version of Glassdoor, the company review website. For the past six to seven years, we’ve measured our employer net promoter score (EPNS). This is the same concept as NPS and we aim to keep on improving our score. We also want to ensure existing employees promote us so that we can attract talent via their networks, and we pay a bonus if they bring people on board. Of course, we also use headhunters like Erevena for senior executive positions.

What impact has Covid-19 had on your business?

It has been very positive. A year ago, before the pandemic made an impact on the way we all work, we were still in a phase of pushing the value that Coyo could bring. Many companies have now realised they need a Digital Home. It is not enough to simply have daily Zoom calls. Coyo can digitise the company buzz so that everyone knows what is going on. Remote working eliminates sharing; Coyo enables it. We are currently experiencing the highest demand that we have ever seen.

What are your key challenges at present?

International expansion is one challenge – or perhaps that’s more of a target. Shortened product lifecycles are also challenging. In 2010 when we set up the company, the typical software lifecycle was five to six years. That timeline is shrinking. So, we must adapt and I believe we’re good at handling it. My challenge is to stay on top of our offering and I am constantly screening trends, speaking to analysts so that can come up with a strategy to stay ahead.

Hybrid working will be another challenge as people begin to return to the workplace. We have learned that working remotely is nice, so the challenge will be how to work in a hybrid model if people choose to keep working from home. We must make sure they don’t miss out, which is the essence of Coyo.

Where will Coyo be in five years’ time?

We will be one of the international market leaders in the employee communications space. Our own structure will be even more international than it is today. Currently, around 20% of our staff come from outside Germany and this will increase as we continue to grow rapidly – our growth is around 50% annually.

This has an impact on our workforce and we are constantly looking for talents at an international level, all with English speaking skills. We have around 170 employees at present and that figure is growing. I try to know everybody, but that might get harder once we reach 200. We adopt a 50/50 approach to hiring executives from outside the business and developing people internally, which has been a conscious decision.

Finally, in five years’ time, Coyo will have made a significant impact on the way people work and engage. We want everyone to feel connected so that they are not just going to work for the money but for passion.

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Kevin Elderfield, Partner

Specialisms: Board & General Management, Commercial, IOT, Private Equity

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