A conversation with Courtney Werner, co-founder of KOYA Innovations

Don’t be afraid to try things. When I was first getting started, I wanted to make sure that I did everything “right.” As a result, I didn’t stray far from my marketing handbook and missed out on several windows of opportunity. I cared more about aesthetics on my client’s social channels than authenticity because aesthetics […]

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Don’t be afraid to try things. When I was first getting started, I wanted to make sure that I did everything “right.” As a result, I didn’t stray far from my marketing handbook and missed out on several windows of opportunity. I cared more about aesthetics on my client’s social channels than authenticity because aesthetics can be consistently created, whereas authenticity is inherently risky. When I finally decided to take a risk, the algorithms changed. Unfortunately, playing it safe meant that these businesses missed out on some massive organic growth.

Ihad the pleasure to interview Courtney Werner. Courtney is one of the co-founders of KOYA Innovations, a company aiming to initiate moments of intentional connection. She is also a samba admirer, marketing fanatic, and adventure enthusiast with a background in Psychology and Global Communications. Courtney believes that life is a gift and she is determined to live it with zest.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up in an innovative household. My dad has several patents to his name and started his first company at our kitchen table. This impacted me so much that I started my own jewelry business before the age of nine. Without a marketing plan, my fledgling business tanked with a total of two loyal customers: my sister and her best friend.

The jewelry business didn’t work out and selling candy for $0.10 proved unprofitable, so I set my sights from business to a degree in Psychology. Upon graduation, I realized that without furthering my education, my major didn’t necessarily lead to viable career opportunities. Thankfully, my parents instilled in me an understanding that problems are opportunities in disguise. Strapped for cash, I took on any job that came my way and learned as I went. I was a ghost-writer for an interior designer, search engine optimization specialist for an orthodontist, website designer for several fledgling businesses, social media manager for various clients, and eventually created and ran ads for a parade. Copywriting, campaigns, and content marketing introduced me to a new world.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Years ago, when I was first getting started, I agreed to run a marketing campaign for a parade. I stumbled my way through the entire campaign and watched advertising videos on YouTube like my life depended on it. In the end, I had to ask for help finding a solution than I made. The profit and loss on that particular job were unbalanced. Though glaringly obvious, I learned that it’s okay not to have all of the answers. Instead of blindly jumping into something, I now ensure sure that I either have the right team or access to the right people first. This is an important posture to take within marketing because it really isn’t possible to know it all.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

My tipping point came in 2015. I was offered a job to help shape the communication department of a global nonprofit. They took a massive chance on me, which opened up a world of opportunity. I began to take my career in marketing more seriously and started reading any and every marketing book that came my way. I also surrounded myself with people that were more experienced and always had a list of questions to ask when there was free time. It was a transformative period of my life.

Here are a few things I learned:

  1. Adaptability is key. Marketing is an extremely malleable and fast-paced career. It’s important to be willing to try new things and track the results. The only way to know whether or not something will work is to try. It might feel scary, but magic is often hidden beneath the unknowns.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Oftentimes, within marketing, especially, youth are ahead of the curb. I want to know about different marketing opportunities before they become mainstream. To stay ahead, I rub shoulders with entrepreneurs in tech and get curious about new trends. If I don’t understand how something works or why it is taking off, I ask people for help. Crowdsourcing is my superpower.
  3. Believe in yourself, don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. You are in your current position for a reason and it is important to speak up. Marketing involves a lot of ideation and theories. Even if your theory is shaky, speaking up provides a baseline for others to riff on. Collaboration has helped me create unique campaigns that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

KOYA Innovations, Inc encourages meaningful connections through playful acts of kindness. With the KOYA app, you can schedule personal messages and micro-gifts using location and time-based triggers. As a co-founder and the Director of Marketing, I was part of the initial inception of KOYA. While I was excited to market KOYA as a possible solution to the loneliness epidemic, I didn’t realize how impactful it would be until after the product was created.

After the KOYA app was released into the App Store, a few of my friends downloaded it and sent me KOYAs. I discovered my first KOYA at a local coffee shop from a friend living in a different state. I was completely surprised and couldn’t believe how much this small gesture meant to me. Once I got over my excitement, I watched her video message and used the micro-gift she included to purchase a coffee. It was extra special to receive a KOYA at this location because the last time I visited, I was with her. The whole experience made me feel like I was transported back in time.

It’s exciting to be part of company that facilitates moments of connection. The ethos of KOYA is something that I am deeply passionate about and I feel grateful to be part of the team.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are working on a new offering that helps online retailers increase sales through gamified gifting. I can’t go into too much detail, but I am excited about this project because it naturally opens up an unsaturated and highly personal marketplace for retailers and brands to authentically reach their customers. I also appreciate that this will make the KOYA experience more accessible for everyone, which means that people will have the ability to send kindness anytime and anywhere with ease.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

I recommend establishing a morning routine that includes a margin for accomplishing personal goals. Integrating a morning routine has helped me stay grounded and thrive amidst my long hours. Personally, I spend time painting each morning in my studio after a cup of coffee. From there, I either read or write before jumping into work emails. My morning routine has become a sacred place and prioritizing this time first thing in the morning has actually helped me not only avoid burnout but come up with innovative ideas.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am fortunate to have had a lot of help along the way. I’m grateful for my parents, who raised me to see possibilities instead of problems and I am also grateful for my older sister, who has always been my biggest cheerleader. As I mentioned earlier, I was offered the job of a lifetime shaping the communication department of a global nonprofit. Traveling expanding my realm of possibility and this job gave me the confidence I needed to pursue my career with vigor. After this experience, I was introduced to Ntiedo Etuk, founder of several companies including DimensionU, Your Guru, Boutique Fitness Summit, and FitGrid. Ntiedo believed in me and essentially put me through “business Bootcamp.” Within a short span of time, I learned how to network and confidently pitch to incredibly successful individuals. Though initially daunting, this was lifechanging. I am grateful for Ntiedo for taking the time to invest in my life.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There are hundreds of memorable marketing campaigns that have become part of the lexicon of our culture. What is your favorite marketing or branding campaign from history? Can you explain why you like that so much?

I am a huge fan of the Spotify Wrapped campaigns. The 2019 Wrapped campaign was the perfect pairing of marketing and access to personal data. This data was packaged in such a creative way that users happily shared it to their social platforms, which gave Spotify personal referrals and furthered the brands’ reach. It was brilliant and I still geek out about it. Thanks to Spotify, data storytelling is now one of my favorite marketing strategies.

If you could break down a very successful campaign into a “blueprint,” what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.

Personally, I favor quality campaigns and steady growth over a big splash. When I think about a blueprint that I would like to follow, Slack comes to mind.

For those that aren’t familiar, Slack is an instant messaging platform “on a mission to make your working life simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.” Slack focuses on selling a solution instead of a product and focuses on high-touch customer service to ensure a positive experience.

At the core, Slack embodies the belief that one positive experience can do more than a marketing budget could ever hope to accomplish. This belief, paired with their product, has helped Slack become 65 on the Fortune 100 with over 100k paid customers and more than 12 million daily active users. Their freemium model is an easy sell because it allows customers to try before they buy. Slacks’ commitment to excellence expands throughout their digital marketing. For instance, Slacks Twitter contains #SlackTips and their Instagram includes eye-catching illustrations leading to helpful tips featured on their website.


  1. Offer value. Slack inherently adds value and does this through all of their social platforms. As a result, when Slack mentions different tips, they lead people to their website and offerings.
  2. Prioritize solutions over a product. This means that your messaging needs to focus on the solutions instead of simply sharing the product. Thankfully, this strategy leads to the path of least resistance.
  3. Listen to your customers. Let your customers inform the solutions instead of simply informing customers about your product. Instead of spending so much time trying to create genius copy, use customer feedback to help you craft your messaging.

Companies like Google and Facebook have totally disrupted how companies market over the past 15 years. At the same time, consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “saley.” In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?

In tech, I believe that personalization is the future of marketing. In order for this to work, companies will need to shift their focus to retention. It’s becoming increasingly important for brands to listen to customer feedback early and fast in order to shape their products. Social media hasn’t died, but 40% of millennials use ad blockers, and brands need to start thinking of innovative ways to harness the power of personal referrals. When companies make customers the hero of the story, it converts. Like Slack, I think that tech will benefit from selling solutions instead of products.

Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? Can you please share a story or example for each.

  1. Don’t be afraid to try things. When I was first getting started, I wanted to make sure that I did everything “right.” As a result, I didn’t stray far from my marketing handbook and missed out on several windows of opportunity. I cared more about aesthetics on my client’s social channels than authenticity because aesthetics can be consistently created, whereas authenticity is inherently risky. When I finally decided to take a risk, the algorithms changed. Unfortunately, playing it safe meant that these businesses missed out on some massive organic growth.
  2. Marketing changes fast and often. About a year ago, I sat down with an extremely successful CMO to discuss marketing strategies for KOYA. Our coffee date turned into a discussion about marketing tactics and the need for constant growth in order to stay relevant. She told me that marketing involves a lot of testing and isn’t clear-cut. This was relieving. It was the first time that anyone articulated what I was experiencing. I felt less alone knowing that even a CMO at times felt overwhelmed by the constant testing within marketing.
  3. Surround yourself with a solid team. I am still growing in my career and I hope always to feel this way. What I know for sure is that it is important to surround myself with a solid team. I can only do so much on my own and I need other expertise and ideas to keep innovating. I wish someone would have stressed the importance of this before I started down this path.
  4. Sell solutions instead of products. For me, the difference between selling a product and a solution is vast. Selling a product feels salesy and inauthentic, whereas selling a solution feels positive because it is helpful when targeting the right audience. I almost gave up on marketing several times, because I didn’t feel proud of myself for the way that I was taught to get products into the market. For obvious reasons, this wasn’t sustainable, and I am grateful to approach marketing from this new perspective.
  5. Market research is the golden ticket. If you are unsure of how to market a solution, listen to your customers. Not only will this help you pinpoint the pain points faster, but it can also help improve the product while adding clarity to your messaging. I wish I would have known about the importance of market research sooner. This really is a game-changer and makes marketing so much easier.

Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners to become more effective marketers?

While quality is definitely better than quantity, content is still king. For a small business owner, this can feel overwhelming. I recommend Zoho Social to create and schedule content with ease. Typically, I schedule content for about two weeks in advance. My process involves creating high-quality and informative assets on Canva, utilizing free images on Unsplash, using customer-generated content, and then sitting down to plan everything out. If you don’t have much time, then ask your customers how you can add value to their lives through the content that you create. From there, create informative videos that are relevant to your solution. You can even get creative and interview other people in your industry for cross-pollination. Once you have several videos, you can easily write blog posts and use this copy throughout some of your social media posts. This is a more efficient way of creating and scheduling high-quality content.

What books, podcasts, documentaries, or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skils?

  1. Harry Dry breaks down successful campaigns with precision, and it would be a disservice not to lead you in his direction. You can read his marketing case studies here. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
  2. I love listening to How I Built This with Guy Raz. While this isn’t necessarily a marketing podcast, it helps me think outside of the box.
  3. Gary Vaynerchuk is filled with fresh ideas. I have read most of his books and occasionally listen to his podcast to sharpen my marketing skills.

Who is your hero? Can you explain or share a story about why that person resonates with you?

Fábio Abensur is one of my heroes. He moved to America with his wife and two children in 2012 to create a better life for his kids. I met the Abensur family shortly after their move and saw firsthand how much they sacrificed for a chance to become US citizens. In the three years that we spent together, Fábio sold knives, seriously considered selling bathing suits, looked into Athleisure, completed a degree in Business, imported and sold tapioca bars, and even patented a barbecue skewer that landed him an initial interview with Shark Tank. He was a true go-getter and I deeply admire his determination and grit. In 2019, Fábio unexpectedly passed away, leaving behind his wife and two kids. He was an incredible husband, father, friend and entrepreneur. Anyone that knew Fábio loved him. I aspire to live my life with as much passion, fearlessness and courage.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to inspire a movement of generosity. It is my belief that compounded generosity leads to human flourishing. The best part about this is that it only takes one person to change another person’s world. All we have to do is lookup.

How can our readers follow you online?




Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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