Move over, AI — how ENVOY is putting human relationships at the center of content referrals

January 11, 2024


min read

As a referral system built for the app publishing industry, we were compelled by ENVOY’s vision from the get go. They have since signed on clients like The Economist, WELT and Deezer. In this interview with cofounder and CEO Henrik Karlberg, we delve deeper into his motivations behind launching ENVOY and where he’s planning to take the company next.

1. Referrals are a proven strategy in ecommerce, but ENVOY is focusing on the media  industry as its first problem space. Why?

I know from my own experiences just how broken customer acquisition is in the media industry. The “try and buy” model is still seen as fundamental to acquiring customers. But it’s immensely costly because as a streaming service, you’re spending on paid acquisition and a month’s worth of licensing costs for a non-paying customer. When I was working in various gaming and streaming companies, we’d almost be praying that enough people would like the product to convert after a free month. Since then, the need for a solution has only become more pressing amid skyrocketing paid acquisition costs and tighter regulations around data protection.

2. How did the idea for ENVOY emerge? Tell us about your initial inspiration.

The idea for ENVOY came to me in 2019 when I sent an article I was reading to my dad who couldn’t access the content because he wasn’t subscribed to the same app. What I was hoping would be a really good conversation fell apart, all because I wasn’t able to share a paid piece of content.

I wasn’t sure what an answer to this problem could look like until I took a trip to China. WeChat is basically ten years ahead of us in terms of enabling users to share moments from any kind of app and getting rewarded for doing so in a playful way. Knowing a technical solution like this already existed — albeit in a very specific ecosystem — was the final push I needed to set out and create my own solution.

3. What prevents media businesses from building something similar inhouse?

Referrals were built for the world of ecommerce where they’re based on a discount code for both parties that is activated once an order is placed. In media — and most other apps — the user journey is more complicated than a one-off transaction, which makes referrals more difficult.

We allow media businesses to define what counts as a successful referral for them — such as a sign up or a new subscription — and what reward they would like to give out of many possible options. Then we help them keep track of this process in a standardized way, because the media industry is notoriously behind on their internal tech when it comes to billing and CRMs. And that’s not even mentioning the challenge of building a solution that replicates the shared content on any device and any browser to begin with.

4. What kinds of results has ENVOY driven for your clients so far?

We’ve seen from major global publications and audio streaming services that ENVOY improves conversion rates by 8x end-to-end compared to paid acquisition measures. What’s even more remarkable is that ENVOY also boosts customer lifetime value by 40%.

The numbers speak for themselves. AI might be able to create the perfect playlist based on your past listening behavior, but it won’t be able to suggest it to you right when you’re about to leave for a road trip. It’s humans that have a superpower in making the best recommendations to people they’re close to in terms of topics and timing, and ENVOY empowers them to do exactly that.

5. What’s next for ENVOY?

There’s no reason why ENVOY should only be used by media companies for sharing their content. In every user journey there should be a moment that makes you think that someone else could benefit from this particular product or service — the question is how we can replicate that experience in 30 seconds or less. I love the idea of ENVOY turning something seemingly boring like a savings plan into something shareable and actually fun. We’ll be launching with our first client in financial services next year and are really excited to see what kind of cool moments will arise from that.

The second thing we have in mind is optimising the experience we’re already providing based on more granular data analysis. For example, if we see that everyone drops off at a specific point into the experience, that’s an insight we can share with our clients about their content. Or if we see specific rewards performing particularly well within certain geographies, that’s something we can recommend to them. It’s really about delivering a better experience both for our clients and their end users.

6. What piece of content would you like to make shareable through ENVOY?

In terms of applications that give a warm and fuzzy feeling, I’d love for ENVOY to drive positive change in anything around learning and education. When my daughter wants to learn a song on the piano, for example, I’m imagining that another kid in her music class could share a video that shows exactly how it’s done in a way that would have taken her a month if she had just watched some generic “how to” content on YouTube. That’s because — once again — someone who knows her and the details of what she is learning will be able to recommend exactly what she needs.

7. What has been the biggest challenge for you so far as a founder?

The further you get into a corporate career, the more you become part of a belief system that everything will work out if everyone just does what they’re supposed to and kind of a blind faith that the goals you’re working towards are really the correct ones. I’ve had to completely switch my mindset to one where I expect most things not to work out or at least to lack clear cut answers, and to see everyday as a new chance to try and fix that — but ultimately, that’s what’s fun and what keeps us on our toes.

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