Campus - 24.03.2023 - 16:24 

Interview with HSG Founder of the Year 2023 Melanie Gabriel

Entrepreneur Melanie Gabriel was named "HSG Founder of the Year 2023" at this year's START Summit with her company Yokoy. In this interview, she talks about how her studies at the HSG contributed to her success today, about the challenges of founding a company in the fintech sector and how great things can be achieved despite doubts from others. Interview: Anna Kati Schreiter
Source: HSG Newsroom
[Translate to English:] Unternehmerin Melanie Gabriel wurde am diesjährigen START Summit mit ihrem Unternehmen Yokoy zur «HSG-Gründerin des Jahres 2023» gekürt. Im Interview erzählt sie, wie ihr damaliges Studium an der HSG heute zu ihrem Erfolg beiträgt, von Herausforderungen beim Gründen im Fintech-Bereich und dass trotz Zweifel von Aussenstehenden Grosses erreicht werden kann. Interview: Anna Kati Schreiter

Anna Kati Schreiter: Dear Melanie, today you were awarded the HSG Founder of the Year with your company Yokoy, congratulations! Could you briefly explain what Yokoy does and where the name comes from?

Melanie Gabriel: Yokoy is a Swiss fintech company that offers an AI-based expense management solution for medium-sized and larger companies. We combine expense management, incoming invoice processing and smart corporate card management on one platform and automate the whole thing with the help of artificial intelligence. We invented the name Yokoy ourselves. We wanted to find a name that we could give meaning to in order to create our own big brand.

You studied business management at the University of St.Gallen (HSG). Now you are the CMO or marketing manager at Yokoy, a fintech company - how does that all fit together? 

During my studies, I already worked at a B2B tech company and built up the marketing there. At university, I had the opportunity to learn the theory of business management and apply it to the tech start-up at the same time. So with my Master's degree at the HSG, I was well prepared for the founding of Yokoy.

To what extent did your studies at the HSG contribute to you being exactly where you are today in terms of your career?

At the HSG, I was able to build up a network and get to know a lot of great people who were and still are good sparring partners for me in various situations. In the meantime, many HSG students are also among our Yokoylini - our employees.

On the way to success, did anyone ever advise you to stop pursuing your idea? How did you react?

I think every person who wants to do something crazy and new and go down untravelled paths comes to a moment when someone advises them not to pursue ideas and goals. When we first presented our idea to investors to raise money, we were told that the problem we wanted to solve with our SaaS business had already been solved and that we were too late to the market. But we were convinced that the problem was not yet solved and that we had a global market potential with our idea. We knew some CFOs who were interested in our product and were also willing to pay money for it. So in the end we first had the customers and then we were able to convince the investors of Yokoy. In the meantime, we are represented on every continent with 500 global customers.

What challenges do start-ups in the tech sector face?

That varies again depending on the start-up. What is often challenging, especially for high-tech start-ups, is to find the right product market fit. You invest a lot of time in the development of a product and therefore it is even more important that this product really covers a market need and finds paying customers. 

Yokoy is not the first company you have been involved in founding. In 2012, you founded the fashion platform Armoire Au Revoir with two friends. What happened to the online exchange and what did you take away from the founding period that contributes to the success of Yokoy today? 

It was a great experience and gave us a taste for setting up something even bigger again. Back then, platforms like Instagram were still in their infancy. For marketing, we therefore had to be very creative and innovative in order to get over 2000 German and French-speaking users onto the platform. This challenge has brought us forward in many areas.

Your company works with artificial intelligence. How do you see AI impacting the world of work in the coming years and what measures do you think need to be taken to ensure that the technology supports rather than replaces the workforce? 

Our AI is designed to support and add value to finance teams by taking manual work away and automating it so that they can spend the time it frees up on the things that really add value. However, the question of impact, especially when it comes to generative AI, is an incredibly important one that is not easy to answer. It is all the more important that science, politics, business and society as a whole "sit down at the table" and think proactively about what these new possibilities mean for the future of tomorrow and how they should be used in the interest of humanity.

Five of you founded Yokoy, and you were the only woman. What advice do you have for women who want to start a business? 

It's the same advice I would give to men: As a founder, you work 24/7 and put your heart and soul into your idea. Sometimes you lose sight of the big picture. That's why it's very important to get into the habit of actively taking time out to see the bigger picture. This includes finding out what is good for you in order to have enough energy, creativity and ideas for work again. But it is also about finding out where you want to go as a company: Where do we want to be in five or ten years? What course must be set now to get there step by step?

Anna Kati Schreiter is studying business administration at the University of St.Gallen.