Ottawa startup scores big collaboration with US grocery giant

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It isn’t every day that one of the largest grocery retailers in the United States turns to a small Ottawa startup for help, but that’s exactly what happened to Foko.

Foko app being used by Whole Foods

by Jacob Serebrin

The company, which launched a little over a year ago, has developed an enterprise photo-sharing app which it says is already being adopted by large companies including Whole Foods Market.

“We’ve been working with Whole Foods for a couple months now and they’re our first success story,” said Eric Sauve, the co-founder and CEO of Foko.

According to Mr. Sauve, Whole Foods approached Foko with a problem. Employees were taking pictures in stores of things like new merchandising and posting them to photo-sharing sites such as Instagram, confusing customers and and giving competitors a heads-up.

“They found us on the Internet … they sent us a note and said we have this problem,” Mr. Sauve said. But rather than stop their employees from taking pictures altogether, Whole Foods wanted to “take this employee energy and put it towards corporate gain.”

That’s where Foko’s app comes in. The company’s product requires users to sign in with a corporate e-mail address and only shows them photos taken by their colleagues.

Mr. Sauve said the app allows companies to “open up visibility into their enterprise,” allowing employees in different departments and stores to see what their colleagues are working on. He said it can also be used to promote employee recognition and company culture.

More than 1,000 Whole Foods employees have used the app, Mr. Sauve said.

“This is a pretty big engagement level for an enterprise software tool,” he said.

For Foko, working with Whole Foods gives the company a big credibility boost, Mr. Sauve said.

“Clearly, what it does is it legitimizes our approach,” he said. “It tells the world that they can derive value from this.”

There’s value in it for Foko as well, Mr. Sauve said. The company is making money from the collaboration with Whole Foods, though he declined to say how much.

While the app is free to download and use, companies that want to take more control of their Foko network can pay for administrator controls.

For Mr. Sauve, Foko is part of a growing trend of mobile-centric single-purpose apps, such as Instagram, and the more general trend of innovative ideas from the consumer Internet slowly being adopted by enterprise. He said there is already a number of enterprise messaging applications.

He believes Foko could be bigger than that. He said that because the app is based around photo sharing, rather than text, it could be particularly useful for companies that have employees in multiple countries, allowing those employees to communicate with each other even if they don’t speak the same language.

Organizations: Whole Foods Market

Geographic location: Ottawa, US

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