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The number of internet users is witnessing a rapid growth. According to Global Digital 2019 reports, internet users are growing by an average of more than 1 million new users every day since January, 2018. As per the report, there are currently 4.39 billion internet users. People now resort to the internet for availing goods and services. This calls for every business to have an online pesence to thrive.
According to GoDaddy, 6 out of 10 small businesses do not have an online presence. Many small businesses either have constraints (time or monetary) or lack of know-how which hampers them from creating online presence. This leads to a loss of revenue as these small businesses fail to attract a huge chunk of potential customers that look for their services and products online.
To solve this problem, UENI, a London based startup has come up with the plan of making websites affordable for businesses. UENI was founded in 2014 by Christine Telyan and Anh Pham Vu. UENI is one of its kind free website builder. The venture is now offering its services in India as well.
We interviewed UENI co-founder Christine Telyan to understand how UENI helps small and medium sized organizations get their business online.
- Startup Name-UENI
- Founders-Christine Telyan And Anh Pham Vu
- Sector-Business Services
- Parent Organization-UENI Limited
UENI - About
UENI is a website builder service that provides low-cost, ready-made web presence specifically designed for micro and small businesses. It enables them to get discovered, exude professionalism, seek new customers, and grow their business. The customer only needs to spend a few minutes to signup and launch their website for no cost whatsoever. UENI also takes care of the hosting requirements by providing free website hosting.
UENI differs from both ‘Do It Yourself’ (DIY) website builders and digital agencies offering bespoke solutions. The DIY solutions require the business owner to spare some time for deciding on the information to be displayed, the text to be written, the visuals and graphics to be included, and the overall design. UENI recognizes that not everyone has the time or skills needed to design and populate a rich, high-performing website and then manage it. Moreover, business owners typically struggle to publish their up-to-date websites on key channels that matter for getting discovered online such as Google My Business and Google Maps. UENI does this for every business that signs up.
Unlike bespoke agencies, UENI offers the basic website free and from there, it offers additional services at a minimal cost.
With UENI, customers receive a website which contains information pertaining to what customers search for when looking for local businesses online. UENI boosts the organization’s impact online through affordable online marketing, keeping the business’s information listings updated on 20+ high-traffic platforms, maps, and social media sites.
We saw that the biggest pain points for small business owners were that they don’t have much time to build their online presence, they don’t have much money to spend on digital advertising, and they don’t want to deal with the complexity of getting online today. So we built something specifically for small business owners - Christine
UENI - Industry Details
According to the latest World Trade Report by the World Trade Organization, micro firms—businesses with less than 10 employees—constitute the majority of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME’s) in almost every country. Moreover, 85% of the micro firms operate in the services sector. These businesses rely heavily on word-of-mouth to advertise and reaching out to new customers is often slow and difficult to scale using this method. UENI focuses on MSMEs that need help getting extra exposure by going online and appearing in local search engine results.
It is impossible to establish the total market size due to the fact that unregistered businesses (self-employed and independent workers) are several times more than the registered ones. For example, in India in 2007, there were fewer than 1.6 million registered MSMEs and 26 million unregistered MSMEs; that is about 17 unregistered MSMEs for every registered one according to an IFC report.
Historically these business owners had only two options. The first is do-it-yourself website builders, which require the business to invest both time and money to create a website with very little or no external help, yielding unsatisfactory results.
The second option is digital agencies which are able to accommodate any sort of requirement but have a prohibitive cost for a micro or small business in most cases.
However, with UENI, small businesses have a third and much better option of getting a ready-made website at no cost.
UENI - Founders
Christine Telyan and Anh Pham Vu are the founders of UENI.
UENI co-founder Christine Telyan is a graduate from the London School of Economics and the Harvard Business School. She previously worked as an oil trader and established new trading flows in the European and Asian markets.
Anh Pham Vu is an MBA from Harvard and speaks 12 languages! He was a senior director at a major European Private Equity Fund and prior to that, a management consultant. His experience includes investing in tech companies, building business plans, leading operational and IT carve-out teams, and serving as a board member of portfolio companies.
UENI has an international team of 45 people based out of the UK, Czech Republic, and Ukraine.
UENI - The Idea And Starting Up
It all started with an agonizing toothache. Anh was in Paris and suddenly, a terrible toothache bothered him. He did not know any local dentist and had no idea where to find one. This experience, though horrible, was a blessing in disguise. Anh and his wife Christine realized how having online presence was beneficial for both small businesses and customers. A lot of consumers were present online but not the vendors/service providers.
So, UENI began with a mission to help individuals who lack choice when looking for web designing and hosting services online today.
We realized that it was important to get more businesses online (first across Europe and then globally) so that they could be discovered. This would benefit the independent business owners, who are central to local communities, and the consumers searching for the cheapest, nearest, or best rated local business.
UENI - Launch
UENI was launched from the living room of our house in early 2015. Everyone was using our coffee machine and dining room table -
In 2015, UENI app was launched to allow end users find, compare, and book the cheapest, nearest or best-rated local business provider. UENI partnered with communities (like fitness centers) to help propagate its ‘local search engine'. Today, UENI is a B2B solution to get small businesses online with services like creation of a basic website free of cost with free hosting facilities. The company relies on a range of marketing channels: referrals, social media, and paid search.
Even as UENI's approach shifted, the company's mission constant—to digitize small businesses and make them discoverable. In the coming year, UENI plans to return to their original approach and launch a B2C platform to address the core customer problem that Anh and Christine identified way back in 2014: help customers discover small businesses online.
UENI - Name And Logo
The name UENI is the amalgamation of ‘You and I’.
The name UENI remains a point of interest because it is often mispronounced. You say it you - en - eye, like You & I. The name is meaningful because our business is about connecting businesses and customers, connecting you and I. Of course, we stumbled into the name unintentionally: when we first got started, it was the shortest pronounceable domain name that we could afford.
UENI - Business And Revenue Model
UENI operates on a freemium business model. It provides a basic service for free and prompts the user to upgrade at key moments of their business growth.
While the starter plan is free, UENI's current pricing is $ 9.99 per month for the 'basic plan' and $ 19.99 per month for the UENI's 'Plus plan'. One is eligible for discount if he takes annual plans.
UENI - Funding
UENI has raised a total funding of £16.6 million over 3 rounds from angel investors.
UENI - Customer Acquisition
In July 2018, UENI launched a massive campaign offering a free website for every business; the customer response was immense and overwhelming!
Together with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, we flooded the city with a bold offer: a free website for every business. During the month we ran this campaign, you could find UENI on billboards, Radio, TV, media, promotional letters and postcards and, of course, all over the internet.
UENI is currently signing up over 600 new businesses every day worldwide and expects to reach 300,000+ users in 2019. UENI decided to scale-up the success of the campaign by expanding it to all of UK. UENI then extended its services to India and the USA in 2019.
UENI - Challenges
Since Anh and Christine were from a non-technical background, building a technical team was a challenge for them.
The key was really to find a few champions: people with the tenacity we had as founders, to create clear technical priorities and to drive activities in the company on the tech side to deliver what the business needs. This created the right focus and has attracted the right kind of people for a growth company.
UENI now has developers in the UK, Czech Republic, and Ukraine.
Another challenge faced by the company was balancing growth by setting up the right infrastructure and managing that growth responsibly. Anh and Christine along with the tech team have to plan and work constantly to meet the growing customer demand. The UENI founders say that the traction of their product in the market has given the team energy to build the systems required to continue to grow at a remarkable speed.
UENI also faced challenges while pivoting from a B2C search platform to a B2B solution. The company also shifted from a direct sales model to 100% digital acquisition of customers. These transitions had to be handled tactfully as these pivots meant product, marketing, and operations requiring changes.
The pivots were sound and the learning make what we do today a lot richer. In fact, a lot of the work done previously is the foundation for improved strategies today, but when you make these shifts it’s difficult for the company, and as founders, we needed to keep the team focused and committed to our mission which has not changed.
UENI - Competitors
No other product in the market offers the same service as UENI. There are automated website builders such as Wix, Weebly, oand GoDaddy that produce generic content—often not relevant for a given business—and there are web agencies that produce a highly customized albeit costly web presence. So, businesses are stuck in the middle of a time-wasting webpage and a very costly web presence not in sync with the business needs. UENI stands as the alternative: a low-cost, custom-made, quick solution that completely understands the needs of a micro/small business owner.
UENI - Awards And Achievements
UENI's free websites have received positive reviews from many small business owners. UENI has been shortlisted for the 2019 Customer Service Excellence Awards in the category ‘Best Customer Engagement’.