Startup of the week: UENI from London

This week we feature UENI , a London based limited company which was founded in 2014 with the goal of providing an easy, low cost solution for small businesses to get online and get new customers through digital advertising. Time, cost, and complexity are the key barriers which prevent many small businesses in Europe from going online. UENI addresses the challenge by engaging analysts to work with clients to enable their digitization.

The business model of online matrimonial sites is very straightforward: UENI sends people to small businesses across Europe to capture information about them including images, location, contact information, opening hours, services offered and prices. So far, UENI has visited 486,000 small businesses across 9 countries and 40 cities in Europe and created a digital presence for these businesses.

Focused on enabling Small Businesses

UENI focuses on businesses offering services, with broad coverage from beauty to health, pet care to automotive. UENI’s solution is to deliver a comprehensible, ready-made solution, where UENI does all the work and the small businesses get the benefits without having to put any effort, or spending any time on it. Small businesses can sign-up or upgrade to an advanced UENI website, which has booking capability and enables consumers to book services directly from the website. Business owners get notifications for new bookings through text and email.

The service comprises a range of marketing solutions tailored to the businesses we serve to allow them to develop a complete digital presence. This includes for instance a Facebook Business page, listing on Google My Business and Bing, as well as paid advertising campaign, all of which are already a requirement to get noticed online by customers.

UENI makes the difference by providing an innovative, highly automated service that allows them to scale solution to reach thousands of businesses. They innovate with data collection method that allows them to reach and collect info about small businesses that otherwise would not be discovered.

Startup Bytes

Founders:  Christine Telyan and Anh Pham Vu
Startup Focus:  Digital marketing solutions for European SMBs
Future Plans: To date they have digitized 480,000 SMBs across 12 European countries in 8 languages and aim to reach 1,000,000 SMBs by year end

Competitors:  Wix, Yellow Page, Treatwell, Yelp, Google, Foursquare

Startup stage and funding: Since its creation in 2014, UENI has implemented a successful funding strategy. We raised a total of EUR 11 million, including a EUR 8,5 million investment in September 2016. UENI has also launched another round of funding earlier this month and is planning to raise another EUR 5 or 7 million by year end.

Q&A with John Marshall Katheder, Content Marketing Executive at UENI

How did you get started with the idea?
UENI was founded with the ambition respond to a real issue.  Today in Europe, nearly 99 percent of all enterprises are considered a ‘small’ or ‘medium’ size business (SMBs). Of these 9 out of 10 are micro businesses with fewer than 10 employees. This shows just how SMBs represent the backbone of the European economy. Yet, even though we as consumers use the Internet to search for local businesses, 8 out of 10 these micro businesses (nearly 90 percent) do not have a proper online presence.
In other terms, this means: most businesses simply don’t exist where most of us look for them – online.
At UENI, our mission is to close this gap between buyer and seller. We aim to create a meaningful online presence for independent service-based businesses who are the most dependent on local traffic – think of your hairdresser, your plumber, or your car repair service.Our product aims to solve three common major barriers that prevent most businesses from going online – time, cost and complexity.

Our unique data collection method allows us to visit thousands of European businesses every day, discoverable only by foot. Our representatives – we call them ‘Walkers’ – collect information directly from the business owner (service list, prices, opening hours, photographs etc.). Once we structure all the relevant information, we leverage it to build each business a professional, optimised website. Before the business owner is even a subscriber, their website is ready-to-use. So when they decide whether or not to sign up for UENI, they can evaluate finished, polished product.  There’s no wait – it’s just click-and-go.

The idea sounds unique. Who are your main competitors?

Our innovative concept is highly automated and salable to create online visibility and online marketing for small businesses. This means that we are competing against local (low cost), mass market agencies (moderate to high cost) to more high-end agencies (high cost) that provide similar site building services.
However, automation enables us to take lower fees than the local, mass market agencies and more effectively spend marketing dollars than a DIY solution. As a result, we ambition to become the market leader for low-cost site building specialised in SMBs.Who are the main customers of UENI ? 
At UENI we have built solutions with sole traders, micro businesses and small businesses in mind. Our goal is to help them develop their activity online and ensure they are visible where most customers look for them.
Today we work with most service sectors except for restaurants, bars and cafes. This ranges from businesses with a storefront (like dentists, barbers, and fitness studios) to sole traders and mobile merchants that travel to the customer to provide their service (like plumbers, gardeners, and handymen) or professional services who do not necessarily have a storefront (lawyers, consultants, doctors, and accountants).  UENI’s story started in the UK but we are now expanding our operations to reach small businesses across Europe. To date, we have collected data and created 480,000 websites for small businesses across 12 countries and 70 cities – and we are just getting started!
How do you plan to address practical challenges. For example, marketing and outreach is a challenge most startups face?  
During the first two years of our growth we focused on building a strong product and collecting data about small businesses. Challenges included getting the product right and scaling sales, as well as improving the product based on its performance and feedback from the market.
Now our focus has shifted to sales and marketing in order to sell and market our product effectively and expand internationally. We now can count on our excellent marketing team, as well as a strong telesales team of 40 people who are relentlessly bringing in new businesses in Italy, France or Spain. We also have started to work in close collaboration with local councils and are exploring partnership opportunities with a range of trade and business associations to cater to the needs of business owners.
What are your plans to go global?  

We are currently operating in 12 European cities and major cities. Our plan is to reach 1,000,000 SMBs by end of 2017, and indexed 10,000,000 services. In 2018, we ambition to expand our presence to the US as well as the Asia Pacific region.

Tell us about your business model. Where do you see yourselves in a year?

Our solution presents the advantages that it is highly automated hence replicable on a large scale. Now, we are operating across 12 countries in Europe. Our ambition is to increase our presence by year end and continue our progress by developing our operations in North America and the Asia Pacific region.


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