UENI: How toothache led to a business launching 3000 websites every day
Small companies are flocking towards UENI’s free online offer. CEO Christine Telyan says big brands have dominated for too long.
Tech company UENI is launching over 3000 websites per day with caterers, fitness trainers, accountants and mom and pop stores among those finding a way to compete with the world’s biggest brands.
“Our mission is to make all businesses visible online” says UENI CEO Christine Telyan, who is from New York originally.
Telyan’s business provides a free, completed website and Google My Business listing to all small businesses that sign up. The business also offers paid services such as a custom domain name, professional email address and listings on trusted, high traffic maps, directories, and social media sites.
UENI’s ‘freemium’ model now sees more than 3000 businesses sign up per day – up from 100 per day since the beginning of 2019.
"We want to level the playing for small businesses. For consumers, this means far greater choice when buying locally. For our customers, it means more trade and business growth. As for big businesses that have been taking their customers for granted, watch out.”
The inspiration for UENI came in 2014 when Telyan was tasked with finding a dentist for her husband, Anh Pham Vu, who was returning from a business trip with severe toothache. Telyan went online to find a local dental surgery but was surprised how hard it was.
“I thought it would be easy but, actually, it took quite a while and a number of calls to find and book a dental appointment for Anh,” she recalls.
The bad experience stayed in the minds of Christine and Anh and led them to realise that, if dentists were hard to find, so were many other types of businesses.
“Whenever we need to buy things, the first thing we do is search the internet. But, by and large, search results turn up chains and franchises, and many small businesses are invisible online.
The couple researched the market and discovered that the majority of small businesses lacked an online presence. Existing options, such as website builders, require time as well as knowledge that many small businesses unfamiliar with online publishing don’t have, such as content writing and SEO.
“For all of the advances of technology, the vast majority of small businesses are left behind because it is too techy, too specialist, or too expensive, and this is why most still lack an online presence,” says Christine.
“Some people use website builders such as Wix, but it takes time and knowledge to actually build yourself a website, even using a great DIY tool.”
Harvard Business School graduate Christine says her experience as an oil trader gave her the confidence to start building something that she hoped would solve this problem.
“Prior to founding UENI, I worked as an oil trader,” says Christine. “Much of what I loved about that business was the sheer scale of it and the creativity I got to use in my everyday work. I was very used to attempting things that many people said could not be done.”
In December 2014, Christine and Anh set up UENI and, shortly after, quit their jobs to focus on its development. In 2015, the company gained its first investment of $1.87m from business angels. As of 2019, the company has raised a total of $18m in funding.
The company’s HQ is in London, England. However, Telyan says UENI’s biggest market is the United States and that she expects to see further growth here in the future.
“There are about 30 million small businesses and many don’t have the time, knowledge, or resources to get themselves fully online. Because being online is now so much more than just having a website,” Telyan says.
“We now have over 3000 business owners around the world signing up with us each day. In order to do this, we rely on technology and automation. Nonetheless, every website receives a human touch to ensure that it is personalized and relevant to that business.
“With UENI, you can spend literally five minutes with us and we’ll create a fantastic professional web presence for your business, for free.”
The London-based company currently operates in eight countries including the United States, UK, France, Spain, Canada, Mexico and India. The business is launching in Brazil this month, September 2019.
But running a fast-growing company isn’t the only priority for co-founders Christine and Anh, who also had their first child earlier this year.
“Anh and I recently had a daughter, who was born in March of this year, so we juggle parenthood alongside running a rapidly growing global tech company,” Christine notes.
“I look forward to telling her all about our journey with UENI and I hope that, ultimately, she will be proud of what her parents are doing for small businesses and communities around the world.”
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.