UENI Co-Founder “Up To 90% Of European Small & Micro Businesses Don’t Have A Website”

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We spoke to Anh Pham Vu, the co-founder of UENI, who aims to provide small and micro businesses an easy way to get online and acquire new customers.

Anh Pham Vu was previously a senior director at a major European Private Equity Fund and, prior to that, a management consultant. His experience includes investing into tech companies, building business plans, leading operational and IT carve-out teams, and serving as a board member of portfolio companies. We spoke to him about his new venture, UENI.

How would you describe UENI in a few words?

UENI helps local businesses to get online, get noticed, and get new customers through an effective online presence and through digital advertising.

UENI Co-Founder "Up To 90% Of European Small & Micro Businesses Don’t Have A Website"

Anh Pham Vu, co-founder UENI

What inspired you to create the platform? How did it all start?

When we were looking for ideas to start UENI, we saw a problem with small and micro business owners that nobody was solving. Despite the massive usage of internet and social media platforms, up to 90% of small and micro businesses in Europe don’t have a website and social media presence, because they don’t have the time, resources, or technical expertise to create a website or setup and utilize social media channels.

To solve this challenge, we started sending people to small businesses across Europe to collect information about them including photos, location, address, contact information, services offered and their prices. UENI then creates a website for these businesses. While digital consultants and agencies charge a huge sum of money to create a website, and DIY services require a lot of time, UENI provides a quick, easy, and low-cost solution for small businesses, which does not need any time on their behalf as we do all the work for them.

You’ve raised 8.5€ million in September 2016, which was the latest investment you received. With this in mind, what will the next steps be?

We spent the last two years in building a strong product and collecting data about small businesses. We have collected data from 200,000 small businesses across 40 cities and nine countries in Europe. From Q2 of this year, our focus has shifted to sales and marketing. We are building a strong sales and marketing team to sell and market our product effectively. We built a new telesales team of 40 people, who are continuously bringing in new business. We had a stand at The Business Show this year, which is the biggest exhibition for small businesses in Europe. We have started to work in close collaboration with local councils such as Hammersmith and Fulham and Hounslow councils. A strong focus this year is also to expand sales and marketing internationally. Our sales team has already started calling businesses in Italy, Spain, and France. We are also planning to raise another round of funding later this year.

What is the biggest challenge that the company has faced?

Getting the product right and scaling sales was the biggest challenge. We went through a few iterations of the product and changed it based on its performance and feedback from the market. We also had difficulties in finding the right people to lead the IT development of the product. While our data operations had gathered an enormous amount of data on small businesses; scaling revenue proved challenging. We started seeing success on that front after building a strong inbound sales team and hiring experienced sales leaders to lead it.

What’s the most considerable pivoting maneuver that the team has undertaken throughout the journey so far?

We had developed an app initially that allowed consumers to book, compare and search services. We quickly realized that for our product offer is more valuable in the open web than in an app. We had to make the hard decision to replicate most of our app’s features in a web app which took some time.

With the emergence of startups, more and more companies consider supporting them their niche. What makes UENI stand out of the crowd? What is the key differentiator?

Our key differentiation is that we send people to small businesses to collect data about them. Even big corporations like Google find it very hard to reach small and micro businesses. By walking the streets, we collect data about many businesses that no one knows about and that don’t have a digital presence.

Since, we do all the work by collecting data about them and creating a digital presence for them; it makes it very easy for these businesses to have an online presence without having to devote any time and effort and at a very low cost. Our small business data collection operation enables us to have very granular data about small businesses and we can index prices and services in a local area for local service offerings in many verticals.

What is the most memorable moment throughout the history of UENI?

Collecting data on the 200,000th business was the most memorable moment in our history. It just signified our scale of operations in Europe and the effectiveness of our operations team. Finding the right people for collecting information from small businesses, keeping them motivated, and managing them remotely is not an easy task. We have had a lot of learnings along the way, but we have a well oiled machine now and we are visiting and collecting data from thousands of small businesses everyday.

If there is one thing you could wish for in improving the European startup ecosystem – what would it be?

It is hard to raise capital in the European startup ecosystem compared to say Silicon Valley. Sometimes venture capitalists in Europe can also be risk averse, but startups by their nature mean taking calculated risks. The support for startups from government is also not equal across Europe. In some countries, local and national governments are more involved compared to others. Brexit has also created some uncertainty for startup like ours, which is based in the U.K. but also has operations in other European countries.

What’s one piece of advice you can give to fellow founders for their startup?

Things will not always go how you plan them, so be prepared to find a solution on the fly and think about innovative solutions. Network with peers to learn new things and create a support system. Be ready to fail, everything you do will not be a success, learn from it, and try it again. Develop a thick skin, don’t get discouraged when you get too many no’s, hustle and never give up. Running a startup is not easy, but if you truly believe in the product/service you are working on, it is a very satisfying experience.



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