Award-winning entrepreneur Susan Kabani, founder of Ugenie, the private membership platform that empowers business communities with meaningful interactions, speaks to TBT for this week’s Founder Feature. This feature comes as part of our partnership with the Super Connect Series powered by Empact Ventures.
After discovering how frustrating communities within Facebook, Whatsapp and other similar platforms could be, Susan set out on her mission to build a private community platform that meets the needs of businesses and members at heart, without sacrificing on quality.
Learn more about the growth and success of Ugenie’s journey so far in our founder interview below.
Q: Could you tell us about your company and what you’re striving to achieve?
A: Ugenie is a private membership or community platform which brings together the best of social media and business operational tools for membership-based businesses and online communities. Through working with our early adopters, however, we have learned that SMEs need more than just tech to make the best use of digital technology in their businesses. They also need guidance & support on how to use it.
This is why at Ugenie, we are building much more than a technology platform and are working hard to create an ecosystem that treats our clients more like partners and provides them with the strategic know-how of how to use the tech most effectively.
By acting as the technology partner for membership businesses and investing in their success, we aim to level the playing field and ensure all membership businesses, regardless of size, are able to have access to the right digital tools for them and are able to maximise their value.
Q: What is the core technology driving your start-up’s product/service?
A: Ugenie’s innovative platform will be the first of its kind to offer SMEs easy access to a comprehensive suite of interlinked tools, allowing them to manage their members, events, meetings, content distribution, networking and commercialization for various audiences under one hub at a price they can actually afford. Instead of needing multiple platforms like FB, Eventbrite, PayPal, Survey Monkey and a CRM, the Ugenie platform will do it all, but without enterprise-level pricing.
We also provide an instant and branded mobile presence to businesses and communities that would otherwise not be able to afford mobile technology. Even in lockdown, mobile downloads and usage is on the rise. Thus, businesses of all sizes need to have a solid mobile way for their stakeholders to engage with them.
Finally, our vision is to use machine learning to help our clients with member engagement and retention. One of our primary goals has always been to get the right content to the right person, and in the future, we also want to focus on the right time with the platform delivering content to individual members at the best time for them. We also want to increase the smart insights we provide to our clients which will enable them to monetize their community further! With platforms like FB, the data is monetised by them – whereas, we want to put the power and potential of the data into the hands of our clients.
Q: Tell us about some of the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome?
A: With smaller businesses and communities, there is a fear of implementing new technology into their operations or believing they cannot afford their own tailored solutions. Thus, for community or member management, they tend to stick to platforms like FB, LinkedIn or Slack even though those platforms no longer serve the needs of their business or community and leave these businesses at the mercy of social media giants. However, as more and more companies are seeing the challenges of social media platforms as they fight changing rules and algos, we are seeing a rapid rise in demand for private platforms like ours.
COVID has also demonstrated that businesses, large and small, need to embrace digital transformation and technology in every part of their business. Our revenue share model has proven to be very attractive as it enables businesses to bring Ugenie into their business operations with a very low upfront cost-reducing their risk. It further incentives us to support them as we all win when the business does well. It’s a win-win situation which is very different from other tech platforms.
Q: What’s most exciting about your traction to date?
A: Ugenie has steadily grown through word of mouth recommendations and referrals from our early adopter program. Although we are now gearing up to scale, the most rewarding part of our growth is that it has all been organic! As they say, word of mouth acquisitions are not only more cost-effective, but the best sign of a happy customer.
One such example is one of our fastest-growing new communities The Inspire Network, who was referred to us by our client My VIP Card. The Inspire Network, which has a FB group of over 11k, felt that FB was not the best place to run their new paid member community and recently launched a Ugenie community with us. In just under 2 months, they have already signed up 100 paid members and are growing fast!
Nikki Tapley of The Inspire Network said, ‘Ugenie has enabled us to build our community hub away from the noise and free from the algorithms of conventional social media. We love that our members can choose what notifications to see, when and where. Ugenie is so easy to navigate and the simplicity of the software is what makes it brilliant. It’s early days but we’re really happy with it, and so are our members!’
Ugenie has also won several awards for its work including Best New Business 2019 for the Women’s Business Conference and Best Women-led Online SME Community Platform 2020 by the Influential Women Awards, and a finalist for the Small Business of the Year 2018 by the Venus Award, a finalist for the Digital Women Awards for Digital Product of the Year, and a finalist in three categories for the Successful Women in Business awards 2020 for Innovation, High Growth and Digital Communication. Ugenie’s founder was also named as a finalist for the Digital Innovator of the year and Entrepreneur of the Year for the Digital Women Awards 2020.
Q: What has surprised you in your journey so far?
A: Ugenie’s vision has always been to empower small businesses and communities with enterprise-level technology that is simple to use and at a price they could afford.
To our pleasant surprise, many large organisations including a premier league football academy to corporates have also found us attractive and found our digital strategy support was important to the integration of Ugenie into their operations. This demonstrated that our offering of education and support alongside the tech is an attractive and versatile proposition. Further, with COVID increasing the need for businesses and communities to digitise, we have seen an acceleration in our client numbers which has also been super exciting!
Q: How are you measuring your success? What are your metrics?
A: We want to empower as many businesses and communities with our platform as we can, and are excited to share that we have seen steady growth in client numbers since our beta launch. For us, however, the most important metrics are all about our client retention and user engagement. One of the core reasons that businesses are choosing Ugenie over FB is that they are struggling with visibility and engagement and are tired of fighting the noise of FB algo, or in some cases the FB rules (one of our clients was banned from her own group and still not sure why!). Instead, they want a place which they can curate and control, and feel confident that the right members are seeing relevant content. For us, it’s been amazing to see a high client retention rate and massive improvements on user return and content visibility.
One of our other passions is helping our clients further monetize their memberships or communities, and we are thrilled to be able to report that through our partnerships, we have also been able to support our clients in this area!
Q: What is your plan to adapt if your industry is completely disrupted?
A: In addition to the innovative platform that Ugenie is creating, we are also building an ecosystem of training and support for SMEs and their digital transformation journeys. Thus, our plan B is using our own platform to launch a Membership for those who run memberships or online communities and provide them with access to our knowledge of the industry, digital training and connections. But, in all honesty, we aren’t waiting to launch this – our own membership is launching later this year starting with a community for our clients and our first mastermind which started this month.
Q: What are your goals over the next 12 months?
A: Taking feedback from our early adopter program, we recently added several new things to our technology stack and our partners’ program which we will continue to enhance and grow.
From a technology standpoint, we recently added a web version of our member’s portal which integrates directly into our client’s websites. This new version has been very well-received, and now we are focusing on adding more features such as live streaming and event management.
In terms of our support and training initiatives, since we believe in the power of community and collaboration, it’s just natural for us to launch our own membership to support our clients and others in the industry! Thus, we are introducing a community for our clients to connect and support one another, and recently launched our very first Membership Mastermind! This mastermind, which we are running in partnership with one of our early adopters, sold out in just 10 days. We will continue to run these and grow them into a membership for Membership-based businesses, which will launch in full later this year.
We also aim to increase the number of partners we work with to boost the monetization opportunities for our clients through sponsorship and affiliate placement. Through our connections, we have had multiple communities secure full sponsorship for the cost of their Ugenie platform, and sponsors who have had exposure to a relevant and warm audience. Our aim is to double the size and diversity of this blackbook.
To support our scale, we will be raising our first SEED round in the fall.
Learn more about Ugenies’ private membership platform by visiting their website here: www.ugenie.io.