“A team should only be as large as it needs to be to get the job done” with Christine Telyan and Chaya Weiner

A team should only be as large as it needs to be to get the job done. So, don’t have a big team unless you have to. Set clear expectations for each of your managers and check in regularly. Is someone doing well? The answer to this should be very clear and based on measurable […]

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A team should only be as large as it needs to be to get the job done. So, don’t have a big team unless you have to. Set clear expectations for each of your managers and check in regularly. Is someone doing well? The answer to this should be very clear and based on measurable objectives.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Telyan. Christine Telyan is the CEO and co-founder of London-based tech company UENI, which builds over 3000 business websites per day. The company has raised more than $18m in angel investment and is active in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, India, Mexico, Canada and Brazil.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It began with a very ordinary problem. My husband, Anh, had a toothache and, like any good spouse, I was trying to find him a local dentist. The internet is supposed to have an answer for everything, but it was surprisingly difficult. I wanted to find the best-rated local dentist, but only found chains and franchises.

We realised that many local businesses lacked a decent web presence, so Anh and I set out to solve this problem. After researching the market, we realised there was a major gap in the market for small businesses, freelancers and sole traders. These companies can’t afford to pay for an expensive agency and don’t have the skills or the time themselves to create a professional web presence.

Think about all of the things that go into creating a website: design, hosting and tech maintenance, copy, search engine optimisation, domain name, images and more. And then there’s the matter of getting on all of the other channels: online maps, social media, business directories — it’s complicated!

We are providing a solution for small businesses so they don’t have to worry about this complexity. By solving this problem for small businesses, we are helping them to succeed.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

We are increasingly employing members of the same family. When we find great employees, we encourage them to invite their siblings and have never been disappointed. One of our developers invited his sister, who was studying to be a vet. But, even though this had nothing to do with software, she is now one of the most impactful members of our operations team. Her detail-oriented, interrogative approach is highly effective in our business.

What do you think makes your company stand out?

With UENI, you can spend literally five minutes with us and we’ll create a fantastic, professional online presence, including a complete website plus a Google My Business listing, for free. Our solutions are specifically built for small businesses and we offer things that are useful to them in a simple and transparent way.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now?

We are rapidly growing internationally and expanding our product offering. We’ve recently moved into Canada, Mexico and Brazil. We are taking on lots of new people and constantly on the search for talent, which is really exciting.

We are also finding out more about what our customers need and have been asking them about the areas they are struggling with. Thousands of customers have come back to us and, based on their feedback, we are soon going to provide a business logo service and a web store, so merchants can take payments.

We are also going to help small businesses make important decisions, like which business bank account or insurance to take. UENI is becoming a one-stop shop for all small business needs.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

A mentor once said to me that a good female entrepreneur is no different to a good male entrepreneur: she gets the job done.

As a leader, you need to be able to think and to provide vision and energy and, to do that, you must trust those reporting to you. Keep that number of people down to five or six. Otherwise, you become the bottleneck and growth is curbed.

Always be able to look at your business from 30,000 feet and see what direction your company is taking. But, also, be prepared to regularly jump into the trenches. A true leader needs to be able to jump from the bird’s eye view to the operational details.

Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. It’s really important to assess the stage of life you are in and what kind of commitments you can make when starting your own business. It’s one of the most rewarding professional experiences, but it does come at a personal cost.

Often, you will need some savings to get you through the startup phase, where you can’t pay yourself much of a salary. Your family should be supportive of what you are doing, both in terms of personal finances, but also with respect to the time and focus starting a business requires. Having these things in place will allow you to work on the business without unexpected stresses.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

A team should only be as large as it needs to be to get the job done. So, don’t have a big team unless you have to. Set clear expectations for each of your managers and check in regularly. Is someone doing well? The answer to this should be very clear and based on measurable objectives.

Recognize when you’ve made a mistake. It’s important to be transparent with your team about when you’ve messed up. People respect the honesty and it shows that you respect your team. Then, be sure to address the mistake quickly and make it clear how you are remedying it.

It’s important to maintain credibility with your team. I have built operational models for the team and jumped on sales calls with customers. You lead by doing and you build a bond with the team that way, because your involvement shows that this is a team effort and that you aren’t up in the clouds.

Get a lot of advice. When starting out, seek out as much advice as possible from people who have gone through what you are going through now. If you have a limited personal network, ask friends whether they can put you in touch with someone, or go onto LinkedIn and reach out to people who have had similar experiences. Many people are very willing to help and mentor others, as others have helped them.

Entrepreneurs starting out sometimes think they need to keep their ideas under wraps until they have something to show for it. This is one of the biggest mistakes, because others can share experience and perspective that you don’t have yet; this could save you a great deal of time, money and missteps.

Additionally, it’s helpful to set a timeline set for yourself for what you aim to achieve. For example, I can afford not to take a salary for X months, and by then I want to have Y customers and Z in revenues. Your goals might be different but, whatever they are, milestones keep every entrepreneur sober-minded about her venture.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Without question, my cofounder Anh helped me get to where I am. Everyone should find a partner, or two, with complementary skills. Maybe it’s a business person with a tech person; maybe it’s a visionary with an executor; a designer and a sales person; there are many combinations. But no one person has all the skills.

Even more than that; starting a business is really hard — you need to have a partner who you trust 100% and with whom your interests are completely aligned. Together, you will support one another through the hard work, the challenging times and, also, the euphoric moments of success. Some investors even say that they won’t finance a solo entrepreneur because a founding team is so important.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

Get a technical cofounder. It’s possible to build a successful company without one, sure. But when you are in the trenches, getting the company to the point of traction and then growth, life is so much easier if you have someone who is joined at the hip with you and who is there through thick and thin. You need to be able to test things fast and ensure that the development team builds for the long term.

Your customer needs to love your product, not like it. The tech does not need to be revolutionary and it doesn’t need to be the most beautiful thing you have ever seen, but the product does need to do something for the customer that they could not do previously, for whatever reason. You need to change the game for your target customer in some way.

Marketing is trial and error. How do you reach your target customer? Who is your target customer? You need to run loads of tests: messages, audiences, channels. But you need to structure those tests so that you learn from them.

Be prepared to make mistakes. Any great product, any great business does not come by taking guarded, baby steps. Time and money are scarce, talent wants action and the market moves on. You need bold moves and you often won’t get it right. Just make sure that you get the big things right and can course-correct quickly when you’ve gotten it wrong.

Above all, simplify everything and focus.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I’d love to have breakfast with Jeff Bezos as he knows the investment and work required to get millions of independent merchants successfully commercializing for the first time.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We hire a lot of young people and I’m proud that we’ve helped a lot of them find a meaningful career.

We often hire people for one thing but then find their talent lies in another. For instance, we hired a business development manager, but his real talent lay in prototyping and then implementing fast solutions in our company as a product and operations manager. He’d actually spent time managing restaurants and nightclubs — this is a person who solves practical problems quickly.

We have great success with committed and smart employees, but we make a commitment to them, too, to develop them and to find where they can really shine. Good, loyal people bring more good people. So, give them the chance to develop and shine. I am proud of our team but also of our alumni, who remain close to UENI and continue to help us grow.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Right now, I’m focused on our mission to make all of the world’s businesses visible online and then to help them succeed. 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. I don’t want an internet dominated by major brands and franchises.

If I am looking for a dentist, I get referred to a big chain. If I want to buy a sofa, I get referred to a national retailer. The impact of big brands dominating searches is that customers lose choice.

We want to change this and with UENI it is possible. 80% of customers search for local businesses online, but only 20% of these businesses have a proper online presence. Our mission is to get millions of independent businesses online, to help these small companies compete and to provide choice to customers beyond the big brands.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“I never dreamed about success, I worked for it.” — Estee Lauder.

The problem we are trying to solve; the difficulty of competing online as a small business, is a big challenge. Facebook, Google and other big tech companies have struggled to digitise small companies. I didn’t pick something to work on because it would be easy, I picked something that would be significant to millions of small business owners and their communities.

There are real barriers for these businesses. We asked over 2,000 small business owners and sole traders whether they had struggled to appear in Google’s search results and more than three quarters said ‘yes’.

We have worked hard to develop the tech and processes to enable us to offer a high quality product for free, as well as additional products and services that add value to millions of small businesses globally.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It took us a few years to find the right business model. When we were starting, our idea was to create a search engine or marketplace for local service sector businesses. We started off by digitising the information of three million businesses across Europe.

But it was incredibly slow to build the other side of the platform: the customers. Our idea had been to partner with existing communities, provide them with an app for their users and, within it, embed the UENI search engine so they could search for and find local businesses.

In theory, it was great. But in practice, partners moved so slowly. They loved the idea and then would not come back to us for months. As a startup, we had to pivot from this approach because we could not build the platform so slowly.

You cannot let other parties dictate the growth of your business. What was great about building the supply side and digitising millions of businesses was that we controlled the pace. So, we simplified our efforts, focused on B2B and have not looked back in our mission to get all small businesses online.

Never forget your original motivation. We stepped away from the search engine marketplace idea back in 2017, but the need to solve the customer’s problem has stayed with us.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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