At last year’s Freshers’ Fair, there was a company that seemed to be attempting to generate some buzz for themselves. Over the past year they’ve handed out lots of stickers, accumulated BNOCs as ambassadors, put on some events and given away lots of free stuff. If you didn’t already know, I am referring to Youni. The startup has generated lots of publicity, but if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t really know what they actually did – until I sat down with them to talk about it.
Youni was set up by a group of former Oxford students who graduated last year. I met with Georgia, one of the co-founders, who did Spanish and Italian at Keble, Omar, another co-founder, who studied Law and French at Jesus and Q, the Head of Community, who did Philosophy and Theology at St. Benet’s Hall. The first thing I wanted to know about them was simple – what is Youni? They described it as a ‘community and events platform built specifically for universities’, emphasising that at Oxford things are ‘fragmented’, meaning that events often only spread through word of mouth – something which the entrepreneurs were keen to come out against.
They described it as a ‘community and events platform built specifically for universities’…
Once they had this idea, they entered the Oxford All Innovate competition, which was run by the Oxford Foundry. They got to the final of the competition, allowing them to win some grant money for the fledgling business. Having started during their final years, the three continued to work on the company after graduation – but full time. I asked how they’d found the transition into working on it full time, and they were honest, acknowledging the ups and downs – but maintaining that it was ‘very empowering’ to be able to work with the heads of societies.
As I mentioned previously, their system of using ambassadors means that there is a significantly personal aspect to their business – as Q said to me, ‘the highs are so tied to personal interactions and emotions – they last and they are very powerful… they are kind of the star that keeps you on track’. This personal element of the company really comes through on their social media – where recently they’ve begun a series of ’23 Questions’ (which is like a short form version of Vogue’s 73 questions). Through things like this, they aim to treat the people who organise societies ‘almost like celebrities’, showing them as examples of active students.
…’the highs are so tied to personal interactions and emotions – they last and they are very powerful… they are kind of the star that keeps you on track’.
The plan for Youni doesn’t end with social media – the goal is to create an app to be ‘one platform you can go to, and you can just see, right, here’s what’s happening this week in Oxford’, in the words of Omar, the CEO. He added that he wants the app to be somewhere people can ‘actually see that information and get that in seconds without having to kind of be distracted by incoming ads’. The lack of ads was intriguing to me – ads are often the route for similar businesses to make money. This fed into one of the big questions I had about Youni – how does this admittedly cool idea work as a business?
…the goal is to create an app to be ‘one platform you can go to, and you can just see, right, here’s what’s happening this week in Oxford’,
In many ways, Youni almost sounds like a community project – like an initiative to help local societies and events find the local people who would love to come along. While that does sound great, it also doesn’t sound like very much of a business, which is why I was keen to find out more about how the actual business operates. With that in mind, I saved my biggest question for last: how is this a viable business model? In response to me asking how they planned to monetise it, they set out their plan. They want to be free for societies and students to use – so there will be no money coming from subscriptions. They also, as I mentioned previously, suggested they want to be ad-free. The avenue to monetisation for Youni will come through booking fees – in return for facilitating interactions between people, they would charge a fee. In this way, the app seems like it would be like a ticketing company, but with a more personal touch.
Only time will tell if this business plan will work – they are preparing for a launch in Trinity Term 2023, and are still optimising their business plan for engagement for the time being. I look forward to seeing their progress.
Image credit: Youni
Image description: Founders of Youni; Georgia, Omar and Q