30 Sep 2020
UniLED: the story of global players in out-of-home advertising
Investec sat down with UniLED CEO and founder, Ben Zloof, and Chief Revenue Officer, Arran Javed, to discuss the driving force behind the company, UniLED’s roots and being on the brink of worldwide growth.
UniLED is a digital-out-of-home (DOOH) advertising solutions business who demonstrate all the characteristics akin to a market-leading, growth-oriented company: strong foundations, adaptability and an ambitious vision for global expansion.
The out-of-home (OOH) market has dramatically evolved. This change has been driven by the rapid transformation from traditional to digital OOH assets. The digitisation of the media channel provides brands with flexible, real-time, location-based advertising and more recently the ability to harness the programmatic buying work flow. These enhanced capabilities have made out-of-home advertising the only traditional media channel to demonstrate significant growth in the last 10 years.
UniLED have been at the forefront of this digital revolution, providing the DOOH industry with a range of market leading products and services, from ad-serving and verification technology to 24/7 monitoring and support.
The DOOH market could have been a very different place had Ben Zloof, founder and CEO of UniLED, continued his original career trajectory. He graduated with a 1st class honours degree in finance and economics from the University of Birmingham: “I had ambitions to work in the city, however the 2007/8 Financial Crisis hit, and the whole financial sector was dramatically rocked.” Zloof was forced to quickly adapt.
Zloof’s early career centred on the digital signage technology sector which provided the knowledge foundations about screen hardware and software. Meanwhile, the OOH market was beginning to harness the potential of digital and through his experience in screen technology, Zloof quickly came to a realisation that the DOOH market was set for exponential growth.
"As a team we have had to keep our eye on the future and constantly innovate to make sure we’re not only remaining relevant, but we’re offering products and services that our clients see huge value in."
UniLED taking the market by storm
With this insight, the vision of UniLED was born. Originally set up in 2010 as a consultancy service, advising clients on digital signage technology, the business quickly evolved to provide digital support servicers to media owners, providing the business a strong reoccurring revenue model with close client relationships.
Fast forward 10 years to today, and UniLED is now positioned as the market leader for screen maintenance, network management and content deployment in the UK with a portfolio of over 25,000m2. To put this into a wider perspective, the UK is considered to be right at the very forefront of DOOH operations and intelligence within a globally growing market and UniLED is spearheading this.
Also making up the UniLED operation is UniHUB, an extremely powerful service management tool designed to streamline the operation, management and maintenance of digital signage networks, providing crucial performance analysis for media owner’s.
Finally, the newest innovation and the most exciting growth prospect is UniLIVE. The UniLIVE platform is designed to provide the DOOH market with streamlined content delivery and independent playout verification through an integrated ad-technology platform. This technology enables media buying agencies and advertisers to more effectively manage their DOOH campaigns and empowers brands to monitor, measure & report on campaign performance in real-time.
Zloof expands on the importance of UniLIVE’s development:
“Our vision is to maximise the capabilities and performance of DOOH for advertisers. We recognize that by providing advertisers with a standard platform for ad serving, verification and reporting across the global DOOH market is crucial in building the foundations to support the continued growth of DOOH.”
The amount of touchpoints makes the next stage an exciting prospect and with Investec, I’ve never been so comfortable. I’m happy that they have seen a sprinkle of magic in us, as we have seen in them.
The story of a market leader
UniLED, with this trio of leading services, are in pole position to service the global DOOH market. We asked Zloof: what attributes do you credit for getting yourself and the company to this position?
“To me, it’s the ability to innovate and adapt. Every business, whether it’s a start-up or a bigger entrepreneur-led company, needs the ability to adapt to their market and clients needs. As a team we have had to keep our eye on the future and constantly innovate to make sure we’re not only remaining relevant, but we’re offering products and services that our clients see huge value in.
Zloof is very complimentary about his team, he praises its close knit-nature and sees them as the lifeblood of the company. He even prefers the term “team” to “colleague” or “staff”, as it sets the wrong tone for their culture. CRO, Arran Javed, shared his thoughts on working in a founder-led business and how the UniLED team works together:
“We are a team that all pull together. Regardless of the role, position, or title there is one thing that unifies everyone at UniLED, and that is the desire and ability to get the job done. The thing I have found incredibly inspiring since joining the business is the fact that the whole team not only get the job done, always, but we do it the UniLED way: to the highest possible standard, irrespective of the task at hand. There is a real team spirit, even when we’re working remotely, there is a constant feedback loop and buzz about the place, with us all pulling in the same direction. It gives me the belief we’re doing something special here, as we often discuss, there is magic in the air at UniLED.”
We asked Zloof himself what he has learnt as a founder and successful entrepreneur, and on top of the ability to adapt, what key characteristics are needed to succeed and what he installs into UniLED’s culture:
“At the start of the journey, you never quite realise how resilient you have to be and how much perseverance you need. But above all that, you need to retain an unwavering belief in what you are doing. I’ve said this to my team many times: growth is often a painful process. It’s exceptionally challenging. That is a testament to our team and culture, we maintain that attitude of getting up every morning and just making it happen.”
There is a real sense of partnership running through UniLED’s ethos. The foundations have been set successfully and the roots are strong. Combined with market leading technology, the whole team are heading, at speed, towards the goal of being the international market leader.
Like-minded and inquisitive
“We are servicing thousands of digital screens across the UK and with UniLIVE working with over 46% of the OOH market in the UK and branching out to the US market amongst others. Our trajectory is clear and we will be moving quickly.”
The growth story of UniLED has been incredibly successful so far, what makes it more impressive is the organic nature of its evolution as well. However, with the solid foundations of a determined founder, a scalable product and an exceptionally driven and adaptable team, both Javed and Zloof believe the next step is there for the taking.
Javed commented: “It’s a fascinating business, we have a very clear direction and path we’re heading down. We are taking our brand, and launching our products, UniLIVE and UniHUB, to the global market and into multiple territories simultaneously. On the one hand, we will need to educate each and every new international market we enter, and on the other we’ll have to deliver, the UniLED way. Regardless of the location, there is a constant in the challenges faced within the DOOH market place and we provide the solution to those challenges. The UK is regarded as one of the leading markets in the OOH space globally, and the learnings, experience and insight we have generated over the course of the decade are hugely valuable when operating in new and developing OOH markets.
Our path is scoped and clear and the offering is market leading. In some instances we are creating the market and this, whilst a challenge no doubt, we absolutely relish. We couldn’t be more excited about our global expansions.”
We are a team that all pull together. Regardless of the role, position, or title there is one thing that unifies everyone at UniLED, and that is the desire and ability to get the job done.
UniLED’s vision matched Investec well. To make the swift move into the global market and attract the talent to do so, UniLED required growth funds on top of the exceptional organic development. Zloof outlines the decision to turn to Investec’s Private Capital team:
“For 10 years we have grown organically. The appeal of continuing to do it organically and the trepidation of letting somebody external into the nest did make us initially reluctant. So for us, it was critical we chose the right partner.
Funding was not just about the money. It was important to find a firm that was like-minded, understood us and added value and ultimately endorsed our growth journey. We were lucky to have a lot of interest, but Investec stood head and shoulders above anyone else. They understood what we did, understood how the business grew, the entrepreneurial journey, and naturally wanted to know more.”
Investec, being a former founder-led business, understood UniLED’s attitude towards growth and the effort already exerted to get the company where it is today and were fully engaged to partner UniLED in the next stage of its story.
Investec’s Gregg Pietersen summarised the decision to partner with UniLED:
“Our Private Capital proposition actively seeks out leaders that are fired-up to create wealth. We are always on the lookout for these kinds of people and when we find them we do everything we can to partner with them not just as a bank, but also as partners who are aligned to their wealth creation aspirations. In Ben and his team at UniLED, we have found exactly this. A leadership team that not only has a superb product but the desire, the determination and resilience to deliver it. We’re delighted to be their partners actively creating wealth together.
The runway is clear
UniLED is leading the way in a sector which is on an upward trajectory. Through the commonly shared characteristics of partnership, entrepreneurialism and aspiration, Zloof and UniLED are about to embark on an exciting period for the business: “The amount of touchpoints makes the next stage an exciting prospect and with Investec, I’ve never been so comfortable. I’m happy that they have seen a sprinkle of magic in us, as we have seen in them.”
UniLED’s position as market leaders in the DOOH sector is set in stone, from now on you will drive down the road and never look at digital billboards in quite the same way ever again.