Interview With Ksenia Yudina
Describe your product or service:
“Family investing app that makes it easy for parents to build a brighter future for their kids.”
Describe your company values and mission:
“To build a brighter financial future for the next generation.”
How are you funded? I.e. type of funding, number of funding rounds, total funding amount.
“VCs, angel investors.”
How big is your team? Tell us a little about them (I.e. co-founders, freelancers, etc.)
“Our team is about 40 people now. Ksenia Yudina Ksenia had an unlikely path to entrepreneurship. She moved to the US at 18 from Russia to Key West, lived in a home with eight others, and started as a housekeeper in a hotel to make ends meet. She then moved across the country to Los Angeles, put herself through undergrad, business school, her CFA designation, and worked in finance where she got the idea for UNest (plus, she has three little ones at home!).
She graduated with $180,000 in student debt and realized that it's a national crisis hobbling young people for decades.”
How did you come up with and validate your startup idea? Tell us the story!
“Ksenia conceived of the idea for UNest while she was working in finance and realized that the industry failed to recognize that parents prioritize saving for their children above anything else. She saw that financial advisors were pushing expensive products that weren’t the right fit for clients, and when customers inquired about opening accounts for their kids, they were sent pages of complex paperwork.
Millennials were accustomed to using mobile-first solutions like Venmo, they didn’t want to pore over pages of finance jargon.
She knew that a legacy institution would have a difficult time building an app quickly, so she decided to quit her job and build it herself. Having graduated with over $180,000 in student loans, she understood firsthand that student debt was a national crisis hobbling young people for decades. Her goal was to ensure that whatever she built was accessible to everyone, regardless of income or background.
In 2018, she started UNest, and the company officially launched in February of 2020. The product initially focused on 529s but quickly pivoted to UTMAs, which offer more flexibility based on customer feedback.
UNest currently has 450,000 users, close to 150 brand partners, and has raised nearly $40 million to date.”
How did you come up with your startup's name? Did you have other names you considered?
“The inspiration behind UNest was the combination of the word ‘Nest’ like in ‘build a nest for your child’ and parents called ‘empty nesters’ when their kids leave home. And ‘U’ is an abbreviated version for ‘You.’ It just means we've built a product for our customers with ‘You’ in mind.”
Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
“I never thought I’d become an entrepreneur, but once I identified the problem, I knew it was something worth solving.”
Feeling inspired? Learn how to launch your company with our guide on how to start a startup.
Did you encounter any roadblocks when launching your startup? If so, what were they and what did you do to solve them?
“One of the biggest challenges early on was working with the states on the 529 plans. Their technology was completely antiquated. They required us to send faxes to open accounts, and they couldn’t handle the volume of business we were sending them. Plus, they really didn’t want low balance accounts, which was disappointing.”
Who is your target market? How did you establish the right market for your startup?
“Our target market is anyone who has a child and wants to begin saving and investing for their future. This could be parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or friends who want to set up someone they love for future financial success.”
What's your marketing strategy?
“Word of mouth and influencer marketing is huge for us. A lot of our customers tell their family and friends about how much they love our product. We’ve also started to do more traditional advertising.”
How did you acquire your first 100 customers?
“We reached out to our network to help open our first 100 accounts.”
What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?
“User growth, user engagement, retention, lifetime value.”
What's your favorite startup book and podcast?
“‘How I Built This.’”
What is a song or artist that you listen to for motivation?
“‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor.”
Is there a tool, app, or resource that you swear by to help run your startup?
“Braze, Plaid, Trello, Figma.”
What is something that surprised you about entrepreneurship?
“I think that if people knew how hard it was, a lot of entrepreneurs wouldn’t do it.”
How do you achieve work/life balance as a founder?
“Eating well is important for your health, and I try to find time to do things I enjoy outside of work. My husband, children, and dog help keep me grounded.”
What is a strategy you use to stay productive and focused?
“I try to focus on one thing at a time and tackle things in chunks so that everything feels manageable and not overwhelming. I also keep a to-do list and check things off as they’re completed.
And, of course, I live by my calendar.”
Did you have to develop any habits that helped lead you to success? If so, what are they?
“You have to learn to say no. I think that’s really tough for people, particularly first-time founders, but you’re always going to be pulled in a million different directions, and it’s crucial that you protect your time and energy. If you don’t, you will get burnt out very quickly, and you won’t be able to prioritize the things that truly matter.”
What was your first job and what did it teach you?
“My first job was working as a housekeeper in a hotel in Key West, and it taught me the importance of hard work and that there is no task that is too big or too small, particularly when you’re starting a business. At a startup, everyone must wear a lot of hats.”
More on UNest
Ksenia Yudina, founder of fintech startup UNest, shared valuable insights during our interview that will inspire and motivate aspiring entrepreneurs.