Unata is a technology company that enables Real-time Shopper Marketing. It was founded on the realization that mobile, loyalty, and personalization were three trends that were about to collide to redefine the shopping experience. Unata is based in Toronto, ON, the birthplace of the loyalty industry. The Unata team is comprised of experts in customer loyalty, innovative software development, retail systems integration, and machine learning/recommendation engines.
Q&A with Chris Bryson, Founder & CEO
Where did the inspiration for your company come from and how did you get started?
I was attending the Canadian Marketing Awards conference in 2009 and was listening to a speaker talk about the potential for e-commerce sites to provide shoppers with reviews from people in their social network. It made me think that there was a bigger opportunity for contextually relevant reviews for real-world purchases, and that retail loyalty programs would be a great platform to trigger that kind of experience. As it turned out, I worked for Aeroplan, one of the biggest loyalty programs in the world. So I put together a business plan, attracted initial investors, a partner, and approached Aeroplan about partnering with Unata, a company that would be focused on using digital technologies to augment retail loyalty programs.
How is your company now different than your founding vision and what lead to the change?
Our business now includes a platform called FreshPoints that supports manufacturers, using much of the same technology. The ideas behind this were very much a result of the mentoring and advice of my investors from Mantella Venture Partners.
What is the most important advice you’d give a first time entrepreneur?
Network frequently and intelligently. Nothing can be done on your own, and networking is critical to team-building, investment and selling.
What makes Toronto a great place to found a company?
Canada provides a lot of great government funding programs that can’t be found elsewhere and that make a huge difference for running your company. And Toronto is truly the Canadian hub where you can find top talent to power your ideas.
How has working among other startups at 488 Wellington benefited your company?
The MVP ecosystem provides a great sounding board, both for me as well as the rest of my team. It gives us all the ability to find 2-3 other people who have the exact same job as we do, but who have a completely different perspective, and they’re only a 30 second walk away.
Why/how did you become an entrepreneur?
I’ve always been passionate about creating things and I have always wanted to run my own business. It’s also in the blood; both of my parents run their own companies.
What do you look for from an investor besides money?
Connections, a good track record, sound advice, and the ability to be brutally honest.
What has been the biggest challenge you faced since starting your company?
Everything always takes longer than you expect. Much longer.
What success are you most proud of since starting your company?
Building a phenomenal team.
Favourite tech company and why?
Google – they’ve redefined and continue to redefine the way we access content, are completely focused on trying to make the future more personal by using data, constantly iterate and test, and despite their size, mostly stick to their original (and great) core values.
Favourite coffee shop in King West?
Favourite pub in King West?