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True Believer.

Yupi CEO mixes God into the dot-com recipe.

A HALO CROWNS THE YUPI CORPORATE LOGO. ADVERTISEMENTS bear the motto "mandado del cielo," or "heaven sent." And the Internet company's marketing slogans are no less celestial: "Yupi, the answer to your prayers," "Yupi, thank God" and "Yupi, who says God isn't listening."

If religious references surface at the dot-com, it's because a Christian philosophy permeates the private and work lives of Yupi President and CEO Oscar Coen. The Roman Catholic executive even refers to the company's marketing theme and his strong faith as a "Godcidence." By that, he means a team of Yupi

executives and advertising consultants happened to come up with a campaign that reflects his philosophy, which is: "We are basically copilots of this company [with God]. I'm thankful for that and taking advantage of it to do some evangelizing. I am living testimony of the grace of God and his great deeds."

How often does a rich young dot-com executive publicly claim that running his company fulfills a higher mission? Some executives, like politicians, use God in marketing and public relations in ways that some people deem inappropriate. But those who know Coen say that he is authentic. "I am certain that what motivates Oscar, even more than Yupi, is his faith in God," says Miami lawyer Julio Ayala, who has known Coen for 20 years. Friends say the Yupi exec routinely invites friends, businessmen and even strangers to attend men's religious retreats that he helps organize.

If there's an arena that calls for faith, it's that of the dot-com world. And Coen, 36, doesn't lack it. The CEO leans heavily on his religious beliefs as he tackles the challenge of making Yupi successful. Given the dot-com industry's shrinking valuations, profit projections and advertising income, Yupi's success or failure will contribute to the extent to which top Latin American players such as Universo Online. StarMedia and Terra consolidate their toehold on the market.

Coen's road to the Internet company began in early 1998 when an acquaintance brought him together with Yupi founder Carlos Cardona. Cardona needed executive expertise to help get his project off the ground; Coen was an investment banker at Preferred Capital Partners. "Coen was enthusiastic about the business and thought there was an opportunity to take it to the next level," recalls Cardona. Coen and Preferred Capital helped Cardona develop a business plan and seek financing. Coen jumped to Yupi full time in March 1998.

Ups and downs. Under Coen, Yupi raised US$110 million by November 1999. The company then scheduled an IPO for April 2000, hoping to follow competitors Terra Networks, StarMedia and El Sitio into the market. However, tech stocks collapsed a few days before the scheduled offering, forcing Yupi to postpone its plans.

Yupi's path mirrors that of many dot-coms: rising revenue, growing numbers of customers and zero profits. Yupi reported first quarter 2000 revenue of $3.6 million, compared to $3 million in the fourth quarter of 1999. And the company says page views swelled 39% to 442 million, and registered users jumped 19% to 4.3 million. "Yupi is a second-tier portal that's not competitive with portals like Terra and StarMedia. Yupi hasn't really been on my radar lately." says Lucas Graves, an analyst with Jupiter Communications. In the largest Latin American market of Brazil, for example, Yupi lags behind leaders UOL, free-access provider iG and Terra, according to Merrill Lynch.

In late September, Yupi postponed the release of its second-quarter results. The reason: the company technically remains in a pre-IPO quiet period required by the SEC, said a Yupi spokeswoman. The company launched efforts to secure another round of financing, which it hoped to complete before the end of 2000.

Coen says the company has enough cash to last at least another 15 months and prospects for raising additional cash are good; a Yupi spokesperson denies rumors that the dot-corn is for sale.

"You have little control over the market. If the timing is right, it will be. If it isn't, then it isn't," says Coen. "I have tried to instill a culture of being productive one minute, one hour, one day at a time and not worrying about the future because maybe it never comes."

Coen's attitude stems from his Christian faith. Coen, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, puts together religious gatherings for men every few months. Together with his Cuban-American wife, Yupi Executive Vice President and Managing Director Marlena Delgado-Coen, he also helps organize weekend retreats for married couples about a half dozen times a year. "Oscar and his wife have given talks about personal things in their lives and how faith has helped," says retreat coordinator John Harriman, CEO of Schroeder Bank of Miami.

Office credo. A religious tone permeates the workplace. The overwhelming majority of Yupi employees are Latinos, most of whom happen to be Catholic. Coen sometimes leads employees in prayer before, during or after meetings. "When he prays, it's for guidance to lead the company in the right direction," explains Chief Technology Officer Cardona. Adds Yupi senior vice president Gustavo Morles: "I had somebody come up to me and say, 'Hey, Gustavo. Somebody's dad is quite sick, and we are having a two-minute prayer for him. Will you join us?' I have also led prayers many times."

Coen's religious beliefs solidified following a personal crisis. Mound 1994, the couple suffered a deeply painful experience that threatened their marriage. Coen asked LATIN TRADE not to reveal details.

Following the crisis, Coen pushed ahead with his work and turned to frequent prayer to help him cope. He says a strengthening of his faith helped to keep the couple together. Today they run Yupi as a team.

Delgado-Coen, former marketing and advertising executive with Procter & Gamble and Grey Advertising, became a Yupi marketing consultant in July 1998. In January 1999, she joined the company full-time in her current role.

As corny as it may seem, Coen genuinely believes God has given him Yupi--and wealth--to help others. He donates 10% of his earnings to charities, including health-care organizations aided by his mother, a doctor, in her native Dominican Republic. He plans to eventually create a non-profit organization to help train small-business people in the Dominican Republic. "Over pizza, he once talked about going back home to help poor kids. I have never questioned that I would help him with that," says Morles.

The seeds of compassion and entrepreneurship were planted early in Coen's life. His father was a merchant vessel captain-turned-businessman. His mother treated poor patients at no charge at her private practice and at the hospital where she did diabetes research. "She was part of the elite but an advocate of improving the system. That stays with me," says Coen. "I want to live up to my mother's expectations."
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Publication:Latin Trade
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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