My big idea: Drew Smith and his Google shopping engine Upp.

His AI for retailers makes it easier to manage sales on the global platform
BizAge Interview Team
Drew Smith

Hi Drew! What is Upp.?

Upp. provides a much needed AI driven solution for retailers to improve their performance marketing, enabling retailers to sell more effectively online through their most important channel Google Shopping. Upp. connects all the data surrounding each product and uses this intelligence to create more effective Performance Max campaigns for retailers than is currently possible, and then continually makes real-time marketing decisions for the retailer, responding to auction dynamics.  Improving Google Shopping performance and scaling the channel for growth.

Why does the market need it?

Upp. connects the dots - without Upp. performance marketing is the one area in retail where data remains in silos and performance gaps cannot be fully assessed and corrected. Upp. automates marketing decisions on Google shopping acting in real-time to fast changing auction dynamics, which allows retailers to finally capitalise on demand when it’s there and just as importantly reduce wasted ad spend when it’s not. This alone is a huge improvement on what retailers are currently able to do, but with Upp. because these marketing decisions are fully aligned with a retailer's business goals, business performance is also improved. And Upp. brings retailers out of the black box they are working in with Google Shopping, providing previously unattainable insights that they are using to improve their eCommerce. Our software puts inventory at the heart of decision-making - current processes rely heavily on consumer data (wholly dependent on the big four; Apple, Meta, Amazon or Google). Not only is this third-party data becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, but it’s also less rich than inventory and business operations data. For the first time, Upp. gives retailers a complete commercial picture in real-time, can explain performance, and justify decision-making in line with business objectives - increasing commercial confidence. 

Where is the business today?

We’re at £1.5m in revenue and are likely to close £2m by the end of the quarter, plus we’re just closing a round of funding. We’ve seen much larger businesses and household brands becoming part of the Upp. community and we’ve scaled quite dramatically in customer size this year so far. 

What made you think there was money in this?

What was always interesting to me was the frustration I’d hear from retailers themselves - that the platforms; Google, Amazon and Facebook, were winning the retail market, not the retailers, which I thought was inherently wrong. What seemed to be happening online was that retailers seemed to be getting more frustrated, yet it was becoming easier to communicate with the consumer. Retailers were seeing a lack of brand loyalty, and the cost of retailing was increasing year on year.  We then looked at the spend and cost of online retailing and we spotted a huge growth in product marketing and advertising. By talking to a number of retailers, it was clear that they were frustrated by the current capabilities that they could buy or they had internally, so we looked at what we could build for retailers to improve their performance marketing efforts. The idea I talked to my co-founder Ben (Ben White) about was around using product data to make intelligent business decisions. Tying that in with marketing costs, and realising that businesses weren’t using their invaluable inventory data - we thought there was a big opportunity for retailers to connect their business operations to the marketing world. We went through a product market fit process, by 2025 it’s been predicted that the retail market will be valued at $7.5 trillion, and it’s been growing at a rate of 10-15% year on year for the last 20 years, so it’s a big market. And when we looked at Google we found this to be far and away the most dominant channel as it drives 75% of the advertising spend around product performance, so we decided to start Upp. advertising affecting change in Google Shopping.

What's your biggest strength?

I’m pretty tenacious. And I don't give up, where I think most people would. I do like it when people say they can’t do something too - it’s a challenge! As for our business strength, online retailers currently see profit shrink from around 60% gross to 5% net. We’re on a mission to tackle this and reduce the total cost of operations for retailers. We are the only Google Shopping solution that fully understands retailers’ businesses and our AI/ML technology intelligently analyses product data at SKU level, for brands and retailers to scale Google Shopping growth, automatically.  We intelligently automate marketing decisions in real-time for retailers based on auction dynamics, finally allowing retailers to capture demand when it’s there and stop leaving revenue on the table.  And our responsiveness also means that we reduce wasted ad spend - not something that can be done with traditional methods.

What is the secret to making the business work?

If you know you can tell me! Seriously though, I think you really need a clear strategic plan. You need to find a problem that’s big enough that you believe you can have an impact on and be ruthlessly focused on solving that problem. There are hundreds of ideas and potential problems you can solve when starting a business, and you pretty much need to say no to 99% of them. You need to be completely focused on what you think will make a difference. The challenge with doing that is that you have to pick a problem that enough people care about in a growing space that you can grow a business from.   Upp for example could also make a huge difference to the issues retailers face with pricing or returns, or in marketing channels such as Meta or Amazon - but we have chosen to ensure that we focus solely on transforming Google Shopping for online retailers and brands.

How do you market the company?

We have a great B2B sales team and use online marketing to drive sales. We believe in the strength of PR and work hard to educate the market with great content, and through Upp. events and industry events because we are providing a new solution to a defined space, which currently works very differently.

What funding do you have? Is it enough?

We’re very fortunate that my co-founder Ben has been a very successful entrepreneur in B2B SaaS and has supported the business from the early days – as a result we have investment from businesses such as Motion Capital, Mercia and Foresight. We’ve recently just closed our first seed round too, totalling $10m led by Bonfire Ventures. So yes, we have enough runway and we’re in a good position right now.

Tell us about the business model

It’s a SaaS subscription platform model, charged on a platform fee and % of digital ad spend. It’s a fixed commercial agreement for 12 or 24 months, billed monthly or quarterly. Upp. requires no installation or downtime and is easily adopted and making a difference within 24 hours of going live.

What were you doing before?

I always had side hustles growing up, selling sweets out of my backpack at school and running music and event nights at university, which actually paid for some of my fees. I went on to join a retail SaaS business called eSellerPro, and was the first sales representative there. I worked my way up to a Director and ran the sales team before moving into product management. I moved to a company called Volo Commerce as Director of Product Strategy and after Volo sold I was already working hard on Upp.

What is the future vision?

Upp. is in a really strong position. We are currently focused on enabling online retailers with a UK base to sell more effectively through Google Shopping.  Throughout the year, we’re looking at adding multi-channel capabilities to Upp. In the next 5 years we will be launching complimentary features to ensure that we continue to support the UK retail market in transforming eCommerce as well as looking to expand geographically. 

Written by
BizAge Interview Team
July 12, 2023
Written by
July 12, 2023