Feb 17 Update: There’s been back and forth today in a follow up from Upgrade Pack to this article, and alarming allegations leveled against the company from current employee whistle blowers. After reading here, head here for the update.
With no budget, no office and nothing but an internet connection and a few ideas, people often ask about the secret sauce of how GSTP has been able to gain over a million readers a month, with just one person writing virtually all the content. The “secret sauce” is really disappointing. The only fundamental goal and “secret sauce” of this website, as it’s been from day one, has been to empower readers with travel opportunities, insights and ideas that will benefit them.
If I benefit too, that’s great, but the benefit must always extend to you first. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t get covered, no matter how lucrative the offer. Last year, Upgrade Pack, a start up by a team I was proud to be familiar, with hit me up about highlighting their innovative new platform.
As I noted in the coverage, which I was compensated for, I was as skeptical as anyone. I didn’t believe consumers would ever pay en mass for an app which may or may not actually save on upgrades, but when I was told that the aim was to sell the platform as an exclusive credit card benefit, where users could save 30% off upgrade sticker prices, I genuinely believed in the business, given their slant on simplifying upgrades.
Since it was positioned to me as a benefit only for ultra exclusive credit cards, and would never be available to the public, I really thought I was delivering a neat value and opportunity for readers. It was positioned to me as a one time opportunity, that wouldn’t come around again and I felt excited to be the one bringing that to you. When I saw a pivot this year, that the app would be sold publicly to anyone willing to pay, it enraged me and made me wonder just WTF was going on.
UP insists they never promised that it would only be privately available via our sign up or a credit card benefit, but that’s something I’d refute in strong terms.
As to the app, I’m not someone who thinks paying $1400 instead of $2000 has any value, because I’d never pay either amount, but for corporate travellers and more niche cases, there’s still potential for benefit, particularly if it’s a card benefit and easy to use, without red tape or “who to call” elements which currently frustrate people.
Basically, I still see real potential for Upgrade Pack, and I wish them the very best. I positioned the app this way in the initial coverage and if they’re ever able to deliver that, I’ll be overjoyed.
But I’m also beyond furious.
I offered UP a deeply discount rate on the content alone, based on mutual friendships, and never benefited from anyone signing up or not.
Then came, April, May, June, July, August, September, October and finally November 2019. Actually no, it’s been December, January and February since, but it was November when I’d had enough, and even then I’ve waited 3 months to give them a little rope.
I reached out to Upgrade Pack for an update, since I’d seen them opening offices across multiple continents (Asia, North America, Europe), hiring more than 30 staff and regularly seen flying in business or first class on a monthly basis or greater at the dime of their investors. Yet, here we are, and there isn’t even a beta test for the people I encouraged to join and give them a shot – their “first believers”. Instead, they’ve been pushing people to buy in.
As someone who consults and advises in the start up and travel investment space, it just didn’t quite make sense to me. I’d never seen anything like it. Most startups without a downloadable product barely have one office, let alone multiple, and even the start up founders don’t fly in premium cabins or stay in five star hotels.
Constant office expansion, luxury travel, corporate outings, yet a product anyone could touch, even in its greatest infancy had not been introduced. What’s the hold up?
When I was pitched the app in 2018 – I was told there were at least 5 signed sealed and delivered partners and agreements in key markets where our readers would benefit imminently. Years later, I believe there are no more than 3 launch partners, and those can’t be publicly disclosed? I pressed UP for more info as inconsistencies began to mount.
During this tango, I was constantly fed articles and factoids about new investment, but as someone who only cares how things affect actual consumers – aka you – I didn’t care. It doesn’t matter if you have Google funding, or are an actual start up, using points and miles to pay for coffee and flights in economy -it all comes down to product and what you do for the people who bought in.
I kept pushing for facts about real life airline and hotel partners, release dates and opportunities and felt truly stonewalled. I just wanted a genuine release date I could inform our readers about, and was finally given March 3rd. That’s more than a year over the time it was supposed to be in your hands, but it was a date. I thought I’d let it go. After all, this is between you and them mostly.
Then, on February 14th, just before the weekend, they called off the launch date, with no new date given. Why?
They blamed coronavirus.
Adding murkiness, members of the executive team were in Singapore all week, seemingly without a care in the world, flying first class to get there. Before you say “well their developers might be in China” – they’re not. They’re in the UK and I do not believe any cases are reported in their offices. It certainly didn’t affect the teams travel, so I don’t know how it would affect their product.
That’s all background noise, because really I’m just here to apologize to you, my readers. I’m sorry, on behalf of an app I have nothing to do with. I cost you £99 and told you you’d be able to have something in return in early 2019. It’s now early 2020 and I am sorry.
I hyped something I believed would be great, and even though I still hold out strong hope that it will be, and that your money wasn’t lost in luxury travel for others, it’s more than a year late from delivery, and the spending, travel and culture I’ve witnessed as a casual observer makes me question how much is going toward a revolutionary product.
Furthermore, many other upgrade solutions have scaled up and gained partners in the year since, making the road to usefulness more uphill than ever. Since we began pushing UP for details, I believe their communication with those who signed up has increased and that’s good, they should. I also still think this could still be a win, and many of you who put your faith in our advice and their product will see a positive outcome.
My promise to you is simple: we will never take a leap of faith again, if a transaction is involved. If we can’t use it and verify the bones behind the ideas, we won’t write about a product ever again. This has been a learning lesson, and I’m sorry to anyone adversely affected. We value your time, money and trust.