Today, just like Theranos and Fyre Festival, my integrity, rather than the substance of my argument was attacked by the founder of a company, as damning allegations emerged about their product, or lack thereof.

Smart people always say “attack the issue, not the person”, and when you have a real product – that’s really easy. You answer point for point why the person is wrong with factual and tangible news and let things move from there. It helps avoid people saying “the always brilliant God Save The Points” one day, and then claim the same person is some disgruntled loose canon the next.

I’m not, and if I was, you’d have all left by now. I operate on the assumption that you’re all smart, and if someone spews slanderous lies or falsities that no one will come back. Somehow, more than a million people keep coming back satisfied.

What Upgrade Pack failed to do in their statement about my piece was address any of the actual concerns. They simply reiterated that they’re slick enough to raise money, that I’m upset; and that they employ far too many people for an app with no app. They failed to address any real concerns I raised, like

  • How many signed commercial agreements do you have with airlines and hotels? Not “engagements” or other double speak – actual signed ready and actionable agreements.
  • How much money has been spent on luxury travel and offices in three continents, before the launch of a product, versus… building a product people can use.
  • When will you actually launch your app, that you promised to my readers over a year ago, as being ready… a year ago? You can’t keep moving the goal posts.
  • Why have you shifted from a “closed” business to business only application, which is what I was sold as the key value, to a consumer facing app available to anyone?
  • Why did you tell Condé Nast Traveler you have completed partnerships, in numbers which did not add up to previous statements? Even if Mark Ellwood is the guy who wrote the two words to get an upgrade story…

Now, I know why.

As noted yesterday, I want the app to be a success. Or rather, I wanted is now the correct tense. I just wanted my readers, who were promised access to something which purported to help their travels – actually help their travel.

I no longer believe that will be the case, per conversations with multiple currently employed whistle blowers at Upgrade Pack.

They leveled some seriously damning allegations far beyond my pay grade or remit, which really must be answered in a setting where truth is binding. I’ll simply share the allegations, without comment on the validity, having observed the internal communications first hand.

Hopefully someone else will find the answers…

  • it’s purported that Upgrade Pack encouraged employees to anonymously invest in the SEEDRS funding, on the understanding that they’d be reimbursed by the company. The goal was to drum up buzz and interest on the platform from outsiders by exaggerating SEEDR numbers. GSTP has seen first hand communication of this phenomenon between UP employees.

 

  • it’s purported that as of this moment, zero commercial agreements with airlines or hotels are actually in place. The only current area of exploration is an API feed with British Airways, with a serious caveat – they can’t offer discounts. If the app were to ever launch, you’d simply pay the difference, because there is no ability or interest from BA to offer a discount via the current tech solution.

 

  • it’s purported that UP was forced to have lawyers draft up a disclaimer that they would likely pay more to upgrade via their platform than directly with the airline in question, not less. Without the ability to offer a discount, users of the airlines own app would likely see better offers.

 

  • it’s purported that an early partnership was in the works at Coutts Bank, which was seen as the key to launching a financially viable business, but that following a small test on a group of users much lower than expected,  a letter of intent never came from Coutts and the 80,000+ subscriptions the app hoped to be compensated for did not in fact arrive, and no other signed partnerships with financial institutions exist.

 

  • The “tech” for the app has been built since early 2019, even 2018, but that lack of the agreements are the only reason the launch has been postponed. The Coronavirus excuse was “utter bollocks”. Furthermore, if agreements were in place, there would be nothing holding up announcing the “who” and “when”.

 

  • it’s purported that no time has been spent developing actual discounts, and instead all efforts focus on fundraising (to help justify the extreme monthly salary load), and trying to tie the knot with any airline or hotel. They allege even if the app launched with a partner tomorrow, no discount would be found, which is the entire premise.

 

  • it’s purported that UP has seen high level exits from senior staff who leveled grave concern over the transparency and accuracy of information reported to press and investors; and that many are on their way out in the weeks to come.

I hope answers are offered as freely from Craig Unsworth, Upgrade Pack CEO, as comments about the nature of this blog were. I’d prefer them to be under oath, but that’s out of my hands.

So did I “aggressively and threateningly request information” as Craig Unsworth alleges?

Yes to the first part. After more than a year since the promised launch date, I aggressively began asking questions, stating word for word that I do not care about their ability to fund raise and take other peoples money in, I only care about their ability to give my readers what was promised to them more than a year ago. I never threatened anything.

The only positive development here is that since my coverage yesterday, UP has publicly said they’ll refund anyone the £99 if they wish. I don’t know why that wasn’t done six months ago, but…

If you think I’m writing this with a Doctor Evil grin, laughing with amusement, you’re really completely off base. I wanted so badly to believe in this and the people behind it, and I know they actually built a great interface. Yes, I know from the very same upset employees that the interface is both sleek and visually compelling, but that’s something that could be done by just one developer in weeks.

The key to success is agreements, airlines, hotels and actual discounts.

The problem is, they tried to horse trade their way to agreements with impressive expansion and show, and when I asked for updates that would benefit you, they just told me how good they are at raising money.

If they had said “Gib, we’re really proud of what we’ve built, but we can’t get over the goal line with X airline or hotel”, I would’ve gladly chipped in-in any way I could to try and make a positive impact for all. After all, I know many of the key players in airline and hotel world on a first name basis, since I cover their companies daily.

I’m constantly under NDA “non disclosure agreement” from banks, start ups and other travel ventures and UP simply refused to offer any tangible evidence that a product was real and that partners promised years ago still or ever did exist. I found that worrying and simply wanted answers, not because I care, but because I felt I owed you all transparency – a word they may not fully understand.

And for the record, after delays, I turned down offers of future coverage repeatedly. It’s funny how I’ve gone from “always brilliant” and “most sought after” to someone who’s words wouldn’t pass editorial muster elsewhere, in under 24 hours.

Funny, I seem to remember a lot of mud slinging towards journalists from the now jailed Fyre Festival Founder and Elizabeth Holmes, of Theranos fame, before their brilliant ideas and luxury lifestyles based on other peoples money turned into dust. The rest of the story is out of my hands, but I’ll be watching along as investors learn the full story. I’d hate to think any of them bought into premises which weren’t quite accurate.

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