Software Executive Magazine

August/September 2017

Software Executive magazine helps software executives grow their businesses by showcasing the business best practices of our readers, executives from established and innovative software companies.

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says, "There is a lot of evidence to show that live video is where the majority of traffic on social media is today. By 2020, some reports show live video being responsible for four-fifths of all internet traffic." Getting from zero to 1,500 customers wasn't as easy as Wills makes it seem. He pointed out that Facebook's reputation for clockwork-like APIs did not hold true when it came to the Facebook Live API. When Facebook Live was pushed out in a rush to compete with YouTube and Periscope, it came with inconsistencies and docu- mentation gaps. Wills says Upgrade took this in stride, and even saw it as a positive because it meant a higher barrier to entry for competitors. The advice Wills gives to other software companies looking to move forward with a Facebook Live integration applies to just about any startup, "Be prepared for a lot of blown assump- tions, a rocky road, and having to figure it out as you go." The early success at Upgrade gave the three cofound- ers enough confidence to work full-time on the com- pany starting in January 2017. Though Wills admits LuLaRoe will always have a special place in Upgrade's heart, he has visions to expand to other direct sales com- panies and eventually to brick-and-mortar retailers. Up- grade's plan is to start with women's clothing boutiques and allow store owners to bring the live in-store sales experience to remote customers. From there, Wills sees a potential play for larger retailers. He cites tier-one re- tailers like Nordstrom, with high producing salespeople, as potential future customers because they have active personal social media accounts and serve as digital per- sonal stylists. "We want to create technology where the self-service model will scale regardless of the size of the organization. We realize it's not a linear equation, and there are some changes that will have to be made at a larger scale," says Wills. Despite being less than two years old, Upgrade is well-positioned to continue riding the e-commerce and digital waves that are transforming shopper expectations and retailer operations. S SNAPSHOT Upgrade Inc. develops a suite of SaaS products for di- rect sales organizations. Their products help at-home consultants boost productivity and uncover customer and sales data by streamlining inventory management and order fulfillment. WHAT'S NEXT When Stefan Wills and Paul Daugs were working on the Infor CloudSuite Direct team, they wanted to find a way to reduce manual effort required for the sales pro- cess. The tools they started building to streamline their jobs at Infor ended up giving them the ideas to build what is now Upgrade, the SaaS company they cofound- ed with Rob Wormley. Their first software side project was intended to help Daugs' wife streamline her sales as a consultant for LuLaRoe, the direct sales women's fashion brand that has ballooned from 2,000 salespeo- ple in September 2015 to more than 35,000 a year later according to Business Insider . Fast forward to today: Upgrade has 1,500+ customers for that original side project, has just launched a second product, and has visions of selling to retailers who are looking to differentiate and compete with e-commerce giants like Amazon. Wills makes the first few months of Upgrade's existence sound easy. Daugs' wife had a business challenge, they wrote some code to address it, and within six months they had 1,500 other LuLaRoe consultants using the soft- ware. The Upgrade team had clearly identified a pain point for these direct sales consultants who were using Facebook Live to sell products. Its clients who had been spending 2 to 3 hours on the back end of a Facebook Live sale managing inventory and fulfilling orders were now cutting that time down to 15 minutes with Upgrade's software. In addition to addressing an efficiency issue for customers, the Upgrade team also did its homework on the burgeoning live video trend on social media. Wills Upgrade Inc. Here's how a young software company is riding the e-commerce tidal wave. A B B Y S O R E N S E N Executive Editor @AbbySorensen_ LATEST UPDATE In May 2017, Upgrade was se- lected as a semifinalist in the High Tech division of the Min- nesota Cup, the largest state- wide startup competition in the U.S. The competition, sponsored by the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, runs through October 2017. ∂ Stefan Wills, Co-founder & CEO, Upgrade Inc. COMPANIES TO WATCH Index By A. Sorensen UPGRADE INC. SOFTWAREEXECUTIVEMAG.COM AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2017 12

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