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Looking Uppward


A group in Des Moines wants to help two people flying out of a Russian airport connect with each other.

Actually, the airport could be anywhere, but that is the concept behind Uppward LLC, a mobile phone application started by four social media gurus in Des Moines.

Uppward was created by Nathan Wright, founder of Lava Row Inc., James Eliason, founder of Eliason Media, Ben Sinclair, developer at Industrial Parker LLC’s Shift, and Nate Becker, lead designer at Shift who recently moved to New York and works from there.

The application lets users check into a flight from their iPhone and see who else has checked in on the flight. Users can meet up with others taking the same flight – either through chatting online or in person – and can also keep track of the miles they earn toward rewards.

“The thought behind it is we want to network people on flights,” Wright said, adding that people already notify others of their location via Twitter and Foursquare. “You wonder, who are these people? Are they in my industry? … And then, hopefully, solve a business problem, which is frequent flyer miles.”

The founders said they have already heard stories of users meeting up after finding each other on the application since launching in March, including co-founder Becker himself, who met up with an old co-worker on a flight to Las Vegas. Users have logged miles from New York to San Francisco, and even overseas in Russia and Paris. In all, users have logged more than 139,000 miles so far.

The idea quickly morphed beyond just a way to connect people. When Wright pitched the idea to his partners, Eliason helped take the concept a step further by laying out ideas for a universal mileage program. His idea was that current mileage programs are fragmented; flyers often use different airlines and don’t earn the maximum amount of rewards unless they commit to one airline.

Right now, Uppward’s rewards are pretty basic. Flying 10,000 miles earns flyers a $10 Amazon gift card, and the highest reward is a $100 gift card for flying 100,000 miles. Uppward doesn’t have a formal partnership with Amazon, but instead counts the gift cards as one of the start-up costs associated with the business.

The group has high hopes for the future, though.

“Our hope is as we get a larger user base, we can get some travel partners, whether it be hotel chains, car rental, travel discounts – all of those things can be an integral part of our rewards programs,” Eliason said.

To get there, the group would like to be able to market its users, in turn marketing advertisers to the users.

“We’d love to take this to a company, say, ‘Here’s 1,000 users who have 25,000 miles on our platform,’” Wright said. “Do you want a piece of that? Do you want to offer them something special?”

Things will likely progress slowly for a reason. All four founders are using Uppward as a side project to their full-time careers.

To this point, they have done little to market the product outside of a meet-up on Dec. 16 at Mars Cafe. Most of Uppward’s users have heard about it through the founders or a friend. The group also developed a partnership with online trip-planning website TripIt Inc., which lists Uppward as one of its promoted third-party applications.

The next step is generating more of a user base. Part of that will happen just from expanding the availability of the product, which is only downloadable on an iPhone. The group wants to release its application on Android phones in the next year.

They seem to be in no hurry to move too fast, instead focusing on fine-tuning the product based on customer feedback, and gradually adding general features.

“In the travel industry in general, I think there is going to be a lot of potential for us to bring in new eyes in regards to mobile travel and other features that can come off our application,” Eliason said. “It’s early. I think we all have a lot of really big ideas for it. But I think it’s all kind of starting to fall into place.”

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