Timing is everything. Sometimes, brilliant startup ideas flop because the market isn’t ready, or because of new products that render their technologies obsolete. Other times, technological developments can take an idea to the next level by making it scalable.
For UPshow, the release of the $39 Amazon Fire TV Stick was a game changer of the latter sort.
Headquartered in Chicago, UPshow makes advertising technology that lets patrons at bars, restaurants and entertainment venues display their photos on the venue’s television screens by sharing them on social media.
The idea for UPshow was born out of a similar marketing concept the company’s co-founders, Matt Gibbs and Adam Hirsen, had run for major events like the Teen Video Awards and LA Angels baseball games. But those campaigns relied on a custom setup using a Macbook Pro that plugged into the venue’s AV system, which was expensive and labor intensive.
“But when the Fire TV Stick came out, we developed an app for it, and suddenly we had a scalable solution,” said Gibbs. “So we started to hit the streets of Chicago to talk to bars and restaurants and find out who was going to test this out.”
UPshow’s pitch to potential customers was twofold. For patrons already inside the establishment, the startup could generate a “jumbotron effect” as people recognized themselves and their friends on the screen. Moreover, venues would get free word-of-mouth advertising every time someone shared a picture, because patrons have to tag the venue in their social media posts to get featured.
Gibbs said he knew they were onto something after looking at the data from early adopters like Benchmark, Mad River Bar & Grille and Chicago Bagel Authority.
“The results were amazing,” said Gibbs. “Mad River went from having a handful of pictures on social media attributing that people were there to hundreds every weekend.”
At the time, Gibbs and Hirsen were running a digital marketing agency that collected user-generated content for brands like Wired Magazine, LOFT and Verizon. But when they saw the initial results from UPshow in 2015, they decided to shut down the agency and run UPshow full time.
Today, the company has around 4,000 active screens at restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and tourist attractions around the country.
The platform lets venues customize the screens to fit their branding and weave specials and other images in with user-generated content. The screens can also be used to run trivia, social games and video channels.
The company was an early tenant in 1871’s original space — and the tech hub itself was also one of the company’s earliest test venues, with an UPshow screen greeting visitors as they walked through its doors. Today, it counts 1871 CEO Howard Tullman as one of its investors.
With 25 employees to date, Gibbs said he expects to hire five more people in sales and account management over the next six months.
Images via UPshow.