The era of Web 2.0 extends far beyond the realm of a desktop, and a new startup proves it even applies to the friendly skies. Uppward, a Des Moines-based startup, allows jetsetters to connect with others while flying and serves as something of a social network at 30,000ft. Better yet, it’s free to use and allows users to accrue universal air mileage rewards for doing so, leaving the days of carrier-specific rewards behind.
Nathan Wright, Uppward co-creator and one of four founding members, is a veteran social media consultant and no stranger to emerging technologies. Drawing upon his extensive travel experience, Wright and his fellow co-conspirators sought to solve the common dilemma of wasted time (read that, networking time) while in the air.
“I think we all feel trapped on planes,” Wright says, identifying the constraints of modern day air travel. “I always thought there had to be interesting people on board. Maybe there were fellow Iowa State grads (Wright’s Alma Mater) or people going to the same conference as me… yet we’re all stuck at our seats.”
Noting that the world is small enough to have those networking opportunities at any elevation, Wright was sure that airlines would take the lead on offering an in-flight networking service. Of course, things tend to evolve very slowly and only when absolutely necessary in the airline industry with few carriers interested in pushing the bounds. “Even if an airline offered a way to connect fellow passengers,” Wright continues, “it would be a proprietary, closed system.”
With the lofty (no pun intended) goal of uniting fellow passengers via universal means, Wright contacted several of his closest accomplices (each web tech and startup veterans in their own right including James Eliason, Nate Becker and Ben Sinclair). Passing ideas back and forth on Facebook, eventually the quadruplet crew sat down over a few beers in a Des Moines, Iowa, bar to hash things out.
Connecting with those you know or may want to know on an airplane is certainly a welcome breath of fresh air compared to the otherwise stale environment in a plane but at least one co-founder thought the possibilities were even larger.
“I thought we had a great idea for a fun app, but it was James who really pushed for the flier rewards program,” recalls Wright. That universal rewards system is the app’s disruptive element that uniquely positions Uppward in a field of wasted airline miles and unhappy fliers.
Uppward is seeking to change the status-quo of mileage rewards, currently offering Amazon e-cards in varying denominations. Users accrue mileage no matter which carrier they use every time they check-in to a flight (which you can choose to ‘shout’ or keep private).
“E-cards got us started. They are a great low-barrier method for an entry reward system,” explains Wright. “Ultimately, we want business partners for the program.” Given that Uppward tracks universal travel habits, potential partners down the road would have a wealth of marketing data to mine while offering up considerable rewards to Uppward users.
Exciting? Yes. Disruptive? You bet. Widely available? Not quite yet. Currently, the Uppward app is offered exclusively for the iPhone and iPad though that seems likely to change. “The biggest question we get is when the Android version is going to come out,” chuckles Wright. While he insists Uppward is getting there, the startup is able to closely track and maintain its progress on a single platform for now.
The application may still be in its infancy but it offers uncommon rewards, an incomparable approach to air travel and an intuitively sleek application that is sure to please the most discerning travelers. Jetizens unite… your ticket to freedom in the sky has arrived.
Where to get it: Uppward’s iPhone/iPad app on the App Store