Littledata Founder Edward Upton: Believe in Yourself

Written by Tom Fairey

10 March, 2022

Edward Upton has a classic founder’s story: He was doing a job for someone else and realised that not only was it not working but that there was a way to do it better.

In Upton’s case, he was a consultant helping companies understand their e-commerce customers. At the time, all data were entered manually into cumbersome programs and lumbering spreadsheets. There had to be a way to automate it, he thought.

“Almost every store does the same thing,” he told me during an interview for my podcast, Back Yourself.

The Backstory: How Upton Grew to Become an Entrepreneur

Upton is a University of Oxford graduate with a degree in psychology and philosophy. Out of school, he worked as a strategy analyst for Accenture and then as an associate for Skillcapital, where he was responsible for managing financial-led research, data analysis, and client feedback on pre-transaction due diligence, market research, and recruitment projects in a number of sectors.

For seven years he was a freelance strategy consultant with AMR International, where he specialised in business growth and commercial due diligence for private equity and corporate clients. Then it was a short stint as a contract product manager for Macmillan Education.

While working at AMR he founded his first company, Teachable.net. Teachable’s goal was to become the leading source of curriculum support resources for use on whiteboards and other educational devices by teachers. During this time he also worked in digital product development and management to help small businesses bring new software products to the market. Teachable.net was eventually sold to teachable.com.

Littledata: At Its Core, e-Commerce Is All the Same

Upton founded Littledata in 2014 in London. Through the company, e-commerce managers can fix their tracking and benchmark online performance, and connect marketing channels like Facebook, pre-purchase behaviour like Google Analytics, and purchasing solutions like Spotify to create a holistic picture of e-commerce performance.

“We wanted to automate things that people do manually,” he said.

With Littledata, for example, marketers can form a better view of how they are performing, why customers are dropping out, and lifetime customer value.

With manual data inputs, systems were subject to many faults, and eventually, most customers came to distrust the data.

“It all felt like very hard work,” he said.

Automation works, he figured, because, at their core, all e-commerce sites are basically the same: There is a product listing page, a product details page, and a check-out section.

“E-commerce is a very standard process and obviously on a platform like Shopify even more standard,” he said. “So it is easy to roll out a template that everyone can use.”

To Be a Successful Founder You Need 100% Confidence in Your Company

Teachable.net had 100,000 customers, but few of them were spending any money.

“We never found a good way to make money out of it,” he said.

Teachers, of course, are not well paid and don’t care to spend their money on things they feel that schools should buy. Schools, meanwhile, don’t have much money either and do have a long procurement process. Upton saw the writing on the chalkboard.

“I started to lose confidence that this was going to be a big win,” he said. “And I think as a founder when you no longer have that motivation in your heart anymore you have to find a way to get out because you are never going to be successful at something you don’t fully believe in.”

Grow Today By Learning From Yesterday’s Mistakes

With a firm understanding that you have to believe in yourself and your idea to succeed, Upton eventually moved on to form what would become Littledata.

Littledata’s tool went through several iterations before becoming something viable. Upton did much of the coding himself, with the first few products not working at all. After each failure, he took the teachable moments and went back to work on an improved version.

“It was hard to know what the real customer problem was until we had built the first product and got it out there,” he said.

By working on a number of solutions, he eventually found the product that people would pay for month after month.

Entrepreneur Hacks: Focus on Your Product and Find Good Talent

At Teachable.net, which was basically a one-man operation, whenever Upton took his focus off the product to go after money, the product suffered. A continual product focus is needed.

“You have got to be careful to focus on your product and the sales first,” he said.

That means also not getting sucked into dealing with “investors” who have no intention of investing.

“Time is precious,” he said. “Don’t talk to people who flatter you but are not going to give you cash.”

Now, much of Upton’s staff are in Romania, which has worked out surprisingly well. How did he find them?

Before the lockdown, Upton went to Romania six times a year for a week each time, getting to know people and processes and ensuring everyone felt they were a part of the team.

“To compensate for that, you have to try super hard to overcommunicate,” he said.

The Takeaway

Being an entrepreneur is tough. As Upton says, you need to believe in yourself — you only get one life. Success won’t come overnight, but if it does, the rewards will be worth it.

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