From Nothing to Something Meaningful
Popsa sells personalised products to millions of people every year. We’ve gone from generating $100k in revenue in our first twelve months to more than $40m a year.
On average every customer purchases at least twice, and many of our customers have ordered hundreds of times.
We’ve also gone from 3 team members to more than 60, with plans to double that again within the next 18 months.
According to an independent report by Deloitte, Popsa was the fastest growing Software company in the UK in 2020, and we were the only company to remain in the Top 10 fast growing startups in 2021.
In 2022, The Financial Times ranked Popsa in the Top 20 fastest growing companies - of any kind - in the whole of Europe.
But it hasn't been an easy ride. Popsa’s success is built on raw talent, attention to detail, and perseverance.
We are inventors. We create something where there was once nothing. Sometimes we fail, but we always get back up again. Our work can be intense but it is also incredibly rewarding.
But the best part is that – together – our hard work is empowering our customers to spread happiness through the reliving of the meaningful stories in their lives. That’s definitely something worth getting out of bed for!
Accessible From Anywhere
The first step in empowering people is to build a service that is accessible, no matter your skills or where you come from.
We apply this philosophy on a global scale through our logistics network.
Almost everything we do – from our mobile apps to all of our comms and customer support – is available in 12 languages.
We ship to more than 50 countries, with more than 85% of orders being placed from outside of the UK.
Germany and France are our main markets, but we’re also able to serve customers in Scandinavia, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Poland – all in their native languages.
Outside of Europe, the United States is one of our fastest growing markets, followed by Australia and Canada, where we launched in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
We manufacture our products at eight facilities around the world:
- Toronto, Canada
- Seattle, United States
- Salt Lake City, United States
- Washington D.C., United States
- Prague, Czechia
- Eindhoven, Netherlands
- Exeter, United Kingdom
- Melbourne, Australia
We also create our own physical IP such as packaging and gift boxes – all of which are designed in London and manufactured in two locations in China; Dongguan and Ningbo.
But our approach goes far beyond translations and distribution; our features must also take account of our international-first policy from their inception.
For example, customers can select public holidays to be included in their personalised Calendars. This is simple if you’re serving one country; Shutterfly has Thanksgiving and Presidents Day, but if you live in France or Australia this is alienating, you would expect Bastille Day or Anzac Day instead. Furthermore Mother’s Day in the UK is not on the same date as Mother’s Day in America.
So we invented a system that pulls in public holiday information from the internet for more than 200 countries around the world. This means that our customers always see public holidays that are appropriate for them.
We also localise the name of the holiday into multiple languages. This means that you can make a gift for someone abroad and everything will be localised for them at the tap of a button.
This attention to detail is not only a source of great pride, but is one of the reasons our customers love using Popsa.
A Diverse Team
The Popsa team is as international as our audience; we’re proud to welcome team members from as far as Russia, Canada and Brazil, in addition to host of nations from across Europe.
We are nearing an even gender distribution across the entire team and more than 10% are openly LGBT. If you have a minority background you should expect to feel at home here.
Occasionally, we’ll work with agencies on a particular objective – a good example is our upcoming rebrand – but mostly we like to build things in-house. It’s the best way for us to learn from one another.
At the moment everyone works from the UK, but plans are underway to open more offices in our core markets (such as the US).
The founders aren't afraid to get stuck in either. More often than not they're just a few desks away and can often be found working on solutions with designers and engineers. If they're not already in one of your interviews, do feel free to request a chat before making a decision to join Popsa.
In terms of expertise, the team is roughly composed of three functional groups: Marketing, Product & Engineering, and Customer Service & Operations.
Within that we employ strategists, creatives, media buyers, product designers, product managers, backend engineers, frontend engineers, data scientists, analysts, and customer success agents.
Most of the team now work cross-functionally, bringing individual roles together with joint responsibility for achieving specific objectives.
As we grow we’re planning to add more cross-functional teams so we can deliver our extensive roadmap increasingly in parallel. This way of working gives team members an opportunity to specialise in particular areas and work on more ambitious projects not constrained by two-week sprints, but also the ability to occasionally move between teams to ensure they get to work on a variety of challenges.
Liam started creating eCommerce apps as a teenager and graduated with a First in Architecture before becoming a product designer. Meanwhile Tom qualified as a Computer Scientist, worked for a time on software for maritime software at BAE Systems, and went on to win the UK Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.
Before Popsa, the pair worked together for many years; at first building consumer apps for large brands but then going on to develop an incubator programme designed to kickstart new businesses from scratch.
In 2016, they made the decision to focus entirely on the idea that became Popsa, re-investing more than a decade of experience of building consumer products to accelerate a product idea into a global business.
The founders have since been joined by Chairman and Commercial Director, Declan Mellett, a pioneer of digital consumer print and logistics in Europe; Chief Marketing Officer and Nikki Lambert, former marketing executive at Virgin and then Spotify.
Strong Financial Backing
Popsa has a strong track record of fundraising to support our mission and we’re backed by several of the best investors in Europe.
The money we raise is mainly spent on R&D and the expansion of our team. The more talent in the team, the more we all learn from each other, and the fact that we spend most of our budget on R&D means that we get to work on some really existing things, delivering value for our customers in ways that our category has never seen.
Companies only thrive when they serve their customers first and foremost, and so that was our single-minded objective from the day we launched.
We’ve always had ambitions to go far beyond printed products, but we started by setting up all the necessary infrastructure required for eCommerce (our backend stack is entirely custom) and then tackling one of the biggest pain points for consumers; creating a photobook design given a selection of photos.
When Popsa first launched, our heuristic algorithms generated photobook layouts in 20 seconds. This wasn’t yet solving our customer problems, but we doubled down on it and within months we had this down to just 2 seconds (suitable for marketing to the public), and by the end of the first year we had it down to a lightning-fast 0.4 seconds – and it all works offline for optimal privacy.
Select some photos and your book is designed in a blink of an eye. The core of this algorithm is still in place today but we’ve augmented it with lots of extra technology including ‘saliency detection’ – recognising the focus of the image in order to crop it correctly – and custom logic to work out the most significant photo to showcase on the front cover, amongst other things.
Ease of Use
We’ve worked hard to make our editing tools the most intuitive on the market. The objective is always to ensure that transformative actions can be completed within a tap or two.
Simple is hard. We have invested considerable efforts into making actions fluid and seamless to make complex decisions effortlessly melt away.
The most pertinent example is what happens when you drag to drop. Users can literally see an image transform from one location to another, and the background analysis for facial detection, saliency, and cropping is not even perceptible. The result means our customers have to make fewer changes along the way, and this allows them to focus on the finishing touches – turning what was previously a chore into a joy.
Peace of Mind
It's not just pure speed that matters. We've also been developing a range of tools that help guide our customers through the order process whilst minimising perfectly rational concerns.
For example, we introduced interactive 3D models so that you can see how your design will look when printed and this increased order volume by 5% virtually overnight. The detail in the animations is something never attempted before in our sector. For a company that makes products to order, visualising what you’re going to receive is really important – it gives our users peace of mind.
And we've made sure from day one that we always save your work, so that you can come back and finish it another day, or re-print your favourite product in a year's time.
As time has gone on we’ve introduced more sophisticated features all whilst maintaining those core principles.
The introduction of our range of Calendars contains many examples of us transferring complexity from our customers to ourselves. The result was a conversion rate to purchase of more than 50% in the weeks after its release – pretty much unprecedented.
A Sense of Purpose
When you’ve spent years creating digital products it becomes very apparent that technology people are building today will become obsolete and will be replaced many times over, but the wonderful thing about Popsa is that we’re already leaving a legacy that will last so much longer.
It’s a poignant thought that every year millions of Popsa artefacts are stored or given as gifts and it’s likely that many thousands of our products will end up outliving us all; passed down to people’s children and grandchildren, part of many families' records for years to come.
There’s a reason why so many people say ‘photos’ when asked what they would save if their house was on fire. Our photos symbolise our values; the special relationships and the shared experiences in our lives.
It’s a real privilege to be able to help people tell their stories and relive their memories, all of the things that make life worth living.
Aside from the primary ambition of realising our vision for customers, the common goal of everyone at Popsa is to learn.
The greatest opportunity in being part of a fast-growing startup is the exposure we all get to problem solving on a fundamental level.
At heart, we are all inventors, creating something from nothing. We tackle challenges head on specifically because they are hard.
It is intense; there is no ‘department’ to pass problems onto and nowhere to hide away, we’re all in it together; we succeed and we fail together too. In fact, it is in our failures that we can find the most value, and those experiences can never be taken away – we’ll have them for the rest of our lives.