Popsa was founded on the idea of having a photo album simply pop into existence every time you did something significant in your life. “We saw the opportunity to disrupt an existing market that was not innovating,” explains Popsa CEO Liam Houghton. “The incumbents were forcing consumers through a long and complicated design process every time they wanted to record their memories. We have differentiated ourselves through user experience and data science, simplifying and automating this process as much as possible.”
The business is evolving into an even more ambitious venture, becoming an automated-personalisation and curation specialist, powered by machine learning and proprietary algorithms. “Long term, we will go beyond print,” Houghton reveals. “Many of the biggest names in social media have shifted their focus away from content with long-term value in favour of ephemeral media that disappears after 24 hours. We believe this shift diminishes the value of people’s experiences. We want to be the antidote to this disposable culture, to uncover the meaning and stories that each of us carry locked away in our devices, to preserve them and bring them back into the light of day.”
Houghton, an architect by training, founded the business in 2016 with engineer Tom Cohen, who used to work for BAE Systems, building software for nuclear submarines. This isn’t the pair’s first venture together: they have a track record of creating start-ups within the technology industry, having previously run an incubator of mobile-first businesses for almost a decade. “We decided to go out on our own and stay with just one business for the long-term,” explains Houghton. “Popsa has become the fastest growing venture of them all.” Houghton believes that starting businesses across multiple verticals was an invaluable experience. “When you help start a lot of companies in short succession, you see the same mistakes being made again and again,” he says. “We invested the learnings from all of those industries into Popsa.”
The business, which now employs more than 50 people, has attracted an enviable list of investors, raising almost £10m across multiple rounds from the likes of advertising mogul Sir John Hegarty and Silicon Valley investor 500 Startups. The latest tranche of funding - £3m – will be used to accelerate growth in the US and Germany, and enter the Australian and New Zealand markets. “We launched in the US last November and it’s not far off becoming our biggest market,” says Houghton. Fewer than a fifth of Popsa’s users are UK-based.
Future growth will also come from new ways in which people interact with technology – a big shift is already becoming mainstream, according to Houghton. “We’ve always been looking ahead to serving a ‘post-app’ economy, where you might buy something through a command to Alexa or Siri, without touching a screen. Companies such as Popsa will do all the hard work in the background and deliver you the finished result.”
Popsa’s growth has not been affected by the pandemic. Its international outlook means that the business is not overexposed in any one territory and can easily pivot to sell into countries with higher consumer confidence. “Although, we did notice that in the UK, people spent more time on the app during lockdown,” says Houghton. “That was striking given that our messaging was all about saving time, so we adapted our marketing to focus on remote gifting: if you can’t see the people you love, you can still send them a thoughtful gift.”
Houghton, 31, began building businesses when he was just 14 years old. “I sold tourist attraction tickets over the internet,” he said. “That business taught me coding and design skills that have proved really useful.” His next goal for Popsa? “To reach £100m in revenue in the next few years.”