The rise and rise of Uprise Digital

From starting out in his parents’ spare bedroom at just 21 to today helming one of New Zealand’s largest and most well-regarded digital performance agencies, Uprise Digital co-founder Tim Pointer is on a mission to arm marketers with the tools and knowledge to demand better digital. With 30 staff (and growing), offices in Wellington and Auckland and an impressive client portfolio including recent wins Countdown and Caci Clinic, the 32-year-old has achieved remarkable success in business – and isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

Described on LinkedIn as “Un-f*cking the advertising industry since 2009”, Uprise is “a bottom-line marketing company who have a business model that is linked to the success of their clients.” Along with school friend and co-founder Matt Rowe, the duo set out to disrupt the digital marketing landscape. Fast forward 11 years, and they’ve achieved just that. 

Uprise was recognised as a Deloitte Fast 500 Growing Technology Company in Asia-Pacific for three years in a row, and in 2016 was ranked 10th in the New Zealand Deloitte Fast 50 with 431 percent growth. It was also recognised as the Fastest Growing Agency after the launch of their Auckland office. The same year, Tim was voted in Forbes magazine’s ‘30 Under 30’ list of young innovators and leaders in media, marketing and advertising in Asia; he was the only New Zealander that year to be recognised in the Forbes 30 media and advertising category.

Both Tim and Matt are born and bred Wellingtonians and Victoria University marketing graduates, but learned all of their craft by working for clients in the real world. Tim credits Uprise’s growth to the team’s innate ability to measure the impact of advertising and marketing, providing clients with the unfiltered performance of their campaigns and promotion to ensure no budget is wasted. 

It all started after Tim and Matt bought tickets to a business conference that they thought was on ‘Advanced Digital Marketing’, but it was really about how to make money online through affiliate marketing. After the one speaker at the seminar promised a top spot on Google by buying a crappy product, the pair knew it was all just a scam. 

“We saw 200 small businesses essentially running to the back of the room to buy this American guy’s product. And we were like ‘no, no, don’t do it!’ That was the moment when we were like ‘oh my gosh, I think small businesses need to have more education in the New Zealand market,’” Tim says.

Leaving feeling frustrated but excited by the opportunity to genuinely help New Zealand businesses, they put in $2500 each and started the company that evening. 

“We were sharing a hotel room at the time because we were really cheap and couldn’t afford anything else,” he laughs. 

“But we just jumped on the computer and that was the start of it. For the first three months nothing really happened. We were going around basically knocking on doors saying ‘we think we could do your marketing better’. At the time businesses were spending exorbitant amounts on Yellow Pages just to be listed on their website. So we’d say ‘how are you spending your marketing, and how many customers do you get through that?’ And businesses would say ‘oh we don’t know, we’re spending money and we’re assuming it’s doing stuff.’”

Their first client was a garden shed company in Lower Hutt’s Petone. Before Tim and Matt restructured the website, the owner was selling five garden sheds online a year; the rest were being sold through the store. After they made changes on the site, the owner was selling five a week. 

“We asked him for a case study and he wrote a three page novel about the work we were doing and how effective it was as a business. It was the best kind of referral you could ever ask for, and that’s what we used when we went to other companies.”

Over the years Uprise has built out tools and systems that have enabled them to link leads and customers to life-time value and margin, track progress from a baseline, and clearly demonstrate results. 

“In a market that was growing rapidly, one core thing that we did was just focus on what we were really good at: the performance marketing aspects of digital marketing. We actually sold the web development part of our business, because it wasn’t our core or what we could be the best in the world at. Once we did that, it really focused us and that focus allowed us to grow really rapidly.”

Crisis and COVID 

But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Although the economy was still reeling from the Global Financial Crisis when Tim and Matt launched Uprise, their business model focused on performing and saw them achieve rapid growth. However in 2018, the company experienced their worst quarter ever: their new office went over budget due to some unforeseen issues, a client was in trouble and didn’t pay a large invoice, and they had invested in some areas of innovation within the business. 

“We’d never had any issues, and then we had a bit of a crisis in 2018. We hadn’t made a business plan that made sure we had enough cash reserves. Essentially, I feel like we had our COVID moment in 2018 where all that stuff happened in the business which was out of our control.”

2020 has of course proved challenging for just about every business, large or small. Despite the nationwide lockdown, however, all Uprise staff were retained under Tim and Matt’s leadership. But with a portfolio of large retail clients – the likes of Bendon and Bed, Bath & Beyond, who couldn’t do any marketing during that time – they admit it was a “scary” time. 

“We lost about 50 percent of our revenue in that one month. That was pretty huge for us, and that whole quarter really was pretty full on. The one thing we did was just communicate with all of our team. We told them 100 percent what was going on.”

They’ve come out the other end with some impressive recent client wins including Countdown, Trustpower and Caci Clinic. On the team front, they’re also hiring a further two staff at the moment.

“We were quite fortunate that we bounced back.”

During this year’s election, Uprise led the Green Party’s campaign marketing.

“We built a live dashboard showing how different regions of New Zealand were interacting with different messages and topics, and that information was coming back live. We briefed new creative weekly that leveraged the data and increased relevance to key segments. It was so cool to be able to do that, and we’re super proud of it.” 

Overcoming age barriers

Starting out young in business certainly has its challenges, especially when it comes to being taken seriously and overcoming stereotypes. As a 26-year-old, Tim recalls wearing a “fake” wedding ring to win over a client. 

“I remember pitching to Cigna Life Insurance, who are still a client with us today, and I put on a fake wedding ring. It was okay with small businesses, they would say ‘oh they’re young, they can do it’. We’d constantly get called ‘smart young kids’. There was this perception that we were young kids, when the reality was we were five years in and had a lot of knowledge. Even though we were young, we still had a s***load of experience. It was difficult, but we had our little tricks like that.” 

Always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible

When it comes to measuring performance, it’s thought that at least 25% of a company’s analytical data could be completely incorrect. Uprise is striving to change that with their latest initiative, a new technology called Rescue Metrics which the team built during lockdown. A company can enter their website address for an instant look at how the performance of their entire marketing technology stack can be boosted. 

“As an example, If someone clicks a Facebook ad from Safari, comes to a website and the next day they come back and buy something, they look like a brand new visitor. The problem with that is we actually don’t know how the market is performing from all those users, and those users make up about 33 percent of NZ’s traffic. It’s a real issue for marketers because the data they’re looking at isn’t accurate. We’ve built a solution which shows a lot of the facts, but we’ve built it to be scalable, so any business can see the correct data.”

With expansion to Auckland already under their belt, Tim says plans to open up in an international office is in the pipeline as a large chunk of their revenue comes from offshore.

“A few years ago we launched into San Francisco. I think we’re in a much better position as a business for global expansion.”

One thing Tim’s particularly proud of is Uprise’s policies around sick leave and maternity leave. 

“We think mental health and wellbeing is really important. We changed the name of ‘Sick Days’ to ‘Health Days’, and they’re unlimited. We wanted to remove the stigma that having a mental health day means you’re sick; it means you’re normal. So we’ve got a lot of initiatives around that, and that’s something I’m really proud of.”

People over profit

But more than anything, what Tim really prides himself on is Uprise’s track record of retaining “really good” staff. 

“We flipped the model when we started Uprise, so we put people first – making sure they have support, an amazing work environment and the right kind of training – and next is our clients. Because without really good people, we can’t do really great work. And then the last one is profit.

“If you have amazing people, you’ll attract amazing clients, and then the money will take care of itself.”

To find out more about Uprise, head to uprise.co.nz

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