Craig Unsworth is Co-Founder and CEO of Upgrade Pack, the revolutionary app for airline and hotel upgrades. Craig has been adding value to companies through the creation of proprietary technology and innovation since 2002. His core strength is building product teams, and new products, that add to the company’s valuation. He has delivered results in the form of MBO, private equity, trade sale, and IPO exits. Craig was Chair of ad:tech London from 2012 to 2016, and a Member of its Advisory Board. He is an Advocate for Tech London Advocates (TLA); and served on the Executive Committee of BIMA (British Interactive Media Association), leading the Technology and Inclusion committee groups.

If you’re new to FFS, otherwise known as Futureheads Five Stories, this is a regular interview series where we speak to people who have interesting stories to tell.

And we couldn’t resist the acronym.

Tell us about the impact that Covid-19 and the lockdown measures have had on your business?

We operate like a FinTech (the vast majority of our client revenue will be from banks and credit card issuers), yet the products we transact in (the upgrades) come from are squarely from the travel sector. It’s the latter that has, of course, been hugely impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We first identified how big this would be back in February, predicting we’d see almost every one of our airline and hotel partners be significantly impacted. Sadly, March proved this to be the case. Priority for us has been treating our people right and, at almost any cost, avoiding redundancies. We first moved to short-time working (reducing everyone to a four day week) then – when the majority of our contacts went offline due to being furloughed – we joined the government’s Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme (CJRS), furloughing all but a skeleton team and topping up salaries.

How have you adapted your operational and hiring practices?

We’re not hiring at all currently, for obvious reasons. But that doesn’t mean our recruitment activity has stopped altogether. We continue to speak to candidates prospectively. We had great candidates in the pipeline pre- all of this and we want to stay in touch so we can pick things up once we’re out the other side. We also continue to look at the best and brightest talent across the areas we recruit for so that when we do start hiring again we haven’t lost touch. We don’t generally use (other!) recruiters but one of the first calls I had was with our usual team at Futureheads to discuss our strategy. We’ve always been people focused but this period of tragedy and uncertainty has absolutely cemented that priority for us.

What are your top tips for successfully managing a remote recruitment process?

We have seen a lot of PR spin about remote recruitment being “easy” but our experience has been different. We don’t find it easy – it’s harder to really ‘get’ someone when you’re not in the same room. It’s harder to build rapport. And it’s harder for the candidate to get a good feel of the environment they’d be working in; which we think is really important. But we don’t necessarily see this as a negative. Our approach is that hiring great talent is always hard, or you’re doing it wrong. So this is just another challenge for the process.

Has this crisis made you look at your business differently or consider changes moving forwards

Absolutely. We discuss “the future of work” every month as Co-Founders. We’ve previously used these discussions to define and try new things – four day weeks, Work From Anywhere days, our benefits package, etc. When we emerge from this, I expect (and hope) that everyone’s priorities change slightly. We’ll be putting new things into place that both build on the time we’ve had apart and prepare for what’s next. I don’t want to ruin any surprises but our Plan A for our return is that it won’t just be BAU.

What advice would you give to anyone in a similar position to you at the moment?

We’ve been open and transparent with every one of our team members. And we’ve asked them to make decisions collectively too. I think that’s been critical. We avoided having to make any redundancies at the start of this crisis by the whole team agreeing to short-term working. The old cliché of work being like a family for some people has been felt more than ever.



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