Upsie Founder Clarence Bethea to Step Down as CEO
Upsie founder Clarence Bethea is stepping down as CEO of his direct-to-consumer warranty platform, which has raised $27 million since its 2015 launch, and drawn national investor interest.
Chief technology officer Will Anderson, who joined the St. Paul-based company in 2019, will take over as CEO. Bethea plans to stay involved as executive chairman. Upsie currently employs 22.
“It’s time,” Bethea told Twin Cities Business. “I’m the guy who gets the startup from zero to one. That’s where I get my joy, my energy. Upsie has grown to point where it needs the next CEO to come in, so I approached our board.”
Bethea founded Upsie with the intention of disrupting the $100 billion warranty industry. By going direct to consumer, Upsie says it saves people anywhere from 50 to 90% of what they’d pay through retailers. Upsie touts its straight-forward terms and around-the-clock customer service, which Bethea says stands in contrast to company and retailer warranties that he believes are complicated by design to discourage claims.
Investors agree. “We love the unique impact they are making and the passion the entire Upsie team has around putting consumers first,” True Ventures partner Puneet Agarwal said last year when Upsie completed an $18.2 million Series A led by his Silicon Valley venture firm.
A Voice for Black Founders
As a tech founder, Bethea has arguably made an even greater impact as a voice for other Black entrepreneurs. He’s been vocal with his contention that Upsie would have grown even faster and raised even more capital if he were white. “People invest in people who look like them,” Bethea said in a 2019 interview on TCB’s By All Means podcast. “Venture capitalists are mostly white guys. I definitely don’t look like them.”
On paper, Bethea is the ultimate startup insider: He serves on the boards of the Saint Paul and Minnesota Foundation and Beta, the nonprofit that produces Twin Cites Startup Week. He credits Techstars with helping Upsie get off the ground. But last fall, Bethea surprised the Twin Cities startup community by moving to Dallas with his family, a decision he made for personal reasons, while emphasizing his commitment to keeping Upsie’s headquarters in St. Paul. His explanation for the move sparked conversation and concern among founders and investors near and far.
“There are people in our community who I know give a damn…they’re trying to put more dollars into Black founders’ hands. But I’ve been called the ‘N word’ at startup events,” Bethea said in an interview in the Fall 2021 issue of StartMN. I’ve been held out of things because I’m loud. There are opportunities I know I’m missing out on because I’m a loud Black man.”
Bethea said he plans to take some time to “focus on mental and physical health” while continuing to support Upsie and stay “insanely focused on customers.” He said he will still show up on panels, at startup events, and advocating for other entrepreneurs on social media. “I’m going to try to continue being a voice for underserved founders.”
Upsie’s Next Chapter
Bread & Butter Ventures managing partner Brett Brohl, an early investor in Upsie who serves as a board member for the company, praised Bethea’s timing.
“He’s been at it for eight years. The company is in a great position,” Brohl said. “Everyone respects Clarence as a startup CEO, but it’s important for other entrepreneurs to know: CEO transitions happen all the time. It’s not a negative.”
Brohl said he believes Upsie is well-positioned to become the leading DTC warranty platform. And the person to get it there, Bethea and his stakeholders believe, is Anderson, who served as CTO of London-based financial technology company Dealogic before joining Upsie.
“I couldn’t be more honored to step in to lead Upsie in our next explosive growth phases,” Anderson said. “I’m so thankful to Clarence for busting through so many brick walls to get Upsie to this point and the singular focus he had on building a company focused on grace with our customers and each other. What he’s done has been amazing. I’m lucky that I get to keep working with him in his role as advisor and friend and as our executive chairman. We’ll keep growing with grace and continue working our tails off scaling to help more and more Americans protect their most critical devices.”
Anderson takes over as CEO on April 2.