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“If you have Grit you’re going to show up every day for the people who rely on you” With Poppin CEO Randy Nicolau & Phil Laboon

You either have grit or you don’t. If you’ve got it, you’re going to wake up every day ready to plan your work and work your plan. You’re going to smile in the face of rejection. You’re going to see the world differently than everybody else does. You’re going to be kind and compassionate when […]


You either have grit or you don’t. If you’ve got it, you’re going to wake up every day ready to plan your work and work your plan. You’re going to smile in the face of rejection. You’re going to see the world differently than everybody else does. You’re going to be kind and compassionate when others might not. You’re going to show up every day for the people who rely on you.


As part of my series on “How influential people built empires from nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Randy Nicolau, the co-founder and CEO of Poppin. In 2008, he founded Demdex, the first-ever online Data Management Platform. He graduated from Harvard University in 1992 and is an active member of the Young Presidents’ Organization.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path

As an entrepreneur who previously built a high-growth company, I found myself frustrated by the difficulty of furnishing my office. From the long lead times to the endless steps between space planning, purchasing, and installation, everything was too complicated. I knew my next business would transform and bring simplicity to that industry.

Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

Being in a capital-intensive business, we always seemed to be in fundraising mode. There were a few sleepless nights where we didn’t even know if we’d be able to keep the lights on — but somehow, we always found a way to keep growing the business.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

My drive comes from my commitment to our employees and our investors, many of whom I’m close to. The idea of letting any of those people down pushes me to show up each and every day, seven days a week.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

Grit allows you to face rejection 99 times, knowing that it only takes one yes to turn everything around. You have to learn not to take rejection personally; it’s not a reflection on your vision or the business you’ve built. Grit helps you stick it out while you’re working to find the right fit.

So, how are things going today? 🙂

I couldn’t be happier. We’ve sufficiently de-risked the business and established market fit for our product. We’ve found that we offer a great solution to a real need, and now it’s all about growing our market share, which, frankly, is the fun part.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

You either have grit or you don’t. If you’ve got it, you’re going to wake up every day ready to plan your work and work your plan. You’re going to smile in the face of rejection. You’re going to see the world differently than everybody else does. You’re going to be kind and compassionate when others might not. You’re going to show up every day for the people who rely on you.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?

Our largest venture capital investor, who has now supported me at two companies, understands that success doesn’t always move in a straight line. He’s a tremendous thought partner when we’re facing adversity, and he never makes rejection or setbacks personally. When we work together, we always find a solution.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

At Poppin, one of our core values is “Care + Connect.” We believe that extends not only to our co-workers and customers, but to everyone in our community. Our team donates products and volunteers at city schools, and we partnered with Pencils of Promise to build two schools in Guatemala.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

“Work happy” isn’t just our motto, it’s our ethos. We’re always innovating new ways to make offices more inviting and inspiring. We release new products every single month to help people start working happy in offices from coast to coast.

What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Don’t sit in an office! If you sit with your team, you’ll be more approachable and you’ll get an invaluable sense of the pulse of your company.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We’re already at the forefront of the “work happy” movement. We provide the tools to empower employees to take control of their personal workspaces and help build the kind of culture that makes people love what they do.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When I was the 31-year-old president of a public company, I wanted everything to happen now. I talked to one of the company’s board members about my desire to move more quickly, and he told me: “I’ve been to this movie. I know how it ends.” He knew that to find real success, I needed to take a deep breath, prepare to overcome obstacles, and trust that success comes in time.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@poppin #workhappy

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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