Jason: Don’t oversell! I learned this the hard way. In meetings, if you oversell yourself, it comes off as desperate and unprepared. Stay poised and calm and don’t be afraid of silence. We’ve had many meetings early on where my goal was to sell sell sell and my lack of experience showed.
Nick: Don’t be everything to everyone; find your market. When we were first building the product, Jason and I tried to include every possible feature we could think of: profile skins, animations, etc. But Jeremy taught us how to distinguish between “founder features” and features that actually add value. So now we focus on the latter. Always lead with value.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Popl Founders, Jason Alvarez-Cohen and Nick Eischens.
Jason Alvarez-Cohen and Nick Eischens are the co-founders of Popl, a smartphone accessory and app that promotes contactless sharing by allowing users to instantly share their social media and contact information by simply holding their Popl to another smartphone.
Together, the entrepreneurs applied their backgrounds in software engineering, business management and their social media savvy to build a global brand with Popl through a viral marketing strategy on TikTok. Since launching on the platform in February 2020, Popl has garnered nearly 2 million followers and more than 130 million views and counting.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Jason: I happen to be born into an engineering family. Both my parents (and now younger brother) are successful engineers and now work closely with UC Berkeley. My mom is currently the Vice ProVost of Academic Planning at UC Berkeley, while my dad helped pioneer the SkyDeck startup accelerator and the Berkeley Startup Cluster.
Growing up, my parents encouraged me to follow in their footsteps. In middle school, I would overclock my Android phones and tamper with unlocked iPhones. When I enrolled at UCLA as an undeclared engineer, it became clear that computer science was the path for me.
Nick: I was born and raised in Kansas City, MO. In high school, I was a top student and was very involved in many activities, my favorite was the marching band; I was in the drumline. I had always dreamed of living on the west coast, so I went to UCLA and escaped the midwest.
I was very involved throughout college; I was in marching band freshmen year, I was a campus tour guide, I joined a fraternity, I held multiple brand ambassador positions, and I was UCLA’s favorite DJ. DJing was my favorite thing to do and I made good money playing at events. This sparked my entrepreneurial spirit — I was getting paid for something I love to do and I was good at it!
After graduating in 2019, I tried many different jobs — real estate, office administration, sales. I wasn’t motivated in any of those roles because I was working for someone else’s goal. Then Jason and I had the idea for Popl and ran with it.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Nick: Popl is changing human behavior! In a couple of years, nobody will be exchanging business cards or typing their info in on someone else’s phone… they’ll be popping! Popl is one of the few companies to successfully launch on TikTok — where we’ve continued to amass an active and engaged community of more than 1.8 million followers and counting — and continues to grow in the midst of a global pandemic.
Jason: Our goal here at Popl is to fundamentally change the way that people interact with each other and objects around them using this technology. Popl is the contactless, touchless solution needed to replace the now outdated practices of shaking hands, exchanging business cards, or typing on a stranger’s phone. We’re focused on integrating Popl into all parts of the day to day life, creating contactless and efficient solutions that help people on a global scale.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Jason: Looking back, the funniest story to share would be a mistake we avoided. Nick and I launched Rippl (original name) in November 2019. We decided that our first 2 products were going to be in blue and red. We drafted up mockups on photoshop and we’re so excited to drop them. We posted an ad on IG and launched our website, ready for sales to come in. Let’s just say, it was not an overnight success.
Nick: We genuinely thought it was cool at the time. In hindsight, we should never have sold those. Lesson learned from this: If you’re not embarrassed by your first product, you waited too long to launch.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Jason: Yes, absolutely! I am very grateful for my co-founder Nick Eischens and our Chief Branding Officer, Jeremy Greenfield. Without these 2 by my side at such an early time in the company’s development, we would not be here right now.
Nick: Jeremy has been the best mentor because he teaches us the things that you can’t learn in a classroom — business ethics, negotiations, motivating people, managing expectations, etc. Jeremy has saved us from making a couple of really bad deals and is a huge asset to Popl.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Nick: Bird is one of my favorite companies and a great example of positive disruption. Bird totally changed transportation in large cities and I consider Bird an example of positive disruption because this change was positive. Before electric scooters, short trips of 1–5 miles in large cities were annoying. You’d have to wait for a bus or drive and hope to find parking. Now I can just find the closest scooter and have a joyride to my destination. And it’s better for the environment!
I don’t consider disruption to be negative. To me, disruption is always a good thing because it stimulates new behaviors and new ideas and keeps the world moving forward.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Don’t oversell! I learned this the hard way. In meetings, if you oversell yourself, it comes off as desperate and unprepared. Stay poised and calm and don’t be afraid of silence. We’ve had many meetings early on where my goal was to sell sell sell and my lack of experience showed.
- Keep it simple when it comes to design. When Nick and I just started in late 2019 as Rippl, our first two colors were blue and red. Little did we know that a simple black and white are what the people want! To this day, Popl Black continues to be the best seller by miles.
- Starting a company with your best friend will affect your friendship in a major way. When Nick and I first started, we figured it’d be so easy to work together as we were also best friends. Our close friendship is without a doubt a major advantage, but running a fast-paced business while spending so many hours with each other can sometimes create tension. Nick and I have been good at keeping perspective on this, and at the end of the day we know we need a strong connection to keep this company going.
- Nothing is personal in business. There was a company that I really wanted to partner with, but they turned us down because it wasn’t a great fit. I was pretty upset but I’ve since learned that business isn’t personal and to not let feelings get involved. Don’t take things personally.
- Go with your gut. We had a shark tank type of deal offered to us a while ago. The other party was going to put Popl everywhere, but we would have to give up a lot of control and ownership. Our gut instinct was telling us to reject the deal and to continue on our path, so we did just that and never looked back.
- Don’t be everything to everyone; find your market. When we were first building the product, Jason and I tried to include every possible feature we could think of: profile skins, animations, etc. But Jeremy taught us how to distinguish between “founder features” and features that actually add value. So now we focus on the latter. Always lead with value.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
Jason: Our biggest lead generator is currently TikTok. What’s cool about our reach on this platform is it’s more than just the United States, it’s global. The Popl Family currently has 30+ Popl resellers and distributors around the world and we have sold Popls in 135+ countries.
We put our customers first. Our major focus on customer service, tech support and fast turnaround times is the other reason why our b2b partnerships lead to new ones! Recommendations from your network (friends, family, colleagues) are so powerful.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Nick: Our first product is just that — our first product! We plan to become a much larger entity as we develop the Popl Platform and roll out new products and software. Popl will be the leading NFC company.
Jason: We’re definitely going to shake things up! We’ve got some exciting app updates and products launching soon. Stay tuned, we’re just getting started.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Jason: Absolutely, my favorite book that has added the most value to me thus far is How to Win Friends and Influence People. One of the biggest lessons that I learned from this book is how to motivate people around you. Give someone a nickname or reputation to live up to, and they will live up to it. A good example of this is our Head of Sales, Eric Chen. When Eric first joined, I dubbed him “The closer” and what do you think he has focused on and done an incredible job of? That’s correct, closing win-win partnerships!
Nick: Mine would have to be Control Mindset: An Interactive Guide to Freeing Your Mind, Taking Control, and Unlocking The Extraordinary by Nicolette Khalifian. Nicolette is my friend from UCLA and she wrote this self-help book last year. I bought it out of support but it turned out to be my favorite book and changed my life. The book is all about taking control of your mind and your life that starts with awareness, then implementation, then taking control. Control Mindset taught me that nothing can prevent me from doing anything I want except myself.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Nick: “Nonreactivity is your superpower” — Control Mindset
I was a pretty sensitive person for my whole life, but that has changed recently. This quote from Control Mindset deeply resonated with me and are words that I live by. To me, this quote means that no one has the power to make me feel a certain way. If someone angers or upsets me, I have given them power over me and I am a slave to my emotions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a boring and emotionless person now. I still have emotions. But I know how to control them so they don’t cloud my judgement or lead to poor decisions. I’m happy all the time.
Jason: “You have to temporarily live a life that most people won’t, to live a life that most people can’t.”
This quote means a lot to me as I work long days nonstop building a company that I love. As a technical CEO, I usually don’t have time for software development during the day, so 8pm — 3am is my time to develop and continue innovating our platform. This quote reminds me that hard work always pay off.
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. 🙂
Nick: I try to help all my friends to have a positive mindset. A can-do attitude. I want to inspire a movement of empowerment and positivity. I think people have generally become pessimistic and expect bad things to happen to them and feel bad for themselves. This is a toxic attitude and is the path to a sad life. I want to teach people how to control their mind and emotions to empower them to expect good things to happen to them. I believe in the law of attraction; you attract whatever you think about, good or bad. So this movement will be about expecting good things to happen to yourself and having a positive attitude every day.
Jason: Yes! And, as for Popl, we love that Popl is a global product. Every country in the World is adjusting to a society that requires social distancing. Even with social distancing, people still need social interactions. Life will continue, friends will be made, business will get done, and people will connect. It’s Popl’s mission to empower those interactions instantly without business cards, potential typos, or shaking hands.
How can our readers follow you online?
Both: Follow us on TikTok and Instagram — @popl.co
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!