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Jason Alvarez-Cohen of Popl: “You have to temporarily live a life that most people won’t, to live a life that most people can’t”

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. As a part […]

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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.


As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs. I had the pleasure of interviewingJason Alvarez-Cohen.

Jason is the Co-Founder and CEO of Popl, a cell phone accessory and app that allows users to instantly share their social media and contact information by simply touching their Popl to another phone. The 24-year-old entrepreneur launched the product on TikTok and in less than six months has grown the company to 100,000 users in 136+ countries with millions of followers across Instagram and TikTok. Jason’s background in software engineering, his social media skills and photo editing abilities, along with his tenacious work ethic, creative eye, and ability to code in many programming languages have been vital in helping Popl get off the ground so fast.

Growing up in Berkeley, CA with engineers as parents, Jason was naturally encouraged to go that route. With a passion for rooting and overclocking phones as a high schooler, he was excited about and drawn to the most challenging engineering path, Computer Science, during his time at the University of California Los Angeles. In his third year of college and prior to Popl, Jason developed an interest in social media, particularly Instagram. He combined his creative eye with his software engineering knowledge and created an Instagram growth company called Instarize that used Instagram’s APIs to interact with accounts in his demographic. Instarize grew fast and months later, Jason had built a clientele of 60 accounts using his growth script, even working with companies as big as Warner Music.

During his time at UCLA, Jason met Nick Eischens through their fraternity and they became fast friends and upon graduating, roommates. Jason worked at Boeing for 8 months as a software engineer until he learned about a new communication protocol between two smartphones at a party in Los Angeles. After weeks of research, he created a Popl prototype which he shared with Nick in their Brentwood apartment, and from there the company was born.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Jason! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

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, 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.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Launching Popl via a viral TikTok in early February. Our account had just started, I think we had like 300 followers. We woke up to a TikTok at 174k views, which is solid, but not really “TikTok viral”.

At 9am, the video exploded! At one point, we were hitting 10k views per minute. The video climbed to nearly 80M views, leading to Popls being sold in > 90 countries worldwide in just 2 months.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Popl is leveraging a relatively unknown and undervalued technology called Near-field communication (NFC), which is now standard and on by default in all modern iPhones and Androids.

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 day to day life, creating contactless and efficient solutions that help people on a global scale.

How do you think this might change the world?

Popl is a global solution to a world problem in that it enables people to be social while remaining contactless and environmentally friendly.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

The potential “Black Mirror esque” drawback about NFC is the question of privacy.

“Couldn’t someone just tap your Popl when you aren’t looking and get all your social info?”

We are constantly adding security features to protect our users, including a feature being rolled out in the next couple of months that enables users to “lock” their profile. Current features include private profiles and only collecting usernames (no passwords), which are considered public info.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

I was introduced to NFC technology at a party in the Hollywood Hills! Someone used a NFC business card on my iPhone XS and it blew my mind. As a tech guy, I thought I knew everything about smartphones, but this was a first for me.

After that I became obsessed with NFC and exploring all potential capabilities and possible applications. After weeks of research, I realized the NFC business card was cool but not necessarily convenient.

The modern business card isn’t actually a card, it’s your phone.

User experience has always been a major priority for us at Popl. We want to reduce work for the user, not create it.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

This would have been a very different answer in January (pre-Covid). In January, the norm was accepted and creating new behaviors was an uphill task. After Feb/March, the world is completely focused on contactless solutions and Popl is just that.

We are relentless in making Popl so easy, seamless and ingrained in our daily life, that tapping phones to exchange info becomes the social norm.

Anyone involved with Popl (users, ambassadors, resellers, fans) is a member of our Popl Family, a concept we created and have stood by from the very start. We know without our amazing family, we’re just entrepreneurs with a dream. It’s the Popl Family that will lead to Popl changing the world.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

We consider ourselves to be one of the very first brands to launch on Tiktok! On February 12th, we had a video showcasing Popl Direct hit 10 million views, and this video is now sitting at almost 80 million views.

Our Tiktok now has 1.7M followers and we were verified a couple of weeks ago! Tiktok has been incredible for our growth and is a major reason we are already in 123+ countries around the world in less than 5 months.

Tiktok is amazing as it rewards great content as opposed to number of followers.

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 get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

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.

I was lucky enough to have Nick as a roommate when I created the first NFC prototype. I showed it to him in our apartment one afternoon and he was all in from that moment on, ready to turn this secret idea into reality. Together we launched Rippl Co, our first iteration of Popl.

We were launching Rippl Co when Jeremy saw it on a mutual friend’s Instagram story. He reached out and I had my first call with him while on a lunch break at Boeing in El Segundo.

How did the call go? Well, Jeremy added more value to the company in just 30 minutes, than anyone I had ever met. He immediately suggested we change the name, the UI, and tighten up some features.

I knew this guy was special, so Nick and I recruited Jeremy to become our third partner and the rest is history.

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

At Popl, our highest priority is to change the world for the better. Our product is currently eliminating the concept of a missed connection while creating a contactless solution for networking and sharing information.

We have partnered with Ecodrive to offset our carbon emissions from e-commerce shipments by planting a tree for every Popl sold. We are also rolling out Black Lives Matter themed Popls and will be donating all profits to BLM Los Angeles. We will continue to seek ways to help the world while also growing the Popl family.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share 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 a blue and a red. Little did we know that a simple black and white are what the people want! Till this day, Popl Black continues to be the best seller by miles.
  • Let people finish speaking before jumping in. In our early calls, I had a tendency to just jump right in while someone was in the middle of a thought. A good practice is to mute yourself until they finish speaking. Being a good listening is highly valuable.
  • Starting a company with your best friend will affect your friendship in a major way. When Nick and I first started, we figured it would 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.
  • The hardest part of my job as CEO is not software, meetings, emails, marketing, product development, or anything else you would expect. It’s the people. People are emotional and sometimes irrational creatures. Keeping your team happy, motivated and on track is by far the hardest task of them all, but once this is mastered, anything is possible 📈

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 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.

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

“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.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

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 on social media?

Follow us on Tiktok and Instagram! Our handle is @popl.co for both 🙂

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

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