Throughout the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the novel coronavirus has kept us “socially distanced.” Yet, two young college graduates and friends from UCLA, Jason Alvarez-Cohen and Nick Eischens, created Popl to maintain our ability to digitally connect with our friends and colleagues using near field communications (NFC) technology.
The Los Angeles-based startup has generated seven figures in revenue from their selling physical Popls, which are NFC-enabled hardware tags that stick to your phone or other device to share your personal and professional contact information. In addition to their successful hardware sales, the startup is producing five-figure monthly recurring revenue with its new software products. Alvarez-Cohen and Eischens recently launched Popl Pro, a software service for professionals to “turn their connections into sales,” and Popl Enterprise, which is focused on managing Popl analytics across multiple teams and organizations within a business. The two and their team of eight were a part of Y Combinator’s (YC) latest Winter 2021 batch, and have gone on to raise $2.2 million in their seed round from a number of investors, including Twitch co-founder Justin Kan (as Goat Capital), YC, Urban Innovation Fund, Cathexis Ventures and notable angels like Ralph Gootee (co-founder of PlanGrid) to fund their growth at scale.
Gootee says, “I’ve personally given and received more than 10,000 business cards over the years and the process is horrible. Having to deal with so much paper is a burden, and I would often lose the most important contacts. With Popl, it’s actually fun for me to connect and the founders have amazing energy.”
Frederick Daso: Originally, Popl was geared towards younger generations to connect in a contactless way. What consumer behaviors that you observed led you to develop a SaaS-like offering for professionals in the form of Popl Pro?
Jason Alvarez-Cohen: Talking to users and building a product that our users love is our highest priority at Popl. This mindset has been with us since the beginning but was reinforced by sessions during Y Combinator.
We started as a Gen-Z product thanks to a TikTok video we posted that hit 80M views in a matter of months back in February 2020. But after countless user interviews, surveys, and focus on behavior data, we realized that the users that are using Popl consistently each week and paying for Popl Pro were the ones using Popl for business use cases.
Daso: Popl has expanded from simple NFC tags that stick to your phone to branded event wearables and your new custom-made Popl XLs. How have you managed to figure out what types of new hardware to prototype and test for meeting a growing variety of new consumer use cases?
Alvarez-Cohen: We started with the Popl phone tag because it just made sense. Unlike business cards, your phone is always with you. Therefore a Popl on your phone is always with you, whenever you need it. In our experience, you never know when you will be in a networking environment and might need a business card. We’ve used this logic to launch new products to make Popl as convenient as possible: Popl on your phone, your keys, and your wrist.
Before launching new products, we ask our 10,000+ ambassadors for their feedback. The Popl Ambassadors are using our product the most, so we listen closely to their feedback and suggestions. Popl XL’s idea came from one of our ambassadors who owned a restaurant and wanted a bigger Popl on the counter of their bar to be convenient for their bartenders to take tips. We will be releasing Popl XL this week.
Daso: For the branded products you’ve produced, how have those items expanded the way that businesses can interact with their customers and stay engaged?
Alvarez-Cohen: Businesses love ordering custom Popls for two primary reasons: Using them to replace their company’s business cards and giving them to their clients for the back of the phone branding.
With tools like the Popl App and Popl Enterprise, Popl is a no-brainer replacement for any company’s business cards. Each employee is about to connect better with clients, and information is exchanged efficiently at both the individual level (Popl App) and team level (Popl Enterprise).
These businesses know that Popl adds value to their customers and is great advertising for their brand. Having your branding on the back of a client’s phone is powerful. Customers will use Popl to grow their social media following, publicize new events, solicit reviews, and this will be powered by the business that is branded on the Popl.
Daso: Diving deeper into Popl Pro, you’ve mentioned that you started to notice how individual professionals were using it in ways that your team originally didn’t envision when you first launched Popl as Rippl at the time. Even though the developing, emerging behavior from professionals was promising, what led you and your team to take the risk of developing a whole new software solution for them in particular?
Alvarez-Cohen: When we started talking to our users, it became clear that this hardware + software offering we created was being used by businesses worldwide to get more sales, more leads and more connections. Knowing this, we saw an opportunity to create a SaaS product that gives business users the additional features they need to convert these Popl contacts into actual sales. At this time, we were also compiling a long list of feedback from our users for what features, changes, and improvements they wanted to see.
We then packaged up all of the user-requested software features with additions we saw valuable for businesses and created Popl Pro. What’s nice about Popl Pro is we do absolutely no advertising for it. Users go Pro naturally from our various upsells throughout the Popl app. This allows us to engage and retain pro users who truly see the value in using Popl for their business and networking.
Daso: What other analytics do you plan to offer Popl Pro users that will help them close more deals from potential leads? How can this data enhance their reliance on Popl to be a core foundation of how businesses run their sales and marketing operations?
Alvarez-Cohen: We plan to substantially expand data available to our Pro users to have access to never before accessible insights on who they are meeting, how their business is growing and what info is being interacted with on their profiles.
With Pro, users will be able to fully understand what is converting well on their profile and what isn’t. This link is being tapped on, while this embedded video is not. These insights allow our users to focus on building the best profile for driving traffic to the places they truly care about.
We provide users with positive feedback when they are often connecting, which helps their business grow faster. We do this with daily pop charts that show an upward or downward trend depending on their activity, “pop streaks,” which is the same as a Snapchat streak but with pops instead. We also will have weekly insight emails that give users an analytical summary of their activity each week.
Daso: What led you to develop a multiple profile option for Popl Pro users? What new behaviors have you seen emerge from mixing personal and professional sharing into one “digital” business card?
Alvarez-Cohen: Fairly soon after releasing the Popl App with just a single profile, we had many users mention that they’d like another profile to share completely different links. This made us realize that these days, people aren’t just sharing their business cards; they are sharing their social media, side hustles, and personal websites as well. They want to use Popl to share their digital business card at a conference and then use Popl again to share their info later for happy hour.
We built this multiple profile option for Popl Pro users to instantly change the profile they are sharing for specific circumstances. Whatever profile is live on the app is what their Popl currently shares.
Interestingly, our power users have used the multiple profiles for multiple businesses they work for instead of the standard personal/business modes. We are happy to allow this. Each profile can be used for any purpose important to the user.
Daso: Popl seems to show the potential of becoming a “system of record” for people-driven sales and marketing operations via Popl Enterprise. Beyond Salesforce and Hubspot, what other SaaS tools will you integrate to enhance Popl’s value to Pro users?
Alvarez-Cohen: We have many business features for Popl Enterprise users that we are ecstatic to release over the next couple of weeks.
One in particular that we are particularly excited about is Popl Enhance. Popl Enhance is an AI-powered data engine we’ve built that provides customer recognition for leads and prospects added using Popl. This engine allows Popl users to connect with connections across multiple platforms while making the actual in-person experience fast and efficient. All that is needed for this engine to work is a single email, and our software does the rest.
We are also very excited about our API integrations with Salesforce, Hubspot and other CRMs coming soon. We are partnering with another Y Combinator company to provide an easy UI flow for our users to export their Popl contacts directly to Salesforce and Hubspot as leads. This feature will be available from both the Popl App for individuals and the Popl Enterprise dashboard for entire companies.