Why Every Business Should Start As A Popup: An Interview With Aaron Lander
We recently sat down with Aaron Lander, Co-founder and CEO of PopUpsters. He spoke about how PopUpsters helps entrepreneurs hone in on their product-market fit, test new ideas, and grow their businesses, while also helping hosts make the most out of their own spaces.
PopUpsters has helped several pop-up businesses raise funding on Kiva, including:
Read on to find out why Aaron thinks that every business should start as a pop-up, how to succeed as a pop-up business, and how to best leverage PopUpsters to be successful.
KIVA: What is PopUpsters and who is it for?
AARON: PopUpsters is an online marketplace and an event management software system. We help businesses connect to and discover spaces for events to reach customers offline. PopUpsters is a public benefit corporation; our mission is to spark community and economic development by fostering entrepreneurship, especially with low income, minority, and other disadvantaged populations.
We really believe that anybody should be able to start a business and that every business should start as a popup.
Pop-ups are temporary stores or opportunities to reach customers in an offline setting and are really good for increasing experience and exposure while cutting down the upfront capital cost of starting a brick and mortar. It’s really lean startup principles but applied to any industry really.
Our platform has all kinds of lenders that we work with - these businesses include anybody from retailers, food and beverage producers, makers, artists, designers, startups, service providers, and larger brands as well that want to create a more intimate experience with their potential customers. We do that by connecting them to all kinds of events and spaces - those include things like fairs and festivals, markets, conferences, expos.
We also activate empty or underused space, public spaces, open space, green space, and empty real estate to corporate campuses. PopUpsters helps them procure the vendors that would be participating at any type of event.
We created a software solution that helps people with people to work with and also allows them to manage applications, communications, any documentation they need, including permits, insurance, licenses, etc. as well as handle any payments that are processed. Basically, any business can use our platform if they want to get in front of new customers, and anybody looking to host an event or have extra space can use our platform to invite businesses to work with them.
KIVA: What would you say are the top three ways entrepreneurs can benefit from using PopUpsters?
AARON: Popups are just great for businesses to get in front of people. They are a great way to promote your other sales channels so your online store or your storefront or where you’re selling in other retailers. They also help to cut down your upfront capital cost of starting a brick and mortar and help businesses decide if they should go into business and keeping their costs as low as possible.
Using PopUpsters, the vendors are able to stop filling out all kinds of paper applications and sending in checks or faxing their information for an event. They will easily create a profile to access their application and can, with one click, they can apply to all kinds of events. That really helps them to be able to fill their calendars with all kinds of unique opportunities that they might not necessarily know about.
We aggregate it all into one place so we make it easy for them to click and apply and pay. And also communicate back and forth with the host, keeping it out of their email.
One of the coolest aspects that we have launched is connecting these vendors to corporate campuses. We’ll do all kinds of different markets like makers markets and holiday craft shows. Whatever it is, we’ll bring them to some of the biggest campuses in the Bay Area and beyond. And we connect them to the employees that have the income to spend on shopping locally and want to support locally but don’t have time to shop anywhere but the big box stores. So we can bring them all together.
We’re also working on a couple other new features that allow vendors to communicate with each other and be able to share different resources and opportunities as well as be able to trade and sell different products to each other like extra equipment that they are done using and somebody else might need as well. There are a lot of different benefits for vendors to be able to use PopUpsters.
KIVA: What is the biggest challenge that you see PopUpsters’ small business owner customers facing?
AARON: There are a couple different challenges. The first one is actually just finding the space to be a part of an event or the actual physical retail space.
Just being able to have a space where all of that is put together is something that's not really out there. It’s not difficult, it’s just the information is not readily available.
We work really closely with cities and help them aggregate the permit processing that they need so they’ll know when they are doing a pop-up, what the permit, licences, or insurance they need to actually make an event happen, so they don’t get in trouble with the law or other agencies.
Those are the two biggest barriers for people looking to start a popup.
KIVA: What are the 3 things an entrepreneur should be doing to make it in the popup game?
AARON: The first one is just to try - a lot of people have really great ideas but don’t know where to start, so it discourages them. Our platform allows them to kind of really pick up on that and instead of being discouraged, they have the opportunity that’s affordable to just get out there and do it.
The other aspect is that
it’s just a way to test products, so they need to be asking for feedback, they need to be playing around with different designs, labels, ways of communicating what their product or service is and engage with the customer that’s there.
A lot of people get really timid when they’re trying to sell - selling doesn't come naturally to a lot of people; but talking does.Being able to talk to these customers as they’re coming up to you or browsing at an event or in a storefront is important instead of sitting back and waiting for them to ask questions. It's better to go out there and tell your story and tell them why they should buy from you.
Those are the three biggest things that really determine a popup’s success. A brand, when they’re just starting out, doesn’t have a lot of exposure or popularity so they need to build on that. A popup is the best way to do and thinking of these solutions can definitely improve their chances of success.
KIVA: If you could say one thing to pop-up entrepreneurs, what would it be?
AARON: Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t let failure hang you up. The whole point of a popup, instead of investing thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars into a business, starting out as a popup is a really lean way to see if you have a market fit.
Sometimes your idea might just need to be executed a little bit differently - you might not be having a great sales day, or you may not get a lot of good feedback, but the feedback you do get and the things that you notice on people’s expressions when you’re talking to them or when they’re looking at your products - you really need to take that into consideration.
There are a lot of things that paint failure as a bad connotation in people's mind. It’s really not. When you fail, you gotta fail fast and pick yourself back up. If you figure out that you fail at this business and this doesn’t work, that’s okay. It’s not the end of the world.
You’re not over your head with tons of debt now. You did it really lean and you at least tried. The next time you might have a different idea that has a home run. Or maybe it’s just not the right type of business for you. So fail fast and fail often.
KIVA: How can Kiva borrowers best use PopUpsters?
AARON: All they need is to go online, go to our website, and find an event that works for them and apply. Super simple.
When they apply, we ask them their profile information which includes information about their products and their business, pictures, they can upload their insurance and any permits that they have so it’s all in one place. They can also have links to their other stores or social profiles as well as highlight any honors or recognitions or community associations that they’re a part of. Their profile acts as their application and once they apply to an event, the host will let them know if they’re a right fit and they’ll be approved if they are.
That whole process is taken care of on our platform. It’s always better if they can have as much information about their story and about their business as possible because that’s how the hosts make their decisions.
Applying early to events as they come up because we send out newsletters as events come through that pertain to the particular vendors that we work with. Applying early makes a huge difference in acceptance rates as well as asking the host questions to see if they’re a right fit after they’ve submitted their application.
We also have a really awesome partner’s page where groups like Kiva are highlighted where they can give different resources from financial opportunities to accounting as well as other types of business resources. They can also get discounts from our partners and other different rewards for just being a part of our network.
KIVA: Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses? And why?
AARON: I definitely think I would do the 100 duck-sized horses, and I don’t know if I would actually fight them. I’d get them all together and become friends, so that they’re not angry at me. But if they’re wild horses and they’re really pissed off, then I would just run.
To find out more, visit popupsters.com.