If you’ve been playing TikTok lately, you’ve likely seen a number of Popl ads. The startup has successfully used social media to bring its modern business card alternative to a wider audience. Packaged as a phone sticker, keychain, or bracelet, Popl uses NFC technology to make exchanging contact information as easy as using Apple Pay. To date, Popl has sold more than 700,000 units and generated $ 2.7 million in revenue for its digital business card technology.
Popl Co-Founder and CEO Jason Alvarez-Cohen, a UCLA graduate with a computer science background, first saw the potential for NFC business cards through another use case – a device he met at a home party. However, the idea arose to use NFC technology for personal exchange of information, which would be faster than alternatives such as AirDrop or manual entry. And so Popl was born.
Although startup history is littered with potential “business card killers” who eventually died, Popl differs from early competitors in that it combines both an app and a physical product – the Popl accessory. These accessories can be purchased in a variety of form factors, including the popular Popl phone sticker, which you can attach directly to the back of your phone case (or even the top of your Popsocket) with a photo of your choice.
“I knew that in the past, people would tap phones and share such information. But I quickly learned that you can’t just do that from phone to phone with pure software, ”says Alvarez-Cohen. “So I figured, how can we get the phone to tap the next? And that’s how I came up with this back-of-the-phone product. “
Each Popl accessory is actually an NFC tag that can be used to pass the user’s contact information. When the phones are closed, the recipient will receive a notification notifying them of your shared Popl data.
There are of course other ways to quickly exchange contact information. For example, you can easily enter a person’s digits right into your phone’s Contacts app, which is better for more casual encounters – like when you’re meeting someone in a bar. However, with Popl, you can share the contact details of a full business card with just a tap of your finger. This is better for professional meetings or any other time when you want to share more than just your phone number.
While the Popl tags are a nice gimmick, the Popl mobile app makes the entire service useful. And to be clear, the app is only required for the owner of the Popl – the recipient doesn’t need to have the app installed for Popl to work. However, you need a phone that can read NFC tags, which can leave out some older devices. As a backup, they also need the ability to scan the QR code provided by the app as a workaround.
In the Popl app, you can customize what data you want to share with others – including your contact information, social profiles, website links, etc. via a user-friendly interface. As with some business card apps in the past, Popl lets you choose between a personal Change profile and a business profile in order to exchange the corresponding information in the network. To actually exchange contact information with someone else, just hold your phone up to them and they will receive a notification that will direct them to your Popl profile website. (The phones don’t have to physically touch or crash into each other, though. It’s more like Apple Pay where they have to be close together.)
On the Popl website shared via the notification that appears, the recipient can tap the various options to connect to the sender. Add them to a social network like LinkedIn or Instagram, for example, and access the phone number to send a short text or, among other things, even download a full contact card to your phone’s address book.
However, Popl calls the cleverer function of the app “Direct”.
This patented feature is not sent through the Popl website which requires the recipient to choose how to connect. Instead, the target app is opened directly. For example, if you’ve activated LinkedIn Direct, the recipient will be taken straight to your profile on LinkedIn when they tap the notification. If you set your contact card to Direct, your address book entry will simply be displayed on the screen so that the user can save it on their phone.
For paid users, the app also lets you track the history of Popl connections on a map so that, along with other analytics, you can remember who you met, where and when.
Work on Popl, which was co-founded by Alvarez-Cohen’s UCLA roommate Nick Eischens, now Popl COO, began in late 2019. The startup then started in February 2020 – just before the coronavirus lockdowns in the United States. This could have been a disastrous time for a company tasked with helping share information during face-to-face meetings when the world shifted to zoom and remote work. But Alvarez-Cohen says they marketed Popl as a “contactless solution”.
“When I have that and need to meet someone for my business, I don’t even have to tap it – you can just float and it will still send that information,” says Alvarez-Cohen. “So I can share my business card with you without giving you a business card that is somehow secure.”
But what really helped Popl were his video demos. In a TikTok ad that you’re sure to have seen if you’re using TikTok at all, it shows co-founder Arev, who is sharing her TikTok profile with a new friend, just as she is leaving the gym.
In the video, the recipient replies – obviously baffled by the technology after tapping on his phone – “what? What? Whoa! What? How did you do that?! “
It has now been viewed over 80 million times.
Today, Popl’s TikTok videos receive high tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and sometimes still millions of views per video. The company is also active on other social media. For example, Popl regularly posts on Instagram, where it has over 100,000 followers. Today, around 60% of the startup’s growth can be attributed to Facebook and Instagram marketing, and 40% to organic products, says Alvarez-Cohen.
Now the company is preparing new products for the post-pandemic when personal events return. Although Popl’s was previously sold in bulk for this purpose, it is now preparing an “event bracelet” that only slips off the wrist (and is reusable). The bracelet can be used at any large event – for example, music festivals or business conferences where you meet a lot of new people. And since Popl uses NFC, phones need to be nearby for contact information to be exchanged. This prevents your information from being randomly shared with everyone you come across.
Popl is also expanding the business networking side of its app with integrations for Salesforce, Oracle, and Hubspot, as well as CSV export that comes with the Popl Pro subscription ($ 4.99 per month). The in-app subscription already has annual recurring revenue of $ 320,000 and is growing 10% every week starting in early April.
AY Combinator Winter 2021 participant Popl is supported by Twitch Co-Founder Justin Kan (via Goat Capital), YC, the Urban Innovation Fund, Cathexis Ventures and other angels including Peter Szulczewski, CEO of Wish.com, and Ralph Gootee, Co-founder of Plangrid.
The app is available for iOS and Android, and the Popl accessories are sold on the website and on Target.com.