First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Bohan Zhang: I am an enterpriser from China! COVID-19 seriously influenced us from Jan to Mar 2020. The government decided to lock down the entire country. At that moment, we had tough times, and one had to stay at home…
Although we lost our freedom during that period, we had more time with our families, and you can see now China is the safest country! We are already back to our normal life after the strict lockdown policy.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded PopuMusic.
Bohan Zhang: When I was studying abroad (UCSD Mater of Finance), I realized the potential of smart instruments. I was determined to drop out of college to set up PopuMusic. I aimed to redefine the music learning method and develop a closer relationship between humans and music through cool technological products.
“Guitar has unforgettable charms. A youth without a guitar is a pity! Many people have the desire to learn to play the guitar, but 90% of them fail to fulfill the desire and can only regret the unrealized love. We hope to turn the music-learning process into a game experience similar to ‘Guitar Hero’ through a cool technological hardware, with which people can fulfill the desire to play the guitar like falling head over heels with a lover.”
The following year, great programmers, talented designers, and intelligent musicians gradually joined the team, making the dream of “A beginner can play the guitar within 5 minutes and perform songs on stage within one hour” come true.
I also was awarded in 2017 Forbes Asia 30U30 after building the company.
How does PopuMusic innovate?
Bohan Zhang: We started our products with guitar and ukulele. “Poputar” is the abbreviation of “The Most Popular Guitar,” aiming to create the most popular smart guitar and make people interested in guitar learn with joy. Different from traditional guitars, there are 120 glittering LED lights on the fingerboard of Poputar Smart Guitar. Poputar Smart Guitar visualizes playing the guitar through the connection between the blue tooth and the game in the APP, helping the beginners quickly master the fingering. Meanwhile, through the connection between Poputar Smart Guitar and an APP featuring popular songs, Poputar Smart Guitar turns the music-learning process into game experiences similar to “Guitar Hero” or “Rhythm Master,” making learning easy and efficient.
Populele smart ukulele was published after Poputar; the principle is the same.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Bohan Zhang: COVID-19 mainly affects the offline sales of our business, but thanks to the internet, most of our sales are in the online market.
When the situation was serious in China, people could not go out. We did a lot of campaigns on E-commerce platforms such as “Stuck at home? Poputar & Populele help you kill boring time”, and the outcome is perfect.
Our sales even grew a lot more than last year…When the situation is serious in the international market, we increased the ads budget in platforms such as Amazon. We also started the crowdfunding of Poputar on Indiegogo!
COVID-19 forced us to focus more on online sales, and we are even growing under the situation.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Bohan Zhang: Yes, we had a tough time. Xiaomi Corporation is one of our investors. Our Populele U1 was selected to be sold on mi.com in 2016, and the sales were very crazy in the first few months.
Can you imagine that one musical instrument can be sold over 20K pcs per month? Yes, we did this, excited but also sad.
We don’t have enough capacity to fill the orders at that moment… so we bought a guitar plant. Initially, it worked, but as an internet technology company, it was a mistake to have such a heavy asset.
So when Xiaomi orders dropped a lot later, we had to sell the plant and lost some money. In this lesson, we learned to work with guitar or ukulele plants but not to own them, and supply chain management is very important!
Now we are working with the best guitar plant in China called Kepma Guitar, and we are crowdfunding the co-brand edition Poputar at Indiegogo.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and PopuMusic in the future?
Bohan Zhang: I play music to deal with stress and anxiety. It’s the benefit of working in the music business.
We are trying to apply the same principle in different musical instruments such as PopuPiano, PopuVolin, PopuDrum, etc…
The final target is to have a huge capital to expand our business and become the leader in the smart & future music education area.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Bohan Zhang: We have 2 competitors in China, namely; Enya, and Lava, both of them make guitars and ukulele. We also have Yousician (famous music App) and alfretlight (similasor light up system) in the international market.
The good thing is that we are the only company who both works in hardware and software, which is our advantage. We have our own product manager, supply chain, and software team.
We also focus on a better user experience, and our clients can very easily get started with our products.
Your final thoughts?
Bohan Zhang: We believe playing an instrument is not the privilege of a minority.
PopuMusic is the naughty disrupter in the instrument learning field.
We pushed the instrument learning experience to the limits through a perfect combination of both cutting-edge technology and classical instrument.
With gamification user experience, we are dedicated to making learning instrument fun and easy!
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