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Winner Spotlight: PopUpsters Aims to Foster Connections in the ‘Pop-Up Economy’

Pop-up shops have been taking their businesses outside the four walls of a store, moving into temporary spaces and “popping up” all over communities. As the pop-up industry grew, though, the small businesses didn’t know how to access the resources they needed to sustain their non-traditional approach to shops. That is, until PopUpsters came along.

Aaron Lander knew this was a problem pop-ups faced and knew that he could do something about it. He linked up with Jim Burke and Brina Bujkovsky, who were also interested in providing a solution for local pop-ups in their community. Together, the three founded PopUpsters, a startup that connects pop-ups to essential resources and venues.

PopUpsters won the People’s Choice Award, including a chance to compete at Challenge Festival next month. Ahead of the event, Lander told 1776 about how PopUpsters is working to bring innovation to the emerging world of pop-ups, an idea that help the team win a second chance at Challenge Festival.

What is PopUpsters?

We’re an online marketplace that connects local small businesses to places to pop-up. We work with anybody from a chef to a retailer to a designer or startup, and we connect them to spaces and events to pop-up their experience.

Since we’re a double-sided marketplace, we have the small businesses on one side, where they come onto our platform, set up a profile and then they have an opportunity to apply or book spaces or events on the spot. On the other side, we have people who list their events or their space for vendors to pop-up at.

Why did you start PopUpsters?

The reason why we really started working on this is we saw that there are a lot of people that have really awesome ideas, dreams, passions and hobbies, but they have no idea how to turn it into a business. They didn’t have the capital to start a storefront… and figure out all the ins and outs of starting a business. So, we wanted to provide them with affordable places that were inactive, underused and vacant, and connect them to those places or connect them to events, corporations or whoever wants to support local, small businesses.

The whole concept came up because of the small businesses, and so we put a lot of emphasis on that. However, we discovered that there is a big need on the other side of the marketplace that kind of emerged.

How does winning the People’s Choice Challenge Cup impact your startup?

For our startup, winning the People’s Choice is really great because it just shows how much our vendors like what we’re doing… We had so many people wish us luck and send it out to their friends and their family and it just showed us how much our community really supports what we’re doing, and they want to see us help more businesses and help more people in different communities around the world.

I’m really excited for this competition and the entire Festival and getting to meet everybody and being in D.C. and making those connections.

What were some of the main challenges you faced as an emerging startup?

The pop-up economy has kind of been very informal for decades. There hasn’t been a lot of ways for people to even know where pop-ups are happening or where the opportunities are to pop-up their brand. Some of the biggest challenges have been just getting people to know that popups are its own type of economy. We want to formalize it and make it easy for people to find places to pop-up; people to find pop-ups to go to; and people to find vendors to pop-up in their space or at their event.

One of the biggest challenges has been getting people to the pop-ups. If we don’t get people to our pop-ups, our vendors don’t sell their goods. If our vendors don’t have a good experience, they’re not going to come back to us and we want our vendors to come back and have a great experience and keep coming back.

Do pop-ups follow a standard setup and experience?

Each person, each business has their own style and we want to encourage every business to do what they can to promote their own brand and tell their own story… The main thing that we want people to do and encourage them to do is to create an intimate experience… Once you have that intimate connection with your customer, they’re going to tell other people. They’re going to return to you; they’re going to try other things… There’s not one way that a pop-up looks but we always try to have them create an intimate experience.

What’s next for PopUpsters?

The next goal is to get out of the Bay Area. We’ve been focusing a lot on just building up our Bay Area community and doing that and I think we have a really strong presence. We can definitely make it even bigger and better and we will continue to grow it, but the next goal is to bring PopUpsters to other communities. We have other people reaching out to us all over the world—including city governments, big corporations and some of our clients that are here in San Francisco but have other locations around the globe. We want to be able to do that, and we’re at the point right now where our technology is there, we just need to  figure out which community is the next best one for us to go to and just start building that up and making that happen.

Chelsea Tyson

Chelsea Tyson recently graduated from Regent University and is working to pursue a degree in journalism. She previously interned at 1776 where she developed a passion for writing about the…