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PopCom designs smart vending machines to automate regulated products

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) PopCom raises $1.3 million in equity crowd funding to launch smart vending machines that will securely sell regulated products like cannabis and alcohol.

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vending machines

Dawn Dickson is upgrading the beloved vending machine to thrive in the era of COVID-19. Dickson is the Founder & CEO of PopCom, a black-owned retail technology company whose mission is to “equip entrepreneurs and brands with future-ready retail solutions that allow rapid retail expansion, incredible customer experiences, and powerful sales data.”

Dickson started her entrepreneurial career with Flat Out Heels, rollable flat shoes that fit in a purse. The business was an e-commerce hit, relying on online data analytics to drive sales and growth. She found there was a disconnect in leveraging that technology when she looked for traditional vending machines to sell her products in places with high foot traffic like airports. Like any good entrepreneur, she created her own solution to the problem.

PopCom vending machines use facial detection and machine learning to create an interactive and intelligent retail experience. In 2020, the Columbus, Ohio based company is rolling out secure pilots for automated vending of regulated products like alcohol and cannabis. The machines rely on biometric analysis to verify identity, and can even anonymously evaluate age, gender, and emotional sentiment while a customer is browsing to convert sales. Products can therefore be available on demand with minimal human interaction.

The growth of this technology is timely as COVID-19 continues to ravage retail in the United States. “Vending machines and convenience services are becoming more essential, and retailers are looking for more ways to deliver their products direct-to-customer with less human friction. We are excited about what is to come,” Dickson told BlackNews.com.

And what is to come is coming quickly. Dickson just completed a record-setting equity crowdfunding campaign on Start Engine, being the first female founder in history to raise $1.3 million in just 47 days! Previously, PopCom raised an initial $1.07 million from their first campaign. According to SEC regulations, companies can raise up to $1.07 million from regulation crowd funding sources in a 12-month period.

Heather Buffo is a Cleveland native, a recovering Bostonian, and an Austin newbie. Heather is the Venture Growth & Partnerships Lead at Republic where she works with partners in private investing to democratize access to capital for entrepreneurs. Heather studied neurobiology at Harvard University, and is a City Year Boston AmeriCorps alum. She likes to write for AG, drink Austin beer, and ride around town on her road bicycle. His name is Pippin. Say hello if you see them.

Business Entrepreneur

Before starting that startup, consider these factors

(ENTREPRENEUR) Building your own startup and being your own boss sounds tempting, but be sure you make these considerations before starting out.

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Man at a whiteboard outlining his startup plan.

A lot of people, myself included, are looking for different options for new careers. Maybe it’s time to place some faith in those back-burner dreams that no one ever really thought would come to fruition. But there are some things about creating a new startup business that we should all really keep in mind.

While you can find any number of lists to help you to get things going, here’s a short list that makes beginning a new business venture a monumental effort:

  • You need to have a unique idea with an impeccable execution. Ideas are a dime a dozen. But even the goods ones need the right business-minded person behind it to get things going for them.
  • Time, time, and more time. To get a startup to a point where it is sustainable and giving you back something that is worthwhile, takes years. Each of those years will take many decisions that you can only hope will pan out. There is no quick cash except for a lottery and you have to be extra lucky for those to get you anything. This whole idea will take years of your life away and it may end in failure no matter what you do.
  • You have to have the stamina. Most data will show you that startups fail 90% of the time. The majority of those are because people gave up on the idea. You have to push and keep pushing or you’ll never get there yourself. Losing determination is the death of any business venture.
  • Risk is a lifestyle. To get anywhere in life you have to risk something. Starting a business is all about risking your time and maybe your money to get a new life set up. If you can’t take risks for the future then you can’t move up in the business world.
  • Bad timing and/or a bad market. If you don’t have a sense for the market around you, which takes time and experience (or a lot of luck), you won’t make it. A keen business sense is absolutely necessary for you to succeed in a startup. Take some time and truly analyze yourself and your idea before trying something.
  • Adaptability is also a necessity. The business world can be changed at the drop of a hat, with absolutely no warning. Rolling with the punches is something you have to do or every little change is going to emotionally take a toll on you.
  • Lastly, not all of this depends upon your actions. If you start something that relies on investors, you’re likely going to get told “no” so many times that you’ll feel like it’s on repeat. Not everything is dependent upon your beliefs and whims. You need to be able to adjust to this and get people to see things from your point of view as well. But ultimately, it’s not all about you, it’s also about them.

These are just a few ways that starting a startup could stress you out. So, while the future could be bright, stay cautious and think twice before making any life changing decisions.

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Business Entrepreneur

LA-based, Armenian-born Style Coach discusses female entrepreneurship

(ENTREPRENEURSHIP) Style Coach discusses starting her own business, becoming an international female entrepreneur, and lessons learned from Armenian culture.

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Two women shopping, with one being a style coach.

About the author: Anaïs DerSimonian is a writer, filmmaker, and educator interested in media, culture, and the arts. She is Clark University Alumni with a degree in Culture Studies and Screen Studies. She has produced various documentary and narrative projects, including a profile on an NGO in Yerevan, Armenia that provides micro-loans to cottage industries and entrepreneurs based in rural regions to help create jobs, and self-sufficiency, and stimulate the post-Soviet economy. She is currently based in Boston. 

Varduhi Movsisyan–an LA-based, Armenian-born, London-educated certified Style Coach–is on a mission; to help folks everywhere gain the confidence they need to achieve their greatest goals. And to look good while doing it.

So, what exactly is a Style Coach?

“A Style Coach is a lifestyle professional that combines personal styling with life coaching.” Says Vard–known professionally as VARD/MOV.

“A Style Coach helps people to select and style clothes and accessories that work for their body, coloration and personality AND helps individuals gain the confidence and skill set to dream big and achieve their goals.

Her multifaceted approach encompasses everything from color analysis, body shape styling, and closet audits to deep, intimate conversations that uncover a client’s true self-image and motivations. Sometimes, Vard says, her work is more counseling than it is styling.

But the two are more connected than you might think.

Vard, who decided to move to London and change careers a few years ago, started her professional journey as a teacher in the capital city of her homeland of Armenia. Soon, she opened her own teaching center–and got her first taste of the entrepreneurship thrill.

“All the time I spent listening to and empathizing with my students, focusing on building productive habits and a sustainable wellbeing, has actually worked to my benefit as a Style Coach. It gives me a leg up on my stylist counterparts, who can tend to think they know what’s best for a client before truly getting to know them.”

While the school teacher to personal stylist entrepreneur pipeline isn’t particularly common, Vard says switching careers to fashion without losing the aspects of teaching that made her feel fulfilled has given her the motivation as an entrepreneur to hit the ground running.

“I’m not exaggerating when I say that you could spend 24 hours a day building your own business and you still wouldn’t have enough time in the day. That’s why it’s so important to find a career path that you are not only good at or you care about, but one that provides deep fulfillment–you need that deep connection to your craft because it will undoubtedly also become your personal life. “

While Vard operates virtually out of Los Angeles, she also doesn’t mind meeting clients in-person in Los Angeles, London, and Armenia–to name a few. In addition to her cosmopolitan travel habits, she also incorporates this mindset into the philosophy of her work.

Instead of shedding her home culture to blend in with the rest of the LA fashion circuit, Vard leverages aspects of her heritage that she sees as “transferable strengths” to inform her work as a Style Coach.

When asked about what Vard sees as “transferable strengths”, she has a lot to say:

“From the Genocide, to Soviet rule to modern wars, Armenians have been through a lot–and as a people, they are beautifully resilient. Throughout my travels, I still maintain that Armenians are some of the most generous, hospitable, welcoming people you will ever meet–and more importantly, they know how to enjoy life’s happy moments to the fullest. An Armenian will bring a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolate to every outing, even if it’s just to their friend’s house down the road.”

As an Armenian myself, it made me happy to hear that the traditions of my culture were being leveraged by Vard to help folks from a variety of backgrounds.

“As a Style Coach, I love bringing this philosophy to my work–teaching clients how to make a sweet event out of every moment you can. We can all learn a lot from the Armenian mentality, like seeing the beauty in everything and not sweating the small things. You can be tough and resilient without losing the softness and charm that make you YOU.”

A hardworking, self-made, and philosophically-unique entrepreneur, VARD/MOV truly blends style with innovation–and shows that you don’t have to have a background in business or management to follow your passion and launch an exciting new business.

The official launch of VARD/MOV–her 2.0 rebranded business–launches on June 1st.

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Business Entrepreneur

3 types of clients to fire as a freelancer (without feeling guilty)

(ENTREPRENEUR) Being a freelancer, it can feel like a luxury to fire a client, but there’s a few clear signs they’re not worth your time.

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Freelancer woman with her head down on the laptop in front of her.

Freelancers often bend over backward to accommodate clients, many times to the detriment to the freelancer. Bad clients are toxic. It’s never easy to say “you’re fired” to anyone, but as a freelancer, sometimes, you need to weigh the cash value of a client against your time, mental health, and sleepless nights. Here are some reasons you can fire a client without feeling guilty.

Clients who aren’t paying on time

Clients who don’t pay or avoid you when there’s a problem need to go. You waste a lot of mental energy chasing down payments and juggling your bills. I know it can look like a bird in the hand kind of situation, but if your client isn’t paying your bill, the bird isn’t really in your hand. My best clients have been with me for over five years. Both consistently meet the payment schedule. Not to say there haven’t been glitches, but they’ve always taken the initiative to explain and got it fixed right away.

Clients who become more demanding without offering more payment

There are always jobs that need to be done right away or need more work. A client who puts demands on your time without compensation is hurting you. When you say yes to one thing, a short deadline, you’re putting other work off. You may be able to deliver to other clients within their deadline, but if you’re tired and grumpy, will it be your best work? High maintenance clients who want to micro-manage are another type of client you may want to kick to the curb. At the very least, raise your rates to account for the extra time it takes to mentally deal with them.

Clients who don’t act professionally

You need to set good boundaries with clients who may be your friends. It’s hard to find that line, but if you don’t set up good professional rules at the onset, you’re going to find yourself doing more for a client out of “friendship.” You’ll become resentful because you’re doing favors and not getting anything in return. Clients who violate contracts aren’t any better, regardless of any outside relationship.

It isn’t easy to fire a client. It’s your paycheck on the line. If you’ve got a bad client, think about the hours you waste worrying about them. Believe me, they are not spending the same energy. Use your energy to find better clients who appreciate you and your work.

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