Catching up with Brian Johnson Lowe
Updated: Jun 4, 2021
During this trying times that we are in, I wanted to catch up with local Founders and Entrepreneurs to see how they are doing and one of them is Brian. Brian is the Founder and CEO of Poptron.co and I got to know Brian when I was managing my beauty brand CRUSH and listed my products on Poptron.co!
So I've shared with Brian a list of interview questions recently and with his sharing, I hope it will spark some inspiration and positivity to other entrepreneurs out there.
Here is a little bit of introduction about Brian.
He also serves as a Board Member of Perbadanan Stadium Malaysia under the leadership of Tan Sri Tony Fernandes as well as Special Advisor to Arts, Live Festival, and Events Association (ALIFE). Brian was also responsible for conceiving, writing, and presenting the strategy and execution papers to form Cultural Economy Development Agency (CENDANA) as well as Borneo 744, Malaysia’s first Blue Ocean Entrepreneurship Township in Kuching, Sarawak.
Brian is driven by intellectual curiosity to learn new industries, skills, and ways of doing things better which has blessed him with the opportunity to work with the best managers and mentors from multinationals, Fortune 100 companies, government agencies as well as private sector.
Amongst his accomplishments are The Royal Arts Gala - a prestigious fundraising dinner graced by Their Royal Highnesses, the King and Queen of Malaysia; Karnival Seni Kreatif Kita - an arts carnival that attracted 30,000 participants when it was held in Pasir Gudang, Johor; Borak Arts Series - a regional touring arts conference for creative practitioners, business leaders, and the arts industry to converge and discussion about the arts in South East Asia as well as Artistlabs - Malaysia’s first and only creative accelerator for entrepreneurs.
His passion lies in playing tennis, where he played as a junior for Penang state but his first and only true love will always be music where he is the composer, producer, and rhythm guitarist for his band Primitive Leap.
Okay, now that you know a bit about Brian, let's find out more about how his entrepreneurship journey is going so far!
1. How did the idea for your business come about?
It all started when I came across a pair of leather shoes while browsing a pop-up bazaar in Publika Mall; I remembered that it was one of the finest shoes I’ve ever seen, with impeccable craftsmanship and detailing. The salesperson, who introduced himself, was the humble man that owned the brand and designed the shoes, carefully explained the production process, the materials in such detail – it was a heartwarming experience to hear his story and understand the true passion and pride that goes into what he was creating. I tried on the shoes with much anticipation and as they say…it fitted me like a glove!
The pair was about RM499, and I didn’t have enough cash on me and nor did he have a card payment terminal, so I decided I would get it some weeks later through the sellers' website, but I forgot the name of the brand. I searched high and low through the social media sites and even used relevant keywords on Google but could not find the brand.
This experience triggered the idea to address a fundamental problem that while small businesses today may have an online presence, it can prove challenging to find or drive traffic to one’s platform unless they were suggested by a discovery algorithm, or if we already know the brand name.
With Poptron, all these brands are in one place (platform) making it easy for lovers of high quality, lifestyle products to discover and explore the brands at your fingertips.
2. What was your key driving force to become an entrepreneur?
Becoming an entrepreneur was very much ingrained in the larger scheme of my professional journey. For Poptron, it was something I wanted to solve and tap on the opportunity to make a difference. My objective was to gather all these brands in one place for consumers to discover unique brands.
Our market space is very niche; it’s a ‘lifestyle social commerce platform – that connects and curates’ brands and content to a like-minded global community. I believe this is a key point for brands joining us. They understand our philosophy and share the same sentiment about other peers in this space.
as a result, it became a humbling experience to know and see brands grow and gain business traction and exposure because at the end of the day it’s about empowering these brands to make a difference for themselves and their loved ones through their brands and products.
3. How did you come up with the name for your company?
Poptron is a portmanteau of the words POP-ups, Trust and Online – was launched in September 2020. Our social e-commerce platform is on a mission of fostering a community that loves and appreciates emerging brands, beautiful products, and the wonderful creators behind them. By connecting lifestyle microbrands and content to a like-minded global audience, Poptron empowers passionate brands to make a difference every day with their amazing products.
4. How has the pandemic affected your business?
The pandemic has hit everyone hard over the past year and more small businesses or microbrand are now taking their business online than ever before as the new normal. These brands are typically small business entrepreneurs/artisans that would rely on physical bazaars to make a living. It was a timely coincidence that we launched Poptron in the middle of the pandemic which spurred many microbrands to come on board and grow with us.
5. What was the biggest learning you’ve gained from the pandemic?
E-commerce is a must-have option for doing business in the new normal. Last year was full of trials and tribulations for everyone including me. I had to close a business I ran for 8 years and started Poptron in the middle of the pandemic. I was very fortunate that we were able to launch this platform because the shift from physical to online has driven demand for Poptron as more and more consumers turn to online shopping for things like everyday basic needs to fashion.
Every sector/industry is either experiencing stagnation in growth or a downward trend, and the traditional brick-and-mortar businesses will continue to experience strains in cash flow.
While these tighter MCO 3.0 restrictions are in the best interest of the ‘rakyat’ to ensure that we stop the spread of the virus, I’m hopeful that if everyone plays their part, we can overcome this and recover by 2022. However, business operations will never be the same as pre-pandemic, even well after we reach a recovery stage. It will take some time and a lot of ‘healing’ and we must brave it together to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
6. How do you market your business, and which tactics have been most successful?
Poptron by design was created to address and assist the needs of the micro-businesses. There are of course other platforms like Lazada or Shopee that enable small businesses to sell their products online, but these platforms are not for the same kind of audiences.
We understand pain points faced by the brands that traditionally rely on a basic social media platform for their business, such as difficulty in acquiring new customers, having to familiarise themselves with various tools and software that might not be optimized to their needs, as well as cross-border concerns (for example, expensive international shipping fees).
We help them solve these problems in a few ways: -
Via Customer Acquisition:
Users can’t find microbrands on social media unless the discovery algorithm suggests it to them or if they know the exact brand name.
Merchants can’t grow followers and convert them into customers organically as much as they could in the past due to limitations in organic reach on social platforms.
When advertising to reach the target audience, lifestyle microbrands are essentially targeting the same audience, thus driving each other's acquisition costs up.
Poptron solves these problems by curating the best-emerging brands and onboarding their community of loyal fans into a global platform of like-minded people, thus lowering their acquisition costs while driving business up.
Via Business Management:
Microbrands generally need to use multiple tools to manage their business, from order management, payment integrations, and order fulfilment costs, among other things.
As individual operators, their volume is low, thus only enjoying rack rates for the above services.
By using Poptron, these microbrands get to enjoy lower payment processing rates, lower fulfilment rates, and lower settlement rates because of the aggregated volumes. We also provide some free essential e-commerce tools and business solutions that lower their cost of doing business.
Via Regional Growth:
Cost of cross border logistics remains a key issue for microbrands (example: Mandi products cost only SGD 6.50 to purchase but will incur an additional SGD11.00 to ship to Singapore)
Whilst microbrands generally have their e-commerce platforms, they are limited in their choice of payment processing solutions and are usually reduced to standard rack rates in terms of costs due to low volume.
Access to new customers from new markets is also limited unless microbrands are willing to allocate up to 40% of their revenue to run social media advertising.
Poptron can help reduce these microbrands’ costs of doing business regionally by partnering with leading third-party logistics providers with attractive rates as well as payment processing solutions with lower fees by aggregating volume.
Let's get personal!
1. Can you describe/outline your typical day?
A good workout, followed by a quick breakfast.
Prioritise my incoming messages.
Daily meet-up with my Head of Operations to discuss high-level matters/issues.
Deep-dive team meetings with units/departments on work progress, issues, and problem-solving.
On-going discussions & troubleshooting with back-end platform developers.
Report updates and syncing up with investors and potential venture capitalists.
Watch documentaries to learn new things as a form of unwinding
Counting sheep in bed till I doze off!
…and the cycle continues!
2. What motivates you?
Learning new things and coming up with creative (and sometimes crazy) ways to solve them…a start-up platform like this requires me to think outside the box for solutions. You won’t succeed if you keep colouring within the box…the answers may not be there if you do.
3. How do you generate new ideas?
Honestly, I prefer to brainstorm ideas with my team, you can’t work this in isolation especially when developing a social e-commerce platform. Every view and discourse should be accounted for, it’s only then the best ideas tend to trickle out. Of course, sleeping on it helps when it comes to a gridlock; sometimes you need to take a step back and let the problem sink in and allow solutions to present themselves.
4. Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Yes and no; while there are many successful business strategies and models you can emulate, at the end of the day you must assess this accordingly and apply it in context to the type of business, locality, culture, and even the business objective in the first place. One size doesn’t fit all, and I don’t advocate this to ensure we remain true and relevant in our business.
5. What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I feel there are three things to this:
-Autonomy: to have control of running the business and setting the goals and own progress on how I see fit.
-Purpose: to have a clear vision of what I want to accomplish and working tirelessly to make that happen.
-Legacy: the desire to create an impact and to look back that I was able to help improve people’s lives and their brand in some tangible way.
6. What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
For Poptron, I think is seeing how the entire team is working together to inspire meaningful lifestyles so that we all can amplify positive impact with our brands and to our stakeholders.
Ok, Brian. Now please share your tips and advice for all the aspiring entrepreneurs out there!
1. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Be Tenacious: having grit is made up of persistence, passion, and resilience…never-give-up in what you do.
Ability to Listen: opinions of employees and customers is integral to the success of growing any business.
Taking Risk: you must get comfortable being uncomfortable, growing a start-up means making hard decisions. It’s not always going to be roses and unicorns.
2. What entrepreneurial tricks have you discovered to keep you focused and productive in your day-to-day busy schedule?
Start the Morning on YOU First: a nice cup of coffee & breakfast, meditate and work out; your ability to help others depends on your well-being.
Create a System: plan and manage your day so that you don’t get distracted from accomplishing more important goals throughout the day.
Cut your To-Do-List by Half: take a less-is-more approach, you don’t need to squeeze everything in the eight hours.
3. What key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs invest their time in?
Read Up: It’s important to keep yourself informed and abreast on important & relevant topics so that you remain relevant.
Find a Mentor: some people have already gone through what you are going through. Use their experience and advice to better your journey.
Eat Healthily: You must remain productive and alert all day long so making sure having a well-balanced meal is crucial to fuel the body and mind
4. Please share your top 4 tips on how to Work From Home successfully/productively?
Get Dressed (appropriately): self-appearance & confidence matter, plus you still need to do a lot of video meetings.
Designate & Define your Workspace and Working Hours: the lines get blurred so established boundaries.
Don’t Forget to Socialise: pick up the phone and check in with friends (non-business), it’s hard enough isolating alone within four walls.
Take Breaks, Recharge & Sanity Check: you can easily get carried away with work at the comfort of home too!
Now the fun the questions!
1. Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My father who passed away almost two years ago has been my greatest inspiration growing up and for shaping who I am today. It was extremely traumatic at the time too with the looming pandemic and starting up a new business; so I’m grateful to be as grounded and tenacious as he was in his lifetime.
2. What business-related book has inspired you the most? (or, What is your favourite book?)
“Principles” by Ray Dalio – it’s a book on fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behaviour that gets you what you want out of life.
3. If you had a magic stick, which are the three things you would change in the world?
COVID begone: need I say more!
Global Climate Change: our planet is dying and more often we tend to turn a blind eye to address these problems. We need to do our part; however small it may seem.
World Peace: Every war, regardless of past or present, is a civil war waged by humanity, against itself. In the end, humanity loses.
4. If you were to write a book about yourself, how would you name it?
“Calm As F*CK” - By Brian Johnson Lowe
Thanks for spending the time to answer my interview questions, Brian!
More information about Poptron.co:
Poptron Malaysia Sdn Bhd [“Poptron”] was launched in September 2020 with a mission of fostering a community that loves and appreciates emerging brands, beautiful products, and the wonderful creators behind them. By connecting lifestyle microbrands and content to a like-minded global audience, Poptron empowers passionate brands to make a difference every day with their amazing products. Poptron is headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.