Bohan Zhang tells us how to take the fast lane to music mastery with PopuPiano.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded PopuPiano.
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.
Then PopuMusic invented Populele smart ukulele, PopuPiano smart keyboard, and PopuMusic APP, and always searching for the ideal product design that helps you pick up music skills in hours, with joy and pride.
I also was awarded in 2017 Forbes Asia 30U30 after building the company.
Do you have small habits that made a meaningful impact on your life and business?
Bohan Zhang: As a company in the music industry, you have a great environment that keeps you out of stress and anxiety.
My small habits are playing the different guitars, ukuleles, and pianos in my office.
Meanwhile, you can also come out with many interesting business ideas and thoughts.
Poputar’s plan was born under this kind of atmosphere.
How does PopuPiano market its product/services online?
Bohan Zhang: In the international market, we use 3 methods to do the marketing.
1. We do regular posts through our own social media to the audience who knows us and our fans;
2. We also publish advertising posts to the people who don’t recognize us have an interest in music;
3. We work with some KOL and PR, share samples or information about the product and company, and publish reviews or reports to their audience.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to manage your online marketing?
Bohan Zhang: All the social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, Tiktok…
And FB ads, Google ads, Tiktok ads.
They provide valuable and detailed tools to manage the posts, data, and analysis.
We also hold a weekly meeting to review the previous week and plan for next week. It is related to keeping the current audience, growth, or being more creative in content.
What is your hiring policy/process, and how do you retain your employees?
Bohan Zhang: The hiring process will be the same as a standard company, but the candidates have to believe playing an instrument is not the privilege of a minority.
And agree that with gamification user experience, we are dedicated to making learning instruments fun and easy.
Our employees not only work for a living on a daily basis but also try to reach the goal of fulfilling their or others’ music desire.
Their interest is also their motivation to work in PopuMusic. So we don’t have to do something else to retain our employees.
How are you funding your growth?
Bohan Zhang: Since the company was founded, with the first Poputar prototype and a complete business plan, I successfully brought the millions of CNY investment led by Zhen Fund (A famous venture capital institution in China) in angel round in 2015.
Then in 2017, after the great success of Populele U1 in crowdfunding, we got an A round investment by Xiaomi and Shunwei Capital valued at 10M CNY.
We finished upgrading our application from Populele (which only supports ukulele and stand-alone games) to Music Couple (you can play both ukulele and guitar with it, more social here) in 2018.
This improvement matures our business model. Finally, we got an A+ round investment led by Forrest Gump Capital in 2019.
After that, COVID came, our growth slowed down, and there was no new or suitable investment.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Bohan Zhang: We have 2 competitors in China in Guitar & Ukulele, Enya Music, and Lava Music; both make guitars and ukuleles.
In the international market, Luminary, the designer of Lumi Keys, is a strong opponent of PopuPiano. We also have Yousician (a famous music App) and Fretlight (a similar light-up system).
In order to be competitive, we build our own supply chain, software, and hardware team to control the cost and quality and allow consumers to afford our product cost-effectively. We also focus on a better user experience, and our clients can easily get started.
Tell us a customer success story of yours.
Bohan Zhang: Many beginners have the same doubt: “It is the first time for me to learn a musical instrument, I don’t have any basic music skills before. Can i really master the ukulele through Populele with PopuMusic?”
The ukulele learning journey of Lemon tells us the answer. She plays two hours per day, follow it with Populele and PopuMusic App, you can also play ukulele like a pro.
Day 1: She knew the holding position and learned how to tune 2 basic chords C and F;
Day 2: She practiced a little more and already can strum the ukulele with her right hand;
Day 3: She can already play a simple melody of “Faded”;
Day 4: She learned two new chords Am and G, and practiced the song “I’m Yours” her fingers were more flexible;
Day 5: The tutorial showed her 8th note strumming and picking patterns. She still needed some practice playing “Yellow” and “Let It Be”;
Day 6: She did more practice with the 8th note and attempted to learn a higher position scale;
Day 7: Dm and Em chords seemed easier for her, and she had no problem playing the song “Alone”;
Day 8: PopuMusic led her to practice folk-rock strumming;
Day 9: While she was reviewing all the knowledge and skills so far, she also got to know syncopation patterns and double notes scale;
Day 10: She can already perform simple songs she likes in front of her friends and families.
Your final thoughts?
Bohan Zhang: You might imagine we are a team of programmers, engineers, or music terrorists. Unfortunately, that is not who we are. We are just ordinary people like you; our biggest similarity is that we all love life. We firmly believe that life will be a little more awesome with some music and a lot more awesome if anyone can make the music. To turn this goal a reality, we work hard to bring Poputar, Populele, PopuPiano, and PopuMusic APP to the world, and we hope you can find the surprise, joy, and comfort of music in these beautiful products.