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Meet Dawn Dickson of PopCom in Brickell Key

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dawn Dickson.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Dawn. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
In 2011, I started a company called Flat Out of Heels with the idea of selling emergency flat shoes for women to rescue their feet after wearing painful heels for hours. Studies show a woman can last an average of 3 hours in heels and I wanted to create a solution for her to get relief when those heels expired, I decided selling flats in vending machines was the best way to solve the pain point wherever she was.

I thought it would be easy to find a vending manufacturer that could develop a machine for me to sell my small shoe boxes, I never imagined the challenges that I would face. After an exhausting search I was not able to find a company in the United States that would work with me, a small start-up with little money who wanted to make 5 machines to sell an unknown product. Not one to be easily discouraged, I went online found a company on Alibaba that said they could take a cigarette machine and retrofit it to dispense my boxes.

After 8 months, and over $15,000 in production and design costs the machines arrived in Miami, Florida and did not work. The machines looked great but did not accept payments, they did not dispense a product, all they did was light up. That was one of the most devastating days of my life. Determined to see my vision to fruition, I decided to start my own company, Solutions Vending International and find a team who can help me build custom machines to sell shoes. I went online to LinkedIn and did a search of hardware designers, I found an award winning hardware designer who had created custom vending machines for companies like Pringles and Rollasole (a UK competitor). He believed in the vision and agreed to join the team.

After 6 months, we had developed an amazing machine that worked! It sold shoes and accepted credit cards and looked great. It was not difficult to get placement for these machines, my first location was Atlanta airport in concourse E, followed by Club LIV (Miami), MGM Grand (Las Vegas), Bayside Marketplace (Miami), and several pop up locations. I had solved my problem but then another issue arose… I had no idea who my customers were and no way to interact and engage with them during or after the point of sale. My vending machine sold shoes every day but I had no customer data. I wanted to receive comprehensive sales reports about my vending sales the way that I do from Shopify and Google Analytics for my ecommerce store.

I searched once again and was unable to find a company that provided a solution. So, being the true problem solving entrepreneur that I am, I decided to pivot my company to software, change the name to PopCom to broaden the scope of the companies we can work with, and change the focus from hardware to SaaS for vending machines and digital kiosks in order to solve the data problem that I was facing. My idea was to utilize facial recognition at the point of sale on the machines to identify demographic traffic patterns in the venue, count the passing traffic in order to calculate sales conversions, and provide emotion and engagement data for operators and brands to better understand how people are interacting with vending machines. This data would be analyzed again point of sale data and credit card transactions to generate comprehensive sales reports with complete customer profiles. Our intellectual property lies in how we use the facial recognition data that we collect.

The first thing I did was validate my concept by interviewing 50 owners of brands and vending machines to see if they would be interested in my technology, 35 said yes. That was enough information for me to proceed with developing the business model and building a team. I applied for and was engaged with Rev1 Ventures in Columbus, Ohio. Part accelerator/part fund, Rev1 provides capital and resources to entrepreneurs. I moved from Los Angeles to Columbus, Ohio to work with their team of advisors and they helped me develop the concept, financial model, and build the team I need to make my vision a reality. In mid-2016, I stepped down from my role as CEO of Flat Out of Heels to focus on SVI and hired a team to manage that company. In 2017, PopCom went through the Techstars accelerator program in LA, raised capital to build the product and the team, and we are launching the first version of the PopCom white label solution and the PopShop Kiosk – a digital pop-up shop, this year (2018).

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I mentioned the struggles in my previous response – finding a manufacturer was a struggle, collecting customer data was a struggle, raising capital for hardware and IoT from investors who know very little about the space has been a struggle. Also, we struggled to recruit quality team members was also a struggle but we overcame all of the issues that we faced.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the PopCom story. Tell us more about the business.
PopCom is an automated retail technology company, we have a developed a SaaS product for vending machines and digital kiosks to collect customer data at the point of sale. We use facial recognition to collect anonymous customer information including age, gender, emotion, engagement and calculate conversion rates; we use machine learning to deliver targeted content and advertising to the consumer based on their demographic and shopping profile; and we use blockchain technology to sell regulated products in machines using a biometric hash to verify identity. Our software is powering the future of retail as the first CRM for unattended retail.

I am proud of our team – we have an amazing group of people with diverse talents and backgrounds.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I don’t believe in luck, it takes hard work, consistency, and patience to achieve things. Even situations that appear to be ‘luck’ are just a result of the work that was done that attracted the desired results or outcomes.

Pricing:

  • software starts at $300 a month per machine (similar to popular ecommerce shopping carts)
  • consulting for $145 an hour available to help with machine strategy and placement

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageMIA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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