Conversation with Alex Kehr, CEO of Pop
Tell us a bit about how you got started working with Science.
The way I got to Science is somewhat peculiar. I built a website called GeofilterPlace one Friday evening. On GeofilterPlace, you could purchase Snapchat Geofilter graphic templates that I designed. I would manually edit the graphic and send it back to you. It was a super scrappy site built on WordPress with WooCommerce — but it worked. GeofilterPlace started making money a few hours after it launched.
Someone stumbled onto my site GeofilterPlace and submitted it to Product Hunt. Peter Pham saw GeofilterPlace on ProductHunt and reached out to me on Twitter. He told me that Science was looking for something in the space. Peter introduced me to Elle via email, who set a meeting up for me with Mike Jones.
I came in to meet with Mike with no knowledge of what Science was. My only real background on it was from a TechCrunch video I watched about it. Mike asked me about my background and, after 15 or so minutes, he said I should work on my project in Science. A week later, I was at Science as an entrepreneur-in-residence.
What are you trying to do with Pop? How has it evolved from when you got started? Walk us through the evolution of your products and the opportunities you see.
With Pop, I am trying to build an IP factory. I want to create the next big characters and intellectual property.
Pop has evolved a lot since it started as GeofilterPlace. I actually put GeofilterPlace on the backburner for about a month right after joining Science and started testing other ideas. However, someone with a massive Pinterest following ended up posting my wedding-themed Snapchat Geofilter templates. That’s really what helped me begin to build a business. I figured out how to automate things and build a Geofilter design/editing tool so I could be more hands-off. I rebranded the site as FilterPop (I remembered when I was nervous to buy the FilterPop.com URL from someone for $2,000, which is funny in hindsight). After a couple of months, FilterPop was selling about $80,000 in Geofilter graphics — and I was doing everything alone. That’s when Connor, who worked at Science, joined my company as a late co-founder. Right around when Connor joined is when we launched an iOS app for FilterPop.
After launching FilterPop, I felt like we could better monetize users. I thought the best product choice would be to introduce stickers, but with a twist. You could buy one sticker pack at a time or subscribe to unlock all sticker packs. This worked insanely well and is what allowed us to scale. The FilterPop app wouldn’t have worked without stickers.
Since stickers allowed us to scale, I ultimately realized that we should spin off the sticker product into a new app, which is how StickerPop came to life. The two reasons why I wanted to spin stickers into a new app were: (1) we were too dependent on Snapchat and it’s insanely risky to have 100% of your business be dependent on another company and (2) every time I sent someone a sticker via text, they’d always ask “how did you do that?”
There was just something more special about stickers than filters. I think this is likely because human nature is to communicate with pictures, rather than writing (e.g. think about caveman drawing pictures on walls) — but on a mobile phone you’re forced to communicate with text. Stickers allow you to do an action which is in human DNA, sharing stories with pictures, while texting.
Our company is about more than just text. The vision I have for our company is to become an IP factory — not simply a subscription or single purchase sticker app. I believe that stickers and messaging are the best way to build major IP, fast. If you send your friend a character, you just endorsed it and told your friend to value that character more. Asia has proved this model works and is a big deal. LINE Friends (the sticker characters in the chat app LINE) have TV shows, movies, music, hotels, theme parks, etc. I believe that it can be done here and we’re proving it. I also believe there’s a massive opportunity on the iMessage App Store. There’s a second App Store on every iPhone that is unconquered. There’s a huge opportunity to be the gigantic company born out of this unconquered platform and I believe a company the size of Facebook can be born by owning the iMessage keyboard.
You have a multi-product strategy. Can you share a little bit about each of the products and how they fit into the broader picture?
We have two products: FilterPop and StickerPop. StickerPop will have two primary pillars, with the second pillar just coming to life. Since FilterPop is on autopilot and not a major focus (but generates a lot of cash for our company) I’ll focus on StickerPop.
We have StickerPop and, under it, the StickerPop API. Both serve my long-term vision of building an IP factory. StickerPop lets you collect and discover characters that we, or artists who submit to our marketplace, design. We added collecting because it gives people a sense of ownership in our app and is a simple “single player mode”. You don’t need a friend to browse and collect stickers (there’s a rarity/limited edition system). The sense of ownership of rare stickers is especially important because it makes people more likely to value and share our characters. It’s a simple step to accelerate the growth of our own original intellectual property.
StickerPop API is about to start driving a ton of revenue, but that actually wasn’t the original intention. We built the StickerPop API so that other apps would have high quality sticker graphics that they could offer their users, while we also surface our original characters high up in search results to get them broader exposure. The StickerPop API was built to help us accelerate the growth of our original IP/characters.
I’ve also recently come to the realization that the StickerPop API is probably a bigger deal than I originally thought. I’ve started thinking a lot about if it’s possible to build a strong consumer business without a good B2B component — and I don’t know if it is. If you can have a strong consumer business with a good B2B component, you can build something huge.
All of our products fit together and tie back to our goal of building an IP factory. If we want to create the next big characters and intellectual property, we need broad distribution.
It is a common playbook for social and content products to focus on growth first and figure out revenue and profitability later. You have flipped that playbook. Can you share your thought process?
I’m not a fan of building products that don’t make money. I want to know if what I’m building has the ability to become a real business right away; since I don’t like wasting time. Having revenue also significantly de-risks our business. We can take bigger risks without having to be worried about going out of business. This should be good for both our investors and our employees. I believe our upside is bigger since we can afford to take bigger risks.
Does being in LA meaningfully shape how you grow your company?
I can’t imagine building our company anywhere else. Los Angeles is hands-down the best place to build a consumer-focused company since it’s the epicenter of global culture. LA is where trends are born since the entertainment industry pumps out imagery of what’s trending here around the world.
One additional advantage of being in LA is being able to watch Snap so closely. It is a really fascinating business and, like the route we’re taking, started as a utility that turned into a social app. While a lot of a people are bearish on Snap, I’m actually somewhat bullish and really want to see them succeed. I think that their Snap Originals are really important for their business. If just one of the Snap Originals blows up, it can be spun out into merchandise, movies, etc. I’ll be watching this really closely and love having a frontrow seat to this here in LA.
Where do you see Pop few years from now?
In a few years, I expect Pop to be turning our sticker characters, either created by us or our marketplace artists, into things like video games, TV shows, etc., while externally licensing our creations. Just one of our sticker characters has to gain traction to build something really special.
I also believe that messaging is a better way to create brands and intellectual property than, say, building a branded Instagram account. If you let your users share your brand with each other, you’re going to build something with loyal fans who learned about something from their friends. Messaging as a tactic to create IP is a big deal and it’s a trend that we’re focused on creating and capitalizing on.