“Words of Wisdom with Randy Nicolau, Co-founder & CEO of Poppin”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Randy Nicolau, Co-founder & CEO of Poppin — the one-stop-shop for creating inspiring workspaces.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
“I was an “entrepreneur” from a young age. Growing up I was that kid selling bubblegum to his classmates, and started my first successful business — a painting company — while I was an undergrad at Harvard. Since then, the majority of my career has been building advertising technology companies. I founded Demdex in 2008 as the first-ever online Data Management Platform (DMP), which was acquired by Adobe, and prior to that served as the CEO of AzoogleAds (now Epic Advertising) as well as the President of Playboy.com. In early 2012, I acquired an ownership interest in Poppin — a New York-based office design and solutions company — and assumed the role of Chairman and CEO. Since joining, we’ve accelerated growth by 75% and expanded the team from 8 people to over 100 employees.”
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
“Poppin’s company slogan is “work happy” so we take culture seriously. In July, we hosted a fiesta-style summer party and randomly chose names out of a hat to hit the pinata. Employee after employee tried to break the pinata to no avail. Finally our VP of Product Design was selected, blindfolded, and within one swing cracked the entire thing open. Everyone’s jaw was on the floor. Of course he had an advantage — it took him 30 seconds to study the pinata to determine the weakest point to strike. It was an movie moment.”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
“We have a unique, omnichannel business in that our customers range from high-growth companies to architects and designers to college students. People turn to us for a variety of products, but we’re not just a furniture company nor just an office supply company. What sets us apart is that we’ve had the courage to design a family of products that are cohesive, modular, and can be mixed and matched. It’s hard to believe that a paperclip can match a task chair but we’ve applied a common design aesthetic across the entire office vertical — something no other office brand has done in the same way we have.”
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
“We’re headquartered in NYC but expanded to the West Coast over the last year, launching showrooms in SF and LA. Poppin has always served the entire country but we decided to take a regional approach to create physical presences in hot markets. You’ll continue to see us crop up in cities across the U.S.”
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
“If there’s a big age gap between leadership and your managers, you’ll have to get out of your comfort zone and learn to trust your employees — even if they’re style or approach is different from yours. For us, both our customers and employees are largely millennial so we’ve looked inward to help develop a voice that will resonate with our clients.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
“As an entrepreneur, there have been times in my career where I’ve felt stifled in executive roles where I wasn’t building something new. A Board member recognized the internal dilemma I was facing, and encouraged me to be patient and finish what I had to accomplish before moving onto the next thing. It’s an important lesson for anyone who considers themselves a “serial entrepreneur” — we’re always hungry for the next thing but timing is everything.”
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
“We’d like to think we’re bringing goodness to the world through our products, which help both companies and students work happier. Poppin has donated millions of dollars of products and services to organization ranging from the NYC Public Schools, Materials for the Arts, Pencils for Promise, and more. We’re about to host a volunteer day with PS 135 in Queens Village, a public school that has an incredible story.”
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why.
- Compensation is no substitute for passion. Just because you pay someone well, doesn’t mean they’ll be invested in the company’s success.
- The best way to navigate those “oh $^*t” moments is to be true to yourself and follow your instincts.
- Your most seemingly insignificant action is amplified a thousand fold as you go down the organization. Words matter, whether it’s a negative or positive comment. Compliments do make a difference, too.
- Don’t assume that because you’ve scaled a business, everyone knows how to scale a business.
- Drink lots of coffee, there will be a lot of sleepless nights.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Do what you love, and the money will follow. Strive for perfection, because if you don’t achieve it, you’ll at least have excellence. “
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