Serial entrepreneur Dawn Dickson has started ten companies, all of them aligned with various aspects of her life, including yoga, healthy eating, RVs, and coaching. “All of my companies came from me finding a problem that I experienced and that I wanted to solve,” says Dickson, the founder of PopCom. Most recently, it was aching feet that inspired the venture that would pave the way for Dickson to become the first Black female founder to raise more than $1 million through a secure token offering.
Several years ago, Dickson started Flat Out of Heels, a line of women’s ballet flats that could be rolled or folded and tucked into a purse. While there are similar products on the market, Dickson’s value proposition is that her shoes are washable, have an affordable price tag ($30), and have a unique delivery method — vending machines. Her thesis: there’s only so much foot pain a woman can bear when she’s wearing heels in an airport, at a nightclub, or at a conference. A pair of flats that pops out of a strategically-placed vending machine provides instant relief.
It was a great idea, but there was just one problem: Dickson couldn’t find a company to build the machines that would sell her shoes. So she decided to start a second company to build the Flat Out Heels vending machine herself. She landed placement at the Atlanta airport, several clubs in Miami, and at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas. “I was able to get those first venues really easily,” Dickson recalls. “They thought it was a cool idea.” But she found it difficult to scale the company with her limited access to capital. An appearance on Marcus Lemonis’s show, The Prophet, garnered interest in her company and she received several hundred emails from people asking her to either sell them a machine or to sell their products in the vending machines.
Dickson raised her first million dollars as a participant in Tech Stars in 2017, and in 2019 she became the first Black woman to raise over $1 million in capital through a secure token offering (STO) equity crowdfunding raise. To date, she’s raised a total of $7 million. She’s used that money to further develop her technology. “I had to invent a machine that was scalable,” Dickson says, “because the machine that was selling my shoes, even though it was doing the job, was very hacked. I had to build a product that I could stand behind.”
"It’s great for me to be around more people who are thought leaders in the space so that I can continue to sharpen my knowledge and share what I have."
Finally, in January 2020, Dickson was awarded a patent. Her machines were able to sell multiple products, and she was ready to demo her PopShop kiosk at major trade shows such as NRF and CES. And this is no ordinary vending machine. It contains facial recognition software and uses blockchain technology to provide real-time insights on customers, capture traffic patterns, calculate conversion rates, and deliver targeted advertising. “We really consider ourselves to be a retail data analytics company,” says Dickson. “The foundation of our business is collecting valuable data from vending machines and kiosks that pretty much mirror the data that retailers get in an E-commerce environment from Google Analytics or their Shopify dashboard.”
But just as Dickson was ready to take the retail world by storm, the world shut down. “At first, we were selling vending machines to retailers and we had ten companies with deposits paid,” says Dickson. “But when COVID hit, $20,000 for a vending machine may not have been at the top of their list when they were trying to keep their doors open.”
So in true entrepreneurial spirit, she pivoted. She came up with a new business model and now leases the machines to retailers, collecting monthly fees for the hardware and data collection. “It actually is a way better business model and is better received,” Dickson. “And I feel that it was a great thing for us because we never would have thought of this if not for COVID.” PopShop vending machines contain smaller, local brands, placing them in high traffic venues such as airports, hotels, college campuses — locations that would normally be prohibitively expensive. Dickson will also use blockchain technology for identity management as she expands to include alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis in the machines.
To celebrate the ten year anniversary of her journey, Dickson recently launched a customized pair of shoes that comes with an NFT, a physical piece of art, a 10% discount for life and an invitation to an event at Art Basel in Miami. “ I really am working now to merge fashion and art with NFTs and bring more real world things and applications into the digital side of things,” she says.
Connecting with other Cointelegraph Innovation Circle members helps Dickson keep up with all things Web3 and blockchain ecommerce. “It’s great for me to be around more people who are thought leaders in the space so that I can continue to sharpen my knowledge and share what I have,” she says. “I’m a CEO but I still need community. I felt that [Cointelegraph Innovation Circle] would be a good opportunity for me to engage.”