Layoffs, wage cuts, and general boredom have turned many Malaysians into entrepreneurs selling handcrafted and homemade products on Instagram, Shopee, Kravve, and other platforms.

At the end of the consumer, we are spoiled for choice. If I wanted dainty earrings, I have Cindertoella or Pebbles + Herbs to choose from. There are over a dozen brands of indoor plants that need to be singled out.

This boom, in turn, has spawned online marketplaces to help inexperienced sellers attract customers and improve their findability online.

One of them is Poptron, a portmanteau of the words POP-ups, TRust and ONline, which also paints the stories of sellers behind their products on its platform. This is supposed to make the experience of browsing a bazaar and interacting with the sellers behind the booths imitate – an experience interrupted by the lockdown.

And all thanks to a pair of leather shoes.

You were his glass shoe

The Standard Public Bazaar experience / Photo credit: Vulcan Post

It all started when founder Brian Lowe came across a pair of leather shoes at a pop-up bazaar in Publika, KL in 2019. “I remembered vividly that it was one of the best Italian-style shoes I have ever seen with truly impeccable looks and craftsmanship and detailing,” Brian told Vulcan Post.

The humble seller was also the owner and shoemaker behind the brand, and he carefully explained to Brian his creation in detail, the manufacturing process, the types of leather used, etc.

Brian recalled, “It was heartwarming to hear his story and understand the real passion and pride that goes into what he created. I tried the shoes on with great anticipation, and as they say … it fit me like a glove! “

Brian was sold at RM499 but had a problem: he didn’t have enough cash and the seller didn’t offer cashless payment options either. This was a pre-pandemic and a time when retail sellers in bazaars were not equipped for such systems.

Brian decided to finally make the purchase through the seller’s website. When a few weeks had passed, he was hit by another problem that couldn’t remember the brand name. He searched high and low on social media and entered relevant keywords on Google in vain.

“This experience sparked the idea of ​​addressing a fundamental problem that small businesses can be present online today, but can prove difficult to find or control traffic on their own platform unless authorized by suggested a recognition algorithm or we already knew the brand name, ”said Brian, who launched the platform in September 2020.

Poptron lists a wide variety of lifestyle products.

Poptron solves this problem by listing micro-brands from Instagram that have either been discovered by the team or recommended by their partner sellers to ensure they share a like-minded person.

Customer acquisition is also secured, as the brand’s existing followers are also integrated into Poptron. This increases awareness of the Poptron website and opens up a new marketplace for customers with products and brands that they may be interested in.

According to Brian, this will lower the cost of a brand to purchase, which otherwise accounts for 40% of their revenue from serving social media ads, while increasing their business.

We grow together

While browsing, I noticed that a lot of the brands on Poptron were environmentally conscious and all of them were selling fairly high quality products. It was part of Brian’s goal to inspire a sustainable lifestyle that has a positive impact on society and future generations.

  • These bags from Sundari Gifts are woven from a vegetable fabric / Image Credit: Poptron
  • Cocova products are free from artificial flavors and preservatives / Photo credit: Poptron

While the platform emphasizes its support for micro-brands, Poptron won’t be kicking out brands that are getting bigger and no longer need them in the years to come.

This is because other microsellers would continue to benefit from traffic from a larger brand and each new product added to the site finds its own niche.

Sellers on Poptron are screened and must go through a verification process to ensure legitimacy and trustworthiness. Some of the basic criteria that sellers must meet are:

  • Have a Registered Business Unit and Instagram Business Profile;
  • Own products / brand;
  • Be ready for the market with a transparent return policy;
  • Shipping by courier and on-demand delivery.

The founder also admitted that there were times when salespeople, despite having a large following, were turned away because they were dropship or lack of a business unit.

A free market

Poptron’s team / Photo credit: Poptron

Currently, Poptron does not charge its partner brands any commission or transaction fees and only passes on fees incurred by payment processing and shipping partners.

The company is powered by the $ 1 million seed funding a few months ago and is pursuing further investments to expand the location regionally.

“Eventually, we will be introducing a competitively priced monthly subscription fee for sales on Poptron,” said Brian.

To date, Poptron is home to over 100 local brands with more than 1,400 different products. Brian plans to expand his presence to Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand over the next two years.

Prior to that, Brian also said that Poptron plans to capture $ 1.6 billion of micro-branding market share, with 600,000 micro-brands generating their global sales in 2025.

He’s bringing it back in the near future and wants to host a Poptron festival as soon as it’s safe to do so. This is to work with your user and dealer community in a festival setting that consists of music, visual arts, film, F&B, and of course, pop-up bazaars.

  • You can find out more about Poptron here.
  • More Malaysian startups that we’ve covered here can be found here.

Featured image source: Brian Lowe, founder of Poptron