Stevens Institute Alum Startup Revolutionizes Learning Music

Stevens Institute Alum Startup

Poputar, a new mobile music app developed by Stevens Institute of Technology alum and one of Forbes‘ “30 Under 30 in Asian Consumer Tech” Brian Zhang (’14), aims to “revolutionize how musical instruments are mastered.”

Zhang (Zhang Bohan), a musician and programmer, explains how guitars were once widely considered status symbols. Speaking with the school, he says, “In the ’70s and ’80s, guitar was maybe the best thing in the world but now more people are playing games on their phones—they quit practicing the guitar because it’s hard to learn. When you get that guitar, you don’t know where to start. There’s no screen, no instruction, no anything.”

The impetus behind Poputar is an attempt to bring together Zhang’s disparate loves of music, technology and education. Poputar (“popular” combined with “guitar”) takes the Guitar Hero model and helps users actually learn to play the instrument.

The mobile app comes with a jet-black acoustic guitar “outfitted with a grid of yellow LED lights built into the fretboard, giving players visual cues to guide their fingerpicking.”

“Seventy percent of knowledge comes from what you see. Learning music is hard, because you can’t see it. That’s where this idea came from—and I believe technology is going to help more people learn skills by visualization.”

Zhang, 2014 Stevens Institute alum and founder of Poputar.

Dr. Gregory Prastacos, Dean of the School of Business, believes Zhang is emblematic of how Stevens students “approach business problems from the mindset of entrepreneurs.”

According to the school, Zhang eschewed opportunities in data and finance to launch Poputar in 2015, which “now employs 50 in Asia in addition to a small North American team,” he explains, “It was hard to say no to those offers, but I really saw an opportunity to create a business around my passion for music. The most valuable thing I got from my classes is to have a direct sense of the business world, instead of just general knowledge.”

Zhang’s goals are to “get early-stage capital to allow its United States-based team to move forward, while also taking a first step toward product globalization.” He already has plans underway for the Populele (with a ukulele), which racked up over $350,000 “in sales within 12 hours of its launch in February.”

Zhang hopes to “continue to focus on the design of smart instruments that guide more people all over the globe to pick up basic musical skills in a far more effective way.”

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