Former chemistry teacher and engineer turned entrepreneur Brian Smith launched Popagami back in 2012 following the death of his father.
Having taught in several schools across the globe and studying business in his spare time, he knew he wanted to fulfil his lifelong dream of becoming an entrepreneur and moved back to the UK.
“After the death of my father from parkinsonism, and knowing he had several incomplete life goals, I decided I didn't want to let the same happen to me,” Smith told BQ.
“Popagami was initially a book series I was writing, but with the extremely low chance for a new author to get an agent and publisher, I decided to start a business and brand to make bespoke designs and books for clients.”
Brian started selling the books from a pop-up market stall in Horsham but was determined to scale and grow the business which he knew had huge potential.
This led to him applying for Dragon’s Den, and despite walking away empty handed with no investment, he wasn’t disheartened.
“It was very tongue-in-cheek. I just saw an ad and in a few minutes sent it off and completely forgot about it. It was quite a shock when I was asked to come to the BBC Centre for an audition.
“At that time I was also a supporting actor (to earn extra cash to support my business development) and had just come off the set of The Iron Lady and scenes with Meryl Streep.
“A few weeks after the audition I was doing my first business pitch ever to the Dragons. I learned that you can never be under prepared to pitch your business and getting seen does pay!”
His determination to make his dream a reality paid off, and four years down the line, the company has now sold thousands of its books via its website and stockists such as Waterstones and Amazon.
And it doesn’t stop there. Brian is now exploring opportunities to begin exporting overseas in a bid to take the Popagami craze into new markets.
“We are looking to trade with countries including Ireland, France and the Netherlands, where we have already established good connections and customer base,” he added.
“Since my pitch to BBC2s’ Dragons’ Den, trading globally is a key performance indictor in the growing ecommerce market.
“There is fantastic small business support in the UK for developing a vibrant export trade, and a wealth of opportunities for us grows weekly.”
He added: “In three years time, through licensing and bespoke designs, I can see Popagami being used by quite a number of top international companies, many of whom I’m already connected and talking to.
“The goal is to see Popagami sold globally through co-branding licensing agreements.”