Jonas Tempel and Brad Roulier want to make popcorn cool again.
The Denver entrepreneurs have spent 20 years working together in the nightlife and music industry but, at 52 and 48 years old and each with kids, the longtime friends decided to “pursue more G-rated ideas,” Tempel said.
This week the duo introduced their new popcorn brand Opopop with the launch of their first product, Flavor Wrapped Popcorn Kernels, which are pre-flavored microwavable popcorn kernels.
“The last known innovation within the popcorn industry was the air popper, which was introduced 40 years ago in 1979,” Tempel said. “We realized this is a sleepy category with 100-year-old brands just sitting in holding companies.”
He added, “There are some new companies chasing different health trends, like SkinnyPop, or introducing ready-to-eat-popcorn, and that’s interesting but it’s not innovative. We didn’t want to just make ad campaigns on bags. We believe popcorn should be eaten warm and fresh.”
Opopop’s Flavor Wrapped Popcorn Kernels come in six flavors, including classics like “Fancy Butter” or the more unique “Salted Umami” and “Vanilla Cake Pop.” On Opopop’s website, customers can purchase three family size bags for $45 or a “Discover Kit” for $40, which comes with a branded microwave popcorn bowl and six small pouches of each flavor.
The kernels are individually flavored using a “super-secret we’d-love-to-tell-you-but-then-we’d-have-to-kill-you, proprietary flavor delivery process,” Opopop’s website says.
Tempel said that the inspiration for the making of Flavor Wrapped Popcorn Kernels came from M&Ms, which, in the early stages, are “tumbled” in a coating pan, a machine that resembles a cement mixer, and rotated so every treat is exposed to the same amount of chocolate.
Tempel and Roulier first came up with the idea for Opopop in 2016 over a large bowl of popcorn. Tempel had made a nonchalant comment about the lack of innovation in the industry, and “it just kind of stuck,” he said.
The duo had met years ago while DJing and later in 2004 founded Beatport, which is essentially iTunes for DJs, before selling it to SFX in 2012. They also owned Beta Nightclub, which they sold last year, in downtown Denver.
In between the two ventures, Tempel was founding CEO at Beats Music, where he led the early development of what ultimately became Apple Music.
“We had a big ego reset coming out of the music industry as fairly well minted businesspeople,” Tempel said. “In the music industry it’s kind of who you know, so my pedigree was immediately established with my experiences at Beats by Dre, and I didn’t have to say anything else. But then I step into this world, and they’re like ‘Cool. What do you know about food?’”
After looking at some potential financial models for Opopop in 2017, the founders decided to take their idea a little more seriously.
They created a team including President Sarah McDowell, who had worked for General Mills; Alex McEvoy, who handles shipping and logistics and previously co-founded Wheat Ridge-based Deke Digital; and Chuck Lepley, chief marketing officer, who was previously Boulder-based Sphero’s director of marketing.
“Every job I’ve ever had, with the exception of one, I’ve been a CEO,” Tempel said. “So, I’m comfortable guiding businesses from idea to execution, and I love building good teams.”
Tempel and Roulier’s first idea for Opopop is still in the works. They plan to introduce the flagship product, which they would not disclose but described as a “popcorn machine,” in the next two years.
Flavor Wrapped Popcorn Kernels, which the machine needs to work, were born in the midst of the flagship product’s design process, Tempel said.
“When we were bringing investors in to show them our flagship idea, we would make them the popcorn to show the end result and how it would be a game changer,” Tempel said. “And the investors were saying, ‘Man this popcorn is so good, why don’t you just sell it?’ We had never originally wanted to sell the kernels. But the more people we met, the more they fell in love and we realized this was doable.”
Opopop closed on a $5 million funding round this month, bringing the company’s total raised to $12.03 million, according to SEC filings. The round was led by Chicago-based Valor Siren Ventures, which is backed by Starbucks, and included participation from other notable investors, such as Peter Rahal, founder of RXBAR protein bars and Litani Ventures; Grammy award-winning D; producer Tiësto; Academy Award-winning director Jimmy Chin; and Alex Bogusky’s firm Batshit Crazy Ventures.
The startup, which has a staff of 14, is using the funding to build out its 12,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at 2890 S. Vallejo St. in Englewood, which the founders leased in 2019. Opopop also plans to hire around 10 more people in the next year and invest more into research and development for new products, as well as marketing.
Opopop has received a trademark for its “Flavor Wrapped” product and filed for a patent this year. For now, the company plans to build the brand through direct-to-consumer sales only but its products will be sold in big retailers eventually, according to Tempel.
The startup has already shipped 1,500 units. It also plans to introduce another microwave popcorn product this year, a series of stovetop products next year, and eventually the flagship popcorn machine.
“For right now, we’re just shaking hands and kissing babies. But we hope to be able to make 1,000 orders a day by the end of the year,” Tempel said.
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