Interview: Dennis Pang (CEO and Co-founder of Popcorn, Motive8 Media & Raffinato)

Reaching out across the Pacific pond to Vancouver, I recently got in touch with my former boss and good friend, Dennis Pang to drop some knowledge on Vancouver’s digital and startup environment, influencer marketing, travelling and Instagram food pics. If you’re from Vancouver, you’ve probably met him before, your close friend knows him or you’ve subconsciously seen his face before and can’t put a finger on it… well, he was featured in a BC Dairy milk ad campaign running across Vancouver… yes, random… the power of social!

When people say they are “social media gurus” or have a “rise and grind” mentality, I always use Dennis as the benchmark. Back in the day, I worked for one of his companies, Motive8 Media, doing digital accounts work. Being pretty much a startup, it was sometimes long hours, but I never caught Dennis sleeping. I could text him at 4AM on a Tuesday with work questions and he’d insta-reply. He’s a passionate serial entrepreneur, having started three, very distinct companies, Popcorn Media, a social media agency, Motive8 Media, a digital marketing agency focusing on non-profit and Raffinato, a bespoke suit company. Gotta respect the hustle. His knowledge of social media ensures he’s somehow online around the clock – seriously, how?

Dennis takes the little time he has left to give back to the city of Vancouver, and sits on the board of the Capilano University Alumni Association to help develop strategies that promote and advance engagement between the university and its alumni. He was nominated for a BC Business “Top 40 Under 40” Award, and in 2013, he was a recipient of a Capilano U Alumni One to Watch Award. Dennis also mentors new entrepreneurs through YMCA’s Youth Mean Business program. 

Dennis, having started Popcorn, Motive8 Media and Raffinato…I’m sure there are other companies and ideas in the works, each idea has been distinct yet viable. How do you know when you need to pursue an idea, and for you, what signs (perhaps even a mental checklist) do you look for that a company or idea may not be viable?

There are a few tests that an idea needs to be pass before I consider it to be viable as a possible new business:

1) Is the product or service addressing a need in the market?
2) Is there a market for the product or service? If so, how large is that market? Is it scalable?
3) Is there a distinct and strong competitive advantage? How easy is it to duplicate the idea?
4) And most importantly, is it something that I’m passionate enough about that I’ll invest my time, money, and energy into it?
If I answer ‘Yes’ to those 4 questions, then it’s definitely an idea worth pursuing. While qualifying the actual business idea is important, I believe that having passion for the idea is equally, if not even more important. Ideas are simply just ideas, and it takes passion and an ability to execute to see ideas materialize into actual viable businesses.
We know the Vancouver start-up scene is growing, but do you feel there is any advantage to starting a company in Vancouver as opposed to other parts of Canada, like Toronto?
Vancouver is a unique city because it’s a cultural and economic melting pot. In a lot of ways, it’s a smaller version of San Francisco, making it a great market to validate and test business ideas. There is tremendous talent to be found in the city, and there is a strong culture of entrepreneurship. Throw in co-working spaces, start-up conferences, and incubators, and you have a recipe for a thriving start-up city. But for all that it is, you can say that the expensive cost of living and lack of VC money is what turns many people away from Vancouver as well.
You’re probably the most digitally “social” person I’ve met, and have a knack for connecting with others and sharing content that resonates with many others. You’re even been approached by many brands to act as an advocate. How does the process work when working with brands as a social media person / blogger and not as traditional media? Are there contracts involved or is it a very organic process? Do you feel it’s a very effective brand strategy that all brands should look into?
Influencer marketing has really exploded in the past few years. These days, basically anybody with a decent sized following on social media and/or a blog can be considered an influencer. I’ve worked with hundreds of brands over the past few years since becoming a blogger, and the nature of these engagements can vary quite a bit. The brands that do it well seek to build long-term relationships with the influencers, because they realize the value of having brand ambassadors on their side. The brands that don’t really do it well treat it like they’re doing you a favour by inviting you to an event, so you can spend half your weekend writing a blog post and editing photos, really in exchange for nothing. 90% of the time, there are no contracts involved, and I find that the bigger the company, the more money (and often processes) are involved. At the end of the day, influencer marketing is very effective, but it may not be right for every company. Like any marketing campaign, they need to tie into the organization’s overall business and marketing goals in order to be effective.
You’re also quite the traveler! What has been your favourite place to visit in the world and why?
One of my favourite cities is Singapore. I really enjoy the culture, shopping, and nightlife. But most importantly, the food is amazing.
I consider you to be a guru of food, and am often surprised you’re not over 300 pounds. I feel like I gain weight just by looking at your Instagram account. What are 3 restaurants that people really need to try in Vancouver right now and why?
PiDGiN – Their dishes are original and they’re one of the best cocktail bars in the city.
Kishimoto – Average priced sushi, above average taste, spectactular presentation.
Ramen Butcher – Their ramen and gyoza game is on point.
What inspires you in business and in life? 
To I live a life of enjoyment. To be proud of the work that I do. To be proud of the company that I keep. To be proud of the way I choose to spend my time. To live every day like it’s your last. YOLO!
What’s next for Dennis Pang? What goals are you reaching for in these upcoming years?

Popcorn is eyeing an expansion to Toronto within this next year, and Motive8 Media is starting to carve out a niche within the non-profit sector. I’m also about to become a dad as well, so I’m looking forward to becoming more of a family man [Alex: congrats!]. 5 years is an eternity in entrepreneur years. I’ve only been self-employed for 5 years, and seeing how far I’ve come since then, I can’t even imagine what the future holds in store for me.

Follow Dennis here! (you wont regret it):

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