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Every Solution This Founder Created Led Her to a Bigger (More Impactful) Problem to Solve PopCom founder and CEO Dawn Dickson started out selling shoes to women, and ended up making over the vending machine industry with smart technology.

By Stephanie Schomer

This story appears in the March 2021 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Courtesy of Jehan LLC

Where do great business ideas come from? Sometimes, out of previous business ideas. That's what happened to Dawn Dickson, who went from selling shoes to reinventing the vending machine. It began in 2011 when she launched Flat Out of Heels, roll-up ballet flats that women can carry as a backup to less comfortable footwear. She tried to sell them in vending machines (to help women who wanted to ditch their heels), but traditional machines didn't gather data. "I wanted to know my conversion rate, and who was shopping," she says. So she developed PopCom, software that uses facial recognition and AI so existing kiosks and vending machines can capture shopper data and analytics. Then she realized the hardware could be improved upon — and launched a new kind of machine called a PopShop in 2020, just as demand for socially distant shopping was soaring. Here's how she did it.

Related: 4 Tips for Starting a Business in an Economic Downturn

Step 1: Choose how to build.

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