Creating Harmony Between Entrepreneurship and Technology
Stevens School of Business provided Bohan “Bruce” Zhang ’14 the “keys” to success.
The only thing brighter than the keys on the PopuPiano is the light in its creator’s eyes when he talks about it.
Bohan “Bruce” Zhang graduated from the Stevens School of Business with his bachelor’s degree in business and technology in 2014 and has made it his life’s work to not only meld those two ambitions but also create a business that makes a third passion, creating music, more accessible.
He founded PopuMusic in 2015 and has developed three hardware products—the Poputar, Populele and PopuPiano— and the accompanying app that connects to the devices via Bluetooth. The system provides visual cues and feedback to teach users how to play the instruments and incorporates AI to help build songs from selected notes.
“If you are learning music in a traditional way, it takes a lot of time and money to acquire the first set of skills,” he explained. “Almost everybody wants music in their lives, but it can be hard to learn. Why not find a better way for everyone? With PopuMusic, you can pick up skills quickly and in a fun way.”
Starting the company in his native China, Bruce and his team have generated more than $30 million in revenue and delivered more than 400,000 products. Their products have earned accolades from the International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA), including Gold in 2017 and Silver in 2023. PopuMusic products have been collected by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The company has also been a formidable digital presence, racking up hundreds of millions of hits on Chinese TikTok and YouTube.
Not only is he the driving force behind the product’s development, but he’s also proof of its effectiveness. He learned to play while developing PopuPiano and can now sit down at a traditional keyboard without missing a beat.
“We really help a lot of beginners fall in love with music and play their first song using our products,” he said. “That's what I'm proud of.”
A long-time fan of the Irish band Westlife, his love of music went from listening to playing during his time at Stevens when he first picked up a guitar.
“Music is something very global,” explained. “It's not a barrier to our language, and as long as you know how to play music, you can be friends with anybody else around the globe.”
Another lifelong lesson he has taken from Hoboken is how to use what is going on in the world to think creatively and make better decisions.
“My favorite professor was George Calhoun because in his class, we never used a textbook,” he said. “He only used the Wall Street Journal as material for us to learn what's happening in the real business world because a lot of the information in the textbooks is outdated. You need to know what's happening in the real world. That is something I learned from his class that I still teach my colleagues. Don't always refer to something old or something in your comfort zone. You can always try to find new things to learn from.”
As Bruce works tirelessly to take PopuMusic global, he is energized by the fact he’s doing more than just a job.
“Not all of the answers we get from our parents or society are really good answers,” he said. “I would tell all Stevens students to find what you're good at and apply that to what you love because that is your passion,” he said. “If you can do that, your battery will always be fully charged no matter what happens.”