In Conversation with Ali Kriegsman of Bulletin
Describe your business in a few words?
Bulletin helps brands build their retail empires. Our platform makes it super easy to launch a wholesale business – as a brand, you can get up and running and start connecting with store owners in a matter of days and begin selling in their retail locations. We host over 1,000 curated brands on our wholesale marketplace and connect them with over 5,000 retailers looking for new inventory for their own stores.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
My background is kind of all over the place! I consider myself a creative with sales, marketing + biz dev strengths. Prior to launching Bulletin as a side hustle, I was the #1 sales executive at a content marketing software company, and prior to that, I was on the Marketing Solutions team at Conde Nast corporate. I studied Modern Middle Eastern Studies, Creative Writing and Marketing in college, and after graduating, made a documentary about Israel education in Jewish day schools (I went to Jewish day school my whole life). I’m also a writer. I worked for my college magazine and did freelance writing prior to my sales executive gig!
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No. My mom is an entrepreneur and my parents ran their own small business growing up. It was a very feast or famine lifestyle and my mom had to seriously hustle to put food on our table and a roof over our head. I definitely craved stability and financial security – still do – so starting my own thing felt really anxiety-inducing and intimidating. Alana had the idea for Bulletin 1.0 and asked me to join her as “Editor-in-Chief” of what was then just a small online magazine about cool indie brands and their founders. It was a really slow drip into becoming a full-time entrepreneur – we ran Bulletin as a side hustle for over a year, and I was very skittish to jump from my full-time job into the unknown.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
When we first launched Bulletin, it was an online “magazine” (aka a Squarespace site, lol) where readers could learn about cool indie brands and shop their products throughout the story. We essentially emailed every human being we knew, every listserv we were on, every community we ever belonged to, and asked them to subscribe to our newsletter and shop our site. We also finagled relationships with a few people at Time Out NY, Refinery29 and Buzzfeed by sending thoughtful cold emails, and got a bit of press very early on – which helped. We were in a handful of gift guides and Buzzfeed put us on their social accounts – Facebook and IG – which gave us a huge customer spike that week! A while into running the digital magazine, we started doing pop-ups all around New York City to promote the online channel and let customers meet our brands IRL. We did one off Canal street with Susan Alexandra (our first ever!) , ran a series of markets in Bushwick at Lot45, and then opened our own pop up market, called Bulletin Market, in Williamsburg right off the Bedford stop. The marketing did go as planned. I always take a very….brute force approach to marketing. I want to get the brand and business right up in people’s faces. What better way to do it than throwing a fun shopping event outdoors with alcohol and slip n’ slides?
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
Bulletin has had a lot of dark moments, or moments of real uncertainty. That’s just the nature of running a startup. One of the biggest mistakes we made was when we opened our now-closed Flagship store in Union Square. We had the contract in-hand for the lease, but it hadn’t yet been countersigned. But we were getting a really strong signal that we’d get the space, and we had a verbal commitment. We hired an architect to start designing the space, a designer to start mapping out the racks and merchandising strategy, and a merchandising consultant from Urban Outfitters. Long story short, we ended up not getting the space! But we had spent weeks meeting and designing and planning for that particular space and that particular square footage. We were on a time crunch, so we were just trying to be proactive. We’re always thinking ahead. Lesson learned: don’t invest in a deal until your partner signs. We thought the lack of a countersign was an oversight – I’ve had apartment leases that were never countersigned and sent my way! But really, the landlords were, unbeknownst to us, trying to find a more secure tenant. And then they did, and we got booted.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
My book deal. I’ve wanted to be a published author since I was 6. The day I got the call from my agent that we had a publisher on board was one of the most exciting, memorable days of my life. The book is essentially an entrepreneurship diary. I wrote it in the thick of our biggest pivot and wanted to give women, in particular, a very candid view of what it’s like to build something from nothing, rather than the glossy, “Instagram Entrepreneurship” (as I call it) we’re so often fed on our social feeds. Getting the deal, and then finishing the book over two years while running the business full-time, was a fucking marathon. I am really proud of myself and my resilience. It wasn’t easy.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
I always ask candidates where they see themselves in five years. I think you can spot if someone is going to churn or not maximize the opportunity if where they envision themselves doesn’t line up with what your company does, or offers, or where it’s headed. In tandem, I need to know what people’s hobbies are. What their interests are. I think more than ever, people want to work at a company that aligns with those hobbies and interests, and spend their time solving a problem they actually care about, or scaling a service or product they find genuinely interesting. Between those two responses, I can usually sense if someone is going to give the job their all, or kind of just clock in and clock out. We don’t really have room for that type of vibe here – we’re just moving too fast and growing too quickly. We need everyone to be really invested, excited, and thoughtful about the work they’re doing, our customer, and the problems we’re tackling.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
We were right in the eye of the storm, frankly. We support independent brands who experienced disrupted supply chains, so they couldn’t fulfill wholesale orders at times or were seriously delayed in getting inventory to retailers. Our physical retailer customers were pretty much closed. They pivoted to online and social selling but were focused on selling through existing inventory, not ordering new items. So we had a very rough March and April, but we’ve been growing rapidly – more than anticipated – ever since.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
Right now, we’ve really focused on building out the transaction side of our wholesale marketplace. But soon, we are going to be investing in more community features that better connect our brands and retailers, as well as brands with other brands, and retailers with other retailers. Almost like a LinkedIn for retail-driven, product-based businesses. We are eager to keep growing as rapidly as we have and start working with even more brands and retailers across all categories, and will be launching tools and features that better support apparel businesses.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
To focus – with utter precision – on the team you actually need, the product you need to be building, and what value you bring to your customers. Having limited resources and a sudden, sharp dip in sales forced us to rethink many aspects of the business and really lean things out. It can be super easy to add bells and whistles, or team members, or extra initiatives when things are going well or when you have a rosy outlook. When shit hits the fan, you are forced to consolidate and ignore everything that isn’t mission critical. That was a major lesson, and it saved us in the long term.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
That in many ways, the business runs you and your life, and you relinquish some control of your lifestyle. If the business gains momentum and you continue to grow, the company and the role becomes much more all-encompassing. I have a lot of hobbies and many interests: I love to write, sing, cook, dance, read. Prior to starting Bulletin and having more of a 9-5 type job, I was able to indulge in all of those things and tap into those different parts of myself. I’ve kind of lost the ability to do that. My headspace is so taken up by Bulletin: how to make it better, how to scale it faster, how to become even more valuable to our customers. So even if I did have the time, my mind is on the business. I wish I knew my life would become a bit more narrow – a bit more focused – so I could cherish the free headspace while it lasted.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
I take baths. Many, many baths. I need a serious forcing function to turn off my brain and get centered. I play some music, usually Raveena or something else relaxing but uplifting, light a few candles, pour myself some wine and just zone out. I feel like those moments really ground me. They help me remember how much I have, how much I should be grateful for, what I care about, and where I’m going. It’s been really tough. You get bombarded with tragedy every day just watching the news or being on social media. Getting the business through this pandemic has been taxing and emotionally draining. I often get caught in the trap of putting too much weight on what’s broken, what I lack. Those bathtimes (jeez I sound like a 6 year old! or a toddler’s mom!) help me remember what’s important.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I feel like I’m stealing this from someone… but I believe more in a work/life “blend.” As I’ve shared, when you are building something from scratch and have a massive or even just concise vision for what it can become, your life kind of becomes your work. It’s unavoidable. You can take time to yourself, block off time to do personal projects or hang with friends, and take serious initiative in making sure you have space to relax and recharge throughout the week. Everyone should do that. But ultimately, we are defined by what we care about, what we put our energy into, who we put our energy into, and where we invest our time and resources. I’m someone who cares about supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs, I invest most of my time into that via Bulletin, or mentoring founders in my free time. I put most of my mental energy into advancing Bulletin, or thinking about our team. My work and my life have totally blended. But I’m okay with that.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I started a band in 2018 and wrote all my own music, with my bandmate, co-writer and producer, Ryan. Oh um we’re on Spotify. You can check it out here!
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
1. Make a list! I wake up and my head is absolutely spinning with all the things I have to do and all the problems I have to solve. Making a list and putting pen to paper is quite soothing, and there’s nothing better than crossing things OFF your list!
2. Do some “me” time in the mornings. I hate feeling like I didn’t get my workout in, or didn’t get time to read, or didn’t make time to put a meal together. That negative feeling can distract me during the day, like I’m just waiting for a small break to take time to myself, or mentally budgeting if I can skip a meeting or cut a meeting early to make some lunch. That distraction = unproductive. It might seem counterintuitive, but doing unproductive, selfish things in the morning helps me focus on my work for the rest of the day.
3. I budget my time to a tee. My whole team makes fun of me for it because you can literally see all of my personal tasks and projects broken out hour by hour, half hour by half hour on my company calendar. Through 9pm or longer. Even if it’s my laundry. Or making a snack. But like!!! If you have a massive list of things to do or an ambitious vision for yourself and your business, you have to maximize your time. I grew up juggling so many extracurriculars – I’ve always been a busy body. And I’ve been running my life this way since I was about 10. It just works for me.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Starting something because you want to work on a project or launch a venture on your own terms, in your own time. It means doing something for you – whether it is launching a service, creating a product, starting a podcast or an IGTV show. There is so much fulfillment in feeling like you’re in control – you call the shots. An Entreprenista is someone who seeks that feeling, and does something to make it happen.