Running a business oftentimes feels like a Sisyphus job: Days of hustling turn into months and sometimes even years before you get a glimpse of that mountain top you’re aiming for. Even then for every step you take that leads you forwards it feels like something is always pulling you backwards. For those of us who are building something out of nothing, this is simply part of the job. And as you go along, you get pretty skilled at learning to take the bad and make something extraordinary out of it.
And that’s exactly how our next cool face, Ali Kriegsman turned a business model that was no longer working into a lucrative enterprise aimed to help small and independent brands. Reading her story of tenacity and hustle, made me feel like I was reading my own, which is exactly what makes her so relatable to millions of women entrepreneurs out there. Her honest approach to building a successful company brick by brick and helping businesses, specifically women-owned businesses, is the reason behind the success of Bulletin’. Named one of “The Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company and listed on the prestigious list by Forbes, 30 Under 30, Ali is the type of woman who together with her co-founder Alana Branston, has managed to attract the support of heavy weights like Y-Combinator and secure funding of $9 million. As she prepares for her book launch 2021, we sat down with her to talk in detail about the skills she leans on for career success, her morning routine, and how, despite early setbacks, she managed to build an empire brick by brick.
Who is Ali Kriegsman?
I’m an entrepreneur, writer, author, sales consultant…and minor diva. I consider myself pretty creative — I love to journal, plan events and parties, write poetry and music. But I’m also 50% straight business: I love nothing more than building something from scratch, pitching my heart out, closing a deal, and negotiating for what I think is right and fair. My dad wrote screenplays and was a prolific copywriter, and my mom has run her own small business since before I was born. As I get older, I feel like I’m this very magical cocktail of those two people and personalities. I am wildly extroverted — loud, obnoxious at times…but have a pretty persistent darker, more melancholy side that wants to be alone all the time! But that ebb and flow definitely keeps things interesting!
What does a morning look like for you?
I usually wake up at 7AM and go, try to workout. “Try” is the operative word here, because 30% of the time I literally fall back asleep. I’ll either do a barre class, go for a run, do weights at the gym or go to this amazing local HIIT class in my hood. If I successfully work out, I’ll grab a coffee on my way back from my class and get ready while listening to The Daily on my speaker, which is a news podcast by The New York Times. I do my makeup — I use a small range of products from Alleyoop, Glossier, Nars, Wet N’ Wild, Sephora’s in-house collection and Almay (I’ve been wearing the same Almay concealer since I was 14!) — and head out the door. I always listen to a podcast on the subway to work or I swap it out for some upbeat, power pop. I LOVE starting my day with old GaGa, some new Dua Lipa (her new album is everything), or HOLYCHILD or Marina. Once I’m at work, I make myself another coffee and catch up on emails for the first one to two hours of the morning. Then I usually end up in back-to-back calls or meetings from 11am onward!
Tell us the story of Bulletin’, like when did you start and all the small steps you had to take to lead you to build a company that’s said to redefine the retail industry. What’s the concept and the mission behind it?
When Alana and I first started Bulletin in 2015, it was a completely different business. Initially, we wanted to create an Etsy competitor: a marketplace that was more elevated, more beautiful to explore and shop, and one that really told the stories behind these incredible designers and their products. We ran that business as a side hustle for a full year, and then decided to go full-time in January of 2016 when we won $20,000 in grant money. I really like the fact that your question has the word “small steps” in it, because that’s what building a company is. It really does happen brick by brick. We had to decide to dedicate our evenings or weekends when it was a side hustle, and then once we went full-time, we had to decide to risk our income, our savings, our stability, and invest most of our waking hours in this thing. We quickly realized by March 2016, three months after trying to scale this Etsy competitor, that we were not going to be able to make it work. So, we decided to interview all of the brands in our network and ask what we could build that would help them and their brands grow. All of them were stressed about how expensive and time consuming it was to go offline and get into brick-and-mortar stores. So we decided to launch our own pop-up concept. At first, we ran weekend pop-up markets that we built up every Saturday and broke down every Sunday. We did that for almost a full year. It was a way for us to quickly rent out a giant space- it was an outdoor parking lot — and host over 30 brands every weekend. They would each take a booth, bring their inventory to the space and sell directly to customers. The markets made a lot of money but they weren’t easy to scale and we had to physically run them. They were also outdoors, which meant bad weather could totally fuck us. So! that’s when we decided to evolve the concept and open up our own stores. This way, we could still help brands get access to retail space but we’d be inside, we’d be able to run multiple spaces at once, and we could hire people to help manage each location. At the end of 2018, we were running three stores and building our wholesale marketplace. We launched our wholesale marketplace as supplementary to the stores, at first. The marketplace would allow us to work with even more brands and help brands sell inventory to retailers around the country, rather than just selling in Bulletin stores. The marketplace went live in September 2019 and just exploded. It blew us away. It scaled really quickly and we realized it was unwise to be running two different companies at once: a retail model, and a platform business. We decided to close our stores to best support the wholesale marketplace. In the stores, we could only host 100 brands across three spaces. Now, we host over 600 brands on our marketplace, and those brands are actively selling their products to over 3,500 retailers nationwide.
The mission behind Bulletin has always been to support small business owners and help make their dreams a reality. Alana and I have fallen so in love with our community of brands, and now have come to know and so deeply respect our new retailer community. We get to work and support entrepreneurs every day. It is so remarkable to be able to relate directly to your customer like that. Working and supporting entrepreneurs has been a blessing for us both, and we feel so lucky we get to wake up every day and do work that helps brands expand into stores all around the country.
European brands need your concept desperately. There’s nothing quite like you on the market with such a strong brand ethos and women driven community behind it. Are there any plans for the foreseeable future to launch in the EU or worldwide?
Yes! Our only limitations right now are on the product side, and figuring out shipping, logistics and customs for international shipments. But it is definitely on our radar, and any international brands that ship *from* the United States are totally eligible to work with us right now!
You’re also writing a book and we can’t wait to read it. Could you tell us a bit more about the release date and what’s it about?
The book comes out in 2021. I can’t wait. It’s called How to Build a Goddamn Empire and I spent almost two years writing it while building Bulletin. It was really interesting to be writing a business book in the thick of running and growing a business. The mistakes I write about in the book -they were recent. I had only made them just a year before, in some cases. They were fresh for me. For that reason, I think, the book really serves as the no bullsh*t business book you always wish existed but could never find. It tells the story of starting and running Bulletin, but it also tells the stories of 30 other women-owned businesses. We all answer the same questions: how we dealt with failure, how we decided to finance our businesses, why we decided to take such a huge risk, what and who we need to keep going. I think anyone with a dream, a side hustle, a big, meaty life goal or a vision for themselves should read it. The book is straightforward and gives solid guidance on how to start and build a business, but it also addresses the psychologically and emotionally challenging parts of entrepreneurship that all entrepreneurs but I think women specifically face.
Biggest failure in life and what you learnt from it?
I can’t think of a specific moment of failure — I have had so many, and so many more are on their way. But I think overall, until I was about 27, I really failed to acknowledge and accept who I was and who I wanted to become. I am a creative entrepreneur: I want to write, I want to do lots of public speaking, I want to perform, I want to build, I want to take risks and create a career from scratch. In college, I avoided creative courses and classes and really optimized for a more straightforward career in something like finance, consulting or law.
‘’I took internships that didn’t align with my interests or strengths at all, but at the time, they seemed like they’d put me on a more stable career path. Whatever “stable” even means! I really regret not listening to myself and accepting myself earlier.’’
I went to a very pre-professional school for college, and the business school and finance folks and entire energy of campus was very geared toward securing a Big Paying Job in a few specific sectors. Those sectors were not made for me — they were not relevant to who I was, the work I loved doing, or the person I wanted to become. But I let fear take the wheel and guide my life choices for many years, rather than letting my heart and my gut dictate where I should go next. I think it was a prolonged era of failure. I always think back on the projects I could have pursued or work I could have done had I stopped comparing myself to everyone else or anchoring myself against what others found “normal” or “successful.” I wish I had created my own, new normal. I feel like now, at 28, I am finally where I want to be. I have a challenging, creative job. I wrote a book! I get to do important, exciting work every day. Now, I organize my world around doing work I enjoy. Work that keeps me going. But when I was younger, I optimized for what other peoplethought was important work. Or the jobs that seemingly fulfilled other people. From this whole evolution, I learned that you’ll do your best work when it’s work that you care about. Oh! And also that every individual is special, and different, and has their own magic to bring to the table. You should never orient toward other people’s magic or compare yourself to it. Just accept your own, and build a life that feels magical to you.
Favorite female empowerment speech
BE A BITCH!
Tabatha Coffey, Why You need to be a Bitch
What’s in your Bastet Noir cart?
If you liked Ali’s story, there’s plenty more to come, just hit that sign up button to get in our inner circle of coolness and never ever miss a thang.
We love strong, confident and self reliant women, so if you think you got what it takes, send us an email with your Instagram account and the story you’d like to share and you might just become Bastet Noir’s next cool face.