Ali Kriegsman on building a goddamn empire
Ali Kriegsman is the co-founder and COO of Bulletin, a venture-backed retail technology startup on the rise. Named a Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient and one of "The Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company, Ali has spent the last four years building a brand and platform that democratizes access to physical retail space for digitally native brands. Since launching in 2015, Bulletin has helped hundreds of brands access physical retail space for the very first time, unlocking one of the most powerful commerce channels at their disposal. In addition to helping emerging brands grow their physical footprint, Bulletin's marketplace helps retailers access vetted, fool-proof products for their stores. Check us out at , and follow Ali at @alikriegs on Instagram. Ali will be publishing her first book, How to Build a Goddamn Empire, with Abrams Books on April 6, 2021.
Ali hops on the podcast to talk about how to build a goddamn empire. She talks imposter syndrome, getting funding + the future of retail.
Ali dives into the beginnings of Bulletin, the company she co-founded with Alana Branston. Initially it was a consumer facing marketplace, think a more sophisticated etsy. They’ve always been passionate about helping small brands build their empires. Bulletin started as an online marketplace, and then evolved into offline retail, so they ran pop-ups, and opened a store. For 2.5 years they ran their own stores + pioneered a co-retail model, brands paid a monthly fee to have their items sold in a Bulletin retail space.
At one point they had a waitlist of 3,000 brands but could only work with 40 or so brands, so they needed a new solution to help brands get into physical retail. Between 2018 + 2019 they built a wholesale platform that powered wholesale business for individual brands + facilitate order management for thousands of individual retailers as well.
ON THE SUBJECT OF THE MANY STAGES OF BULLETIN:
“I waiver between that being super embarrassing and also feeling really fortunate and proud that we’ve been able to listen + pivot and evolve over the years to help our brands as best we can and as many brands as we can. Today I’ll say I’m proud. ”
ON WORKING WITH A CO-FOUNDER
She says that working with a co-founder means you have a shoulder to cry on, a sounding board, a “gut-check” on decisions and you bear the responsibility together. You share the highs and the lows and a creative collaborator at your disposal at all times. She feels so fortunate to have a co-founder and she feels both of them are at their best when working in partnership.
Female founders definitely have a lot more to prove. There is a Harvard business study that illuminates the differences between female and male founders.
“When a male founder comes into a room, investors ask, what is your big idea? How are you going to grow? How are you going to become a leader?
A female founder walks into the room and the framing is very different, it is framed around “what’s going to undercut you? How are you going to fail? How are you going to block yourself off from competitors? Prove to me that this is a big enough idea.”
Bulletin was both profitable and making money when they received their first level of funding, there are a lot of male founded businesses that are not profitable and no plan for generating revenue when they get their first or even second round of funding or even third.
A female founder walks into the room and the framing is very different, it is framed around, “What’s going to undercut you? How are you going to fail? How are you going to block yourself off from competitors? Prove to me that this is a big enough idea.”
ON THE FUTURE OF RETAIL
-huge spike of brick + mortars building out online + maximizing their ecommerce
-leveraging insta for aggressive social selling through grid + stories + integrations with ecommerce
-retailers were the original curators, or is there another group that may lead a different kind of retail, like tiktokers or influencers
-are more retailers going to be integrating more services etc when they open back up
ON BEING ANTI-RACIST
The first thing they did was to tell their team they could take time off whether to actively protest or process or self-educate. To take that time off paid, no issue.
“It was important to respond and continue taking action in a way that builds on our existing pillars and values, and feels true to us and true to the business.”
They asked themselves how they can paint a brighter or equitable financial future for the Black businesses in their community.
This summer they will be highlighting the Black owned businesses on their site + newsletter, but they really wanted to help broker deeper connections between the retailers and the brands, specifically their Black owned brands, to help them build their empires.
Juneteenth was not a national holiday that Bulletin had taken off and honored prior to this year. They spoke to members of their team that Juneteenth has meant a ton to them and they wanted to take time off to celebrate + process, but beyond that they acknowledged this is a holiday they need to honor this year and every year, and did some reflection on why they didn’t take that move initially.
They’ve been sharing resources as a team that they’ve all found valuable, they spent time speaking candidly with the team on ways they can improve and make being ant-racist being a core of their business.
“We’re not perfect, we’ve never been perfect, we’ve definitely erred along the way.”
ON HER BOOK + ENTREPRENEURSHIP
This #girlboss movement was not reflecting her idea of being an entrepreneur.
“Being an entrepreneur was being fed to me on instagram + conference + programming as like this ‘lean-in’ movement, and kinda glamorous life style, that it’s not. It's shitty it's really taxing. You’re like constantly dealing with imposter syndrome, you’re putting out fires, you’re like waking up every day with no more degree of certainty that you’re going to get the outcome with your business that you want. And it made me quite depressive + I was feeling down on myself all the time.”
She just started having candid conversations with other female founders.
“Why is it that we’re talking about entrepreneurship as this glamorous aspirational thing, when it’s like you’re in the mud all the time.”
She wanted to tell that story about what it was like to build a business from the ground up. She didn’t want it to just be her and Alana’s story, so she interviewed about 40 other women-owned businesses for the book. It was important that every entrepreneur picking it up could find something to relate to.
How to Build a Goddamn Empire will launch on April 6, 2021.
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