How to pitch, how to pivot and How to Build a Goddamn Empire with Ali Kriegsman
Today I’m chatting with Ali Kriegsman, Co-Founder of the YC backed tech startup, Bulletin.
Bulletin is a premium, B2B wholesale marketplace where retailers and buyers go to discover, shop and support the best brands on the planet. So this episode is highly relevant to anyone listening in who has a product based business and wants to work with cool retailers to sell their products and reach new audiences.
We’re chatting about the humbles origins of Bulletin starting as as e-comm newsletter and how that grew into popups, retail stores and went on to be accepted into Y-Combinator which lead to a major pivot into a thriving tech platform... we’re talking about Ali’s top 3 pointers if you want to pitch for VC money and - important to note she just released a really bloody cool book about her journey and you should absolutely check it out, I have linked it in the show notes and it’s called How to build a goddamn empire.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Speaker1: I'm super excited. I always love to start by getting you to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what your business actually is.
Speaker3: So I'm Ali Kriegsman. Great to meet everyone. I'm the co-founder and CEO of Bulletin. Bulletin is a premium wholesale marketplace where retailers come to discover, support and shop the best brands on the planet. Think of it like a twenty four seven always on online trade show. And for brands we make it super easy, affordable and fast to expand your distribution channel. So if you're a product based business, you're making jewelry, candles, pantry items, whatever it may be. If you're looking to sell into physical retailers in the US and Canada or even online retailers that don't have brick and mortar locations, you can join Bulletin's marketplace, get up and running in just a few days and start selling nationwide and in Canada, which is super cool. I'm also the author of How to Build a Goddamn Empire. It is a no B.S. book on entrepreneurship. It's about my journey building, scaling and pivoting bulletin over the past few years. It also features thirty other women business owners that are building companies of varying stages and sizes. And the message of the book is pretty simple. I really believe that if you've decided to build something from nothing and you're in the trenches, that makes you successful enough, that's a really big commitment to be making every day. And I think women especially often shortchange themselves and don't give themselves enough credit. But it obviously gives tactical advice and a ton of storytelling around tackling imposter syndrome, figuring out what areas of your business to invest in and which to abandon. And we obviously get stories and failures and mistakes and triumphs from these incredible other business owners as well. Not just my story.
Speaker1: I cannot wait to read it. That sounds so cool. And I'm really excited about this conversation because obviously we have a lot of small business owners and brand owners listening into the show who would be highly relevant for the platform. So for everyone listening, you should absolutely jump online immediately and check this out because it's going to be right up your alley. And it's so much fun, no pun intended. Actually, it wasn't intended, but now it is. Now that I've heard it, we
Speaker3: Can say that it was intended. Oh, my goodness.
Speaker1: All right, let's get started. Where does your entrepreneurial story actually start?
Speaker3: It starts at age twenty three, twenty four, I had entrepreneur parents growing up and it was a very feast or famine lifestyle and it was a super tumultuous upbringing. My dad also had a lot of medical crises and emergencies. My family went through a ton of financial hardship in my late teens, early 20s, and for that reason I kind of crossed entrepreneurship off my list. I was like, find me the most stable job in the world. Like, give me a doctor, give me a lawyer, let me be a consultant and I'll be happy. Lo and behold, I ended up kicking my career off at Condé Nast, which is a very massive publishing company, a legacy brand. I ended up leaving to join a startup called Contently, and I was just really bored. I was in sales. I was giving the same drab, dry sales pitch every single day, you know, making the same joke planted at the exact same moment of the pitch days on end. And I was the number one salesperson for quarters and quarters. I'm really good at it. But I wasn't fulfilled. And my entrepreneurship journey started when my business partner and co-founder Alana turned to me issues a few years older than me. And she was like, I want to create a newsletter that shop, a bill that features like the coolest brands on Etsy. I'm like a lot of these kind of independent designers and makers that you'd have to dig through Etsy to find yourself.
Speaker3: And for me, it wasn't this big, like nose dive into entrepreneurship. It was definitely a slow build. I agreed to work with her on it. I was editor in chief of the Bulletin newsletter and I wrote all of the articles and the features and the interviews with these artists and designers, most of them based in New York. And it was just a way to, like, get on board and do something fulfilling and something creative. I've always loved to write. I fashion myself a writer, and it was just a side project to kind of tap into a part of me that wasn't being addressed by my full time job. And it took off from there. I mean, we did it as a side project and as a side hustle on the weekends and in the evenings for about a year and a half. We ended up getting a grant, a twenty thousand dollar grant to dive into the business head first and go full time. And I was twenty four. It kind of seems like now we're never I was extremely scared, extremely anxious again, just kind of anchoring my experience against the anxiety and the tumultuousness. I grew up with having entrepreneur parents, but it felt like I had really regret it if I didn't take the chance. So that's that's where it all started.
Speaker1: Oh my gosh. It's come a long way. I'm interested to know in that beginning phase of that first year and a half while you were kind of doing it on the weekends, it was the side hustle. How many subscribers did you have and was it making any money at that point? And what was kind of like the the thought about what you'd grow it into at that point?
Speaker3: So when we first started the way that we did customer acquisition because we had no money to do ads or anything on like Facebook, Instagram, Google, you name it, it was fully bootstrapped. We emailed everyone we knew in their mother. It was like, OK, let me blast this. So like every listserv I was on in college, we emailed it to everyone. That was at our current full time job at the startup we worked at. And we were like spread this far and wide. We did a few, like low key partnerships with other New York based companies that we felt had overlapping audiences. I was our press person. I've been our press person from the beginning and helped get us placed in places like BuzzFeed and Refinery29. So I would say like press, I'm just really leveraging our own network and kind of shamelessly like broadcasting bulletin to everyone we knew was the way we built up our first subscriber base. I think that initially in the first few weeks, we grew it to about five hundred subscribers. I want to say by the time we started doing our pop up markets, which was the next evolution of the business, we had maybe ten thousand. And a lot of that was driven by press at the time. Like, I really think media now has become so much more oversaturated. We're like BuzzFeed and Refinery29 are publishing like 50 articles a day, whereas back then it was in twenty, fifteen, twenty sixteen, you know, they were maybe doing five to ten. And so I think press was really instrumental for us at that point.
Speaker3: And then we started doing pop up events pretty soon into the business. We did our first series of pop ups at the end of twenty fifteen. And so those in-person experiences got us actual customers and we pushed those emails into our newsletter and we were making money by the time we applied to the grant that we eventually got, I want to say we were doing like six thousand dollars or so monthly in revenue, which wasn't crazy, but it was a Squarespace site and it was dropship. We didn't own any of the inventory. We were taking a 40 percent commission on everything that sold. So it was a profitable business. It wasn't like the most lucrative thing on the planet, but part of why we ended up pivoting and making pop up markets a core part of our business model by the end of twenty, fifteen, early twenty sixteen was because we weren't making enough money. So by the beginning of twenty sixteen, we started our series called Bulletin Market. We did pop up markets all over Brooklyn and Manhattan and we charged brands anywhere from one hundred and fifty dollars a weekend to four hundred dollars a weekend, depending on what part of the market they showcased in. We bought all the tents and tables and set the whole environment up for brands, so all they had to do was come and merchandise their table, which made us competitive with other pop up market series like Smorgasbord or Long Island Flea, where you have to schlep everything yourself.
Speaker1: Sounds like hard work.
Speaker3: It was really hard work. We were working seven days a week, but when we turned that on, it was still bootstrapped and we were making like fifteen thousand dollars a weekend sometimes depending on how many brands and food trucks we had showcasing. So we definitely I mean, as a woman in business and I think with like a venture scalable business on Alana's mind, my co-founders at the very least, at the beginning, we knew that in order to get an investor time of day or get on their radar or have a fighting chance at raising venture capital as a women owned business, we needed revenue. Women can't really get by with just having a massive user base or a massive customer base or certain press hits or a waitlist. In my experience, women get measured by their proven track record, whereas men get measured by their potential. So early on in the business, the goal was just like make more money, make more money, make more money versus make this more scalable. And by the end of twenty sixteen was when we really realized that we didn't just need to be optimizing for profits, we needed to be optimizing for scale as well. And that's when we opened our first set of Pop-Up stores.
Speaker1: Right. OK, got it. What I'm interested to know is like how did you go from pop up stores and pop up markets to getting into Y, C? And for anyone who doesn't know, what I see is why C is Y Combinator. And it's kind of like a tech accelerator, right? That it's, you know, the people who have brought out things like Airbnb and and it's the people who have fostered
Speaker3: Dropbox, Dauda,
Speaker1: Shackley let it super, super tech focused businesses. So how does one go from pop up markets and a pop up store to tech accelerator and like the best tech accelerator in the world?
Speaker3: It's a really good question. So we the grants that I mentioned was through Y Combinator, so a few years ago, Y Combinator had two programs that they were accepting applications for, but they didn't make it known that there were these two programs. So we were applying to every incubator accelerator known to man, every grant program known to man, because we just wanted money for the business. And we ended up not getting into Y Combinator core program, but we ended up getting into this program called Y Combinator Fellowship, which doesn't exist anymore. They only did it two or three times, but the program was for super, super early stage companies that were too early for the core batch program and in exchange for a very minor amount of equity, they would give you twenty thousand dollars. And the stipulation was, you have to work on this full time. The program is three months. Let's see how this goes. So we were already in the Y Combinator ecosystem with our e-commerce newsletter because of Y Combinator fellowship. They only accepted like 20 or so people to fellowship. And so by the time we had scaled the pop up market, by the time we had opened our first retail as a service store in Williamsburg, we had been rejected by Y Combinator batch program two times like we just kept applying and kept applying.
Speaker3: And the way that we finally positioned the business and what got us in was positioning bulletin as the way we work or Airbnb of retail space. We believed at the time that it should be just as easy to take over physical space and physical retail space and showcase your wares as a brand as it is to launch a Facebook ad or push a Facebook or marketing campaign out on Instagram. So we our whole thesis was taking over physical space is going to become programmatic, the same way that running ads on Instagram or Facebook is programmatic. And so we basically built a technology platform. It was super nascent where brands could like people stop and pick their spot in the pop up market and then in the store. And honestly, just like piggybacking on the success of Airbnb and we work and kind of bundling our brick and mortar based business as a tech enabled physical retail tech company was what got us in. Do I think that Fullarton should have gone through? I see with that business model, I don't know.
Speaker3: I mean, now that we run a true wholesale marketplace technology company, I feel like I learned the lesson that scaling physical space is not the same as scaling software. But I think that we see at the time was very interested in the future of retail. They were kind of looking to penetrate this industry that they had it historically invested in. And I think we were two compelling female founders. I think they were also trying to bring more female founders into their ecosystem. And we had a lot of revenue. I mean, by the time we got into Y Combinator, we were doing like sixty five thousand seventy thousand dollars in recurring revenue every month. So even though we didn't have, I think, the nuts and bolts of a true tech company at that time, we were more like a tech enabled brick and mortar based business or real estate business. I think they were really impressed with our vision and with our traction. And I think that we had proven ourselves to a point where they were like, well, this may not be the end all be all idea, but these founders are onto something and we want to see where this goes.
Speaker1: You know what's funny is that actually the first time I came across you and your co-founder was because I was going through the application process for what I see myself it was last year, I think it was. And I was. You found
Speaker3: The YouTube
Speaker1: Video? I found the YouTube video. And I was reviewing female founders who had been through I. Sadir to look for look for clues and look for hints of what what could stand out. So that's when I first got introduced to the brand and was like, oh, this is so cool. Love that for you. Thank you. At some point, you pivot and you switch to completely just the tech like marketplace. Mm hmm. I know that a lot of tech founders have this struggle of like the chicken and the egg onboarding like two sides of the coin. What was it like for you? And did you have that struggle that tech founders do often have?
Speaker3: The reason that we pivoted into the wholesale marketplace was I would say there were a few contributing factors. As I said, we were this tech enabled real estate company. At the end of the day, like much like we work was. And we all know how that panned out. And I think for me and Alana, even though the stores were independently profitable and even though we had built this really beloved and compelling consumer brand that was this unapologetic, you know, metropolitan female skewing persona, it was really clear to us that the venture path made no sense. Again, you can't scale physical space and physical retail like you can scale software. It costs too much money. And so when Alana and I projected out operating more than three stores, the model just broke. It didn't make any sense. And our business was also a very heavy service based business, because if a brand wasn't performing well in the store, you need an account manager to manage it. That relationship to keep retention up. Whereas with software it's like you have customer service, but there isn't as much like handholding and customer maintenance. And we also had a wait list of almost four thousand brands, but we were only able to work with like one hundred twenty brands at once because we only have three spaces.
Speaker1: So it was this
Speaker3: Realization of like there's this massive pent up demand that we're not able to serve with this current execution or version of our business model. The appetite for brands to access retail space without having to pay ten thousand dollars to do a trade show, without having to sign up in the showroom for six months, without having to pay a wholesale rep for three consecutive months, without knowing if they're going to close business for you. That was why we had this massive waitlist, but we weren't solving any of those problems. If the only answer was pay to be in one of our three stores, we're full. We only have one hundred twenty spots and it's too expensive to open more stores. So that's when we realized how we can connect brands with other retailers. Why do we have to be the retailer? Why don't we connect a brand with another like minded retailer? Why don't we connect a retailer with all of these incredible businesses on our waitlist? So to answer your question of was it hard like this chicken or the egg thing of getting the marketplace up and running? Oddly enough, no. I think that because we had done pop up markets for so many years and we had worked with, like. I want to say over a thousand brands at that point. We pinged our brand network and we were like, we're launching our own wholesale marketplace, like sign up here, and I want to say of the first 100 or so brands we sent it to, like sixty five signed up immediately.
Speaker3: And so for us, scaling supply was really easy because of the journey we had already been on, which this is why I'm all about. Turn failure into something else, like I can look back on the store business, the pop ups of the newsletter, and be like, oh shit, that was like such a mess up. Like we were just like swimming in this, you know, unscalable, like problematic business for so many years. Building a two sided marketplace is nearly impossible, like I just did it, and the fact that we were able to leverage that past experience to get brands on the site so quickly was a lifesaver. I really believe it's like the only reason that this worked the hardest part was scaling demand. I mean, the hardest part was like tapping into this new customer. Retailers we had never talked to before, never targeted before, didn't really understand their pain points or their concerns. We were retailers ourselves, so that helped. But that was definitely harder, I think, because of our journey as a business, getting to the wholesale marketplace, running stores, running pop ups, running newsletters, and having this massive brand community already under our belt, we knew that we could get supply on board really quickly and that's where we focused our efforts first.
Speaker1: Got it. Gosh, that's so interesting. And I also feel like had you not have done the pop ups and done all of that, it would have been such a different story. Launching something like that. You would have launched two crickets, essentially. Exactly. So all of that foundational work. Yes, it was a pivot. And yes, you didn't see it. The vision immediately from the get go of what it could be. But it was 100 percent on the right track, obviously.
Speaker3: Right. I feel like the insights were always correct, like Alana. And my insights from the very beginning were always correct. But the execution was incorrect. And frankly, I think that going through Y Combinator, seeing other tech businesses that scaled really quickly and efficiently and kind of being in their shadow gave us this amazing educational experience and learning opportunity to be like, oh, that's what we have to do. But I will say and this is why I think parts of venture capital are so broken. We work was a beacon of light and billions when we were building the retail as a service model in the stores and like if you Google Bulletin, you'll see so many headlines. It's like we work with retail, we work retail. So Adam Newman's, you know, great trade, directly informed our business model. And so it's interesting because it's like we almost picked the wrong tech company to model ourselves after and to build in the shadow of for a few years. And once we kind of replaced, like, push them off our vision board and put Etsi on our vision board and Airbnb and be on our vision board and kind of really anchored against true tech companies. That's when things just fundamentally changed for us. But it's watching all the we work documentary stuff and reading all of the content and reading the book about we work is such a triggering experience for me because I'm like, God damn it.
Speaker3: Like we saw the way that Adam Newman and we work, we're being propped up. And we were like, oh, we're going to do that for retail. That's going to be us. And it was definitely a very big decision at the end of twenty eighteen because that was before the we were reckoning happened to see the writing on the wall and kind of push back against what the venture capital landscape was saying, which was like we work is going to be a multibillion dollar company saw things investing. We had to put our own microscope over their business model and be like this makes no sense. But it's hard to do that as female founders in the tech space where you've been deferring to your investors and just kind of deferring to the landscape for so long because you're new to it and you don't know any better. It was a big leap of faith and moment of believing in ourselves to like look at the company we had been modeling ourselves after for so long and be like this, saying it like this. If we keep doing this, this is going to break us. And like that company is like going to implode.
Speaker1: Yes. Oh, my gosh, that is so crazy. I yeah, we work. It's such a tough one, isn't it.
Speaker2: Hey, it's down here. I'm just popping in to bring you a quick message in every episode of the show, you'll hear women who would just like you trying to figure it all out and hustle to grow that business. And I know a lot of you might be sitting there asking yourself, but how do I actually scale my revenue and get to that next level from where I am now? You also know that so many of the entrepreneurs I speak to have mentioned Facebook and Instagram ads as a crucial part of their marketing mix from today onwards. I'm really excited to be able to offer our Etsy small business owners and entrepreneurs a no strings attached hour long chat with leading performance marketing agency amplifier who you might also remember from our DIY course. Full disclosure amplifier is my husband's business. And what's really important to know is that I've been able to witness firsthand the transformation of so many businesses going from as low as ten thousand dollars a month, all the way to three hundred thousand dollars a month and in some cases upwards to seven figures. So if you're listening in and you feel like you're ready to take your business to the next level, jump on a no strings attached call with amplifier where you can ask all the questions you have about performance marketing and whether it's the right time for you and your business to get started. Go to female startup club dot com forward slash ads. That's female startup club dot com forward slash a D. S and booking a call today.
Speaker1: At this point, you've raised I think I read almost ten million dollars in funding, is that right? Yeah. What are the takeaways that you can share of, like the what to do and what not to do when you're pitching, when you're reaching out to people, what are the kind of top things?
Speaker3: I would say the number one thing is. You need to be in a place as a founder and as a sales person and pitch person where you understand your business inside and out, and I'm saying this from my own experience of going into pitches, feeling like some of our ideas or our growth strategies or our most like our defensibility of why no one's going to copy us. Like I know what it felt like to go into meetings where all of those things were half baked and I was bullshitting my answer. I'm also watching my partner. My boyfriend is also a venture founder and he's raising right now. And so I've been exposed to his highs and lows of that experience. And I think that the through line is if you are bullshitting like the person on the other side of the room or the table is going to smell it. So if you have questions about your customer, is your business your segment that you can't answer, that's a problem. You need to anticipate that investors in most cases, especially if you're a woman, are going to take a surgical knife and open up all different aspects of your business that maybe you haven't thought about before. So I would my tactical advice there would be. Ask people in your industry if you can fake pitch them like ask people who know your industry better than you do or just as well as you do, if you can pitch them, because in many cases, you might be talking to investors that have passed on companies that are doing the same thing and they want to know, well, how are you going to solve this problem differently? They might be very familiar with what you're trying to do.
Speaker3: So that's number one. I would say the second lesson is for women founders especially, you need revenue. I really I see this time and time and time again, male founders can get away with having a waitlist or a certain number of users that aren't paying or are paying very little and they are measured on their potential, whereas women are directly measured on what they've accomplished thus far. And if you can walk into a room and say, I know I have product market fit because the dogs are eating the dog food, like people are buying this, they're paying me for it. They're not turning. They've been with me for three months. They've been with me for five months. That is undeniable. Like you need to come in as a woman, founder and present data and information that is undeniable. So whether that's like converting a waitlist into something that's low revenue, where it's like by this white paper, even if they're buying a white paper on your industry or let me convert these users into, let's see if they'll pay five dollars a month and let's see what happens. Like women need to come in with actual revenue under their belt in order to have that defensibility and show up properly in a pitch.
Speaker3: I would say the third thing is you need a vision for how this company is going to be massive. Like I think a lot of people forget that venture capitalists are. And most angel investors, too, they're interested in like a massive return on their investment. They're placing bets. And so it kind of reminds me of like the music industry, like a lot of people don't know that, like labels actually end up signing so many artists, but then they only end up blowing up and making famous like a fraction of those artists. And the reason that they choose those certain artists is because those artists, they want to be Taylor Swift, they want to be Khateeb. They don't want to just be like indie, like playing at these small coffee shops. And I think as a founder, you need to think the same way. It's like, how is this going to go public? How is this going to be a billion dollar business? Like what is your exit strategy? I think just coming in and being like, well, you know, no one's doing deodorant in this way or, you know, no one is branding bras in this way. It's like, OK, but how does the fact that that's not happening, how does that point of differentiation equal like gobs and gobs and gobs of money?
Speaker1: I love that as like a mindset shift.
Speaker3: Yeah, really being able to communicate like your brand voice, your value, your the market, your differentiation, all, that's great. But you need to be able to give them a vision for this massive holding company is going to acquire us because of X, Y, Z. Actually, there's not even one of those holding companies. There's 10 that would be eligible to acquire us if not an acquisition. We're going to go public because in 20 years time, ten years time, we're going to be here. So those are my kind of three key pieces of advice. But I also have thoughts on the viability of venture capital in general. And like, if it's the best financing vehicle for most businesses, I don't think it is, because, frankly, I don't I think most businesses will not get acquired by those 10 holding companies. Most businesses will not IPO. And I think there's a way to build a fabulous profitable company through taking out a bank loan or crowdfunding or equity crowdfunding. So, yeah, I like I I'm all about helping female founders like, you know, knock their pitch out of the park if they're interested in VC financing. But I will follow that up very quickly with there are so many other financing vehicles to consider that might actually help you build a much healthier business.
Speaker1: Yeah, absolutely. And I've heard that a lot as well from other female founders. But I'm going to go away and I'm going to ride on my mirror. How do I become a superstar and then align my mindset with that for the business? Yeah. What's the vision for you now? Obviously, you're in the v.C like wheel. You obviously have to go to that superstar level. What's the vision that you're kind of chasing at the moment?
Speaker3: The vision that we're chasing is like just a certain level of growth by the end of this year and aligning all of our teams, our product marketing sales teams against that revenue benchmark, which we're trying to hit by the beginning of Q4. So the options at the stage are like growth the heck out of this thing and eventually over the course of a few years, keep growing and go public. The other option is get acquired. And we've had acquisition conversations in the past. We've had offers presented in the past, which is really exciting and really promising. And like honestly, having started this business at twenty three, twenty four, as I said, like I had never expected that we'd get an acquisition offer last year, especially during a pandemic, like I had to sit back and let that be meaningful in and of itself, even though the offer was not compelling. But those are really the two directions. It's either like you keep raising these various rounds of financing to keep growing and then eventually go public and let the world invest in your company or it's get acquired by another company that's in your industry or in your space or wants to break into your space that is interested in your tech, your IP, your team, your brand, your audience. But I try to keep a very narrow lens. I really try to orient the team against I mean, me and a lot of both do. It's like this is what we're doing for the next month. This is what we're doing for the next three months. This is what we're doing for the next six months. And this is what the end of the year looks like. So for now, it's just grow. And we just hired a new chief revenue officer. We're adding more engineers to the team. We are adding customer support resources to the team. So right now, it's just like what body's in the door do we need? What systems, what infrastructure, what new workflows do we need to support that revenue growth? Because it doesn't just happen. You need to make it happen. Right.
Speaker1: Are you able to share what kind of revenue you're doing or what you're kind of aiming for? And secondly, like what are the levers you need to pull to actually scale, like to the level that you want to like, how do you actually grow?
Speaker3: Yeah, so we have a board and because of that I can't share revenue numbers. But I mean, Fullerton is a multi, multi, multimillion dollar business. We are hoping to 3x our revenue by the end of this year. And the way that we do that is turning on growth engines for the first time. So like we literally two weeks ago just started running Facebook ads, just started running Instagram ads. We did not do that during the pandemic because we tried to stay as lean and mean as humanly possible. We still grew an average of twenty five to thirty percent month over month last year despite the pandemic and despite the fact that our brands and retailers were kind of caught in the web of the pandemic, given the nature of retail and how the. How covid affected retail. And that was really exciting, I mean, just to know that with focus on brute force, our team could grow the business without any paid marketing whatsoever. But we launched this marketplace at the end of twenty nineteen. So covid was like our first year in business and kind of kicking off twenty twenty one and being able to turn on these growth engines is it feels like such a blessing. It feels like wow, we like got out of last year strong and where we needed to be so that we can actually invest in our growth. So turning on paid marketing AdWords on Google, Facebook, Instagram, as I said, the other way that you grow is adding resources to the teams that are driving the growth right now.
Speaker3: So right now, one of the most effective things for our growth is outbound sales. That's my bread and butter. That's the world I come from. Having been at a software startup before this as the kind of leading salesperson, it's finding retailers and emailing them, calling them and being like, hey, you should sign up for bulletin and here's why. So adding more resources and team members to be doing that action over and over and over again. Another way that we've grown is through our virtual events. So we've done virtual trade shows every quarter or every other quarter. And it's a great way to kind of bring our small business community together. And as brands promote that, they're doing the show and retailers promote that they're attending the show, we got more retailers to sign up and more brands to sign up because I mean, you know this better than I do. All of these product based entrepreneurs and retailers are in communities with each other. So the more that we can get our current community marketing us and spreading the word, the more users we got in, the more sales we get. And I would say the last key lever is and the most important one to me is just making the product better. There's really nothing that replaces just like making your users and your customers lives easier so we can do all the paid marketing in the world that we want to do.
Speaker3: We can throw more bodies at the sales team. But if customers if retailers get to our site and something's broken or something doesn't work the way that they thought or were, we don't have pets right now. For example, as a category in our navigation, we have pet items, but retailers don't know that because they can't find it. So that means that I could sign up 20 pet retailers like pet stores and they're not going to order anything. They're not going to drive revenue because they literally can't find the supply that they need for their store and for their customer. So I really think, like improving the platform user experience, improving discovery, making it easier for retailers to find what they're looking for, but also making it easier for brands to keep their collections up to date through things like integrations with Shopify is a key unlock for us. And if anyone's listening to this and they're like, I don't know, like, what should I do if I could only pick one, pick the last one? Like, if you are building a product, whether it's a physical product or a technology product, make the product as fucking good as it can be and then your users will stay with you. They'll spread word of mouth and tell other people to join and they'll spend more money totally.
Speaker1: I mean, word of mouth inherently has to be built in. And obviously this is the number one thing that comes up for any woman that's on the show is like, hey, the reality is I have a great product and people tell other people about it, and especially women. Women love to chat. Exactly what is the main piece of advice or learning that you would want women who are early on in the journey to know?
Speaker3: That it's going to be really hard. I feel like a lot of entrepreneurs, regardless of how big or small their empire is and this comes up in my book, I mean, I interview a teacher, a full time teacher who runs an Etsy store on the weekends. I also interview venture backed founders were like, this is their life's work. And regardless of whether you're doing it part time or full time, this is a roller coaster. And there's no way to avoid the roller coaster, especially if it's determining whether you can put a roof over your head and food on the table like there's no way to opt out of the roller coaster that is ideating building, launching and scaling a business. And I frankly have found that scaling is the hardest part. And the the thing I wish I knew earlier was like, you're going to make mistakes, you're going to fail, things are going to go wrong. And that doesn't mean that anything's wrong with you. It doesn't mean that you're incompetent. It doesn't mean that you can't do this. And I feel like it's so many points along my journey. I let failure, like I said, like even the various pivots of bulletin. Like, there are two ways to look at that. There's one way to look at it where it's like, wow, we really didn't have our shit together. We were flailing. We were like running a different business every two years. You know, we had this customer. We were always making money, but we just couldn't get our act together. We were indecisive. The other way to look at it is I now run a rapidly growing technology company that's pretty straightforward and how it scales.
Speaker3: And I needed to go through that jungle gym in order to do what I'm doing now, in order to build supply, in order to establish authority and reputation with these retailers, because we used to run our own stores. Could I have built a two sided marketplace without having run my own store? I don't think so. Like, I don't even think I would know what the marketplace would need to do. And so I think that as you go through failure and you kind of encounter these mistakes, it's natural to feel like a fool and let yourself feel like a fool for like 15 seconds, but then really try to follow that up with what is this teaching me or what is this showing me and where do I go from here rather than letting it dissuade you or derail you or let you feel like you're not capable of doing this. I wish I had known that sooner, because I think in the era where I started my business, this was right after Grrl boss had come out. It was right when, like the wing was opening, it was right when female founders were kind of becoming like celebrities fired. And I would look at those women and be like they have some playbook that I don't have because, like, everything seems easy for them. It's so glamorous, like they're raising all this capital. They're on all these magazine covers, like I just don't have what it takes. And that wasn't true. Like they were on their own roller coaster. We just didn't see it. And whatever you see in the press or media or social media is not what's really going on.
Speaker1: I feel like you're explaining how I feel often all
Speaker3: The time, all the time, but it's like if we knew, if we just like really let ourselves know and believe that that is not a facade. But let's like a very deliberate story that's being told about those businesses and about those women, just like we're all telling our own deliberate story on social media about ourselves and our own businesses. I think once you accept that, you're like, oh, this is hard for everyone. This is hard for them to nothing's wrong with me. And like, I just have to keep going.
Speaker1: Thank you so much for sharing that. I love that. So important to know. At the end of every episode, we ask a series of six quick questions, some of which we might have already covered, but we asked them all the same so that we can look back at the data points and see what the trends are. Lauzon data points love some trends. Love it. Love it. Question number one is, what's your why? Why do you do what you do?
Speaker3: I want small business owners and especially women to make money on their own terms.
Speaker1: He's speaking my language, same question number two is what do you think has been the number one marketing moment that made the business pop?
Speaker3: I just got the chills. I would say our store on North Seventh and Wife, which was the first bulletin store we ever opened. Was as soon as we rebranded the store in early twenty seventeen to only feature women owned businesses, we renamed the store from bulletin to bulletin boards. We started doing events in the store and did like a formal store launch. Like I vividly remember I woke up that morning to merchandise the store. I write about this in the book, but like we didn't have dishes for the jewelry, like we literally had nothing to put the products in. I had I had broken up with my boyfriend, had broken up with me like two weeks prior. And I was coming back from a booty call in Bushwick. And I went to Bed, Bath and Beyond at like seven in the morning and I bought a bed bath and Beyond was in the same building as like a TJ Max or something or Marshals'. And I hacked together the most ridiculous outfit from Marshals'. I was super hungover. I was like, so disappointed in myself. I really didn't want to hook up with this guy. And I bought all these dishes at Bed, Bath and Beyond for the store. And I remember I knew it like I knew that morning that the things were different. Like after that it was like the press. I mean, by the end of that year, we were in The New York Times like it was just like
Speaker1: The winds changed.
Speaker3: Yeah. Rebranding the store, refocusing it to just be women owned businesses and really specifically deciding that this metropolitan progressive like liberal female customer is our customer and orienting our Instagram around that the store experience, the branding, the brand voice, everything. Like when I tell you that everything changed after that. Everything changed after that, and I would say for me personally, the most mega marketing thing that happened for my own personal brand was definitely the New York Times feature in Twenty Seventeen. That's how my literary agent found me. I think it just kind of validated the business and the stores in a way that we hadn't been before. But again, I think being able to share that like we did that rebrand in May and we opened our second store in August of twenty seventeen. So maybe like three months later. And then by November, that store we opened in August was in The New York Times, like building that new brand persona, brand identity and just pivoting everything to talk to that very narrow customer segment was fully instrumental in Changing the Future Bulletin.
Speaker1: Oh, that's so cool. Love that for you. Question number three is where do you hang out to get smarter? What are you reading or listening to what groups you subscribe to?
Speaker3: So. This is going to be like maybe a weird answer, but I'm actually trying to get, like, emotionally and psychologically smarter right now, more so than, like ingesting knowledge. I mean, there are certain newsletters I subscribe to, like Retail Brew, Morning Brew The Hustle. I like Girl Bosses, new newsletter. I like that it's daily. I have like channels with my employees at work where we share articles in WWT and business of fashion and glossy on C wholesale, all of that stuff. But for me right now, I think as I'm approaching 30, I'm really trying to become more emotionally intelligent, not as it pertains to other people, but as it pertains to myself. So I'm reading I just finished a book called The Big Leap that I loved. It's about facing what he calls the author calls your upper limit problem, where it's like, why do we self sabotage? Why do we feel like nothing's ever enough? Why don't we reach our potential? What gets in our way? I am a big Leonard Doyle fan. I will say it. I love Leonard Doyle. I love the podcast. I loved Untamed. I'm also reading a book called Designing Your Life, and it talks about how you can structure your day in a way that gives you energy. I feel like during the pandemic I felt like I was beholden to like my schedule and my calendar and my zoom. And I was getting sucked into my computer every day. And I was like, I need to get a fucking grip on my life. Like, I need to control how I structure my time, how I structure my day,
Speaker1: What you let in,
Speaker3: What I let in, what boundaries I create for myself. So, yeah, a lot of the getting smarter I'm trying to do right now is around like boundary setting, really being in tune to what energizes me, what depletes me, and just trying to like live a happy and fulfilled life that I, you know, dictate and create and actually structure very deliberately.
Speaker1: Yeah. I'm happy for you. It sounds like a great journey to be on.
Speaker3: Thank you. Yeah. It's been every book I mentioned I love and I highly recommend that everyone read them.
Speaker1: They're going to be linked in the show notes for anyone who wants to click through. Yes. Including yours. Awesome. Question number four is how do you win the day? What are your AM or PM rituals that keep you feeling happy and successful and motivated?
Speaker3: I journal in the morning. I bought like a beautiful fancy journal and a beautiful fancy pen because I've always told myself to journal and I always do it when something's wrong or something great. Like the last time I journaled was like. In the pandemic, when things were like a shit show, so I felt like investing in that and getting nice equipment to do it has helped. So I journal every morning for like 30 minutes. I also like to read in the morning. So the books I mentioned, I'll take like 15 minutes and read part of those books every morning. And I also work out in the morning before work. So I'll go on a run or I'll do like a YouTube hit video, excited to go back to work outclasses now that New York is opening back up at night. I can I say I smoke a joint. Can I say this is legal in New York? I mean, I'm a very anxious person and like, my brain will whiz out of control at all hours if I let it. So for me, the ritual of like lighting a candle pouring like sweet reason as a CVT drink that I love and like
Speaker1: Being on the show, I love it.
Speaker3: Having some cannabis is like my evening wine down. And I guess I mean at night I love cooking and I love just like spending time with my partner and my dog. Like I, I think having that intimate home time is what restores me for the next day. So yeah, those are my, my mornings and my evenings. Nothing too crazy.
Speaker1: Ditto. I mean not the same but the partner and the dog vibe is like my vibe. But I need to get a bit better with like disconnecting, switching off, like putting my phone away, stop.
Speaker3: Like I hide my phone, put
Speaker1: The laptop away like I feel like I'm that kind of person. It's like, oh, it's nine thirty. Maybe I should like put my computer away
Speaker3: If I'm like logging off for the night and I really don't want to be available all my team and be like, hey, I'm about to start cooking for the night and I'll be back online in the morning. I'll turn my slack off, I'll set in a way message and I hide my phone for myself. My boyfriend always makes fun of me because like every other night or every three nights, I'm like, Can you call my phone? I don't know where I hid it, but I'll hide it from myself at like 9:00 p.m. so that I have like two to three hours of just, you know, being with my partner, living in the moment, reading, just chilling. Yeah. Love that. Hide your phone,
Speaker1: You know, hide my phone. Question number five is if you received a thousand dollars, no strings attached, Grant, whatever, how would you spend it?
Speaker3: I would definitely plan a little weekend getaway with my mom. During the pandemic last year at like during like the brief lull, I forget when that was, it was like two months of like, oh, maybe things are fine. I went with my mom to Catalina. My mom lives in L.A. and we took the ferry across the way. I don't know what body of water that is. I don't know geography. I don't know if it was an ocean. It probably was probably not an ocean. Whatever we got in a ferry and we went to Catalina and it's like this small little town. It's a beach town. It was so fun and just spending time. The two of us was so rejuvenating and we don't live in the same place. She's in L.A., I'm in New York. So I would definitely like take that a thousand dollars and be like, OK, where are we going?
Speaker1: Where are we going? That's awesome. Spicy moggs.
Speaker3: Yes, exactly.
Speaker1: Last question, question number six. And we kind of touched on this already, but how do you deal with failure? What's your mindset when things go to shit?
Speaker3: My first thing I let myself feel when things go to shit is like that things have gone to shit like I let myself sit in it like I remember there was a time at the end of twenty eighteen when we realized we had to pivot where Alana gave me like, really bad news, like just. One of those things where I was like literally this, this could be like the company could be over and I remember sitting in the bath with my partner and just like putting my head in my knees and just like crying and heaving and just like letting myself feel it. And then I immediately try to envision this is so specific, but I immediately try to envision like a mountain and I like put a label on the mountain after I'm sad where I'm like, OK, if I'm at the bottom because I've been kicked off the mountain, like, I know that I'm going to keep climbing. I know myself. I know I'm going to work to get out of this failure moment. But like, what am I working toward? Is it that I tried it something and I failed and I want to try again, so I'm going to use a different pair of shoes in a different walking stick to get up the mountain? Is that that I realized I failed and I'm not well suited to do this thing and I need to do some learning and educate myself before I go back on this journey.
Speaker3: Is it that I'm building and there's a new mountain where I'm like, I failed at this. I'm not going to try this again. But with these learnings and these experiences, I'm going to try to do something else. And I don't know why, but like that always makes me feel like I have a choice in what comes next. And if I decide to give up or that something like isn't for me, I don't feel any shame in it. So the way that I tackle failure is like I try to learn from it. I really do. I ask myself, do I want to try this again, knowing that I might fail again, or am I going to try something new and different with these learnings and go on a new journey? But I never let it make me feel like dumb or incompetent or anything like that, because I accept that I haven't tried this thing before. Like, I almost think it would require a lot of hubris for me to be like, yep, I'm going to launch a startup in. The first idea is going to be it in. The first idea is going to work and it's just going to all go handsomely to plan.
Speaker3: So I also like go into things recognizing that it's my first attempt versus the only attempt.
Speaker1: Yeah, I love that that's a great way to think about it. Mm hmm. Ali, thank you so much. This was so cool and so much fun.
Speaker3: Thank you for having me.
Speaker2: I loved chatting with you.
Speaker3: Thank you. I'm so excited that we met. I mean, after I found your Instagram and your tick tock and all of your educational videos, like I mean, I think what you're doing is so important. I admire it so much. I think the way that you educate and like the very condensed but actionable format that you've landed on is super, super effective. And I was really excited to connect. So thank you for having me on the show.
Speaker1: That's so kind. Thank you so much.
Speaker2: Hey, it's Dounia. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Female Startup Club podcast. If you're a fan of the show, I'd recommend checking out Female Startup Club dot com, where you can subscribe to our newsletter and learn more about our DIY cause. The ads amba. I also truly appreciate each and every review that comes our way. It might seem like such a small thing, but reviews help others find us. So please do jump on and subscribe, write and review the show. And finally, if you know someone who would benefit from hearing these inspiring stories, please do share it with them and empower the women in your network. See you soon.