Feature photo courtesy of @alikriegs
How Bulletin redesigned the brick & mortar format with a radically new philosophy
Bulletin co-founder Ali Kriesgman is marching customers back to physical stores to connect with digitally native, thoughtfully sourced and curated brands. In this interview with Bobblehaus, we get a cross-section of her life: from tackling entrepreneurship burnout to goal-setting to a fully-fledged obsession with the paranormal.
What interests you about the intersection of physical retail and activism?
[The Bulletin] marketplace allows retailers to source inventory from hundreds of independent brands that span different value sets and priorities: retailers can find brands focused on sustainability, shop from female-founded businesses, minority-owned businesses, handmade businesses, American-made businesses, and filter explicitly for this while they shop the site. Commerce powers our economy and the world. So doing things like investing in and supporting sustainable brands, shopping ethically sourced products and other values-driven or activist brands has a real impact. If retailers bring these brands into their stores, it gives consumers the opportunity - at scale - to shop brands that believe in something. It changes consumer habits and expectations, and helps them realize that the money in their wallet carries more than just financial weight. I think that’s extremely powerful.
As a student and now entrepreneur, what did you crave most in a mentor? Why?
Honesty and genuine commitment. You aren’t going to get any valuable insights or resources from a mentor unless they truly give a sh*t about you and your career, and they aren’t going to help you make wise, sound decisions unless they’re straight up and honest with you.
How do you push through entrepreneurship burnout?
I think tackling burnout is all about knowing yourself, your needs, and what makes you feel whole again. It has actually taken me a long time to understand myself in that way, Burnout can lead to agitation, anxiety, sleeplessness, fatigue - you name it. I make sure to end every single night with my adorable beagle, supportive boyfriend, some good TV, and a cold glass of white wine. I know exactly what I need to recharge. I listen to a lot of music, go on long runs in the park near my house, sleep in on the weekends, FaceTime with my family. It takes a while to put all the pieces together and understand what your Recharge Routine looks like, but once you figure it out, you have to commit to it and honor it the same way you would a diet or workout routine. So that’s how I push through - I am in tune with myself and how I’m feeling, and I give myself guilt-free downtime as soon as things really boil over and I realize I need a break.
When your creativity gets stalled, where do you turn or return to for inspiration?
I often return to my creative flow when I’m solo - like on a long run, in the shower, grocery shopping, or falling asleep. There are certain weeks where I am feeling really uncreative and unmotivated and honestly, I often find a correlation between how much alone time I’ve had that week and how inspired I feel. So I always try to program some alone time if I see those jam-packed weeks coming up - I’ll tell my boyfriend I need the apartment to myself for a few hours on Sunday, [or] I’ll take the longer commute to get to work during the week. I’ll find small ways to give myself that solo space. I also find that looking at old photos or some of my old writing can really get me back in a creative headspace. I find it so motivating to connect with an older, former version of myself through pictures and text. It makes me want to keep pushing to become a version of myself I can stay proud of.
What's something guaranteed to make you smile?
Videos of baby long-haired dachshunds doing just about anything.
Who was the first person you told when you were named to forbes '30 Under 30'?
Alana, my co-founder, was standing right next to me so I basically screamed right in her face as soon as I found out. We were filming a segment for Refinery29’s Facebook video channel so I think there’s actually a video of it somewhere… :-)
What are your "red flags" when meeting new people - personal and professional?
OMG. I am so bad at this. I feel like my mom trained me to see the absolute best in everyone and I rarely meet people I patently dislike. I am definitely turned off by entitlement, passive aggressiveness, and people who are rude to waitstaff, store associates, servers, etc. It doesn’t matter if I’m at a personal dinner or a professional coffee date, I literally cannot stand when people don’t say “thank you” to people or people who treat service people like sh*t. I used to be a hostess, I’ve worked retail, I’ve been a barista and a server. It makes my blood absolutely boil. It is so dehumanizing and I just fall apart and cringe if it happens around me. I can always sense if people are a bit entitled and I get really anxious around passive aggressive people, but I often find that if people have dark, upsetting characteristics, it usually comes from a place of insecurity! So I don’t dislike those people or wish them any ill well - they don’t make my blood boil in the same way - but I do wish them a journey of self discovery and self acceptance. And yeah, I probably won’t spend much time with them until they get their act together.
What's the most important goal you've ever set for yourself? (Did you achieve it?)
When I was graduating 6th grade, we had to list out what we wanted to be when we grew up for the yearbook. I remember writing “ballerina,” but I really wanted to write “author.” For some reason, I thought becoming a professional dancer was somehow more plausible than becoming a published writer! I kind of get why, though. My parents were both writers and I saw firsthand how hard it was to get anything made or published. I wanted to be a writer my whole life, but it was always this dirty little secret I kept. It seemed like the most impossible thing in the world and any time I even gently suggested it might be what I wanted to do, people always shot me down and told me how hard it was to get paid for any creative work in the “real world.”
I kind of gave up on writing completely once Bulletin took off in early 2016. We got into a really prestigious accelerator program in Silicon Valley and finally had some funding for the business. I was so obsessed with getting our business to work, [with] trying to make money,[with] trying to scale - I stopped any sort of meaningful writing for years. I just kind of kissed that dream goodbye and took “becoming a published author” off my bucket list.
In 2017, I got an email from my now-literary agent saying he read about Bulletin in The New York Times and pieced together that I was a writer by googling around and seeing a handful of older things I’d written. He asked if I’d be interested in writing a book proposal and putting something together around female entrepreneurship.
I remember reading the email, stepping outside of the Bulletin Mini Mall pop-up, and just crying in the street on 21st and Broadway. It was like this part of myself I had forgotten and tossed away was coming back to life. I ended up meeting with my agent, putting together a proposal, and selling my book 9 months later. My mom was in New York the day I found out Abrams wanted to buy it, and we both ran out of the Bulletin office and cried together on the sidewalk.
While I was extremely proud of securing the book deal, I am most proud of writing the book itself. I still cannot believe I was given this opportunity and I am so honored and glad that I lived up to who 6th Grade Ali wanted me to be. I don’t feel like writing is this dirty secret anymore - it’s who I am. It is such an important part of me and how I live in the world. That’s also a huge accomplishment. I am so glad I got over that.
What was the first thing you were ever full-on, fired-up, passionate about?
When I was in 6th grade, I became absolutely obsessed with paranormal stuff: aliens, Big Foot, the multiverse, ghosts. I used to spend recess on the class computer researching UFO sightings and “Big Foot footprint evidence.” I am still super into the paranormal and can get myself into a crazy YouTube hole if left to my own devices. But that took up my headspace for a really, really long time.
How do you deal with gut-wrenching disappointment?
I process for as long as I need to, usually up to a week, and then I let myself move on. As a business owner, you experience tons of disappointment, and sometimes it’s back to back to back. If I have a super sh*tty day - we didn’t hit our sales goal for the month, we had a really crappy and hard decision to make, a deal we were sure about didn’t go through - I usually order some Shake Shack, pour some fancy whiskey, queue up Law and Order SVU, and just go into a little baby spiral. I let myself fully feel it. But I also know that the most successful and brilliant people in the world have experienced loss, disappointment, failure - I am not alone, I am not unique, and the only way to push through it is to go through it. That’s how you become successful. You don’t let it hold you back or trip you up.
What's a trend you really, really, really don't want to see come back?
Oh my god - a direct and daring question I really need to sit with for a sec.
I want to say really aggressive side bangs/ side parts. I feel like my hair part made no sense for 10+ years. Like in 2004-2014 you could not see my forehead because I was just taking large chunks of my hair from the right side and gently tucking it over my left ear. I don’t really know who started the trend or where it went but I am really glad to be a solid middle-parter now and I am glad my forehead is getting some exposure.
What's something that reminds you of "home," however you define that?
I don’t really have a “home” anymore, sadly. When I was in college, my parents divorced, my mom and brother were forced out of our childhood home and my mom scrambled to find a new place to land and rebuild. I never said goodbye to my childhood home and was actually traveling abroad when they moved out - I haven’t been home since before I left for Europe. We rented this tiny house off the 405 for a bit, and then my mom moved into her current apartment about two years later. I don’t have my own room there and all my old furniture is gone. Sadly enough, I got back to the US and it was like my whole life was different. The room I knew, and house I knew - everything disappeared.
But through it all, my mom always made her famous brisket. UGH! It is just the best. She goes heavy on the onions and always adds roasted carrots. She always makes me for me and my brother Ben when we come home to LA to visit.
We’re so excited for your new book, How To Build A Goddamn Empire (Abrams Books 2021), and can’t wait to read it after its release. We hope this isn’t a spoiler, but: is there a definite how not to build a goddamn empire?
I think it takes a lot of self awareness and openness to critical feedback. I think people with huge egos or people who always think they’re right will struggle to build their empires. I accept who I am and who I’m not, what I do and don’t know, and I rely on partners, employees, my co-founder and advisors to flag when I’m f*cking up or what I can do better. I think being close-minded or being too proud will always bite you in the ass.
And finally - how do you define 'community'? How can we build and sustain it in the midst of a global pandemic?
I grew up in a really tight-knit Jewish community and went to school with the same kids until I went off to college. My family went through some serious medical and financial trauma my freshman year, and I feel like that really kick-started this practice of building my chosen family outside of LA, my close community of friends. Community has always been a huge part of my life and it is the glue that kept me and my family together through years of hardship. I don’t define community as a group of people that all necessarily believe the same thing or worship the same God or strive toward the same goal. I think community is actually really simple: a community is composed of individual people that commit to caring about, supporting, and checking in on each other people in the group. I think that makes “community” pretty easy to build and sustain during this pandemic: start a group chat with your best friends from high school, even if you haven’t spoken to them in ages, just to see how they’re doing. Schedule a weekly FaceTime with your closest friends. Start an Instagram group with other founders or brands you love and go all-in on sharing resources or words of support with one another. I think community is a place where you can be who you are and show your humanity.