Office Hours: I'm the co-founder of Bulletin, Penguin Random House published author, and former marketing lead at Conde Nast.Featured

Hi everyone! I’m Ali Kriegsman, co-founder and COO of Bulletin, a premium B2B wholesale marketplace where retailers discover, meet, and shop the best brands on the planet. I am the author of “How to Build a Goddamn Empire,” a business-book-meets-memoir on entrepreneurship, which was just published this month!Prior to founding Bulletin, I was a sales executive at Contently and marketing lead at Conde Nast, the publishing company.Ask me anything about venture capital financing, bootstrapping, sales, marketing, community building, the founder journey, writing, and more!
Thanks so much for joining us @alikriegsman!Elphas – please ask @alikriegsman your questions before Friday, April 23rd. @alikriegsman may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hi Ali! I have two questions — How did you know it was time to pivot from Bulletin the store to Bulletin the curated wholesale marketplace? Was there a key moment when you thought “this business is heading in a different direction?” or was the marketplace your end goal? And in your experience, out of all the brands you’ve built relationships with, what makes a brand have that “it” factor? Is it the product itself, how they speak to their audience, how they nurture their community, doing everything with consistency, or something else? I run a small handbag brand and have been trying to figure out how to best show up for my customers. Thank you for taking the time!
Hi Jenny! Thanks for these Qs. I write a LOT about the pivot in my book, so shameless plug - if you wan't the full TEA, that's your best bet :-)We knew it was time to pivot for the following reasons, and no, the marketplace was not our end goal. We had actually built our own inventory management system to support SKUS on consignment, which was initially our big tech play / the end goal. But here were the signals:1. We had a waitlist of nearly 4,000 brands (a little over 3500) who wanted to sell in our store, but we could not support them. our stores were individually profitable but we did not have the capital or team to open more stores to meet that demand. We were only working with about 120 brands in our 3 stores, and we realized we'd have to open dozens of MASSIVE stores to meet this demand. It just wasn't feasible and did not make sense with our unit economics/business model.2. Alana and I became convinced that given how we were financed, with venture capital, scaling a brick-and-mortar based business did not make sense. We wanted to scale like a software company, where you can add more customers and find exponential growth without having to increase your spend a ton. Versus, with opening stores as a means to scale, you have to pay for a lease, build-out, ops, management, cleaning, just to unlock that next scale moment. Honestly, we kind of saw the writing on the wall with where WeWork was headed before the floodgates open and their S1 came out, and we no longer wanted to be the "wework of retail." It was a dead-end business model and to this day, I struggle to understand how or why venture dollars would support or should support an asset and liability-heavy business, and VERY high-cost business, like WeWork, or what Bulletin would have become had we kept opening store after store after store.3. We wanted to build a massive company, which meant building a true tech company, not a tech-enabled retail concept. We actually had amazing customer retention, a beloved consumer brand, incredible growth and lots of traction, but we saw a dead end with the brick and mortar based model.As for your Q about "it brands." I love this question and it seems like you already have the answers, tbh! I think the following makes an "it" brands:1. Authenticity. Don't copy another brand or business' branding or lingo or persona. Really build a brand that's true to you and your POV.2. Having a unique audience. Can you get more specific about who your handbag line is for? Building around an audience - their favorite music, shows, taste, food, memes, news, pop culture - everything they're obsessed with, versus building around a customer, is always most effective. I think Golde, Unbound and create cultivate have done this very well. 3. The consistency piece is key. You have to show up for your audience in a way that is reliable and constant. If you start recurring programming on IGTV on a monday, don't just give up after 4 weeks. keep going. If you do something on customer support that your customer love, think of ways you can expand on that and bring that flavor or approach to more of your channels or comms. I think I Fund Women and their instagram account is a great example of a unique brand that has leveraged education, digital programming and CONSISTENCY to grow and make stuff happen.
Hi Ali, wow. Thank you so much for the in-depth response! Definitely making an action plan with all your advice and will pick up your book soon. Thanks again!
Hi! Thanks for your time! I’d love to know about the early days of building your marketplace - how you validated the idea, found a team to build it, got users, scaled, etc.?
Hi there! thanks so much for this question. Building a two-sided marketplace is NO EASY FEAT and the early days were definitely quite tough. How we validated the idea: prior to launching Bulletin's wholesale marketplace, we ran retail stores all over NYC. We focused on a retail-as-a-service model wherein brands paid a low monthly subscription fee for access to shelf space, sales data and real-time analytics, customer feedback and R+D support. Prior to that, Bulletin ran pop-up markets all over Brooklyn and NYC. We have always been in the business of helping brands increase their distribution, and through running these earlier business models we began to learn how expensive and cumbersome it was for brands to get into retail space or a retail market without Bulletin. They'd have to pay up to $30,000 for trade shows, hire showrooms for 6 months minimum or hunt down wholesale reps who would go door to door to pitch their products to storeowners. Brands LOVED our retail-as-a-service model because it was a more affordable way to get into a store, comparing our model to these traditional methods. We ended up with a crazy waitlist of 3500 brands who wanted to sell in a Bulletin store but we couldn't meet demand because we only had 3 locations, so we immediately started thinking of a new way to help brands increase their distribution without Bulletin as their distributor/store. We knew of Etsy wholesale, Faire, Tundra, and so the wholesale marketplace model had already been proven out. We thought building our own might be a wise way to expand our customer base and connect brands with stores we didnt ourselves lease or own. We did interview hundreds of brands and retailers to make sure the space wasn't too crowded and find white space. We basically looked at our waitlist, interviewed as many existing and potential customers as humanly possible, looked at our current business model and customer data we could extract from that, and spent a LOT of time on our unique positioning and how we could make a dent in the market. How we found a team to build it: We already had a marketing and sales team because of our old business model running the stores, but we needed to find engineers asap and a product lead to scope out + build the marketplace. We leveraged our network and referrals to find engineers and a great Head of Product. We also briefly worked with a remote team in Serbia, via a referral, to do some platform front-end work. I recommend using internal resources as much as possible. Remote, international engineers are often cheaper to work with, but they need a lot of management and guidance, and unless you have a CTO or product visionary at the helm and leading them, you will have to personally micromanage them a ton. Got users: I'm a growth hacker by trade I guess, so this part was exceptionally challenging but also super fun. I don't want to share too much here because we're still in a hyper competitive space and we did unlock some hacks I'd like to keep private, but the cocktail I think works best is: cold emailing / cold outreach, Adwords/paid marketing on the right channels, and going narrow on highly effective channels versus going too broad, creating a self-sustaining referral program so once you secure new users, they are incentivized to invite new users, and partnerships. Two things I can comfortably share: I actually took two ladies from my team to go door to door to find new retailer customers in Brooklyn when we were building out our beta program. Literally physically walked around and begged retailers to give us a try - which worked. And I also partnered with a non-competitive, physical trade show called Reassembled, because they had thousands of brands + retailers in their network, and we paid for some marketing and a formal partnership to access their database. scaled: We're in scaling mode now. We grew from 0 retailers to 8,000 in one year, and a lot of that was just analyzing our most effective growth hacks, doubling down on them, hiring for them, and refining our methods over time. We also turned on paid growth channels for the first time in 2021 which helps a lot with scale. But that 0 to 8,000 was pure brute force outreach and using the growth hacks that worked well from day 1.
@alikriegsman wow! Thank you so much for this thoughtful, extensive answer. I’m in the midst of building a platform in the South Asian space and your response was so helpful. I appreciate it! Thanks again 🙌🏽
Hi, What are the tips for growing and retaining a paid membership community in Facebook?
Hi Clara! So great to meet you and thanks for asking this question. I have never built or managed a paid community on Facebook but I'd suggest checking out Ladies Get Paid, who build a massive paid community but on Slack, and Dreamers and Doers, which is another paid membership community that began on FB and has now expanded. Another great paid community on IG, FB etc is Coven Girl Gang. You can study the frequency of their posts, how they are providing value, what content they are offering for free vs paid to get a sense for some best practices! Ultimately, though, you are launching a subscription business. Your role as the host of the community is to offer tangible value every single month so you can retain members and leverage word of mouth to grow the community even further. It is important to track all the right metrics so you know if your trend line around new members + retention is going up or down. You can find some helpful metrics here: They key to retaining those members is adding value, so you may want to do some surveys or member calls to dial into why they are staying, what they're loving about your program, and use those insights to double down on what's working. My other suggestion would be - avoid trying to be everything for everyone. Really hone in on who your core customer is and live to serve and retain them, and if the "wrong" customer ends up joining and churning, that's ok. Figure out the profile of the members who have stuck with you for at least 3 months and continue to build the business around THEM.To find new customers, I would partner with likeminded platforms, brands, communities that are non-competitive and try to get in front of their audiences. Also, use your current member base to do lookalike ads on IG and FB to fill the top of your funnel, and launch a formal sales pipeline of brute force outreach (via DM on IG or Twitter) to personally invite on-target potential customers to join the community. Hope this helps!
Thank you so much! I will check these platforms! great advice
Hi Ali!! Love that you are doing an AMA. I am a little late to the game, but I am very curious about how you built your trajectory from different experiences. What were your biggest takeaways for Bulletin from your marketing beginnings- and how long did it take you for you to feel comfortable enough with all the metrics, and how did you decide to take the sales job at Contently? Thanks again so much for doing this, and can't wait to check out your book!
Congratulations! It sounds like you're doing it all. Your book sounds great! Any thoughts on what you want your next book to be on? What do you like to do in your "down time" if you have any!
Hi Hannah! great Qs.My second book will likely be fiction, and I will only be able to write it once I'm no longer a business owner. I do not think I'll write a book while building or scaling a startup ever again. It was just a bit brutal and I like focusing 100% on one thing at a time. That being said, I could only get *superficially candid* in this book, as I like to say, because I still have investors to answer to , a co-founder to support and employees to manage. I am proud of my vulnerability in the book but want to take things even further someday soon. There is a lot I hope to share someday about being a woman in venture capital, and about being a woman business owner in general. that I could not share in this book/format, and I think a fiction book will be a more exciting and honest vehicle for that.In my downtime, I read. I cook. I play with my dog! I hangout with friends and love having people over for dinner! I also LOVE true crime podcasts and documentaries! :-)
Hi Ali! (1) I'm curious—what made you want to pull the trigger on writing a book now vs. later? I imagine the time commitment must have been considerable given the bandwidth constraints of being a founder.(2) What impact do you most hope this book will have?Can't wait to read it. Also, I love Bulletin!
Hi hi! I decided to write a book now because I truly felt like I couldn't find any business books that were written from the trenches. more on the logic behind doing my book when I did here: And you can also read this for the impact I hope the book will have! was a considerable commitment but I kind of had no choice! the book offer came to me after bulletin was featured in the NYT in 2017. I couldn't tell my agent or publisher that I wanted to wait, and I wanted to capitalize on the opportunity as soon as it came up. I have been great at time management since I was young. I've always juggled various interests like writing, singing, dance, working, learning since I was a kid, so my brain and my psyche kind of know how to compartmentalize and find time, space + room mentally to get lots of things done. It was a really rough 2+ years juggling the business, our pivot and the book, but I truly believe that people make time for things they want to accomplish, and this was one of them!thank you for your kind words on Bulletin!
Hey Ali! This is crazy you just posted in here, I was actually listening it to my car ride home last night! I've been sucked in this entire weekend. I love how you incorporated other women's stories into the books - I found myself totally relating. I also appreciated you breaking down funding options. For Office Hours, I'd love to hear more about your daily routine and what you've learned to incorporate so that you stay sane while juggling so much. Where can I find your office hours? Thanks for doing this!
Hi there! Thank you so much! I am not sure what you mean by finding my office hours because I don't do those right now, but happy to answer this here! And thank you so much for listening to the book. So glad you are finding it valuable.I shut my brain off every single night, ideally by 9pm. Candidly, during my book launch push and for most of 2021, 9pm became like 1030pm, but I'm getting back to my normal routine. Shutting my brain off means: putting my phone in a different room, having a fun beverage like a cbd drink or wine, hanging out with my dog or my friends, and not talking about work. I need that detached time and space or else I get really burnt out. I also like being off of my phone because these days, instagram feels like work because of book stuff and Alana, my cofounder and I, could slack for hours about our team or what we need to be working on. I need to set that boundary and become unavailable at night so I can prioritize myself and my needs.I start every day with a walk outside and try to go for a run or do a workout. i get really extra stressed or anxious if I don't exert myself first-thing after I wake up. Even if I don't feel up to it, I go for a walk in the park. For me it isn't about physical fitness as much as it is getting fresh air and getting my brain awake.I try to take a pause mid-day if I can to cook now, too. I like detaching from work for an hour if I can to clear my headspace and process any meetings or decisions made earlier in the day.Hope this helps!
That's great! As a first time founder I'm trying to develop healthy habits and boundaries from the get-go. I'm building out a line of strong, chic rain umbrellas created from recycled ocean bound plastic, so maybe I'll reach out to Bulletin ;) Thank you very much Ali.
Hi,What advice would you give a startup that is planning a a new product awareness campaign? Do you find social media marketing, influencer marketing or affiliate marketing to be the most effective in creating new product awareness?Thanks for the time.
Hi there! Thanks for the Q!I honestly think the viability or success of influencer marketing versus affiliate versus just paid ads completely depends on your product or customer, so I'd like to learn a bit more about your business/product of course.I think it depends on what KPIs you are optimizing for. To generate some buzz and just build product awareness, I'd lean on an influencer program + press hybrid attack. If you want to generate sales but have to keep your customer acquisition costs low, an affiliate program might work best, because I think you'd spend less on each affiliate and the customers they can bring in, versus what you'd have to spend on ads to get effective ROAS (return on ad spend).Honestly, my advice would be to pick one or two and do them really, really well, and I'd suggest stalking some of your competitors to see what they've done in similar pickles and what they continue to do over and over again. Because that means it is working.I've seen a lot of successful product-based businesses leverage a massive press push and influencer marketing if the goal is mostly awareness. But do a press push, affiliate program + ADS when the goal is revenue. Of all these options, I think influencers bring in the least revenue, and you will have the hardest time calculating ROI on those influencers in advance because you have no clue what % of their audience will order. Also, you often can't tell influencers or control how many times they post, what times they post at... you CAN control that with affiliates, though.
Thank you so much!