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When Alana Branston and Ali Kriegsman coincidentally started jobs at a tech company at the same time, they had no idea that they’d also end up quitting on the same day to focus on a business together — until they did just that.
With Ali’s editorial background and Alana’s past e-commerce experience, the two 20-somethings launched Bulletin, a website-slash-market-slash-community featuring more than 70 international designers selling everything from gold-plated rings to handwoven rugs to charcoal soap.
To visit the site is a moderate test in self-restraint. If you visit one of the pop-ups — where you can leisurely browse, listen to designers talk about their beautiful pendants and planters, and snack on food truck delicacies — you will be leaving with multiple items.
They’ve been hosting pop-ups sporadically for the past few months, and this summer, they’re setting up every weekend in July and August in an empty lot in the heart of Williamsburg (plus one more this weekend, June 25th and 26th, at Bushwick’s Lot 45). To get the full story on Bulletin, we sat down with Alana and Ali.
So how did the conversation about Bulletin start?
Alana: We were on the sales team together at a content marketing tech company — we actually started on the same day and sat next to each other.
Ali: And we weren’t really that close at the beginning! I’m younger.
Alana: Which Ali loves to point out.
Ali: Anyways, Alana had a side project where she was working with Brooklyn makers.
Alana: From that company, I could see that this model worked. I already had these relationships with designers, and Ali had this amazing content background, so we began talking. The first iteration of the company was an online magazine with issues. You would “meet” 10 designers and get to hear their story, and the whole thing being shoppable.
Ali: We were doing this on the side for a long time. We only started working on Bulletin full-time this February when we quit our jobs together.
Start the same day, quit the same day — how did you decide to make the leap?
Alana: On a whim, we applied for this program called Y Combinator in November, which is a big accelerator program for tech companies in Silicon Valley. Around 8,000 apply, and 20 get into the fellowship. So when we got the interview, we knew we were onto something.
Ali: And we ended up getting it! They gave us $20,000 to work on the business full-time.
The designers on your site are from all over the world. Do you seek them out, or do they find you?
Ali: Because of Alana’s relationships, we had a good jumping off point with designers. It started with us digging through sites we loved, social media, and other markets. Now, for every merchant we work with, they’ll refer us to two or three others. It’s growing really quickly because the designers want to share this experience with their friends.
What do you like about pop-up markets?
Alana: They’re great for us because we get so used to working on our computers, and the markets allow us to step away and do things in person. The designers also make so much money at them, which is great.
Ali: And they get to have a place where they can sit and tell their story to shoppers. We try to do the best we can with product descriptions and editorial content online, but when a designer talks to you about the product, it totally changes it.
What can people expect at the upcoming Williamsburg markets?
Alana: We’ll be there every weekend in July and August, and then probably September and October, too. There’ll be around 50 designers and food trucks, a seating area, and a DJ. We want it to be a relaxed environment — almost like a block party.
You also have a great program where you connect property owners that have vacant storefronts to designers looking for pop-up space.
Alana: If you walk around Brooklyn or Manhattan, you start to notice all the empty retail spaces. We’re trying to find a more effective way to use these storefronts that make sense. Basically, we find a space, work with the owners, negotiate, and then get the storefront owner and vendors together.
Ali: Right now, we’re looking at around five storefronts in Manhattan for the upcoming holiday season. These storeowners are losing money every single month on upkeep and mortgage, so it’s a good deal for everyone involved.
Aside from the summer pop-ups, what’s next for Bulletin?
Ali: On June 30th, we’re launching the new site. Between scaling up our markets and what we put online, we’re hoping to create a bigger experience.
Alana: We’re also expanding next year to San Francisco and LA. The demand there has just been insane. Online is where we started, but the markets are really the core of what we are now, so I think now the goal is to build this real community for everyone, where it’s easier for designers to work with one another and grow their business. We want people to feel connected to the designers.