Welcome to Bulletin: the house that Alana Branston and Ali Kriegsman built, which is quickly turning into an empire.
Bulletin is a premium online marketplace that has revolutionized and democratized the way brands sell and the way retailers buy — all while fostering a sense of community and highly curated merchandise.
Don’t get it twisted. Although Bulletin specializes in lifestyle categories such as beauty, wellness, fashion, accessories, food & beverage, and home, it is a tech company, not a lifestyle one.
When Branston, CEO, Kriegsman, COO, first launched Bulletin, their goal was to open a retail space that houses a variety of female-owned brands. Spoiler alert: they ended up opening five retail spaces, all over New York City.
While they shifted gears to a fully digital model in late 2019, the magic of their mission happened with their pivot: today Bulletin is a multimillion-dollar online marketplace, redefining the future of B2B commerce and retail.
Here’s how it works: Bulletin is a retail technology platform that empowers female-founded brand owners to display their merchandise, connect with, and sell to retailers. It’s essentially flipping the script on the traditional IRL wholesale model, reimagined for a digital world. (Making it easy for digitally native brands to access physical retail space through its wholesale marketplace.)
MORE FOR YOU
The Bulletin promise is simple: optimizing wholesale for stores while democratizing retail for brands.
“We wake up so grateful every day that we’re building a business that supports other businesses, and our customer is an entrepreneur whose pain points and struggles we can relate to,” Kriegsman shares. (Kriegsman was named among Forbes’ 30 Under 30 List in 2018, in the Retail & Ecommerce category, and shares her tips as an entrepreneur in her bestselling book, How to Build a Goddamn Empire.)
It’s also worth noting that Branston and Kriegsman both come from parents who are small business owners, and Branston had an Etsy shop in college — their ethos of empowering entrepreneurs and creators was always ingrained in their mission.
Learn more about how Bulletin currently serves as the stepping stone for the future of B2B commerce and retail, by doubling down on data, content, curation, and the undeniable power of community.
But first, Bulletin’s origin story.
Branston and Kriegsman first launched Bulletin in 2015 as a side hustle. The cofounders met while they were both working at Contently (the enterprise content marketing platform, and a global content creator network).
Bulletin’s first iteration was as a shoppable newsletter and e-commerce site featuring emerging brands and designers worldwide, primarily from the U.S. (note: this shoppable newsletter is a prime example of the power of content and commerce, in action). The company was bootstrapped for two years, until late 2016.
2016 was monumental for the company: the cofounders took their side hustle full-time that year and focused on running pop-up markets all around Brooklyn and New York City to promote the newsletter and e-commerce site, and to help brands make in-person retail sales. They also opened their first retail store in late 2016, and got into Y Combinator around the same time.
From late 2016 through 2018, they ran a total of five retail stores (at this point, they had evolved from temporary pop-ups to longer term stores). Newsflash: Bulletin pioneered the retail-as-service model for the lifestyle space, the model used by current players like Neighborhood Goods, Showfields and others.
On the investment front, they raised a pre-seed round and subsequent seed round in late 2016 and early 2017. (Their total funding by the end of 2017 was $2.2 million). They built their wholesale marketplace from 2018 to 2019, and closed a Series A in 2019. Branston and Kriegsman launched their marketplace in beta in 2019, and formally went to market throughout 2020 — they only started proactively scaling and spending on marketing in 2021.
When it came to the transition from physical stores to the wholesale marketplace, Kriegsman shares that “within two months of launching our marketplace beta to users in late 2019, our monthly marketplace GMV (gross merchandise value) surpassed our cumulative monthly sales across all permanent stores we had open at the time. This signal is what led us to fully invest in the wholesale platform and pivot out of the retail-as-a-service store model.”
And the numbers prove that if you build it — and build it well — they will come:
-In 2021, Bulletin’s platform sales grew an average of 40% month over month, with zero to minimal paid spend.
-Bulletin more than doubled the size of its brand/vendor community in less than a year. Today it boasts 2,500 brands selling wholesale via Bulletin. (Some brands are exclusive to Bulletin’s marketplace — meaning they’re only using Bulletin to get discovered by new retailers.)
-They scaled a community of 0 retailers to over 20,000 retailers with no paid spend, in just a year and a half, and during the pandemic.
Where does data play into it? They hired and built a team of Stitch Fix and Zola engineers, for starters. (The former CMO at Stitch Fix is among it team of advisors.) Brands have access to a dashboard that displays sales and insights in real time, at different retailers, while retailers can discover brands on Bulletin’s platform via filters like “High Sell Through” and shop by selecting criteria such as a brand’s values, ship dates and minimum order.
The community aspect comes from the ability for brands and retailers to chat and communicate with each other on Bulletin’s discovery feed, which functions like Instagram, and where brands can post new arrivals and content. Retailers can message brands straight within the feed and follow brands, to add to their favorites. They can also shop directly from the feed.
It’s also a bonus for retailers to know that all brands on Bulletin have been vetted by the team, according to a list of eight different criteria (one key value the cofounders take into account is a brand’s overall aesthetic).
The aesthetic and welcoming design of the platform also plays a key role in Bulletin’s success. “We wanted to look modern and sleek, but still feel like it’s not a typical B2B site — it’s playful,” Kriegsman describes.
Branston continues: “How do we make Bulletin feel like a home for many brands and still have a point of view? It’s designed as a welcoming stage for our community, so that the brands can really shine.”
The content pillar comes through via a quarterly insights report that Bulletin sends to its members, informed by rich data and trend projections — they are more than 20 pages long and serve as an educational component to retailers and brands, also making Bulletin equivalent to a consultancy.
“We really believe part of our role here as a platform is, how can we bundle all this information and help these businesses grow, by giving them these really valuable insights and delivering it in a fun way?” Branston explains.
Here’s how membership works: retailers apply to be part of Bulletin, and benefit from a net 60 payment terms (so they can sell their inventory for two full months before paying the wholesale invoice). Brands pay Bulletin commission on sales that are considered new business — so for example, if Bulletin is responsible for that connection (if the retailer finds the brand in the brand directory, on the marketplace or in the discovery feed). There’s no specific membership fee, although Bulletin will be launching something in the next few quarters that offers retailers discounted shipping.
Another way Bulletin is eliminating the barriers to entry for brands, is by also showcasing brands that are new-to-market — already selling in other retailers is not a dealmaker (and being fresh to market is not a dealbreaker) for being featured on Bulletin.
One of the things on the horizon? Using the Bulletin model for a community and data driven platform that connects creators and brands. “We’re definitely very focused on enabling creators to become retailers for the first time, and see them as the next generation of retailers,” Branston explains.
As for the future of B2B retail, this is Kriegsman’s prediction: “Alana and I have conviction that over time, the future of B2B commerce will look very similar to what we see in peer-to-peer (P2P) consumer commerce today. To get more specific, we envision a deeper shift in B2B commerce where merchant discovery, connection, communication, and transactions become even more spontaneous and seamless. B2B commerce is going to look more P2P over time. This is in large part because platforms like Bulletin are genuinely making it easier and more affordable for smaller businesses to grow.”
Consider this: prior to wholesale marketplaces like Bulletin, brands needed wholesale reps or showrooms in order to scale and secure wholesale partners, and retailers needed hired merchants or buyers to fly out to tradeshows to source inventory for their stores.
Kriegsman continues: “Because Bulletin and other wholesale marketplaces have removed that need for so many brands and retailers, and lowered the barrier to entry, we’re seeing a big shift where individuals — like a single Etsy seller — is now selling wholesale to another single individual, like a Shopify store owner or a blogger who sells apothecary via TikTok. When you have two individuals, versus institutions, forming a connection on a platform to do a business transaction together, the tools look much different.”
As for the power of content in commerce?
Bulletin can be credited with lowering the barrier to entry for tens of thousands of brands and retailers — “many of our retailers don’t have a dedicated buying team that came from Macy’s or studied merchandising, and same for our brands — so many of the brands we work with are small but mighty, and they don’t have as much experience chasing trends or polling their retailers when doing product development for their next collection,” Kriegsman shares. “We see it as our job to help those newer buyers, those unconventional retailers, and those brands on-the-rise to learn with us and through us, so retailers can source inventory that actually sells, and so brands can create and sell inventory retailers actually want to buy. At the end of the day, we’re a wholesale marketplace — not WGSN or Business of Fashion or a Retail Academy! We don’t monetize the reports we put together for our community or the insights, data, trends and articles we share in our weekly newsletters, but offering these resources makes our community stronger and smarter, which ultimately makes our business stronger.”