Jen Bilik is the creative force behind Knock Knock, a company specializing in gifts and stationery with a witty and ironic touch. During her career as an illustrative book editor, Bilik was exposed to many gifted graphic designers and compelling visual art. In 2002, she decided to bring the experience and her own interest in writing into developing hip products colored by editorial humor. Now the company has about 200 specialty products that can be found in over 5,000 stores across the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Last year, its revenue reached $3.26 million with a growth of 20% over 2005.
I would like to create a company that lasts beyond me. As is the case with many founders and owners who are creatively involved in their businesses, the challenge is to create an operation that has value without you. So I want my team to share the success of Knock Knock in the long run, and to be able to make their marks on the company.
I have a lot of inspirations. I am a craft person. I find the process of making very inspiring. I get into an alpha state when I’m sewing, drawing, or doing woodworking. I’m also very inspired by what’s going on in the culture. Our products are very humor-driven. It’s an observational humor about the world we live in today—a lot of that comes from pop culture and other ridiculous things we do.
WHY I’M A SUCCESS
In terms of product development, it’s because of my creativity. I started off as a writer and then became a graphic designer. I don’t think I’m the best writer or the best graphic designer in the world, but my ability to do both makes my outlets of creativity unique. In terms of business, I think resilience helps me the most. You make mistakes over and over again, but you just have to keep trying.
HOW I DID IT
As I started to create individual projects on my own, I began to get a sense of what an umbrella concept might be for the company, which is basically a studio for creativity on paper and for content-driven product. I feel that a lot of products I’ve seen in the marketplace don’t have a voice or a point of view. I believe there’re a lot of intelligent people out there who are willing to buy things that are fun and unique. So I decided to take a leap and give it a try.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED
Managing is really hard. I thought managing people was just a matter of saying please and thank you, and having a cute personality. It turns out that it’s an incredible body of skills that you have to learn. It’s one of the biggest areas for personal growth and maturity that I’ve ever experienced. You learn to put the company’s interest ahead of your individual desires, and get the best out of people instead of saying I told you so.
WHAT I KNOW
The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. The projects you want to take on are going to grow more and more complicated, and there’ll be more and more pieces to their execution. It’s very easy to get intimidated and daunted. But you just have to start with the first step and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I want to have a family—it hasn’t been a possibility for me for the last five years since I started the company. Professionally, I’d like to achieve long-term profitability and share that with my team. It’s also important to strike a balance between coming out with a product that makes some profit sense versus trying new products that are risky but exciting creatively and have the potential to be successful.