Part of my life goal has always been to exercise both the right and the left sides of my brain (as business and creativity do). I love not having to choose.
You may have heard the phrase, “you can’t do it all,” and while there may be some truth to that, Jen Bilik is one of many design entrepreneurs who does do it all, and does it well.
Jen is the founder, owner, and self-prescribed “head honcho” of Knock Knock, the irreverent stationary and gift company, launched in 2002. The 10-year old company has grown from a line of a few cards with witty punchlines, to a multi-million dollar company that produces over 200 products a year for small boutique shops and major retailers like Target, Urban Outfitters, and Costco.
Jen’s point of view rings clear in Knock Knock’s products, and in the way she runs the business. She said, “Part of my life goal has always been to exercise both the right and the left sides of my brain (as business and creativity do), as well as both to write and design. I love not having to choose.”
The best designers and entrepreneurs identify a problem and craft solutions to solve it in a smart way. Often, they do this by simply observing everyday culture. Airbnb noticed a lack of accessible travel accommodations, and they turned the bedroom into a hotel room. Jen saw big-box retailers’ shelves devoid of intelligent humor, and she stocked them with smart wit. Jen said, “I was keenly aware of the practice of dumbing down and homogenizing for the mass market. Lowest common denominator type of stuff, and nothing with a distinctive voice or point of view.”
She indulges her outside interests, which include both high and low culture: reading, fine art, and reality TV. She said, “I’m kind of an omnivore intellectually and creatively. Reality TV is my friend. I mean, where else would you hear a Real Housewife of Atlanta say, ‘Irony is so ironic’? That is so rich.”
We asked Jen what it means to be in control of her career as a creative, a writer, and a businessperson. She said, “As an entrepreneur you’re more exposed and vulnerable to multiple forces, many coming from outside the company, so you have to balance where you can lead versus where you must react. The strategy part of it is pretty amazing too—the fact that you can sit with smart people and think about what to do, and where to go next. Because the business skill-set doesn’t include capabilities I’m naturally inclined toward, I suck the marrow out of others’ experiences and advice.”
We love that last line, and frankly, it sums up pretty well what we’re trying to do with Kern and Burn.