Kaylin Marcotte's quest to wind down after busy workdays led her to start a puzzle business that now has more than $1 million dollars in sales in just over one year.
Marcotte used puzzles as her nightly meditation when she was head of marketing and community at news platform theSkimm in 2014. She was completing one per week but found many designs to be outdated and uninspiring. She was also noticing that female artists were underrepresented and wanted to find a way to showcase their work. "I began dreaming up a new kind of puzzle," she says. "An elevated, modern take on the classic jigsaw and supporting emerging artists at the same time."
Since launching JIGGY Puzzles in November 2019, the Brooklyn, New York, entrepreneur has brought in more than $1 million. The puzzles have caught the eye of celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow, who posted on her site Goop that she got one for her son Moses, and "Riverdale" star Lili Reinhart. Actress Sophia Bush and singer Demi Lovato have designed for the company's special collections.
Here's what Marcotte did as a first-time entrepreneur that worked.
Usually, the pleasure you get from doing a puzzle is fleeting. "You spend anywhere from five, 10, 12 hours with this image studying every piece, seeing every detail, really living inside of it," she says. "And there's something so deeply unsatisfying about just immediately taking it apart and putting it back in the box."
Marcotte had seen a community on Reddit where people made videos of themselves gluing their puzzles, and it gave her an idea. Inspired, Marcotte worked backwards to figure out what would look good when it was completed and be a good experience for a buyer as both a puzzle and a piece of art.
She decided to give JIGGY customers the option to hang their puzzles in their homes as artwork. "Each box comes with puzzle glue and a straight edge [to help spread it]," she says. "So it can look good on the wall after it's complete."
Marcotte went to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, when she started working on JIGGY and saw a sign on the wall that read, "Can you name five women in the arts?" This proved more challenging than expected: "Georgia O'Keeffe, Frida Kahlo … OK, this is much harder than we thought or than it should be."
The issue isn't simply one of representation. Making money from your work is difficult too, she says. That's why her company works with female artists worldwide and share profits from sales of their work.
Among JIGGY's bestsellers are "Bathing With Flowers," a woman with her hair down sitting in a bath and surrounded by plants and flowers, and its "Boobs" puzzle, which features 48 sketches of breasts in shapes, sizes, and colors, some of which include mastectomy scars.
"It's really just a celebration and all inclusive," says Marcotte. "It was picked up by Goop, and Gwyneth Paltrow personally said she has done it with her son."
The company was doing well during its first four months of business. In the spring it saw a 400% increase in sales, Marcotte says. "Things really took off when the pandemic led to people spending more time at home," she says. "Starting mid-March, the increase in demand, traffic, and sales was pretty immediate. We quickly sold out of our remaining inventory in three weeks and rushed back into production."
People stuck at home liked the idea of doing puzzles. "Everything started picking up, just kind of the zeitgeist," she says. "Influencers, celebrities, people sharing what they were up to in quarantine." People started telling her they hadn't done puzzles in 20 years but were now open to it.
To keep up with demand, JIGGY launched postcard-size puzzles with 24 pieces. "It was definitely a whirlwind," she says. "There's something about a puzzle for Type A people where it's relaxing but you're still going toward a goal and you see your progress with every piece you put in. We had people where they ordered the same puzzle in quarantine and got on Zoom and had a puzzle party doing the same puzzle."
Puzzles were being celebrated in the culture in a new way, says Marcotte. "Lifestyle publications that might not have talked about puzzles before now were like, 'Here's what's keeping us sane.'"
JIGGY increased its offerings to 20 designs in its core collection plus special editions. Prices run from $40-$49 and each kit comes with 450-800 pieces. While Marcotte is the only full-time employee alongside three part-timers, building out her team for 2021 is now a goal.
Everything inside the kit is either reusable or recyclable, she says, which presented its own challenges. "My experience was content and services," she says. "This was my first physical product."
She learned that handling the logistics involved much more than just finding factories with materials. "I quickly realized how much of a partnership it is, and especially being a small new pre-launch company, really having to convince them to invest in you and believe in you and even take your business."
Even something like finding the right tube for the glue presented a challenge. "I felt very strongly about recyclable materials and not using single-use plastics," she says. "And I see how it happens: The easiest, cheapest choice every step of the way is just plastic. That took more time and energy and cost to really think through that."
In the end, her efforts were worth it, she says. "I think now it shows in the product and people see that there was a lot of thoughtfulness that went into the packaging design."
Marcotte encourages communication between artists and customers. "It's really fun to see the relationship between artists and the puzzler, because for the artists you see somebody basically recreating their work piece by piece and then hanging it in their home," she says. "And for the puzzler, I've heard so many times they have so much more appreciation, having seen every detail, when you pick up a piece, and you're like, 'OK, where does this go?' You're studying, seeing every detail, and zooming out and zooming in."
The artist's name and contact info are on the puzzle box, and Marcotte says puzzlers will often tag the artist on Instagram when they get to certain points in the puzzle. "The cheapest customer is always your existing one," she says, adding that she makes sure the company engages with buyers on email and social media. "We're really building that kind of habitual recurring relationship with them."
With extra difficult puzzles, she says, a buyer might tag the artist and write, "This section!" for the part that's really challenging them.
While creating a business is a lot of work, Marcotte recommends you just dive in if you're interested. "I heard someone say that starting a family or getting pregnant, there's never going to be a perfect time to do it," she says. She suggests starting where you are with what you have, and getting your domain name and your Instagram handle.
"Start growing some content and see if there's an appetite there," she says. "Lead authentically and organically with what your mission is and what your story is. Dive in, get some traction, and get things out into the world."
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