01 Nov 2013

Selling Crafts with a Story

Brika cofounder Jennifer Lee Koss (MBA 2008) says her start-up offers consumers the personalities behind their purchases.
by Maureen Harmon


by Maureen Harmon

For weeks in 2012, Jennifer Lee Koss (MBA 2008) and Kena Paranjape held early- morning meetings at La Bohème coffee shop in Toronto. The discussion centered on a possible business venture. The meeting spot made sense; it was near Koss's home and near Paranjape's office. They'd touch base for an hour, give each other homework, and then head to their day jobs—Koss working in private equity, investing in retail companies; Paranjape running a bricks-and-mortar lifestyle store. Then they'd hit the office, go about their business, and dream.

That dream quickly turned into Brika.com, an online marketplace featuring everything from handmade tea towels and dishes to tote bags and "Mr. T" onesies for baby. Brika, which takes its name from the Spanish word for factory, fabricá (they just loved the irony), is what bloggers have called an edited and sophisticated Etsy—with a strong story line. Koss likes to talk about it this way: Brika might tout a handmade cheeseboard—no real difference from Etsy or its knockoffs, there. But they're also going to tell you that the board was made of reclaimed wood at the hands of Matt Voight from Michigan. They might tell you that Matt was inspired by his father's woodwork. They might show you a picture of Matt's studio or his grandfather's hammer.

And suddenly, well, readers want that cheeseboard. "It's something you want to tell your friends about," says Koss. The idea, she says, is to celebrate and elevate modern craft by employing the powerful effect of storytelling.

It's proven powerful enough to put an end to those "pre-work" work meetings. In late 2012, Koss and Paranjape were able to walk away from their day jobs and pursue Brika full time.

Their business idea, she says, lies at the intersection of so many key themes running throughout the online marketplace these days: the maker movement, which highlights handcrafted creativity; sustainable commerce (buying local and getting to know the person behind the piece); online branding ; and the notion of content and commerce , which essentially means that buyers aren't just looking for "stuff" anymore—they want pieces that have meaning and context (that's why Voight's cheeseboards make a killing).

Koss and Paranjape, who run Brika with the aid of only four interns, are not your stereotypical entrepreneurs. "We're not in our 20s. We're not in Silicon Valley," says Koss. "We're in Toronto. I'm a mom. I have two kids." Yet they want this to be more than just another online lifestyle shop—they're hopeful they can build it into a very lucrative career, not only for themselves, but for their "makers." And they face the same issues that any "typical" entrepreneur might face. One second Koss is telling herself, "This is amazing," as the line of makers builds and builds. Five hours later, she says, she questions her decision to leave her day job. "But I've never been happier," says Koss. "I'm leveraging all of the things I knew I was good at and loved doing."

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2008, Section I
follow @jen_brika

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