Brittany Hodak and Kim Kaupe paired their passions for mutually beneficial aspects of entertainment – journalism and music – to an all-new intersection. With the launch of ZinePak, a multi-million dollar entertainment company, the duo has worked with the biggest bold-faced names in pop culture. From Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, to Duck Dynasty and Frozen, the ZinePak team aims to deliver unique content to each entertainer’s super fans, while also taking the piracy of the music and movie industry head-on.
“I worked in the music industry for several years and grew up listening to everyone talking about digital downloads and how the industry was changing because people were stealing music,” Brittany says. “My thought had always been simple: if you make something that people couldn’t steal, then they would have to buy it. If physical music was superior to digital music, then people would have an incentive to get in their car, drive to the store and actually buy it.”
That thought helped Brittany and Kim – who met while working together at an ad agency – create ZinePak. Their goal? Create pieces from tattoos and stickers, to guitar picks and mini magazines so cool that fans will have to buy it, hold it in their hands and keep it as a collector’s item.
And, while fewer than 2 percent of women-owned businesses ever hit the $1 million mark, this pair did it. And, just last week Brittany and Kim nabbed a pair of Sharks, too. Read on and become empowered.
In the early days of your company you have to be willing to put in those hours and really own the fact that you are building something from nothing.
We’d love to hear more about your backgrounds. Kim, how has your publishing background led you to your role at ZinePak?
Kim: I did internships throughout college. My sophomore year I interned at a local magazine in my hometown called Palm Beach Illustrated, which was a great first jump into a world that I already knew I loved. I’ve loved magazines from a really young age and knew that it was something I wanted to work in. Then, during my junior and senior years I interned in New York City for People magazine, which was my first real taste of a large-scale publication with massive projects and massive reach. The experience solidified my love of the industry even more, so when I graduated college in May of 2008, I instantly went to work trying to get a job in the publishing industry. I was fortunate enough that the boss I interned with over those two previous summers in New York was able to add me to her team. I started at Condé Nast in October of 2008 for Brides magazine and was there for about two and a half years before I ultimately went to the ad agency where Brittany and I met.
And Brittany, what was your background before meeting Kim?
Brittany: I got a job at a radio station when I was 16 years old. I was a mascot and dressed up as a bumble bee and tried to pretend it wasn't embarrassing to go to state fairs, rodeos and car dealerships dressed as a bumble bee! I got very, very lucky because my maiden name was Brittany Jones – and this was around 2000/2001 and Bridget Jones's Diary was really popular. The program director at the radio station asked if we could do anything with the name Brittany Jones and play off the success of Bridget Jones's Diary – something where I was writing and could call it my diary. I liked the idea and said if they would send me to meet fans, I would try and get into funny situations with them and then write about it. So, at 17 I was able to go meet whatever star I wanted to, and that blew my mind. It spoiled me for ever having a real job! I mean I was 17 and getting paid to hang out with celebrities.
I knew at one point I either wanted to work for a record label or a music magazine, and so all my internships throughout college were at labels. After I graduated I took a job working for Sony Music in New York where I did the retail marketing for a division of their company called Red, which focuses on independent artists and musicians. While there I was in charge of setting up really fun marketing programs with brands like Walmart and Target. I was there for about three and a half years and then I left to go work at an ad agency because I thought it would be really fun to learn more about the intersection between artists and brands.
I was always really fascinated by the world of how marketing at big corporations ties into pop culture, and lines between certain brands and certain artists, so I liked to go work at an agency where I was in charge of setting up those very things – from true integrated programs for artists, to writing songs for brands and campaigns, to things like core sponsorships, to marketing for television commercials and TV shows. I was there for about a year and a half and then I started ZinePak.
Many entrepreneurs are solopreneurs building their business on their own, but the last five years we’ve seen a rise in the co-founder. What are your thoughts on the relationship you two have doing this together versus if you had to go about it on your own?
Kim: We have no idea how people do this by themselves because we have so much work even though there are two of us. And even though we tag-team it, we’re still trying to tell ourselves to stop working on the weekend. The work is never ending, and so I can't imagine how you would complete that as one person. I also think we have the advantage of war tactics – bad cop and good cop. Like you're going to pretend you know something, and I'm going to pretend I don't know something. I also like bouncing ideas off each other.
Brittany: Before employees when you are just a one-person company, unless you have some sort of infrastructure running when you’re sleeping, you don’t have a company yet, you have a job. Why? Because there is nobody else to run things when you are sleeping, traveling or on an airplane and don’t have wi-fi access. Having a co-founder allows the business to run when you’re not there.
A year and a half after ZinePak was founded, my dad got sick and died suddenly. If it had been just me, the company would have had to be put on the back burner, and nothing would have gotten done for a few weeks. We would have lost lots of revenue, clients and important projects. So, to be able to have a co-founder and somebody you trust completely and say, “Tag, you’re it. I’m completely checking out for the next however long,” is just a fantastic luxury.
When you two first started ZinePak did you bring investors on board or did you just start it? What was your business process to launch?
Kim: We did not bring any investors on board. We wanted to make sure straight up that we maintained complete control of the company, so we launched it with our own savings. We knew that if we could get the right partners aligned we would have enough business to be able to sustain our growth. We initially reached out to Walmart to see whether or not they would carry the products and they said they would love to. Then we started reaching out to record companies and artists to ask whether or not they would be interested in hiring us, basically, to put this product together for them. And that's how we got our start!
Now how big is your staff?
Brittany: There are 13 of us total.
That's amazing for all the work you do.
Brittany: For us it was really taking a learning lesson from our old jobs. We had been in places before in corporate America where they would hire all these people and then for half the time these people would be playing on Facebook and just kind of hanging out. And for us it was about really trying to utilize, simplify and think about what we actually need on a day-to-day basis. And for all those jobs that are maybe still important but aren't necessary every single day we found freelancers and really fantastic people who we can get to work for us. These people are currently employed at Meredith or Condé Nast and are really experts in their fields.
How do you each organize your days, and what does your routine involve?
Kim: I'm an early bird. I get up early, and I like getting up early. I get into the office anywhere between 8:30 and 9 a.m. and usually start work by tackling my to-do list, while the rest of the office starts trickling in around 9:30 or 10 a.m. By then, things start to go off the rail for me in terms of my own to-do list and it kind of gets taken over by whatever is going on that day. Brittany and I always have a lot of meetings, so there are always meetings we are in or conference calls we need to be on, and this doesn't always leave a lot of room for stuff that I need to do personally, which is why I love getting a lot of that personal stuff done in the morning. Then I try to leave the office by 6 p.m. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't, but in between those times I really try to organize my schedule. I’ve realized when I start to feel crazy it’s because my organization is lacking. When I stay focused and organized, I accomplish the most.
Brittany: I’m more of a night owl! I usually wake up between 8 and 8:30 a.m., and around 10 a.m. my day usually starts with attacking emails. Because I’m usually up after midnight, before I go to bed I’ll use something for Gmail called Boomerang, which helps me schedule messages. I’ll spend 30-40 minutes replying to emails, and then I’ll schedule them with Boomerang to be sent out between 9 and 10 a.m. So, the hour before I get to the office a lot of emails are going out from me, but by the time I get in, I’m already receiving responses.
Otherwise there is no such thing as a typical day. On any given day we could be sending a few projects to print, dealing with launching a new website, hiring new employees, or figuring out new exciting projects we are working on. Something I always try to dedicate some time to each day is keeping up with how the industry we work in is changing. I make sure I'm reading about all the trends in music, publishing, and even technology, because we launched an app about a year ago to power all-new reality experiences. I’m very fascinated by the intersection of digital and mobile technology with physical goods, so I try to dedicate time each day to keeping myself up to beat with the cool and innovative things that other companies are doing in our area.
One of my favorite things about being a startup founder is being able to set my own day. I try to arrange it so at least once or twice a week I get to have lunch with my husband. I work a couple of miles away, and because he also works in entertainment, sometimes we are both out really late at night going to different shows and doing different things, so any time we have where we can schedule lunch is a really nice thing.
What are some of your ‘pinch-me’ moments?
Brittany: We have those moments a lot.
Kim: I think, for us, it was such an exciting moment when we crossed the $1 million revenue mark, and to realize we had done that in under a year – which, in retrospect, is pretty quickly. That was really exciting. And I mean, we’ve had lots of really exciting moments – when we moved to our first office site, hiring our first employee and getting our first American Express card are all small victories for us that were really exciting.
Brittany: I think it’s just so humbling every time we get to work with these great artists – like KISS, Toby Keith or The Beach Boys – who we grew up just idolizing. If you had told 10-year-old Brittany or 10-year-old Kim some of the things we've gotten to do, we wouldn't have believed it. And to be able to be peers with these people and work with them as a member of their team on something for their fans is an amazing thing we get to do.
On the flip side, what are some of the challenges you face that keep you awake at night?
Kim: That's a really great question and also one that changes. The nature of a startup is that the business is always changing – even while you get more employees or are more successful – the problems change but are still there. Some general, overarching things that always keep you me up at night would be: Are we doing the best job we can? Are we being as efficient as we can? Do our employees feel engaged, motivated and excited to come to work every day? Is that the type of culture and environment that we are fostering?
It’s really interesting to see the worries we had a year ago and how vastly different they are today. A year ago we might have been really worried about we’re going to start to break into the film industry and how we’re going to start to tackle that feat. And here we are a year later, and we've been fortunate enough to do the movie soundtracks for Frozen, Guardians of the Galaxy and How to Train Your Dragon. It’s really interesting to see how our problems shift from quarter to quarter.
What does your current work/life balance look like?
Brittany: I feel like work/life balance is one of those things people have been talking about for the last few years, but also one that nobody was talking about 10 years ago. For me I don't think, “Sometimes I'm an aunt and sometimes I'm a wife.” They're not mutually exclusive. I don't keep boundaries. As an entrepreneur I'm always thinking about ZinePak, but I also could be thinking about other things. If you love what you're doing it's never going to feel like a burden. Even though there are times when you feel like you’ve been trying to solve a problem for 17 hours and you would just love to go to sleep, when it’s your company, it's your baby. I imagine it’s like the difference between being a babysitter and being a parent. When it is yours it doesn't feel like so much of a struggle or a sacrifice, because everything you're doing is something you choice to do.
Kim: The only thing I would add is I try to be very meticulous about scheduling work, whether it's conference calls or work events. Then, I try to do the same thing then with my personal life – making sure that it’s also getting time and hours on my calendar. Whether it’s drinks with friends or dinners, and I will set that time aside on my calendar and make sure it’s on there in an actionable time frame. I know I'm going to be busy, but that's just as important as the conference call that you see three hours earlier on my same schedule.
What are some defining qualities you think it takes for someone to be a successful entrepreneur?
Brittany: You’ve got to have a thick skin. I meet a lot of people who want to be entrepreneurs but also will tell me they are really bad at handling rejection. Those two things are really mutually exclusive in a lot of ways. You might hear ‘no’ 100 times before you hear ‘yes’ and you've got to be just as enthusiastic the 101st time you give somebody the opportunity to say no to you as the first time. You really have to develop a thick skin, be OK with hearing negative feedback or criticism and use that as something to motivate you to improve your product as your company moves forward.
I also think you have to have a little bit of that mentality that I talked about in terms of ‘I'm the parent, not the babysitter’. Nothing perplexes me more than when people say, “I love my company. I would do anything for my company as long it's not answering an email on a Saturday … or as long as I don't have to do a conference call after 4 p.m.” In the early days of your company you have to be willing to put in those hours and really own the fact that you are building something from nothing.
Kim: This reminds me of nature versus nurture. I feel like you are either born with it or you're not. If someone is a hustler and there is a problem, they are going to solve it. If there’s an opportunity they are going to jump on it. And if they can do 10 more laps to be the soccer team captain, then they are going to do 20 more laps. It's someone who naturally has that urge to not only do well but to do the best. If you don't have that attitude as an entrepreneur, it's very hard to learn.
Any parting advice?
Kim: If you have an idea for a company, share it with as many people as possible. You can do the research on if it’s a good idea and what kind of marketing to be looking at, because those are the types of things you want to jump on. You don’t want to wake up when you are 65 one day and say, “You know what? I really should have done XYZ.” The time is now. If you’re brave enough to take the jump, we’re living proof that it’s very much worth it.