Startup Savants continues its exploration of the startup world; telling the stories of these enterprises, their genesis, the founders behind them, and the ways they are serving their markets. Our guest in today’s episode is Kaylin Marcotte, who turned her favorite hobby into the fast-growing, mission-driven jigsaw puzzle startup JIGGY.
Kaylin has appeared on Shark Tank to widespread acclaim from the investor team. Her presentation secured an investment of $50,000 from Mark Cuban and an offer of $500,000 from “Mr. Wonderful” Kevin O’Leary. She was willing to trade 5% of her company for $500,000, which put it at a valuation of $10 million. And that was after just three years of operation.
That she would be able to pull off such an achievement might never have occurred to Kaylin. She had majored in political science in college and was planning on getting a law degree. But those plans got “derailed” after she joined a media company and found herself working long hours. The fast pace of the media world soon began taking a toll on her. However, a silver lining appeared. Her search for ways to mitigate stress led her back to a childhood pastime — doing puzzles — which eventually morphed into a million-dollar business.
From theSkimm’s First Employee to Startup Founder
Kaylin is a former employee of theSkimm, a newsletter of trending headline stories. In fact, she was employee number one. While there, long workdays spent staring at a computer screen drove her to search for “a way to unwind and unplug.” She rediscovered her love of puzzles. But the puzzles currently available looked no different from the ones she had known as a child. She wondered how they might be redesigned to better appeal to modern adults. Kaylin was thinking this could be a business venture. But the idea incubated for the better part of four years.
However, in 2019, she took the plunge, and JIGGY was launched. Kaylin had finally come up with a business model. JIGGY would partner with emerging female artists and use their artwork as the picture for its puzzle. Her objective was to reposition puzzles out of the toy and games section into the home décor and lifestyle aisle. “And so I wanted the packaging to reflect that because each of the puzzle designs was original artwork by these female artists.”
The business took off, with Kaylin wearing three hats, at least. She was managing the relationship with the artists; handling marketing, both online and off; and also overseeing packaging and manufacturing. As can be imagined, these responsibilities demanded a rather steep learning curve. The onset of the pandemic added to the pressure, but it was not all bad news.
Demand for the puzzles soared; people were spending more time at home and looking for ways to pass that time. But supply chain issues had developed: raw materials, for example, were in short supply. At one point, Kaylin entreated artists to paint on the blank puzzle pieces because part of her outsourced production chain had become unavailable. If nothing else, Kaylin shows she is highly adaptable.
A Mission-Based Startup Empowering Female Artists
JIGGY offers artists another avenue to monetize their work. For every sale made, the artist earns a royalty, which is paid quarterly. Working with the artists — all female — is Kaylin’s favorite part: “[it’s] the aspect of the business that really keeps me going when I run out of energy.”
She scouted for talent by going to shows and fairs in New York. Now instead of having to hunt for artists, artists are reaching out to JIGGY. “And now that we have had some visibility, we have a lot of inbound. So we have basically an open submission process, and any artist can submit their work.”
Monetary reward is not the only benefit the association with JIGGY has given artists. They’ve gained valuable exposure. In some instances, the puzzles have acted as portals to the artist’s opus. “Customers will discover an artist through the puzzle and then go on their site and buy their other work.”
Kaylin has been quick to make use of this opportunity. JIGGY has started working with partners and brands, doing custom puzzles or collaboration. “So we’ll pull from our artist community to commission an original for a brand that wants to do a custom puzzle. And actually, our next collection that’s launching this spring was the result of our first community art voting contest. And so artists, I think we had over 500 submit their work, and our community of puzzlers went through and voted for their favorites. And so the winners of that are our next collection launching soon.”
JIGGY’s first retail partnership was with fashion chain Anthropologie.
Startup Savants Podcast
The Startup Savants Podcasts feature entrepreneurs telling their personal stories and relating their experiences in founding and operating a variety of business ventures. Hear about the trials and triumphs they have encountered. Learn about the coping mechanisms they used to combat stress. After all, there’s no gain without some pain. Choosing the way of the entrepreneur is a life-changing decision. Is it one you are ready to make?
This episode of the Startup Savants podcasts featured Type A-personality Kaylin Marcotte, who charmed the socks off the savants of Shark Tank. She talks about the forces that drove her to become an entrepreneur, as well as the vision she conceived of clothing and an old product — puzzles — in new clothes. JIGGY uses the work of real living artists as the picture for its puzzles, and so provides a novel way for these artists to get paid for their work. JIGGY’s puzzles are recreating for adults the excitement puzzles once held for the American public decades ago.