Movers & Shakers: Jess Kerr on Hustle, Startup-Making and Star Wars Action Figures

Jess Kerr - Program Manager at the Brandery & Founder of Postwell

Jess Kerr is one of those people who has a hand in everything. When she’s not running ship as the program manager at The Brandery, she’s sourcing intel from new moms to build her already-famous startup, Postwell. So, it’s no surprise that before she was Cincinnati’s startup maven, Kerr was busy in the auction circuit with her grandparents, searching for one-of-a-kind items that could turn a profit on eBay. Entrepreneurship — it’s in Kerr’s genes. We sat down with her to talk shop to see how this former intern is making it big in the Queen City.

What was your childhood like?

I kind of had a bizarre entrepreneurial upbringing. My parents both worked at Procter & Gamble for 30+ years. My mom was a senior scientist for Head & Shoulders, and my dad was a principal researcher for Pampers, so they both worked full time my whole life. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. They were into auctions and got on the eBay bandwagon super early. Every single day I would spend with them, we would be going to auctions or yard sales or thrift stores or flea markets. You name it, we went to it. They taught me how to set your own schedule, find things and resell them.

What was your first job?

I got a part-time job at a T-shirt distribution warehouse. It was honestly the worst time of my life.  You would roll around on a scooter and count thousands of T-shirts every single day. But I didn’t give up doing stuff with my grandparents. At one box auction, I purchased a box of office supplies because I needed a scientific calculator. I went home and dumped it out and at the bottom were these two Parker calligraphy pens. I researched them and created an eBay account and within two hours they each got $500 bids. So, I called my boss that night and quit my job.

So, what did going to auctions teach you about being an entrepreneur?

My grandparents were the biggest hustlers I’ve ever met. They would get up at the crack of dawn. I think that’s when it really hit me that you can’t just dream of making all this money and being successful. You have to get up, and you have to work for it. I’ve always been a firm believer in putting in the work and doing the nitty-gritty. I fell in love with setting your own schedule and hustling until you get it done.

You started out as an intern at The Brandery and now you’re their program manager. What’s the story there?

The summer of my internship with The Brandery was the best summer ever. I mean I’ve never had a job that I cared about more and felt more passionate about than that internship. This was my first experience truly doing what I wanted. It was really random that I even got it. I remember calling the program manager every day asking if I could interview for the internship. Finally, she said I could have the job if I stopped calling. The Brandery gave interns so many responsibilities that it really helped me grow. My dream job was to come back and be the program manager, and now that I’m finally back, it’s been great to help lead our new cohorts.

And now you have your own startup, Postwell, to top it off. How did that happen?

I’m just a very practical person. So, I hated getting presents for my friends that were having babies and knowing that they weren’t practical. I’d get onesies, or blankets, or stuffed animals and that stuff is so hit or miss. It might be used every day, or it might be thrown in a bin and never touched again.

After one of my friends gave birth, she called us sobbing saying she had no idea it was going to hurt this bad and she didn’t even know what to buy to help herself because no one had told her it would be like this. I immediately felt guilty that we hadn’t been there to help her before this moment. I started interviewing doctors, and nurses, and OB’s and moms to see what they needed after they gave birth.

From there, I put together little gift baskets and gave them to my friends, and they kept asking to buy them for their friends. These were filled with the essentials like overnight pads, soothing sprays and gel packs. Finally, I just put them online. After that, the Enquirer did a story about the boxes and it just sort of blew up. I was selling out daily. I couldn’t order the supplies, and pack them fast enough, which is a good problem to have. We’re doing pop-up shops at Pottery Barn Kids this summer. I’m coming out with a couple more boxes by the end of this year. We’re going to do a full redesign. The wheels have come off, we’re flying now.

How does it feel knowing you’ve built this network of women helping women? What has it been like to see that impact?

Honestly, entrepreneurs don’t really talk about how terrifying it is to press publish on a website and have everyone know that you’re doing this. If you fail, everyone will know. I was terrified, and I was wondering if it was even helping new moms. But now I’ve seen the feedback, and all of these moms have felt so much more prepared knowing they have this box waiting for them at home. After seeing all of that, it’s like, “all right, full steam ahead.” It’s the absolute coolest feeling in the world to see the impact. It’s truly humbling.

What would be your ultimate auction find? What’s the Holy Grail?

Every time I go into a thrift store, I go to the toy section with the hope of  finding a 1977 Vinyl Cape Jawa. It’s a tiny action figure, and since it was so small, customers thought it should be cheaper. Kenner discontinued the vinyl cape and replaced it with cloth, so customers would feel like they were getting their money’s worth. They’re so hard to find. There are only six known to have been sold at auction or publicly known to exist. One is worth $18,000 and would be like finding a needle in 1,000 haystacks—it’s that rare.

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