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March 17, 2018

How Kasey Blaustein, founder of Kasey Jones, Ink., transformed a creative passion into a thriving business.

Kasey Blaustein doodles for a living.

OK, that’s definitely understating it. But it’s her hand-drawn, colorful creations that have helped make Kasey Jones, Ink., founded in 2014, a one-stop shop for custom art and branded experiences. Based in Los Angeles, Blaustein now works with major brands including Target, Gap, TOMS, and Kettle, among others. Whether it’s event murals and signage, red-carpet step-and-repeats, or invitations and thank-you notes, Blaustein and her growing team design pretty much whatever the occasion calls for.

The idea came about almost by accident. A longtime brand manager in the spirits and consumer-products industries, Blaustein began to get the entrepreneurial itch around the time of her 30th birthday. With a party in her mom’s backyard on the horizon, she decided she wanted to create a DIY backdrop for snapshots with friends and family, using some of what she had learned in calligraphy and oil-painting classes on the side. (“I drew ‘Kasey’s Birthday Bitches’ or something really silly like that,” she recalls.)

A wildly popular photo booth—and a business idea—were born.

We recently chatted with Blaustein, to get her take on trading the corporate world for startup life, the upside of taking chances, and what it means to be “American Made.”

So this all started with a birthday party?

I created an 8 x 8 chalkboard backdrop. My friend, who’s a pro photographer, took photos, and it became this incredibly fun photo booth out of nowhere. We put the photos online so people could see them. They started changing their profile pics and sharing them—and before I knew it, I had people reaching out and asking if I did weddings and birthdays. So I started working nights and weekends. And then we booked the Golden Globes. After that, I started doing Kasey Jones, Ink., full time.

What was it like to land the Golden Globes so early on? 

It was kind of like, “People actually like me!” I don’t know if I felt like I made it, but it made me feel like it’s not just my mom saying, “You did a nice job coloring this.” I realized that people would pay me to do this. It was that moment when I knew there would be interest.

How’s the journey been so far?

This February marked three years. I finally have a strong hold on what I’m doing, what services I provide, and pricing. Our service list is growing. I feel like I know what my brand stands for, the kind of company we are.

What have you learned personally?

I was at a point in my career where I didn’t care if I made $10,000 a year. I was done working so hard for companies where I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I guess the fulfillment for me is that I’m making just as much as I was before—but on my own time and own accord. I sleep less than I’ve ever have, but I would say, despite the exception of sometimes working five events in a row, I’m always happy. I’m always creating. If you’re smart enough and you give yourself enough time to figure out what you want to do, you can be really successful in something you’re passionate about.

You worked in the corporate world for a long time. Was it scary to make the jump?

Yeah, it was really scary, which is why, at first, I didn’t quit until I had an idea that I wanted to pursue. Even then, when I started to get interest, I didn’t quit until that Golden Globes moment. I knew this was kind of coming, so I had been saving money for a while. I had some backup to rely on. That was comforting. But to me, it was scarier turning 30 and knowing I was on the wrong path... for me. That was scarier than quitting and trying.

What’s your advice for other entrepreneurs—or aspiring ones?

You don’t necessarily need a backup plan, but make sure to have enough savings or enough of a support system where you’re not going to be freaking out. For me, I have a very clear mind and I knew I’d be OK for X amount of time. It was really important for me to be successful. Don’t just call yourself an “entrepreneur.” You need to have a clear plan and passion. You have to know what you’re building, even if you’re not 100 percent sure of it.

As an art-inspired company, clearly you’re focused on aesthetics and attention to detail. Why is that important to brands?

That’s everything for me, because everything we do is custom. I feel like Kasey Jones, Ink., has a very particular style. It’s very poppy and bright and vibrant. But we’re also able to tailor that to different clients. So, for Beefeater Gin, for example, we just did these classic white renderings of a new bottle. It’s not classic KJI, but it still feels very KJI. Knowing what your art is and what your brand is, but being able to tweak it for specific brands and specific trends. But we stay true to our style, just tailor it to the needs at the moment.

Where does your inspiration come from?

The heart of it was my grandparents. They were very creative and made the coolest things, but they never pursued it as a profession. Same with my mom. But it was very important for me to take this artistic passion we share and actually turn it into a profession. I’m very lucky to be around people who are entrepreneurs. My father is a screenwriter and has never worked for anyone else. A lot of my girlfriends are entrepreneurs and have their own clothing lines or fitness studios. The last guys I worked with were entrepreneurs. I’ve always been around it, so I guess it’s pushed me to do it myself.

How would you describe your personal style?

It’s funny, because my artistic style and decorating style is very vibrant and whimsical. But my everyday style is ripped jeans and white t-shirt, hair in a bun, and little makeup. I’m very casual. I don’t think I put a lot of effort into making myself super dolled up and dressed up. But I do in my work. I’m actually very much an “American Made” kind of girl—joggers, T-shirt, and leather jacket as an accent piece. Very laid-back.

Since you mention it, what’s your take on American Made?

It’s very much my style. I don’t like to think too much about what I’m going to wear, and because I’m drawing all the time and running to meetings, there’s usually paint on me when I’m meeting with a client. I love a very chill look—and that’s exactly what American Made is. If I’m lucky, it’s a jogger-and-tank-top kind of day. So it’s very much my style. I also like that you can wear it down or dress up everything. It’s very versatile.

What does it mean to you to be “American Made”?

I was able to take a chance on myself and despite hearing it’s really hard—which it is—and despite hearing about the late nights, I did it and made a success out of my dream. I’ve never had to once look back. And it’s kind of like an all-American story, in a sense where you can reinvent yourself at any time, which is what I did. It’s always evolving, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Interview by Rod Kurtz

Photos by Dominic Miller