There are moments and meals that leave an indelible mark. For me, a semi-recent one was a breakfast meeting that I had with Wexner classmate Ron Beller (SF 14) and Noa Kushner, the seriously cool and brave Founding Rabbi of The Kitchen in San Francisco.
This defining discussion took place in April of 2015 at a now-defunct diner in San Francisco — we were meant to be discussing The Kitchen’s fundraising efforts. I had just returned from a trip to Israel and was temporarily convinced that I wanted to create a new Manischewitz. My dreaming even took me to visioning the name MAZEL. Without skipping a beat at the breakfast, Noa shared that I should strongly consider meeting with her and a small team that she had assembled — they were just beginning to create a Jewish subscription box. She intimated that perhaps I should join them and we could consider calling this new Jewish subscription box Mazel. What a bold rabbi!
Although I had secretly wished that Noa would be more enthusiastic about my vision for a 21st century alternative to Manischewitz, her enthusiasm for packaging-up Jewish became pretty contagious. During our first meeting, I pushed the Kitchen team to reconsider their branding approach, the target audience and broadening the project’s potential and appeal. When we saw the areas of agreement and the potential of a curated box of Jewish and Jew-ish content, I became equally committed to working on this new e-commerce project. Interestingly, it had emerged from The Kitchen’s work with legendary branding firm IDEO.
This little Jewish commerce project quickly took on a life of its own and raised a variety of important questions for us to tackle. For example, we debated whether this new organization should be a division of The Kitchen; how to raise seed money for our nonprofit; how the brands should be connected; and where funding should be directed if we are able to make a profit. During our Wexner Heritage Summer Institute in Israel (June 2015), Ron and I were able to attract another Wexner classmate, Randi Zuckerberg (SF 14), to join us in our efforts. To Randi’s credit, she encouraged us to envision a product that would be attractive to audiences across the country and to integrate Jewish content.
We ultimately couldn’t name our little upstart Mazel, but fortunately we were able to land on Hello Mazel as our nonprofit brand. During our branding journey, we spoke and interviewed a variety of influential branding firms in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Our goal was to create a brand that would be fresh, irreverent, fun and encapsulate a new way to inspire Jewish. Luckily, the team at Gershoni in San Francisco shared our enthusiasm and was able to take our strong opinions and voices and mold them into a vibrant consumer-facing brand.
When we launched on Kickstarter in February of 2016, Hello Mazel quickly became the most-funded Jewish project in Kickstarter history: 1,495 backers, $152,000 in pre-orders and national buzz that positioned us to launch with a bang. We rolled out our first box for Passover 5776. True to The Kitchen’s power to recreate Jewish experiences, our Hagaddah was in the form of playing cards. The seder plate was a one-of-a-kind modular letterpress art piece. The package didn’t include kosher-for-pesach goods, but rather inspiring foods collected from artisanal purveyors. For Hello Mazel’s summer outing, a blessings box, we included a custom SHVITZY beach towel and a set of other goods to power meaningful summer experiences. For the Rosh Hashanah box, we partnered with an artist to create custom forgiveness cards — a decidedly different twist on the High Holiday forgiveness plan. And now it’s November 5777. We’re a few weeks away from holiday shopping madness, and I hope that we are able to help and empower more Jews to celebrate Hanukkah.
To learn more, you can visit www.HelloMazel.com and feel free to contact me with any questions.
Alison Pincus is a San Francisco-based entrepreneur who’s motivated by disruption in the profit and not-for-profit/civic arenas. Alison co-founded One Kings Lane in 2008 as an innovative, e-commerce solution for how home décor, furniture and accessories is aggregated, marketed and merchandised. The company was sold to Bed Bath & Beyond in the Spring of 2016. Alison is currently working on an emerging, civic engagement platform and movement – the details to be forthcoming. As a member of YGL (Young Global Leaders), Alison aims to work on initiatives with female entrepreneurs around the world. Locally, Alison serves on the boards of IfOnly, an ecommerce experience company; the SF Jewish Community Endowment Fund; and the Contemporary Jewish Museum (thecjm.org). Alison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.