For our weekly “In It for the Money” feature, we’ll be introducing you to the kick-ass Knock Knockers who make everything go, from creative to sales to logistics to . . . everything! Note—everybody answers the first five questions. After that, they have about fifteen wild-card questions from which to choose.
1. Name and title? Jen Bilik, CEO. Also, Jen Bilik CEO and founder. Also, Jen Bilik, head honcho.
2. Originally from? Berkeley, California. I was born in Chicago while my dad was in graduate school but we returned to Berkeley, where my parents had attended university, by the time I was ten months old. I like to say I was “_____ and raised in Berkeley.”
3. What the hell do you do all day? Really good question. I don’t really have a specific job or set of duties. Okay, I kind of do, but it’s all over the place. I’m involved in everything at Knock Knock concerning strategy and vision, which boils down to meetings and special projects. So I’m either in meetings or hammering out outlines, etc., for the special projects. I tend to lead or spearhead all our new initiatives. I give a lot of opinions. Sometimes I still write stuff. Also, I pretty much oversee all marketing, because we still don’t have a senior person dedicated to that area.
4. Favorite thing about working at Knock Knock? The feeling of being at a creative think-tank, which was one of my goals starting out—to work with smart, driven, constant-improvement-oriented people who were intellectually curious and would engage in robust debate and from whom I could learn. Also, the opportunity to be myself in all my irreverent and crass splendor.
5. Favorite hobbies outside work? I love to watch TV. I really do love it a lot. I like high-quality dramas and low-quality reality shows. I also read a lot—with books, mostly fiction, because I read in bed for about an hour and a half before falling asleep every night, and nonfiction stimulates me too much (I just want to take notes and think about how to use the information). I’m an avid New York Times and People magazine consumer and overall reader of essays and long articles. I also sew (little embroideries, mostly), knit, garden, and take the dogs on walks. I guess seeing friends isn’t really a hobby. I do that too sometimes.
6. Did your professional life exist before Knock Knock? Surprisingly little! I’ve really had one real job outside Knock Knock, at Rizzoli International Publications, where I started as an editorial assistant and left as an editor, all inside three years. I’ve had a ton of part-time and summer jobs, and after Rizzoli I was a freelance editor for six years before starting Knock Knock. So it’s no surprise that I’m not really housebroken.
7. Favorite Knock Knock product? Over time, it may be some of the ones that are no longer with us, because I feel nostalgic for them, and because we put time and effort and care and idiosyncracy into them that we can’t quite do in the same way anymore. The Multiple-Choice Correspondence Notebook. The How to Find True Love poster. The Wheels o’ Wisdom. I like the really smart ones, the ones that contain intellectual Easter eggs for those who care to find them. Current products? Probably the books—The Complete Manual of Things that Might Kill You, The Convert’s Bible, the Lines for All Occasions series. Of the newly released Spring 2012 products, I’m partial to the Kids’ Passports—one for foods to try, the other for physical activities. Big Words Flashcards are pretty great, and I had a strong hand in the journal It’s a Dog’s Life, and of course we all know how I feel about dogs. Just wait until you see a big surprise release we’re about to spring on you—that’s been my baby for the past nine months. And Fall 2012? I just hope you’re seated when that email blitz hits your inbox.
8. Pet peeves? I am the queen of pet peeves. And really, it only hurts me, and it doesn’t improve society any, because it appears that when I give drivers dirty looks they don’t learn from the experience and change their ways. A lot of driving pet peeves. Inconsideration in general. Think about other people, people! Leave your grocery cart in the middle of the lane? What the hell are you thinking? Inefficiency and stupidity bug me, too. Bad spelling. “Your” vs. ”you’re” confusions and the like. Really, the more revealing question would be to ask me what I don’t have pet peeves about.
9. Any hidden talents? I grew up playing classical piano with some degree of seriousness and dedication. In my house I have the Steinway upright that my also-piano-playing uncle bought for me when I was about twelve, replacing the off-tune-by-a-whole-step-with-nonworking-pedals piano that came with the house when my parents bought when I was one. I still love to play, but I only like to work on pieces until I can technically play them well enough to enjoy them. It’s not an area in which I exercise my perfectionism. I do attribute my facility with both left- and right-brain work to my piano training—apparently if you start playing piano, especially classical piano, early enough, you change your brain structurally. Also, it has helped me type really fast.
10. Favorite website? NYTimes.com. Sometimes I wonder whether I should diversify my sources, then I think, “Nah.” Mind you, I read nothing about politics or international affairs. It’s all culture and arts and business and style and health and science. I hate politics—just lots of reprehensible people arguing and showboating.
11. Food or drink you couldn’t live without? Red Vines. It used to be you couldn’t get them west of Nevada or Utah or some such. People compare them to Twizzlers, but Twizzlers are a petroleum by-product. Nasty nastorama. My parents used to send them to me in college care packages. I only like the semi-single-serving kind in the flat boxes. The ones in the big round plastic tub are too soft because the tub holds in too much moisture. The ones in the cellophane bags are thicker and don’t have the right texture. I still don’t know, however, whether the softer ones (there’s variation even in the one packaging type I like) are more or less fresh than the stiffer, chewier ones (which I prefer). At movies, I still like to drink Diet Coke through Red Vines straws and then eat the Red Vines after they’ve been semi-frozen in the drink’s ice, and the outside of the licorice has been slightly liquified.
12. What advice would you give your past self? You were thinner and prettier than you thought, and you could have made some much better choices in men.