Entrepreneur and internet pioneer, Jen Bekman, tells the story of how she founded 20x200 with a mission of making art collecting accessible to everyone. On the leading edge of ecommerce, 20x200 achieved enormous initial success and grew very quickly. Jen tells her powerful story of adapting her business on-the-fly as the internet landscape shifted dramatically under her feet—her perseverance fed by a deep belief that living with art is good for you, and the creation of art itself is an act of bravery. Bravo!
What is your earliest memory?
Listening to Beatles albums with my dad when I was 3 or 4. (And also puking all over a red-checkered shirt of his when he was carrying me. I also have a very clear memory of going to Riis Park Beach wearing a favorite yellow fuchsia and purple bikini… I can still feel the fabric’s texture and ruffles.
How do you feel about democratic design?
It’s pretty much my everything, and has been for a long time. I am usually looking at it through the lens of art, but prior to getting into the art world I was really obsessed with mid century design: Charles & Ray Eames, Heywood Wakefield, Henry Dreyfuss, Eichler etc. A common thread with all of them was good design for the masses.
What’s the best advice that you’ve ever gotten?
That money isn’t the only measure of success.
How do you record your ideas?
For better or worse, I tend to talk/type stuff through with others. I hatched the idea (and name!) for 20x200 during an AIM (rip) conversation with Kate Bingaman-Burt, as a matter of fact. These days it’s more GChat and Slack, but I really find it most inspiring + productive to work through ideas via dialogues with people I know and trust.
What’s your current favorite tool or material to work with?
What book is on your nightstand? (alt: What’s the best book you’ve read this past year?)
I’m just about to dig into Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko + can’t wait!
Favorite restaurant in your city?
In NYC my daily faves are Veselka + Cafe Mogador. Gramercy Tavern (but at the bar) when I’m feeling fanceh. I’m SF, Jusf for You in Dogpatch is my breakfast jam. I also love Tartine Manufactory + cocktails/snacks at the bar at Slanted Door always feels special.
What might we find on your desk right now?
A huge mess!! The entire office is upside down right now… we fulfilled all of our new artist made editions directly from the office + it was kind of a panic. I have done a lot of picking * packing over the last few weeks!
Who do you look up to and why?
All the brave women who are speaking up and standing their ground these days. Ellen Pao, Susan Fowler, etc. they are doing a very hard thing, and I’m so grateful.
What’s your favorite project that you’ve done and why?
20x200, which continues to challenge, delight + surprise me, even after ten years!
What are the last five songs you listened to?
I can’t listen to music while I’m working since working usually means that I’m writing, so I don’t really have a active playlist going. Lately I’m really into an LA band named Knower. Also always happy to listen to classic bebop jazz, Yo La Tengo + Everything But the Girl.