Let’s go back to the fall of 2019. In the Before Times, we hugged, we danced, we shared our drinks, totally oblivious to how soon we’d come to miss such simple things. But what if you had known the crisis was just months away? Would you have invested in Zoom? Created an underground bunker filled with flour and toilet paper? Moved out of your studio apartment for a house in the country?
Of course, none of us had the gift of foresight. But when you hear Kaylin Marcotte’s story, it’s hard to believe her luck.
When the 29-year-old entrepreneur first decided to launch a puzzle company, she wanted to reintroduce the toy to a new generation. It was an opportunity to bring back an activity that was fun and relaxing and potentially beautiful, but perhaps got written off in a culture of apps and streaming services. What she couldn’t have predicted was that within months of launching her business, a global pandemic would wreak havoc, leaving people homebound, bored, stressed, and voraciously looking for something to do.
“It’s been a wild time,” Marcotte tells me over the phone. “In the world generally—and definitely in the puzzle world.”
Marcotte first had the idea during her years working at theSkimm, a media company best known for its daily email newsletter aimed at a female millennial audience. She started getting into puzzles as a way to unwind after a long work day, but found her new hobby had one major flaw: Most of the options out there featured cheesy stock photography, water colors, or scenes of animals and cottages. “You're spending hours upon hours with this image, literally constructing it piece by piece,” she says, but she didn’t love what she was seeing. It was 2015, and the idea was planted: Why aren’t there better-looking puzzles? She started to truly work on her new artist-driven puzzle company in 2018, shortly after leaving theSkimm, armed with the confidence that she could strike out on her own after years of working in the start-up space.
JIGGY officially launched in November 2019, shortly before the holidays. The debut collection featured six designs, all created by a different emerging female artist with each woman earning a percentage of every sale. At first, Marcotte wasn’t sure what to expect. Her team did a big push around the holidays, but then at the beginning of 2020, business started to slow down, so she took the opportunity to map out the rest of the year. A few months later? States were imposing stay-at-home orders, and her business drastically changed.
"Starting in mid-March, we really saw a huge spike in not only sales but social media," she says. "People sharing and talking about what they were doing at home and looking for activities. Engagement and traffic and sales, everything really just started climbing." JIGGY puzzles quickly started selling out, and her team had to get creative to account for the temporary lack of inventory. They decided to create mini 24-piece puzzles that also acted as gift cards. Then came JIGGY Originals. After talking to her catalog of artists, she realized exhibits and galleries were being canceled and closed, and original art was rarely being commissioned. Marcotte wanted to come up with an idea that would both account for JIGGY's demand issue and the unfortunate position many artists found themselves in. The solve? Her team got blank, white puzzles made quickly and began distributing them to the company’s community of artists with one instruction: Make art directly on the puzzles.
Now, as of two weeks ago, the site has been selling and auctioning these one-of-a-kind, hand-drawn puzzles. The money goes back to the artists as well as to organizations providing relief effort. To kick off the campaign, Marcotte asked a handful of celebrities and high-profile artists to contribute; for those puzzles, consumers can give a suggested donation to enter to win and all proceeds go to a relief fund. So far, people have been able to win puzzles made by Lili Reinhart, Sophia Bush, and Allison Williams, though be on the lookout for ones from Demi Lovato, Social House, and Rebecca Minkoff. (“She sent me a behind-the-scenes picture of her kids stamping pens onto it.”) So far, JIGGY has raised over $5,000 but will be announcing the official total at the end of the month.
It feels, in a way, like Marcotte picked a winning lottery ticket. But when more than 38 million Americans have filed for unemployment during the crisis, success can be complicated. “I was having this conversation [with] my friend who also has a company that’s doing well,” she says. “We specifically used the term survivor’s guilt. Of course, this was not something anybody could have foreseen. So now that these are the circumstances, how do we [operate] in the most responsible, impactful way?”
For Marcotte, that means actively raising money where she can and supporting JIGGY's community of artists, as well as the city of New York. It’s also been rewarding for her to know that JIGGY is providing a small joy and comfort to people in these dark times; she got one message from a woman who’s self-isolating alone and works on puzzles at night when she can’t sleep.
Even though people are puzzle-crazy right now, Marcotte wonders what will happen moving forward. Is this a particularly unique moment where people are looking for an activity, but will ditch it all when they can get back to their normal routines? Or will puzzles become a tool and a habit for a new cohort of fans?
No matter which way it swings, the current frenzy can’t be denied. It's boom time for puzzle creators, and Marcotte's just grateful to be along for the ride.