Person: Jenny Beorkrem
Drink: medium brewed coffee from Beans and Bagels
Opportunities are only opportunities if you take advantage of them.
Two summers ago, when I was living in San Francisco for an internship, I came across a poster that mapped the city by its neighborhoods with each section represented typographically. It had slightly offbeat but sleek design that was unlike anything I’d seen before, plus it was my favorite color—I instantly loved it.
I wasn’t able to find out the name of the company that made the poster, but with the magic of a well-crafted Google search, I later discovered the map I had fallen in love with was an Ork Poster and San Francisco was just one of many maps they offered. I put the poster on my wish list, gave my roommate one for her birthday, and told every friend I had living in a city to buy one. I was an unabashed fan.
I never would have imagined that a year later, I would be sitting in a coffee shop near the Montrose train stop in Chicago enjoying cup 10 with the founder and designer of Ork Posters, Jenny Beorkrem.
When I first found Ork, I assumed it was a relatively large company with people working in cubicles and weekly staff meetings (I’m a business major, this is what I think about while shopping). That perception changed the day I received the San Francisco poster for my birthday. Within the package was a small users guide with a note on the back that read:
By purchasing this poster, you’ve helped a Chicago-based graphic designer live the dream of being her own boss and doing what she loves. From the very bottom of my heart, thank you!
Ork wasn’t some big company—it was just a girl with a knack for design and a dream. A girl who saw an opportunity, took a risk, and changed her life.
In 2007, Jenny was working a 9-5 job as a designer for a company in Chicago. She wanted a map of the city but couldn’t find one that matched her style. So, being a graphic designer, she decided to create her own—the original Ork poster. Friends loved the poster and convinced her to print a few to sell on Etsy, an online store where artists can sell goods. It didn’t take long for the posters to become an internet hit and Jenny to realize she had found a way to leave the mundane cubicle life.
Three years later, Jenny sells 15 variations of Ork Posters online and in a few dozen stores across the nation, she has celebrities and respected designers collecting her work, and she receives countless thank you letters and from customers. In short, her simple idea has become a huge success.
Not only did this Jenny make brilliant posters, she had found a way to turn her passion into a career—naturally, she was someone I wanted to meet. I figured the odds of meeting her were small, but I kept the though tucked in the back of my mind anyways.
Last week when I was thinking about what I needed to pack for a quick trip to Chicago for a conference, I remembered Jenny lived in Chicago. I didn’t have any plans for Thursday afternoon in the Windy City so I figured, what the heck, I’ll see if Jenny would have coffee with me. What did I have to lose? The worst that would happen was she would ignore my email or say no outright—I could live with that outcome, so I shot her an email.
An hour later, she responded and agreed to a meeting. It was surreal how easy the whole thing was—I had found her contact info online, sent an email, and the next thing I knew, I had a meeting planned with one of my favorite designers.
And it turned into a great meeting. The hour I spent with Jenny—talking about the story behind Ork, what it is like being her boss, and an assortment of other topics—was delightful. It was bound to be. I was talking with a young, creative designer that was growing a business with great ideas for the future. The business nerd inside me loved hearing the details of how a young entrepreneur found success.
The way the Ork story is told online, it seems like Jenny was just a girl that got a lucky with an idea—but after talking with Jenny, I learned that’s just half the story. It took hard work, courage, and resourcefulness to turn her idea into a thriving company. Jenny could have found the opportunity but let the fear or the hard work stop her from pursuing the dream. The Chicago map hanging on her wall could be the only Ork Poster in existence. Instead, she had the courage to pursue the opportunity—to take the plunge—and now Ork posters hang on walls across the country.
I could have assumed Jenny would just reject the email and never bothered sending it. I could have come up with 100 reasons why I shouldn’t have tired. But I didn’t, and as a result I had a great experience with a someone that is going to do big things in life, I learned a few new things, and I made a friend in Chicago. The reward was well worth the risk.
That’s what Cup 10 taught me. So many times we miss great things because we are afraid of opportunity—afraid to try something new, afraid to fail, afraid of the work it will take and the sacrifice required. Opportunity knocks, but we don’t answer the door and the opportunity goes away.
I love sitting at my desk looking at the San Francisco poster on my wall, but after meeting Jenny I look at it with a new appreciation. It is a reminder that when I see an opportunity to do something I love, I have to take a risk and give it a try. Because you never know what will happen when you open the door for opportunity and there is only one way to find out.
As Jenny’s story shows, what you find might just change your life.