I am a 23 year old Korean-American millennial. However, unlike most people my age, I mostly sit at home all day working from the computer in my pjs which some people might consider as doing nothing (if my little sister can attest). A lot of people don’t know what I do, and to be honest, I’m still trying to figure it out too. However, here’s a blog post about my journey into entrepreneurship. If you want to skip the intro, scroll down till you hit the 3 Reasons.
The Beginning – Destined for Harvard?
Before I even had my first breath, as soon as my mother knew of my existence, she wanted me to graduate from Harvard and become a doctor. This fate might be shared by most first-generation Asian-Americans– it seems to be the call of the Tiger mom (geez someone tell them to be more original). However, despite the fact that I had a 97 in Honors Bio at Stuyvesant High School, I realized that becoming a neurosurgeon wasn’t for me- especially after I read a doctor’s memoir. Do you know that to pass medical school you have to spend a year memorizing every centimeter of a cadaver? As a test, they give you a chunk of human flesh, point to something, and you must identify it. Seems obvious that a doctor should be able to do that- but I definitely didn’t want to. Not to mention the guilt of losing a patient or telling someone they have cancer.. So I joined the policy debate team and looked into law. However, I was not interested in going to law school, litigating for the powerful against the weak, or dealing with the failures of the justice system or my own in the cases I took.
Then I Failed Life.. Literally
Stuyvesant High School was a struggle. I just couldn’t take the pressure. My parents were not supportive.. some people might say they were abusive. I was getting depressed and I couldn’t handle failure. I had lived all my life being the best at what I do, consistently succeeding. My value was my success and when you took that success away, who was I? My Tiger mom made sure that nothing under 97 was acceptable. My value seemed to be the equivalent of my GPA, of my SATs, of whatever college I got into. Somehow, I started missing school when I was scared of under-performing on a test by a few points. However, that’s the worst thing you can do because every time I missed school, I would just get behind on my work- so my grades kept dropping and eventually I got so depressed, I didn’t even want to go to school anymore. My parents didn’t understand what was going on. They thought I was just being a lazy teenager. They didn’t understand depression- so even when I did get diagnosed with clinical depression and was prescribed medication, my parents didn’t let me take them. Not only that but they’re human and they’re not perfect. I remember I called my dad once during a bad time saying that I wanted to kill myself and he told me to go ahead. I probably won’t ever forget that. So if someone ever confesses to you that they feel suicidal, please don’t tell them to kill themselves. Second pro-tip: don’t call those that talk about their depression “attention whores”.
Anyway, when someone slips into a depression and they do not get the support they need whether professional, medical, social- you can have a suicide attempt. This period of my life was the scariest and I never want to go back. I struggled with suicidal ideations for months and then I overdosed one day in junior year of high school. I should have died but I didn’t.
So Everything Got Better Right? Sort of.
It took my suicide attempt to wake my parents up to the reality of depression. The stigma of mental illness almost killed me. However, it took over five years to get to where I am today and I’m nowhere near where I want to be.
What Does This Have to Do with Entrepreneurship?
Before my suicide attempt in high school, my dad told me that I would have to work for him or find a job. So I scoured Craigslist and somehow Bobby Kwak hired me as a graphic designer. He of course didn’t know what was going on especially when I just disappeared off the face of the earth (cue suicide attempt)- but it was an incredibly formative experience that I am very grateful for. With Bobby, just working next to him and watching him work was incredible. Plus I didn’t mind fetching Starbucks for the office every day especially when he bought me coffee! Regardless, as a marketing assistant for CIRCLE nightclub, I designed flyers, posters, managed their email blasts, social media, etc. At the same time, I also did any projects that ended up on my desk and that’s where I was exposed to ARENA, Bobby’s event management and catering company, plus the frozen yogurt business he was opening. I just have to say that working with Bobby was an absolutely incredible experience and I highly recommend doing so because he is very good at what he does. Also, one of my greatest weaknesses is communication because I was always scared to tell Bobby what happened so don’t be like me.
I also cleaned bathrooms for the Bay Terrace AMC movie theater in high school. But at the same time I also learned the basics of sales and customer service, whether it was selling popcorn or helping a customer. I also gained nonprofit experience. When I couldn’t find an internship, I volunteered at MinKwon Center for Community Action and worked for Bora Lee who is one of my greatest mentors and sincere friend today. I worked as a marketing assistant for Staller Center of the Arts and the Stony Brook Film Festival with Julie Greene and Alan Inkles, who are also so incredible, helpful, and wonderful. So if you live around Stony Brook University, check out the Stony Brook Film Festival and the Staller Center for the Arts because it is a true labor of love.
Then I met Angela Leaney through a lecture sponsored by the College of Business at Stony Brook University. Amy Milligan organized it and you have no idea how much you changed my life because it was the beginning of a wonderful relationship. Angela is one of my heroes and she introduced me to Analisa Balares, CEO of Womensphere.
Analisa is a Harvard Business School alumni and not only did she really pioneer the pro-women’s movement that is flourishing today but she also worked at Goldman Sachs and Microsoft. Under Analisa, I learned so much about the value of hard work, teamwork, and management. Also, Analisa really did something incredible with Womensphere and she is the best at gathering talent- she is a wonderful team builder. Through Womensphere, I met so many wonderful women that inspired me to do more from Monica Mandelli to Kat Cole. In Womensphere’s Nuclei Media Project, we talk about how the lack of exposure that women have to certain jobs is a serious reason why there’s a lack of women in those jobs. There is a serious lack of female leaders in the world. However, when you go to a Womensphere summit and you’re surrounded by all these incredible women, it is amazing. You can aspire for more. It is an absolute joy.
In addition, at a Womensphere summit, I also met Carla Caramat from House Call Dentists and started my freelancing career. Working with Carla build her own startup Dentist was one of the inspirations that pushed me to start my own company. It is a pleasure to continue to work with her today.
I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema and Cultural Studies and I got my first full-time job as an Assistant Marketing Manager for ICN Group. It was an eye-opening experience. I learned a lot.
Through My Journey, This Is What I Learned and the 3 Reasons Why I Became an Entrepreneur:
1. Finding the right work environment
Through my work experience, I learned what was best for me. When you interview for a job, they will usually ask why you want to work for them. For me, I want to ask the company, why should I work for you?
I’ll tell you who I do want to work for and what I am working on building:
- I want to work for a company that cares about their employees more than their profits. If they have to choose between making a little less and keeping a great team, they’ll choose the latter. Let’s not go crazy but just check Laszlo Bock’s newest book Work Rules! and see how Google does it.
- I want to work for a company with a beautiful culture and a great team. I want to be part of a team where everyone there isn’t there just to pick up a paycheck but because they’re all driven by the same mission. Whether they’re doing customer service, marketing, finance, accounting- they love their work, they enjoy what they do, and they believe in the company mission. They are HR’s finest work.
- I care about my employees. That means I want to gather a team of people who are willing to learn and overcome any stigmas that they might have. I want to create a friendly, healthy, work environment for everyone despite gender, race, or ability.
- I want to invest in my employees. I want to help them get to where they want to be and if that means they outgrow the company, that’s okay. If the company can afford it and it’s worth it, we’ll pay for your tuition or training. We’ll invest in you.
- Health insurance, 4 day weeks, telecommuting, maternity leave? If we have a dream team, and you’re a dream employee, I want to make sure you’re happy. As long as you do your work, I don’t care how you do it and I want to make sure you can keep doing it. Also we are of the firm belief that your life is more important than work so please go out, live your life. Leave your work at the office or if you work at home, your home office. Life is more important. Your health is more important. Your family is more important. We understand that. We’re not about the 100 hour work week but the 4 hour work week (thanks Tim Ferriss). We’re about accomplishing much efficiently in 40.. or less if possible.
So if you went through all of that, and if you haven’t already, you will probably think I’m crazy. But I want to ask you why you think it’s crazy for a company to care about its employees. When did the success of a company not go hand in hand with the success and happiness of their employees? Am I wrong for thinking that it shouldn’t be that way? Shouldn’t it be possible to have a company that is successful with successful, happy employees? You tell me.
But that’s why I work for me. Because I know my strengths and my weaknesses and I haven’t really been able to find a company that meets my standards nor a company whose standards I meet (hey Google & Netflix) and one day, I want to build it and set the standard. I know there’s a number of companies already leading the way from Facebook, Netflix, Google, Virgin, to Basecamp.. and one day I hope to join their ranks.
However, if you think you are the company that I am looking for and there is a place in your company for me, and that we could do amazing things together, send me a message. Let’s find out if that’s true. I didn’t mention my weaknesses in this article though if you haven’t caught the main ones already (hubris is my greatest fear) or by the end.
So I am 23 years old. I will never be 22 again. I might die tomorrow. I might die when I’m old. I want to have the freedom to do what I want, that’s why I am an entrepreneur. I’m pretty much doing this because I have to. Failure is not an option. I am carving out the life I want for me.
That means I don’t want to spend my time in a negative environment. I want to build. I want to be happy and that’s what entrepreneurship gives me. I might not be making as much right now as I would have if I was earning a salary job but I can tell you I am much happier and I’m working on getting to where I want to be.
I started Firefly Vault LLC last year. I started with $1500 and it’s been a steep learning curve. However, this post has gotten too long so if you are interested in reading about Value, please comment below.
I also highly value feedback of any sort. Thank you for reading and if anyone wants me to remove their name, just tell me and I will do so. Cheers!