Be true to who you are at the core. I feel that as adults we have a tendency to lose sight of who we were at an earlier age.
Elena Hahn Kiam has focused both professionally and philanthropically on creating opportunities for others, particularly those who are entering the workforce or are at career crossroads. As co-owner and creative director of lia sophia, Elena helped spearhead what became the world’s largest direct seller of fashion jewelry, and in the process provided tens of thousands of women with income earnings opportunities. She currently is reinventing lia sophia’s distribution model for the next generation of women, as well as consulting on and investing in other consumer products companies. Prior to her tenure at lia sophia, Elena’s professional endeavors included 15 years at J.P. Morgan, primarily in the Asset Management Division and working as a consultant.
She is an active board member at several non-profit organizations, including Dress for Success which assists underserved women transitioning into the workplace and the 92Y, a multifaceted cultural institution and community center based in NYC. For many years she was a trustee at the Nightingale-Bamford school, a K-12 girls school. Elena also serves as an elected Director of the Harvard Alumni Association and has and continues to work as an active volunteer there.
Elena is a graduate of Harvard University with a concentration in art history/architecture. She and her husband, Tory Kiam, reside in New York City and have three children.
Where did the idea for lia sophia come from?
The business was named after my daughters, lia and sophia. SInce family was at the center of the business from the beginning, using the names of our daughters seemed the perfect way to represent the brand and its core values.
lia sophia was built to use fashion as an avenue of empowerment for women. Of course, we wanted to build a fashion brand that was stylish and exceptionally well-made, but lia sophia needed to go a step further and allow women to awaken the entrepreneurial spirit inside giving them the opportunity to achieve personal and financial success.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’m very aware that time is a precious commodity that ideally should not be wasted. I try to be as intentional as possible about the activities throughout my day to stay as productive as possible.
A typical day always starts with some sort of exercise to get me going. After that, I try to get all communication that need a response, whether it be a phone call, text or email, taken care of and out of the way. Then I can move on to the more creative and meatier parts of my day where I prefer to live.
Trying to stay purposeful about my daily activities and how/when they are performed allows me to move forward, stay focused and be most productive.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Big Ideas all hinge on their execution. That process will be the differentiator on which ideas will live and succeed, and which ones will die on the vine, If you want an idea to come to life, focusing on the execution can make the difference.
I also like to keep a small group of smart, creative and trustworthy individuals around me to use as sounding boards. At various times they give me that piece of advice I need when I am so far inside my idea that I can no longer see it for myself.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Personalization. For me, it is the trend that will never stop trending and evolving. It’s been at the center of most of the more creative and emerging businesses and cultural happenings and it continues to excite and inspire people of all ages.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Time Management. I challenge myself to do the big, more banal and harder projects at the beginning of the day when I am at my most focused and energetic. By doing those projects first, you ensure they get finished and are executed as quickly as possible. You will always allow time for the fun and the easy, but if you wait to do the hard tasks in the last hours of the day, they will take twice as long–if they even get finished at all.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be true to yourself, particularly your younger, more idealistic and passionate self. I feel that as adults we have a tendency to lose sight of that younger person; that true creative person inside of us. I like to think that we can see the world through the lens of our kid self and retain that bulb of creativity that sparked our imagination in the beginning.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I’m a naturally shy person who really enjoys spending time on my own. I think it stems from having older sisters who were naturally more comfortable speaking up and out when I was very young. As a result, I had to learn to be more of an extrovert.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I think it’s always important to surround yourself with people you trust with whom you can share your ideas. When we are evaluating the viability of an idea, it is so helpful to have a group of people to provide perspective. So many times, when we work on an idea from birth, we become unable to see the full scope of a creation’s possibility or its shortcomings. I am always grateful to have those people around me to help me step outside of my brain and see what I’m working on with fresh eyes once again.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Always be aware of the bigger trends and behaviors of the world around you. By staying open and listening, you can continually shape your efforts to stay in line with and be a part of what people care about.
In the early years of lia sophia,we were very lucky to get our products in the hands of some of the biggest celebrities of the day. From Oprah to the Kardashian clan to Katy Perry and Snoop Dog. It was a new way to gain visibility for the brand and we were one of the first companies to do it. By using what we now commonly refer to as ‘influencer’ marketing strategies to create excitement, the lia sophia brand name and its products thrived.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Well, there were lots and lots of failures for certain, but you learn from them. If you learn from each, you are taking that failure and using it to influence your decisions and hopefully chart your course to success.
If I had to pick one, I would say the failure came in hiring the wrong person. Asan entrepreneur, especially one leading a startup team, those people who surround you and help you bring your ideas to fruition are critical, and you have to be insanely careful about who you bring to the table and also who you allow to stick around.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There is much more to be done around providing financial literacy to younger people, especially the underserved in our country. I take particular interest in women, but think all younger people would greatly benefit from the confidence and knowledge that comes from understanding financial markets, products and services.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently bought a gorgeous pink flower arrangement for someone who did something very nice for a friend of mine whom she didn’t know. I wanted to show how grateful I was for what this person had done and flowers usually brighten up anyone’s day. It felt great to see her appreciation and know she knew how much it meant to me.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Podcasts allow me to aggregate information and news on the go. My iTunes and Spotify provide the best possible environment when I need to think or just relax and take a break.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Designing Your Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. The book is based off of a course they teach at Stanford. The authors introduce you to the idea of design thinking and how using this way of thinking will help you build the life and the career that you want.
What is your favorite quote?
“Just do it.”
Yes, it is the Nike trademark, but I like to think of it in terms of women and their careers. I feel it’s important for women, and all people, but especially women to not sometimes overthink and only step in when it feels like it’s the perfect work situation. I have met women who have amazing entrepreneurial minds and are coming up with dynamic business ideas, but don’t follow through for one reason or another, chalking it up to life getting in the way. I often encourage them to try to find a way to take the next step and just do it!
- Surround yourself with the right people and take your time finding them.
- Big ideas hinge on their execution.
- You gain by giving back.
- Listen and be aware of the world around you. It will make certain that your business is is line with what people care about and will keep you relevant
- Do the hard tasks first. Never leave them for last or they may never get completed.
Elena Kiam on Linkedin : https://www.linkedin.com/in/elena-kiam/
Elena Kiam on Twitter :
Elena Kiam on Behance : https://www.behance.net/elenakiam
Elena Kiam on Blog : http://elenakiam.com/
Elena Kiam on Levo:
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.