Stephany Zoo – Co-founder of BUNDSHOP

[quote style=”boxed”]You should always work towards a vision, a theme in life greater than yourself. A complete, aligned ecosystem of its these kinds of intimidatingly large dreams that actual fuel you into a more conscious awareness of self. Then you’re walking along a path with a more gentle incline, sometimes alongside other people, towards a common vision. No one is losing because you’re winning.[/quote]

Stephany Zoo creates fire, not flash. Incubated at powerhouses like Ralph Lauren, Princeton, and Likeable Media, Stephany is a vigorous steward of brand, relentlessly excited about enduring imprints of image and word. A New York City transplant, Stephany seeks to bridge her bicultural heritage and achieve a greater understanding of international consumer behavior. She enthusiastically advances the customer development of BUNDSHOP.COM, leveraging digital and viral assets to disseminate BUNDSHOP. COM’s vision and voice.

What are you working on right now?

For centuries, China was an innovation vortex, churning out paper, gunpowder and the compass. What happened?

Where is the creative energy that emanates in the bold strokes of calligraphy? In the fearless maneuvers in the Art of the War?

Too much has happened, but in small waves this electrifying energy has stayed barely alight– and it’s now ready to make a comeback.

I believe in the underclass of creatives of China that has been overshadowed by the heavy stamp of MADE IN CHINA.

They may not seem like the conventionally disenfranchised class, but they too have been discriminated and dismissed: they are the minority in this country– and as minorities historically, they have been deeply disenfranchised by the loud, manufacturing corporations.

We all have something to say here– something to express, but most our words are not surpressed by irrational yells of Western sinophobia, of tens of thousands of units of poor quality production. The whirring of the machines muffles the sweet melody of art, design and innovation as China’s creatives create meticulous bamboo and ceramic vases, designed with the technological innovations of the top design companies of China, hand-crafted by artisans in the mountains of Huangzhou.

Not anymore.

Our products are not a vase, an incense burner, a scarf. Our products are a reawakening. They are the rebirth of the vibrant design generation of China, the invigorated creative community of the middle country.

We’re not an ecommerce site. We’re an enabler, a stage, an amplifier. We’re a platform.

2013 brings infinite possibilities. I’m excited that we will be providing one of them: BUNDSHOP, a podium for Chinese designers to speak. A place for passionate people around the world to discover Chinese Design.

Where did the idea for BUNDSHOP come from?

Exactly one year ago, January 2012, the concept for BUNDSHOP was born. For years, as children of Chinese immigrants abroad, we had spent time in between China and our home countries abroad. In recent years, we’ve been increasingly blown away by the creative designers and original brands emerging from China.

But, upon return to the West, we discovered our friends and colleagues saw only the manufacturing, copy-cat side of China, only homogenous factory goods.

We set out to change that.

Based in Shanghai, our team adventured throughout greater China, searching for the best industrial and fashion designers. We work with designers with studios and flagship stores in Hong Kong, Taiwan and all through greater China. Our only criteria: passion for design and originality. We spend months working with each designer to understand and depict their stories, products, and long-term visions, and to help them set the foundations to create internationally competitive brands.

How do you make money?

We sell a story– that of internationally competitive designs coming out of a country conventionally seen a cheap, unoriginal manufacturing giant. As consumers become more and more sophisticated, they don’t want to just buy an object. We tell the story about our designers so that our customers understand that we’re not just selling an incense burner or a scarf, we’re showcasing the physical manifestation of the designer’s creativity.

Our base business is based on ecommerce sales, but we have a couple of new initiatives coming in 2013. We now offer full branding and media consulting services to some of our more nascent designers, and are very excited to be more involved in their brand’s birth. Because our unique selection makes a very unique client and employee gifts we also have released a corporate gifts program, offering steep discounts for larger orders for select products, just in time for Chinese New Year. Since high end products sell better in person, we have also been speaking to design cafes to establish a brick and mortar presence in China.

What does your typical day look like?

It begins with my cofounder and best friend, Diana Tsai waking me up excitedly (yes we also live together) and sprouting off new business strategies and initiatives. After a bit of discussion about our priorities for the day and making sure we’re in sync, my morning is occupied by a mixture of reaching out to new press leads, staying updated with my dev team and writing guest blog posts. I usually lunch with a random LinkedIn contact, since we make a goal to reach out and sit down with at least three different professionals from different industries and interests, which helps us generate ideas and feedback. The afternoon is filled with press interviews and corporate strategy, and quite unfortunately, emails. We end the way every day should end– with a dance party!

How do you bring ideas to life?

With passion– and lots of talking. As soon as I generate one idea, I bounce it off Diana, at which point we find at least 10 people we can also talk to about it. We adhere very closely to the Lean Startup ideal of getting out of the office and learning as much about the consumer or product market as we can. Sometimes we just skip over a couple of steps because we get over excited about new ideas! This week, we were trying to figure out how to get additional revenue streams and discovered a need for a Chinese language luxury design magazines. The lifeblood of magazines is ads so we got on the phone and started selling ad space in a magazine that didn’t exist. People weren’t just interested– they are excited. We knew that we were onto something, so we worked backwards and started making content.

I’m not so good at the research and planning parts of implementing ideas; sometimes it works in my favor and sometimes I crash and burn, but at least I have the scars to show for it.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The growing sophistication of the Chinese consumer market, accelerated by technology. As they become more discriminating and being to care about the heritage and quality of the brand, rather than huge logos, they will turn inwards to emerging, independent brands. This cycle will fuel the growth of Chinese creativity!

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I was an intern at a big fashion PR firm in New York, working on securing placement for Dolce & Gabanna, Gucci and SK-II placements in top magazines. All we did was send out and track samples to greedy magazine editors who basically pimped out their magazines for free anti-aging products. I felt so cheated! Here I thought that magazine editors went out, tried to find the newest and best fashion and beauty products. Instead they were just being bribed by the brands to feature them. How do actually interesting, boutique brands have any chance against that?

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would just care more– I wouldn’t half ass things. If have to do something, you might as well do it with care and with style. We go so much of our teenage and college years saying “I don’t care”. But that is the greatest damage to your own soul– to take on an attitude of indifference. But this your life, it’s a focal point where all the miracles of universe is realizing its consciousness, so why are denying it by pretending you don’t give a shit. You and I both know that you do a give shit because you don’t want to go through your life half awake. I know our bed is comfortable but it’s time get out of it.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

This one is easy– have conversations. Even when someone works in an industry that has nothing to do with yours, or even when don’t work at all, they are still better than you at least one thing in the world and it is your goal to figure out what it is. Work on asking better questions, which involves less waiting and more listening. Conservations with the most random of people have sparked business ideas that I would have never expected otherwise. Both people should come out of the conversation having learned more about themselves and each other.

Help me bring the art of conversation back.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

When we were working on our first website, we had a lot of trouble with our outsourced Thai dev team. There were lots of communication issues and misled expectations and we ended up with a dysfunctional website and a huge bill. I had worked with wordpress before, so I thought a bandaid remedy would to be put a simple wordpress ecommerce, something that I could personally put up until we figured out financial situation and hire about development team. But I overestimated myself– there much more coding and customization than I had anticipated and I couldn’t make the site. Instead of owing up to my business partners, I ran away and I lost us two days, which at the time was crucial. My failure was in my irresponsibility and pride which kept me from admitting to mistake earlier. But, I ‘fessed up and went back to office, sourced a new design team and got the website back on track. My co founders didn’t judge me, they were just happy to have me back, which makes me feel more secure and less likely to have a repeat of this kind of failure.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Global experience sharing commerce. Consumerism as a way to bring people TOGETHER, rather than apart.

Using a versatile product as a kickoff point for people to have cultured conversations about where that object is from, thereby strengthening the relationship between the two people, to the object, and to the creator of the object.

I’m very materialistic, I shop all the time and it’s nice to buy but it’s even better when I get to tell someone the story of why and what and how I bought something. When I find something that has the same thing with me, I actually have the opportunity to connect with them about how I’ve used that item or how I acquired it. While this may start out as superficial conversation, but it usually manages to turn itself into a conversation about fashion, then art, then who knows!

What IF we could only buy products only in PAIRS? You can purchase something when someone else around the globe is also buying– because you share a common experience in an otherwise uncommon existence, you have a way to connect a stranger from Moscow to Sao Paolo, Kunming to Limburg, Budapest to Toronto.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

“According to a major study by a leading scholar of the subject, roughly 20 percent of Americans—about 60 million people—are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness. ”
– The Atlantic

As naturally social creatures, loneliness is one of the deepest forms of suffering. No one should be punished in such a way. If I had an answer, I would probably have done something about it already. But I don’t. The answer probably has something do with the digital age, neurobiology and fear of vulnerability. Until I or somebody else figures it out, I’m continue to have conversations and trying to be about confrontations of the soul where we can truly connect.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I’m terrified of being alone. I’ve never been faithful in a relationship before. It’s better being a secret than keeping secrets. I believe in giving away everything you own, so nothing I have is older than 2 years. I put a little bit of whiskey in all the tea I drink. I love my father and mother equally. I think Marilyn Monroe quotes are all basically incorrect.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

Trello: I am the most scatter-brained ADD person alive– I almost never finish sentences. But Trello keeps my thoughts organized, whether it just being conceived, half way through labor, or already birthed.
Quora: Where all the questions get answered. Or where you find more questions. Both are pretty gnarly.
Evernote: My brain fragments, my thoughts splinter and Evernote is the perfect place to piece them together. I’m natural superfluous with my words but they never overflow in Evernote (yes, I have had to buy the premium version).

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Since we work in the design industry, John Maeda the president of RISD and author “Redesigning Leadership” has offered invaluable kernels of advice. It teaches us how to be approachable and bring creativity into leadership styles, that are applicable to startups, corporations or academic institutions alike. It’s simple, unconventional wisdom but at the end of the day, it’s effective.

That’s the kind of the book “your community” sounds like they would like. However, I think that everyone in the world should read “The Unbearable Lightness of Being“. It awakens something in you, as if you had forgotten that you are a focal point of the universe coming into being. It makes you consider why you love and why you feel a need to pursue any kind of love. Those are important questions to find answers too.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

Kanye West: There is no love between a man and a woman greater than Kanye’s love for himself. Come on– that’s pretty f***ing entertaining.
Dave Kerpen: As my previous boss at Likeable Media and author of NYT Bestseller Likeable Social Media, he set a incredible example for what it meant to run a company with passion and transparency. Not only is he very responsive to his tweets, he also dispels constant wisdom about social media and leadership alike.

I gave you two books so it makes up for the one less twitter suggestion I’m giving.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

When my business partner and best friend, Diana Tsai was having a health food day with me but instead cooked the edamame with MSG instead of salt. I was rolling on the floor laughing. We also banned her from the kitchen.

Who is your hero?

Unequivocally, my grandmother. She’s an unsung hero that without my voice may never be heard. But her strife is inseparable from that from the rest of society. The story she tells may seem to be full of very common themes like never giving up, and believing in the light at the end of the tunnel, but her attitude is what makes her she more extraordinary than most.

Orphaned at age 9, she is the 3rd oldest of 8 siblings, one of which died from dysentery and another sister was given away. She holds a 3rd grade education; cannot read or write. She was made to marry at age 19, but had worked in a factory since age 13, making 56RMB (about $9) a month. She was forced to abort a child, and has severe health issues pertaining to her heart. When my grandmother recounted her story for me, there was never a tinge of self pity of her hardships or even regret that her life has been so difficult. In her entire body, in every fiber of her being, she holds no ill will towards humanity and continues to live cheerfully in the world that has wronged her so heinously.

As someone who has been considered disenfranchised by conventional standards, she had never viewed herself that way, and simply sees herself as a dedicated mother, grandmother and wife. Despite her heartbreaking beginnings, she pushed through all her selfish sorrow and raised two incredible boys, both of which, were able to come to the US and fulfill the American Dream. My uncle is Managing Director at a large international bank, my father is a very well known professor tenured at an excellent school. Both attribute a large part of their success to her and her selflessness in raising them. If not for her perseverant spirit, both say they would never had the attitude to keep motivated when the world seemed bleak and the odds were stacked and stacked and stacked against them. She, in all her pain, had not stopped believing that happiness was somewhere close, so how could they? How could I?

She didn’t stop there. She always says she was lucky enough to be a mother so many times over. Not only did she also raise her own younger siblings but also my sister and I, as well as my two other cousins. She tells this story of how her arms developed muscle memory when she was carrying me, because if she let her arms even droop a little bit, I would wake up and start crying. She carried me when she was cooking, when she was sleeping, even when she went to the bathroom. She simply believes her gift is maternal love, and doesn’t even blink to sacrifice for all of us. She takes off her own clothes when we are cold, gives us the best parts of a dish and thinks of us first in every occasion. This is my opportunity to think first of her.

She is an unsung hero for many reasons, but above all, she is a quiet reminder of the perseverance and optimism of human spirit. We run into small obstacles and we think our pain is more significant or beautiful than any others, and we grow cynical and angry. My grandmother is a testament that it doesn’t have to be this way, that your strife can only make you sensitive to the light of the world, and more grateful for the everything (and yes it is a lot) you do have.

How do I define and measure success?

As the daughter of overachieving, really hard working Chinese immigrant parents, they put more emphasis on the idea of success than anything else in my life. I spent so much time searching for this what meant, because my idea of it certainly didn’t align with theirs. Finally, my creative director and one of my best friends, Michael gave me a glimpse at what could be an answer. He said, “In the beginning

Success is a constant reduction of the things that you hold most dearly, a distillation of things that matter through perspective. You can never answer the question “Am I successful now?”, but you can answer the question “Can I consider myself a holistically successful person?” That way you can both have the satisfaction of being successful but never becoming complacent.

In the beginning you create standard of what you think success is, and further down the road, you look back and if you surpassed your idea of successful then you can consider yourself a successful person. That ideal of success is not meant to answer the question for your current self, but it is gauge meant for your future introspection. This also allows you to be less realistic with your expectations now, so that when you know you surpass them you truly are accomplishing all your most starlight dreams.

If what I am making is not a kingdom, if it not a lifestyle, a way of existence, is it worth making?

That answer is easy. It’s not.
When you first meet someone, why do you ask what they do for a living?
Who cares.
What you should be asking is why they do what they do. If they can’t come up with a answer, help them find one. Getting your next paycheck or having a career is a not good enough answer.

Professional development is obsolete. Salary is all relative. Where are you at the top of the corporate ladder? Did you actually climb towards something, kicking other people down, or are you no left sitting at the last step of a ladder in a big white space?

You should always work towards a vision, a theme in life greater than yourself. A complete, aligned ecosystem of these kinds of intimidatingly large dreams that actually fuel you into a more conscious awareness of self. Then you’re walking along a path with a more gentle incline, sometimes alongside other people, towards a common vision. No one is losing because you’re winning.

I’m not out to build a company or hire some people, I’m out to create a comprehensive lifestyle. The one where I travel to a different country every weekend, where I wake every morning to brilliant new ideas, and I’m helping rebrand an entire country. Yes, my life is surreal and I can’t keep it up for forever, but trust me, I sure as hell will try. Why not? This is the world that makes me happy. This is the way that I know I flow. And what’s more is that I think this kind of ridiculous dream chasing could make tons of other people happy too, so I’m also going to do my best to tell them about it.

Be a firecracker. Be an assailant. Be a random jumble of words. If nothing else, be a catalyst, since you’re nothing but a chemical reaction anyway.


Stephany Zoo ON LinkedIn:
Bundshop on Twitter: @bundshop