Vivian Chan

Co-Founder of East Meets Dress

Vivian is the co-founder of East Meets Dress–the first modern fashion company to bring more Asian-American representation and inclusion to the traditional wedding industry. It was inspired by her experiences as a Maid of Honor for her best friend’s wedding.

By combining quality craftsmanship, modern designs, and a dedicated customer experience, EMD has been able to help brides around the world celebrate their culture in style.

Prior to East Meets Dress, Vivian worked at an early stage tech startup that was later acquired as well as several nonprofit organizations (Girls Who Code and Teach for America). She completed her B.S. in Biology from Yale University. Her favorite things are playing basketball, black sesame ice cream, and her Nespresso machine.

Where did the idea for East Meets Dress come from?

The idea for East Meets Dress (EMD) originated from my co-founder, Jenn’s, personal struggles when she was looking for a modern version of the cheongsam (qipao), a traditional Chinese wedding dress. She wanted to wear a cheongsam for her wedding tea ceremony to honor her parents and heritage but finding a modern design that fit her aesthetics turned out to be near impossible.

At the time, her options were limited to suspicious online sites or stores in Chinatown with poor service and a narrow selection. Ultimately, Jenn resorted to custom making her cheongsam at a local tailor. I was her Maid of Honor and we both felt that Asian-American brides shouldn’t have to be confined to low-quality options or scouring Yelp to find the one tailor who could make a quality cheongsam from scratch.

So we set out to create a modern brand and reinvent the cheongsam shopping experience for Asian-Americans.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

The great thing about being a co-founder of your own company is that you have the flexibility to create a schedule that suits your work style.

So while my typical day varies depending on my priorities for that week, for the most part, I like to structure my day into buckets of “rocks” and “sand”.

“Rocks” are the foundational things that will actually move the needle. “Sand” are all the busy, little tasks that sap your energy without improving your business. Every day, I try to complete one rock no matter what and I time-bound that to a few hours at most. If necessary, I break up a large project into smaller rocks to accomplish.

The idea is that when you start a business, there will be a million different things that you’ll need to and want to work on. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and go down a rabbit-hole doing tasks that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Start small but start quickly has always been our philosophy when it comes to executing on ideas.

When we first started, we had no experience in fashion, e-commerce, or entrepreneurship. We simply had our own experiences as consumers and having gone through Jenn’s wedding process. We also weren’t sure how many other Asian-American brides out there were also struggling with this problem and where we would find them since this was a pretty niche market.

So we spent a Friday night creating a free landing page via Unbounce and running some FB ads to see if anyone would be interested. Over that same weekend, we got 40+ subscribers, which gave us the initial reassurance that there might actually be a market for this.

From there, we set up a Shopify website and launched our first dress product. There wasn’t anything glamorous about it–we didn’t have any PR or influencers to promote it, but not long after we got our very first customer and we just kept going from there.

Since then, we’ve utilized the same strategy of being resourceful and starting small and quickly whenever we have a new idea we want to test or a new product we want to launch. For us, it’s about creating the Minimum Lovable Product (MLP) each time and improving in real-time rather than perfecting all the details beforehand.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I love seeing the growing trend of multicultural weddings and how many brides are interested in having an “East Meets West” wedding that incorporates their cultural heritage in some way. It goes to show that you can make your wedding as unique, authentic and representative of who you are as you want.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’m terrible at multitasking so I purposely set up focused blocks of work time without any distractions to allow me to get into flow.

During this deep work time, I turn on my “Do not disturb” mode on my laptop, close out my email tab, and exit all other unnecessary apps/software so I only have the task/project at hand that I’m working on.

I feel so much more productive and efficient after doing this for even just an hour and you come to realize that no one is going to die if you don’t respond to a Slack message or email in that hour, but you’ll get so much more deep work done.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The path to success isn’t always straightforward; it almost never is. My own path included a bunch of twists and turns. So don’t be afraid of creating your own path if there isn’t one and if you’re not out there building your own dream, then you’re just busy building someone else’s.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

It’s more important to have 100 paying customers and no social media followers than thousands of followers and no one willing to pay for your product.

While social proof is important and helps build your brand, as a business, the first priority is to get people to actually pay for your service/product.

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

Utilize the “Do not disturb” button on your laptop once a day when you’re trying to get into flow and do your most meaningful work during that time.

Or you can incorporate that as part of your morning routine before you dive into the workday. I like slow mornings where I can read the news and articles without getting distracted by messages, emails, etc. This ensures that my mind is alert and ready for problem-solving during the rest of the day.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Your customers are your best consultants and advocates. Talk to your customers, get feedback from them, and observe their behavior across different channels as frequently as possible.

Whenever we’ve launched new products or improved existing ones, it was all driven by talking to our customers and seeing what they have to say. That’s also how we’ve discovered new channels that we wanted to double down on after hearing how they first heard about us.

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

Being too frugal in the beginning and not realizing that you have to spend money to make money.

Growing up in Asian immigrant families, our parents always taught us to save more than we spend. But when you’re just starting out, you need to spend money to get the word out about your business. We were hesitant at first to spend any advertising money or pay for help from third parties.

But time is also money, and we realized that it was more cost-efficient to learn quickly through paid experiments and then double down on what works.

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

We’ve come a long way when it comes to doing custom measurements online but it’s a process that can definitely be improved upon.

If a customer can simply take a few photos on their phone and have it translate into all the unique measurements we need from them, that would be a B2B idea we’d be willing to pay for (and I’m sure other e-commerce brands that do custom clothing or sizing would too).

While we’ve tested some measurement tools and apps, none were comprehensive enough, easy to use, or accurate.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

We spent $100 to launch East Meets Dress over a weekend and that was definitely the best $100 we spent.

We spent $29 for a Shopify site, ran a $50 Facebook ad, and gave away several $5 Amazon gift cards to any initial leads/subscribers who were willing to talk to us and answer a few questions to help us find product-market fit.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Zapier is a must-have for any startup. It essentially connects all the apps and tools you use together and automates redundant tasks for you.

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

One of my favorite books is Atomic Habits by James Clear. I love this book because it teaches you that success is the sum of small efforts, repeated.

Building a company requires a lot of discipline and the ability to consistently make incremental improvements (getting 1% better every day) even if you don’t see any immediate, visible results.

Over time, it all adds up and you’ll reach a tipping point that was only possible as a result of all of your past efforts.

What is your favorite quote?

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it—but all that had gone before.” – James Clear

Key Learnings:

  • Start before you have all the answers and forge your own path.
  • Spend money to earn money.
  • Focus on just getting 1% better every day.
  • Put your “do not disturb” on once a day.