Featured on Jul 06, 2011
"I go through life like a Karate Kid - Britney Spears "
I grew up in Houston, Texas in a small neighborhood right outside of city limits. Although, most of my childhood years felt as if I grew up as an only child, I am the youngest between my sister and me. Our 4 year age gap made it difficult to involve ourselves in similar activities or circles of friends so I was left to fend for myself. I also had many interests that differed from my parents’ idea of the Traditional Vietnamese Daughter. I was fortunate my sister was their scapegoat for piano and violin lessons! I convinced my parents to let me peruse ballet, competitive gymnastics, and cheerleading which I believe played a large role in The Shaping of Mimi. It was where the foundation of discipline, teamwork, determination, and competition were practiced vigorously. After I graduated from The University of Houston, I moved to New York City. Fast forward 7 years and here I am. My rap sheet includes 5 years in commercial real estate investment and financing before starting Pencils of Promise, a 501 (c)(3) education nonprofit, with my friend Adam Braun in 2008. In between, my idea of “do-ing” evolved: I keep myself busy with learning, creating, or building. Anything that comes on my plate- I make sure it gets done. Today, I am working on a new for-profit venture at the intersection of fashion and technology. I see a great opportunity to capitalize on the democratization of the industry and how we share and receive information instantaneously. My goal through this new venture is to inspire people creatively through style.
You recently started your new fashion startup, Thread Media. What's the accomplishment you're most proud of so far? What's been the biggest challenge?
It's still in its early stages so it's hard for me to pinpoint any recognizable "accomplishments" but I will say to me, they're huge personal accomplishments for where we are because the idea, business plan, legal, branding, 80% of the working team, a few key advisors, and about 30% of mobile development complete-- all within these 3months. (Yes, we're only 3.5 months old).We've also made great strides in the pursuit of fundraising! I think these are accomplishments because some people were astonished as to how much was done from the moment of idea conception.
The biggest challenge thus far has been finalizing that last piece of the puzzle to the team. Of course, its a key member, the CTO, which I've reserved. I'm a firm believer in great leaders, but not necessarily those with glitz and glamor. I love rooting for the underdog (I am one myself) and giving opportunities for someone who's under the radar. I'm looking for an individual who is just as passionate in their work as they are in life and wants to be a visionary and mentor to the other engineers on our team.
Fashion technology is an area that you've said will have some big developments in the coming years. What's going on in that field right now and how do you see things unfolding (pun!)?
I think it's going to be extremely interesting to see how fashion reacts to what I see as the democratization of fashion. We've already been seeing it in so many other industries such as production, philanthropy, and information with this idea of crowdsourcing. There's this need for people to have access to information or content immediately and share it to their peers, show expertise in the fields they do know, and influence those with like minded interests.
Fashion is also an industry that is so rich and interesting in content. There's this unique human aspect to it because it is how people express themselves! I think providing platforms that enable people to share and follow better will help the industry on both sides-- business (ie. bottom line) and inspiration (ie. trend forecasting and design).
Before you moved into startup-land, you were a founding member for Pencils of Promise, a non-profit that helps build schools for underprivileged communities. How does starting a non-profit differ from doing a tech startup and did those experiences impact any of your business philosophies?
This impacts the way I do business a lot. Working in the nonprofit industry you learn a lot about people: motivation and psychology. There's definitely no personal monetary motivation in the work that you do for a nonprofit! It's about finding purpose in the work that you do and enjoying it. I think that should be the same whether in not-for-profit or for-profit. From a CEO point of view, that's how I look at recruiting and building company culture. I also think that for a company to be sustainable, the inspiration has to drive from not only top down, but bottom up. My interns were some of the most inspirational people and I made to sure to give them a platform to engage and push creativity.
I was always very much on the business side of Pencils of Promise and that's what made Adam and me a great team when starting off. I grew to learn more about identifying purpose. Both industries you measure IMPACT. Business is business, whether you measure the bottom line and pocketing it or using it to build primary schools abroad. Both scenarios-- you want the most dollars and both scenarios you're faced with similar operational costs. How you get your revenue is different, only slightly! I look at it as one you're selling to donors and the other you're selling to investors/users. What is sold is still an idea or concept or lifestyle. The defining point is any good business sells IMPACT: How can it make the world better?
You're from Houston, so when you go home, what's the first thing you do when you land?
Ask- "What are we eating?" And by that I mean what Vietnamese restaurant will we go to. Vietnamese food is so much more awesome in Houston than NYC.