Mom Entrepreneur: Lillian Kim (Co-Founder)
Business: Jet Pens
JetPens.com is a fun online retailer of writing instruments, art, scrapbooking and office products from Japan. Our unique and hard-to-find products have been featured in Wired, Martha Stewart Blueprint, Fortune Small Business and more. You can also find us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/JetPens (2000+ members) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/JetPens).
What inspired you to start your business?
As a college student, I loved taking notes with thin-tipped colorful gel pens I could only find in Asia. The other two founders did some research and found that there was a huge and lucrative market for office products in the US. Passion met profit and JetPens.com, a place to find popular and sought after writing instruments, was born.
How long have you been in business?
We’ve been spreading the pen love since Valentine’s Day, 2005.
What did you do in your past work life?
I co-founded JetPens.com while in college. That’s really been the major “work” in my life so far. Previous to that, I had stopped out of college temporarily and started a cellular phone accessory business. Challenges with that failed initial business drove me back to finish college!Describe your ideal workday.
My ideal workdays to spend time with family and do the work I enjoy. I have a 5 second commute to my home office. I work in the afternoon while a babysitter comes to our place. I’m able to have special Mommy time with our son in the morning and precious family time with my husband and son in the evening.
What have been some of your major successes?
Hiring wonderful employees who make our company a success. We have a wonderful team, and it’s fulfilling to know that JetPens is impacting the lives of others. We also offer a flexible schedule that allows us the ability to hire customer service professionals who can work from home or moms who can work from home at night when their kids are asleep. I’m not the only one in the company who has this blessing!
What have been some of your major challenges?
As the daughter of immigrant small business owners, my biggest challenge is getting out of the “small business mindset.” Sometimes building and growing a global business means taking on time-consuming and sometimes expensive projects that in the short run are painful and delay things but in the long run are critical. For example implementing a barcode scanning system for shipments, re-gridding and re-locating products in the warehouse to enable faster packing (keep in mind we have over 5000 SKUs), etc. The small business owner in me always balks at these steps, sometimes you just want to keep going forward with the same old and familiar tools. But change, though uncomfortable, is important if it’s necessary. Thankfully I have two business partners who are very sharp and open-minded and always push our business forward.
On those impossible days, what motivates you to keep going?
I love staying active and even on the busiest and most stressful days I know I have more fun than 10 days without work. Also the knowledge that work is just “tent-making”. Work should be fulfilling, but it is really a means to an end. Life should be outside of work
Do you have a motivational quote?
“For no matter what we achieve, if we don’t spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect, we couldn’t possibly have a good life.” Jim Collins – From Good to Great
If there was one piece of advice you could give to your children about running a successful business, what would it be?
Life is not about money or business so we are happy with whatever God guides you to do. If you want to do business, that’s fine and we’re supportive. Starting a business doesn’t require a lot of money we started ours with a $3k initial investment each ($9k pooled). Now we ship over 10,000 pens a month from our warehouse. So please start small..like selling candy at school. Really.
What is your balancing secret in managing a business and family?
An incredible, wonderful husband who lovingly supports me, encourages me and sacrifices to make things work. When you have a husband you can share with and talk with, it makes all the difference. I’m so thankful for him. Also, I have two very intelligent and humble business partners who make decisions that place family first.
Do you have a favorite business tool and/or resource?
Google Analytics. Need to find where customers are coming from, need to find where they are going.
What is next for your business?
We’re currently working on some exciting distributorship and manufacturing opportunities with Japanese design companies.
Give us your two cents sales pitch.
JetPens.com – a place to find sought after and hard-to-find writing instruments, stationery products and scrapbooking supplies from Japan and all around the world. Famous for feeding any stationery “addictions”.
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