#17 My Top 3 Lessons in Life and Business
What I've learned and what's next.
The simplest answer is… I’m working on it. And in the process, I have reflected a lot on what I’ve learned in the last eight years or so of being a parent and an entrepreneur. I want to build something that is a culmination of these core learnings. So I thought I’d share them with you here.
Don’t wait for permission.
As a rule follower, I have a tendency to wait to get “a green light” before I act on something. And whenever I feel like I’m doing something out of the norm, I tend to believe I’m breaking the rules. This is exactly how I felt when I started koko’s nest. I felt like I was breaking the rules of what I’m supposed to be doing after completing three law degrees and a prestigious law clerkship. I felt like I was breaking the rules of being a “stay at home” mother by hiring some part-time help to facilitate building my businesses. And so, I did it as quietly as possible.
I must have missed the memo. But it took me a while to realize that being an adult means not waiting for permission to build my life. And do it my way.
The definition of living is creating. It’s the daily ritual of creating moments, building projects, and investing in relationships. And especially for women navigating a world that wasn’t built by women (and doubly so for women of color), it’s essential to recognize that what we see out there as pre-existing, established norms may not reflect our needs and wants. We can’t look out there for an established script to follow; we have to create and build our lives from the inside out.
Don’t just take up space. Own your space.
We talk about how women should “take up space” in the boardroom, in media, and in the public square. We need more representation. And we need to occupy more space in order to have more power. In concrete terms, we need more women on prominent mastheads, we need more women-led retail businesses on main street, we need more women deciding which movies deserve to be made, and we need more women in all levels of government.
At a business or individual level, when it comes to applying this piece of advice in today’s digital age, taking up space requires the use of technology to make that metaphorical “space” mean anything. For my DTC brand koko’s nest, I needed a robust ecommerce website (our digital “home”), but I also needed email to reach my existing audience, and I deployed social media marketing to reach new audiences. But even for my experiential retail brand, where we took up physical space in a storefront, we still needed digital tools to reach our current and potential customers. Without these digital spaces and tools, it’s nearly impossible to build any relevant currency.
Personally, my biggest takeaway from the past 7 years is that even as an introvert who values privacy, I have a lot to gain by taking up digital real estate. I sometimes joke that my business was my way of having one finger out in the public realm while the rest of me was completely consumed in growing my family. But it’s not an exaggeration to say that having the koko’s nest website and Instagram account gave me a lifeline during these years of back-to-back pregnancy and postpartum periods.
And though much of the early growth and success of koko’s nest was attributable to Facebook and Instagram, it has become abundantly clear in recent years that relying on these “free” digital channels is a mistake. If you don’t own or control the digital space and channels (e.g., on social media platforms), you’re building your house on someone else’s property. With a small algorithm tweak, you stand to lose everything you’ve built… or in the case of Facebook and Instagram, you stand to lose your sense of self to producing silly reels. Web3 is about decentralizing power away from the tech giants, and though I have countless questions and serious doubts about crypto, the promise of Web3 (or at least, moving beyond Web2) very much speaks to this lesson that I’ve learned: take up space, own your list, and diversify your channels.
After I launched koko’s nest, I had the hardest time filling up the “about” page of our website. Usually, that’s where founders explain that “aha!” moment that led to their ingenious product. Or it’s a personal story that draws a clear line from the product back to the founder’s mission. For me, building koko’s nest was never about the blankets. The important story was behind the brand — my search to make sense of motherhood and “work” led me to creating this brand. The blankets came later and was really just a byproduct.
It’s only recently that I came to realize that this backstory is the story. And that this story matters. As do so many others that have yet to be uncovered about this intersection of work and parenthood. It was really this realization that sparked my decision to close the business. It was time to stop toiling away on the byproduct. It feels like the right time to dig deeper into the essential raison d’être.
My next steps.
What’s next for me is to bring these lessons together: find ways to help uncover the untold stories of parenthood and work, help women take up space and own their channels, and do so my way, building something without precedent, without asking for permission.
My business koko’s nest will close this week. But my newsletter here, and my personal Instagram account (@sy.seoyun) will be my digital homes for the time being. As always, you can reach me in the comments section.