I had my first job when I was 12. (This is me and my first boss.)

This was a stepping-stone to a career that, to this point, has included positions of all kinds, many in the retail industry. Each company has taught me an incredible amount about the power of partnerships, team dynamics, leadership, commerce, supply chain inefficiencies, and how to cultivate teamwork organically. As a 3rd-generation entrepreneur, I’ve also benefited from many behind-the-scenes moments from my parents’ journey.

And for better or for worse, whether because of incredible mentors or business successes or company values that didn’t align with my own, I’ve also learned a ton at every stop about the company I would build if I had the chance. 

……………..

Well, here we are…

With my fellow co-founders, Derrick Chen and Jerry Vuong, I have the chance to build something truly helpful to entrepreneurs at AndMakers. In 2020, we proved our concept of blending expertise, partnership, fulfillment, and automation to enable worldwide companies to achieve retail success. 

So far, the journey has had twists and turns. We launched a few months before the pandemic, and wow, did that throw us off. Our clients are mostly international and typically send products sometimes valued at $100K a shipment, and trust is very important. So, pivoting to Zoom from in-person meetings was very scary at the beginning. At the same time, COVID brought us a silver lining: a surge of interest from entrepreneurs in scaling eCommerce businesses and finding a partner who could help them solve new challenges. And we stepped up – in one case, helping a fellow female entrepreneur who had to identify new solutions for a container of products that was cancelled because her distributor filed for bankruptcy. 

Now it’s time to spread this help as far as we can.

But how? What do we want to be when we grow up? How will we get there? As we get near International Women’s Day, I’d like to impart some of the values and lessons I’m using to guide our path…and build the company where I always wanted to work.

Value your people

A company is only as good as its team. Admittedly, we have a bold business vision and I know our business model can succeed, but I also know the key to that success is the people driving this vision. Without our team, I know I wouldn’t be here today. 

Every new idea (whether or not it pays off), lightbulb moment, skill developed, goal achieved…those deserve recognition. People choose whether or not to stay with their employers, and they choose how much of themselves to devote to the mission at hand. 

A company that truly values and celebrates its employees is a special place that builds a culture of empowerment, which helps build great partnerships both inside the company and out. A great example of empowerment is May Nguyen, who leads our Retail Team. I pitched an idea, and she trusted the vision and was ready to figure it out together. From the idea, we built a new team, which she now runs! Her commitment to showing up for herself, team, and clients truly inspires me.

Stand up for the right things

Know your values and stand up for them, especially when they’re being challenged.

How many times in your career have you seen or heard something you disagreed with and decided not to speak up? At some point in the last 15 years, I got sick of holding my tongue for the sake of egos and quick resolutions. Company leaders especially have to know that their values will always be in the spotlight and that both actions and words matter. I’m lucky enough to be one of the architects of this company’s culture, and that means I have to live the values we articulate, every single day. If I don’t live them, I can’t expect anyone else to live them.

You’ll notice that nowhere in this post did I talk about revenue, profit margins, EBITDA, or fancy PR placements like a founder’s profile in Fast Company. Of course I would love to build a global powerhouse and retire early, but not at the expense of any of the above points. The company I always wanted to build will develop careers, mentorships, trust, and partnerships and use that as the foundation to reach our business goals. 

Celebrate different perspectives

No two people are alike. No two people will approach a challenge the same way. And that’s a good thing, because no one person has all the answers. As long as discussions are respectful and constructive, there’s something we can learn in each one of them if we’re open to it. Multi-million-dollar companies aren’t run by single people; they require many people, each of whom brings unique skills, strengths, and perspectives to the mission. And this extends to your community – it’s composed of many ages, backgrounds, and life experiences that should all be cherished. 

I’ve been lucky enough to practice this at AndMakers. Juvy Lacaba is a powerhouse who leads our growing team in the Philippines, and Java Pan leads our operations team in China. Working with these two has given me a chance to learn their backgrounds and cultural traditions and connect on topics and values important to all of us. 

Empower women and the allies supporting them.

I’ve spent years in the furniture vertical, and you’d be horrified at how persistent that industry’s old-boys’ network is (complete with examples of men behaving badly at trade shows). We’re also at least in part a tech company, and tech companies in the Bay Area have collectively struggled to break glass ceilings. Couple that with our drive to raise funding (I’ll let you Google some of the horror stories from women who have done the fundraising rounds over the years) and the fact that COVID has exacerbated the career-development gap between men and women, and it’s clear there’s room for us to stand out as a company that truly supports women. 

Our team is graced with a ton of female all-stars and future all-stars; we recently hired Hillary Read, a great friend and my former mentor, as CMO (with the blessing of the founder of our Marketing team, Hsin-Jou Chang, and Derrick and Jerry). This is the third startup Hillary and I have worked together at – and it’s the first one we get to truly help shape from the ground up. And it goes so far beyond the two of us; in every one of my meetings, there are numerous bright, confident, talented women ready to share ideas. Derrick and Jerry have welcomed this talent with open arms and given it a place to flourish without restriction – we’ve even created a Slack channel at work for the women of Cenports/AndMakers to trade insights and lessons of empowerment.

Continue to develop yourself

To put your best foot forward for your company, commit to your personal growth. Practice self-care. Learn what you can handle yourself and when it’s best for everyone that you ask for help. Share relevant books and articles that can help everyone learn. (A client recently recommended that I read Measure What Matters, by John Doerr, and I loved it so much I sent a copy to everyone on our team and asked them to read it!) 

Cultivate mentors. Practice mentorship. Establish boundaries that keep you balanced and healthy. Join a community that you trust to lean on when you need it. I really am glad to be part of the Google Female Founders group that’s provided a great source of support and connections with an amazing network of entrepreneurs. The same is true of the Women in Shopify network, which has helped me meet inspiring women doing big things in eCommerce.

Before I joined this team, I founded and run a community called Soulo to help entrepreneurs develop personally and professionally. A number of those folks, who have impressed me with their heart, soul, and values, now work on creative projects with Cenports/AndMakers. These connections with like-minded, open-hearted folks have truly helped me evolve (and have had professional benefits as well).

I hope the company we’re building at Cenports/AndMakers, with these five principles in mind, sounds like a good fit for you or someone you know. Connect with me on LinkedIn to ask about our openings. 

AndMakers

AndMakers searches all corners of the world for finely crafted products to bring to the U.S. market. Their full-service connections result in high margins for retailers, incredible scale at low risk for manufacturers, and millions of happy customers.

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