Business 03 January 2017
Phuong Mai was a management consultant who traveled—a lot—and was ruining her spine with every over-sized, heavy bag she lugged over her shoulder. A collar bone injury from yes, the weight of her bags, was the last straw. There had to be a better—and more stylish—way for business women to take along everything they needed without risking spinal injuries. And so, it was a no-brainer for Mai to start making her mission a reality and P.MAI, her line of luxury women's backpacks, was born.
“What I see these backpacks doing for hand bags is what ballet flats did to heels ten years ago," she explains. “Ballet flats in the work place were just smarter and more comfortable, but a professional alternative to the pump. When Tory Burch came on Oprah with her ballet flats, it was like, 'Oh that's genius.'"
Now that Mai works on P.MAI full-time, she's a true champion of female entrepreneurs as she's recognized that when brought together, they're a force to be reckoned with. Here, Mai shares her best tips, thoughts and observations for any woman currently in business for themselves—or about to take that leap.
What's one of the biggest lessons you've learned as an entrepreneur?
This is my first company and I've learned that female founders are a unique tribe. It's grown over the last few years with the Lean In movement, Girl Boss and this pride that women now have be more vocal about being a feminist all while taking calculated risks to pursue what they want. I'm all about that and want others to hopefully feel inspired to look inward and wonder, 'Well what would it take for me to do it too? How could I get started?' I've been very honest that it's not all glamorous and that's why I tend to ask other entrepreneurs about their initial struggles and how they dealt with them because I want people to have a very authentic impression of what it takes—but then also know they're not alone.
How do you recommend getting a business idea—and support network—off the ground?
Be calculated in the risk, be smart and understand what problem you're trying to solve. Start testing it out in small ways and be prepared for rejection. Every artist knows that they must be ready for criticism the moment they put a painting up. As an entrepreneur, it's the same way. Don't let it stop you but know it will happen and seek progress over perfection. It's okay if you're not perfect. You'll realize even the most put together people aren't put together at all. They say that in different moments, people are like ducks. They're calm and unruffled on the surface but really, they're paddling like crazy underneath. You'll find the more honest you are with yourself and the more willing you are to share your struggles—people not only relate but will genuinely want to help you—and it would be silly to turn your back on that.
You're a team of one—how do you stay sane?
Unfortunately, I don't have the luxury of my own team yet but it's certainly a goal of mine in the coming future to build that out. So, how do I bounce ideas and how do I keep sane as a founder? The answer is I have fellow entrepreneur friends that I lean on who I can always text for thoughts, advice and even quick pow wows. I'm active in female communities—no matter where I am.
I've lived in San Francisco for the last five years and that's where I have most of my entrepreneur friends. But, that doesn't stop me from reaching out elsewhere. Recently, I was in Toronto and I wanted to see what their start-up scene was like. Well, I had recently met this one woman in line at a Hillary Clinton rally who worked for a Canadian accelerator. So, I reached out to her, she just powered off like four emails and I ended up meeting with a couple of great women. It's just a matter of putting yourself out there. Ask for help and pay it forward.
3 min read
"More grapes, please," my daughter asked, as she continued to color her Peppa Pig drawing at the kitchen table.
"What do you say?" I asked her, as I was about to hand her the bowl.
I shook my head.
I stood there.
"I want green grapes instead of red grapes?"
I shook my head again. I handed her the bowl of green grapes. "Thank you. Please don't forget to say thank you."
"Thank you, Momma!"
Here's the question at hand: Do we have to retrain our leaders to say thank you like I am training my children?
Many of us are busy training our young children on manners on the other side of the Zoom camera during this pandemic. Reminding them to say please, excuse me, I tried it and it's not my favorite, I am sorry, and thank you. And yet somehow simple manners continue to be undervalued and underappreciated in our workplaces. Because who has time to say thank you?
"Call me. This needs to be completed in the next hour."
"They didn't like the deck. Needs to be redone."
"When are you planning on sending the proposal?"
"Did you see the questions he asked? Where are the responses?"
"Needs to be done by Monday."
Let me take a look. I didn't see a please. No please. Let me re-read it again. Nope, no thank you either. Sure, I'll get to that right away. Oh yes, you're welcome.
Organizations are under enormous pressure in this pandemic. Therefore, leaders are under enormous pressure. Business models collapsing, budget cuts, layoffs, or scrapping plans… Companies are trying to pivot as quickly as possible—afraid of extinction. With employees and leaders everywhere teaching and parenting at home, taking care of elderly parents, or maybe even living alone with little social interaction, more and more of us are dealing with all forms of grief, including losing loved ones to COVID-19.
So we could argue we just don't have time to say thank you; we don't have time to express gratitude. There's too much happening in the world to be grateful for anything. We are all living day to day, the pendulum for us swinging between surviving and thriving. But if we don't have the time to be grateful now, to show gratitude and thanks as we live through one of the most cataclysmic events in recent human history, when will we ever be thankful?
If you don't think you have to say thank you; if you don't think they deserve a thank you (it's their job, it's what they get paid to do); or if you think, "Why should I say thank you, no one ever thanks me for anything?" It's time to remember that while we might be living through one of the worst recessions of our lifetimes, the market will turn again. Jobs will open up, and those who don't feel recognized or valued will be the first to go. Those who don't feel appreciated and respected will make the easy decision to work for leaders who show gratitude.
But if we don't have the time to be grateful now, to show gratitude and thanks as we live through one of the most cataclysmic events in recent human history, when will we ever be thankful?
Here's the question at hand: Do we have to retrain our leaders to say thank you like I am training my children? Remind them with flashcards? Bribe them with a cookie? Tell them how I proud I am of them when they say those two magical words?
Showing gratitude isn't that difficult. You can send a thoughtful email or a text, send a handwritten card, send something small as a gesture of thank you, or just tell them. Call them and tell them how thankful you are for them and for their contributions. Just say thank you.
A coworker recently mailed me a thank you card, saying how much she appreciated me. It was one of the nicest things anyone from work has sent me during this pandemic. It was another reminder for me of how much we underestimate the power of a thank you card.
Apparently, quarantine gratitude journals are all the rage right now. So it's great if you have a beautiful, leather-bound gratitude journal. You can write down all of the people and the things that you are thankful for in your life. Apparently, it helps you sleep better, helps you stay grounded, and makes you in general happier. Just don't forget to take a moment to stop writing in that journal, and to show thanks and gratitude to those you are working with every single day.