Tagged: jean z. Poh

The Journey of Female Entrepreneurs

Around October of 2014 I decided to embark on a journey that would forever change my life. Up until that point I spent six years working as a corporate lawyer on venture capital, private equity, and mergers and acquisitions transactions in NYC and Shanghai; fell in love with startups and started investing in them in 2008; then left my career in law to help Jewelry Tyrant Daddy grow his high-end jewelry manufacturing business; started my own jewelry atelier; and was pretty much in a good place because I was learning, growing, and enjoying my work. However, I knew that I was just getting started. I loved working with clients to design bespoke jewelry that reflected each of their individual aesthetics and continued to try to grow my atelier but I kept seeing the same points of friction frustrating my clients in the jewelry buying process and the same inefficiencies were holding back my company from growing. So I committed to doing something about it. I decided to take everything I learned about technology, venture capital, investing in startups, and the vertical fine jewelry pipeline and build a startup that would solve both the problems that clients face when they are trying to buy jewelry and the inefficiencies that designers and brands are burdened with when trying to build and scale their jewelry businesses–I would build my own jewelry technology startup.

This blog has always been about baubles, bling, and banter and I grappled with whether or not I should expand its scope to include my life as a startup founder and female entrepreneur. Starting up a tech company for the first time is scary enough as it is and I have so very much to learn along the way. Not only do I have to come up with a solid concept for a business, I also have to build a team that has the necessary skill set to help me develop the product and build the business, figure out how to fund my startup, create a company culture that will allow my team to feel supported in order to actualize on their potential, manage my investors, put out fires (and boy will there will be fires…), live a well-rounded balanced life, and stay sane in the process. Most startups fail. Most never see the light of day. So this begs the question: Why the hell would I blog about my process of building a startup and risk failing publicly for all the world to see?

Everyone has been buzzing about female entrepreneurs these past few years. There have been countless articles on the rise of the female entrepreneur, debate over what Silicon Valley thinks of women (scroll down in the comments section of the Newsweek article to read my response–I was miffed), a growing movement around teaching women how to become entrepreneurs and how to invest, creation of resources for women founders to find funding, etc. But here is the thing, of all the resources out there and the success stories that are newly trickling in, I think there is value in a female founder putting herself out there and going through the process publicly so that other girls, women and even dudes can follow along; because as Chelsea Clinton said at the Lincoln Center Women in Philanthropy and Female Leadership Breakfast, “It is hard for us to envision what we cannot see.” So if my posts make it less scary for even one woman or girl somewhere out there to make the leap and start her own company, then whatever consequences I face as a result of undergoing this process publicly will have been worth it.

I intend to write as accurately as I can and as often as I can about the things I have to learn in order to build a tech startup and take it to launch and beyond, post links to resources that I have found helpful, hash out my decision-making processes, and be as honest as possible about the emotions and the ups and downs that I encounter along the way. This is not an arrogant attempt to show the world how it’s done. Let’s be honest, I have no idea how it’s done because I’ve never done it before and every day I encounter something new that I know nothing about and have to get up to speed ASAP. This is me, your ever-quirky and often ridiculous Bling Fairy going about my business and blogging about it so that others can witness the process. There will be times when I am wrong and there will be times that I’m killing it, but it is my hope that by writing about my experiences as I encounter them and doing it publicly not only will I learn from the process as I look back on it but someone else out there will find value in it too. So here we go…

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,

JZP

About

It was a long and convoluted road that brought me here. Well, yes and no. I was born into a jewelry family. My great-grandfather began working for British jewelry company, Alexander Clark, and acquired their China operations in the late 1800’s and transformed the company from a diamond merchant and metal-smithing business into the finest jewelry store in China. Alexander Clark Company (Shanghai), Ltd. (安康洋行) took up the entire first floor of the infamous Sassoon House, which later became the Peace Hotel on the Bund in Shanghai and we were the sole purveyors of famous international jewelry brands such as Cartier, Lalique, Rolex, Mikimoto, Vacheron Constantin, etc. Shanghai was a chic and prosperous international port at the time and we were responsible for making its inhabitants glisten.


About

About AboutMy grandfather, Jack Poh, took over Alexander Clark from his father, and the advertisement for Rolex watches below was from the 1940’s during grandpa’s time at the helm. My father, Johnson Poh, used to visit the store as a child and his job was to wind all the grandfather clocks after school; he still recalls the elation he felt from hearing over forty grandfather clocks chime together simultaneously. It was assumed that my father would succeed my grandfather when the time came but that would never come to pass as the store was closed as a result of the Cultural Revolution.

 

AboutMy parents moved to NYC (oh yes, I am a New Yorker through and through.  I almost called this blog “Bagels and Diamonds” but then I thought, “Choking hazard!”) after I was born and my dad took up an apprenticeship at a jewelry manufacturing company in 1982. I remember going up to his bench as a toddler and standing on tiptoes to marvel at all the sparkly gems and the gold dust that accumulated. I was told never to touch anything on his bench and I always obeyed. By 1987, he started his own manufacturing company on 47th street in the Diamond District. Whenever I went to the workshop to visit him I was given the very important job of sweeping up the gold dust from the jewelers benches and scouring the floor for diamonds that may have popped out of the jewelers’ tweezers during the manufacturing process. Even now when you visit my father’s company and go into the workshop at the end of the day you will see the most junior apprentice sweeping up the gold dust from the other master jewelers’ benches–although no one can beat me when it comes to looking for floor diamonds (I once found a 3.88 carat blue sapphire on the pavement on 47th street and I wasn’t even trying).

Needless to say, with such a pedigree I developed a special understanding of and relationship with jewelry early on. At the age of five I used to design futuristic jewelry–I think it was a combination of the fashion of the 80’s and my obsession with The Jetsons–a cartoon set in the future–that influenced my design aesthetic at the time.  It was probably around that same age that my father gifted me with my first diamond ring.  An adorable little gold flower with a diamond in its center.  I swooned over it and wore it to dinner in.  There was much frolicking and gleeful hand swinging, and by the end of the night the ring was nowhere to be found.  My clammy little five-year old fingers were once again unadorned.  Oh how I cried!  Heartbreak at such an early age.

Naturally, one would think I went into the jewelry business straight away.  Nope, not this product of an Asian tiger mom!  I was bound for law school.  So yes, Cornell Law, big firm in NYC and an even bigger firm in Shanghai (my other city–I might have about 4 cities).  Alas, hours upon hours, years upon years of venture capital financings, private equity deals and mergers meant that I was practically living in my office with a drawer full of stilettos, another containing a cute outfit for nights out, a spare suit and a black-tie gown constantly hanging on the back of my office door. But alas after about 6 years I decided to give it all up to pursue my true calling.

I went off and got my G.D. (Graduate Diamonds) from the Gemological Institute of America, became creative director of my father’s company and launched Jean & Alex, a jewelry atelier that works directly with clients to design and create custom pieces of jewelry that reflect their individual aesthetics, preferences, and lifestyle. Client after client seemed to be telling me the same thing: that it is incredibly difficult and intimidating to shop for jewelry and everything out there looks the same. I soon recognized that there were inefficiencies in the jewelry industry that not only affected my clients, but also jewelry designers and brands themselves. As a result, after a few years of running and designing for the atelier I felt compelled to try to solve the larger problem–that jewelry has lost its meaning. Thus began  Swoonery.com, a luxury online marketplace for fine jewelry that helps customers discover and purchase exquisitely crafted, unique jewelry that they connect with.

I decided to expand Deliver Me Diamonds beyond the topic of jewelry to include anything that is occupying space in my mind because I noticed that women’s identities are often distilled into neat little easy-to-digest generalizations and limiting myself to writing about jewelry was not helping the matter. We are the sum of the things we think about and who I am is a woman who thinks about tech, innovation, entrepreneurship, personal growth, mindfulness, leadership, international policy, art, education, design AND jewelry.

I encourage you all to embrace your swagger and create the world you want to live in.

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,

JZP

bespoke jewelry

Bespoke Jewelry: Leaving a Mark on the World

 

You will often hear me go on rampages about how commercialization of jewelry has sucked all the beauty and integrity out of the trade.  As our world becomes more commercialized, convenience and access are prioritized over integrity and craftsmanship.  As a result, some of the most beautiful trades and art forms are dwindling in favor of mass production.  When people genuinely believe that their engagement ring has to be one of 20 styles bought from a store in the mall and wrapped in a little blue box. . .we’ve got a problem.  Since the dawn of time, jewelry has always been bespoke.  It has always been a way to convey something about its wearer to the outside world–the first rings were used as a signature when most people could not yet read or write (read my post about signet rings here)–their jewelry reflected something about what made that individual unique.  Unfortunately nowadays most rings say, “I am the same as millions of others who purchased this same ring.”  Oh the horror!  As my own little form of rebellion, I decided to design a bespoke ring for myself to showcase the wonders of bespoke jewelry and serve as a daily reminder of the integrity of my trade.

No one else in the world has the same ring, it is my little fingerprint in this sparkly world because I had control of its creation.  From the moment I stumbled upon the pink kunzite that I chose as a center stone, to dreaming up the design and rendering it so that it could be made into wax, every step in this ring’s creation bears my signature.

Bespoke Jewelry: Leaving a Mark on the World

 

I found this lonely pink kunzite at the JCK Jewelry convention in 2012 and decided to rescue it.Bespoke Jewelry: Leaving a Mark on the World

The first rendering I ever did was to design this ring.  In fact, I taught myself how to render jewelry just so I could convey its design to our artisans.
Bespoke Jewelry: Leaving a Mark on the World

The finished piece: pink kunzite, pearls, white and black diamonds set in matte rose gold.Bespoke Jewelry: Leaving a Mark on the World

A close-up of the black diamond spikes.

One does not have to be a jewelry designer in order to have a piece of bespoke jewelry all one’s own, nor does one have to have an unlimited budget.  You simply have to find someone who can translate what you want into a personalized piece within your budget.  I usually design for my client’s aesthetics rather than my own but give advice as needed in order to create a piece that is true to them.  I want my clients to know that they are unique, encourage them to stand out because understanding who they are and being confident enough to embrace it is a beautiful thing.  Bespoke rings or jewelry hold more significance than mere materialism or vanity–they are a daily reminder of what one stands for and who one strives to be.

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,

JZP

Ring Size Fit Guide: From Puffy Fingers to Paltry Digits

 

It may seem like common knowledge that one should buy a ring that fits, but you’d be surprised at the science behind finding an ideal fit.  I recently sized a client in Shanghai and thank goodness for flying out there because we would be totally off without a fitting.  My general rule of thumb is: your ring should slip one easily but require a bit of an effort to take off.  Most people’s knuckles are slightly larger than the girth of their finger, so you want the ring to catch on the knuckle just a bit as you take it off so it doesn’t fall off inadvertently.  Another way to think about it is if the ring would fall off if you’re washing your hands then it’s much too large and if you need to lather up your hands with soap to get it off then it’s much too small.

Now another thing to keep in mind is that our hands swell with air travel, sodium intake, booze, pregnancy, weight gain, water retention, exercise–yes I know, this is not pleasant so lets cut the list short and suffice to say that unless you’re the same size you were in high school, eat a macrobiotic diet without salt, get lymphatic drainage massages every day and intend to never have children, your finger will get larger with time and arthritis (if you have tendencies toward hypochondria as I do).  So, if you’re choosing between two sizes, go for the larger one (as long as it doesn’t fall off if you swing your hand).

When my hubby proposed to me we happened to be in Cielo, a club in NYC that we both used to frequent in our younger wilder days (ahem). My ring was gorgeous obviously since it was from Jean & Alex and after all the sobbing, hugging, kissing, surprise visit from my brother (who knew about the proposal because Hubby tweeted about it all day), we did a little dance to the electronic version of  La Vie En Rose.  He twirled me and with a flick of my wrist. . .poof!  Ring goes flying into the crowd!!!  In a club!  In NYC! Stomping! Dancing! I screamed something to the effect of F*#!@ Me! And we both hit the floor on hands and knees to try to retrieve the ring.  Luckily, it was big enough and shiny enough that it sparkled under the strobe lights, but you better believe that the very next day I went into the office and got ball bearings put on the inside.

WHAT?  Ball bearings?  Jes my darlings, platinum ones of course.  Little known fact, it is easy to resize a ring and make it bigger but you can’t make it smaller because the diamonds will pop out. My remedy is to solder two small ball bearings into the inside of the ring.  They make it more snug and have the added benefit of being removable.  So in the future if I puff up like a cholera patient, I can remove them and voila–the ring will be the perfect size!  The opposite is also true, if by some miracle I lose my fondness for champagne, fois gras, lobster, asian noodles, sea urchin pasta and all things divine and become supermodel skinny, I can always add in a few more ball bearings.  But then again, if I ever became that thin I doubt I would be able to lift the heavy ring on my finger or all my other statement jewelry so best not give up the sea urchin pasta just yet. . .

Ring Size Fit Guide: From Puffy Fingers to Paltry Digits
Jean & Alex engagement ring with ball bearing sizers.

Big Kiss and Bigger Diamonds,

JZP