Starting your own business when you’re a student can be tough. UHM has numerous programs and opportunities to help students reach their entrepreneurial goals. Rose Wong, owner of jewelry brand Kolohe, has utilized a lot of resources on-campus which has helped her thrive in the business world. At the age of 21, she opened her first store in Waikiki and hired 6 employees.
Curious to know how she accomplished all of this at such a young age? Keep reading.
What should I be focusing on to help me open a business?
- Passion – First figure out what you are passionate about and what drives you. If you go into a business for any other reason, then it’s much harder to keep at it. If you are so passionate about something, then you’ll constantly work hard at it. I was passionate about opportunity and I saw the opportunity in selling jewelry. It later came to be a passion about sharing my experiences and knowledge, but first started as a passion and drive to want something more than what I was making at my part time jobs.
- Product / Service – Think about your skill sets. Everyone has them and sometimes it takes people longer to figure theirs out. I was lucky enough to figure mine out at an early age. If you can’t figure it out immediately, all it takes is a little brainstorming. Do not get discouraged, you cannot spend 10 minutes on something expecting it to take off. It takes time but you will get there if you spend the time, I promise. Make sure your product or service is a reflection of whatever skill set you excel in. People will recognize that.
- Places – Where will you sell your product/service first and how will you get your new brand exposure? Everyone thinks online, but first you need to build that following. Pop ups and markets are great ways to learn about your customer. From doing pop ups, I learned exactly what to say to sell to my customers, who my customers are, and what my customers are asking for. Now, I can use this to drive my online customers. Getting to talk and have a conversation with your customers will do so much for you and your business.
Having a business is really, really hard. Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur because “you can make your own schedule” and “make your own pay”, but really once you get to a big level, you’re on other people’s schedule (like your partners, your employees, your customers, etc).
It’s not that easy and it takes a lot of work to set it up. It can often be lonely, discouraging, high pressure, and stressful. So, I developed a mindset that helped me win and I practice these things everyday. First, manifestation is so very real. I have a big wall at home that I write all of my goals out-long term and short term, month by month and year by year, etc. Taking it out of your thoughts and putting it onto something tangible makes it more real than just a thought, it’s something you will constantly remind yourself to work towards.
I strongly believe that the best way to start something is to just start somewhere. My empire started with a $50 investment at Ben Franklin’s Crafts, I literally remember being 16 years old and thinking that was so much money to spend on jewelry tools. I started, made my first pieces, and then saw how people reacted. My family was excited, and so that made me think, okay maybe this can be something.
Everyone says, you need to make a business plan first, you need to talk to a consultant first.
Sometimes, you just have to take the first step and learn the rest. If you go straight into a business plan without any prior knowledge, you’re going to stress yourself out and it will discourage you.
Think of a small step that is fun and creative so you don’t get bored. The rest will come. Time spent on something you’re passionate about will always equal results. That is why I like business so much, because anytime I put into my business ALWAYS equals results. Even the failures because you learn from it.
I get asked this question so much, especially at pitch competitions. I never really have an answer because I don’t really view anything as a “failure”. I am constantly learning and evolving and these “failures” lead me to success.
However, of course I’ve had challenges. One of my biggest challenges was my first pitch competition. I was a freshman at UH and I got accepted into WBENC, Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, a one week pitch and mentorship program in Las Vegas. I wasn’t confident in my jewelry business so I was pitching a different idea, an app that connects small businesses with influencers. This was a pitch in front of 50+ investors and CEOs. I choked up on stage and didn’t make it to the second round.
The day before, there was a National Business Conference Fair where Fortune 500 businesses set up booths. My mentor had an extra table and told me to set out my jewelry. I did, and I ended up selling out in 4 hours – making about $1,000.
I remember how disappointed I was in myself that I choked up on the stage. I told myself I would never do that again, came back to Hawaii and practiced my public speaking.
I became President of Hawaii Student Entrepreneurs, a Shidler club at UH dedicated to helping students successfully start and run their own businesses. As President, I had to speak in front of lecture classes that had 100+ students and be the emcee for multiple events.
I practiced and perfected public speaking and because of this failure, I went on to do better and the next pitch competition, I won regionals here in Hawaii and competed at nationals in Texas.
Since then, I’ve won multiple pitch competitions and awards such as “2019 Student Entrepreneur of the Year by HVCA”. At the HVCA Gala at the Waialae Country Club, I had to give a speech in front of the top entrepreneurs in Hawaii.
My first failure brought me to many successes.
What is some advice you would give to students wanting to start their own small business?
Here is my advice for students wanting to start their own business:
- Join Hawaii Student Entrepreneurs. As a business owner and student, I didn’t learn much in my classes and was disappointed with Shidler (there were a few very excellent professors). However, Shidler had really great resources that have helped me get to where I am. This club is where I met some of my closest friends and some of my mentors/partners for my business now.
- Find a mentor. I’ve learned from so many people and I owe my success to these people that have been mentors to me. From other students and peers helping me redo my website and prepare for pitch competitions, to successful business owners and industry experts who gave me advice and ideas on marketing-these are people who have amazing ideas and want to help you. Find those people and make a good relationship.
- Stay organized from the start. I started my business in high school as a 16 year old and I definitely wasn’t thinking about taxes. When I started selling in stores, I definitely wasn’t thinking that I would one day have my own. If I had stayed organized from the start (with my finances, marketing, etc), I would have had a much easier time. My taxes were backed up, a store lease required my businesses finances that I didn’t have, and many other things that were very important but I didn’t think of. One of the biggest problems that businesses have is not knowing their numbers. I didn’t figure out my exact profit margin, expenses, and revenues until this past year. It took me 5 years but since you are reading this article, it will take you much less. Knowing your numbers is so important and I cannot stress it enough. I now use different excel sheets to track everything (revenues, expenses by category, daily sales, monthly metrics, etc).
- Reach out! I always love to help other businesses and as President of HSE, at one point, I spent more time on other people’s businesses than my own. Each new business goes through the same problems, and if I can share the problems I’ve solved, it will help to scale your business much faster.
For more information about Rose & Kolohe, click here.