Now What? podcast S1E3 with guest Joy Cho

Season 01 | Episode 03

Joy Cho of Oh Joy! and Growing on Your Own Terms

Joy has gone from a freelance designer to building one of the most influential brands on the planet, with 15 million Pinterest followers to prove it. The founder and creative director of the lifestyle brand Oh Joy! has partnered with everyone—from Target and Microsoft to Keds and more to create products that reflect her singular aesthetic. But Joy herself is always evolving and looking for new opportunities to create and collaborate. We talk to her about developing a successful creative business, harnessing the power of social media and ending business ventures at the right time in order to move onto something new. 

June 8, 2021 | 51 MIN

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Pastel interior work station featuring lifestyle products from Oh Joy!

About Joy Cho

Joy Cho is a graphic designer, blogger, author and entrepreneur. She is the Founder and Creative Director of the lifestyle brand, Oh Joy!—known for bringing joy to the everyday. She has authored six books and consulted for hundreds of businesses around the world. Oh Joy! creates a wide range of licensed products including home décor, baby and nursery, pet, travel and furniture collections. For two consecutive years, Joy was named one of Time’s 30 Most Influential People on the Internet and has the most followed account on Pinterest with nearly 15 million followers.

Transcript

Rob Goodman:

Hi everyone, and welcome to Now What?, the podcast from Wix about how technology is changing everything. I'm your host, Rob Goodman. And in this series, we're talking all about evolution in business, design, development, and beyond. Over this past year, business and creative leaders have had to evolve to meet the challenges that come with this overwhelming amount of change. Here at Wix, we're interested in the ways that creative people are evolving to build new businesses, grow beyond their limits, and shape the future of the web. So we thought, what if we got together a bunch of our friends, leaders in design, development, eCommerce, and the agency world to talk about how they're dealing with change and how it's affecting their careers, teams, and industries. This is a place to prepare for tomorrow's ever-changing world and apply those lessons today.

Rob Goodman:

On today's episode, we're joined by Joy Cho, founder and creative director of the incredibly popular lifestyle brand, Oh Joy! Known for bringing joy to the everyday, over the past 15 years, Joy has gone from freelance designer to building one of the most influential brands in the world. For two years in a row, Joy was named one of Times “30 Most Influential People on the Internet”, and has the most followed account on Pinterest—with nearly 15 million followers. She's partnered with brands like Target, Microsoft and Keds to create licensed products across a multitude of categories, and is the author of six books including Blog, Inc. and Creative, Inc., aimed at helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses and brands online.

Rob Goodman:

Joy and I discussed the constant evolution of her business, strategies for developing successful creative projects, how to find the social media platforms that will work best for you and your brand, and knowing when the time is right to close the door on a business venture and move on to something new. There's so much goodness in this conversation, as Joy shares more of her own journey and business advice for burgeoning creative entrepreneurs and big brands alike. So let's get started. Joy, welcome to Now What?.

Joy Cho:

Thank you for having me.

Rob Goodman:

Yeah, so good to talk to you today. And I'm really, really excited to talk about the evolution of Oh Joy! and your personal evolution as well. But I would love to start off with where the company is today. Obviously, for those who are new to Joy Cho and Oh, Joy!, you started out as a graphic designer. Then, turned into a blogger to help promote that business. And then ultimately, that took off. And your lifestyle brand eventually was born and evolved over all these years to what it is today. But talk to me a little bit about the makeup of the business.

Joy Cho:

Well, you gave me a great intro. And that history is spot on. So, thank you. I started Oh Joy! over 15 years ago. And as you mentioned, as a graphic designer, who, that's what I knew. And because of social media, my business has changed so much in ways that I didn't expect or plan for. I remember in college, I just thought I was going to go and work at an ad agency and be a graphic designer and keep moving up in the ranks. And then, here I am doing something completely different. The evolution of Oh Joy! changed for sure due to social media. First, starting with me having a blog, which was very early social media days—2005. And then, with the growth of Instagram and all the other things.

Joy Cho:

And because I was putting out things I liked and my aesthetic, it wasn't just about my actual graphic design work. It was just also my taste, my eye. What I was wearing. What I was making. What I was creating. That was the kind of thing that started. I think shaping our joy into more of a lifestyle brand and not just a design studio. Because here's the thing, I think if you're a visual person, and you can draw, or you can design, or you can whatever, you have a certain aesthetic. And you have a certain style. And because of social media, I just started sharing it and people started liking it. And everybody has their own style and voice. And so I'm grateful that people cared enough about mine to follow along. But over the years, what it has done and what it's changed for me and my direction is that I've now written six books—three adult books, three kids books. I've had multiple lines at Target.

Joy Cho:

I've had multiple licensing collaborations, which I know we'll talk about in a little bit. And things have just sort of evolved. As I grow, as my business grows, I have new goals. I have new things I want to do. And I've been able to sort of slowly add all these different things, but still all under the creative hubcap of, to me, creativity. And to me it all starts with design. Even if it's social media content. Even if it's a product. Even if it's a blog post that I write. They all to me are still ways that I can be creative and put my voice out there.

Rob Goodman:

And when you look at the pie of your business overall, is there a way you probably do this as a business owner? What slice is licensing? What slice is social media sponsored content? What slice is books? I know you also have Oh Joy! Academy, for learning and for entrepreneurs who want to learn from your lessons, what does the pie overall look like?

Joy Cho:

I would say it's roughly about half, if not a little more than half, social media content. And then the other half is a split between the licensing products—maybe two thirds of that half are about licensing. And then the others are books and Academy. And the thing is, it's tough with those things. Because the books are every few years I might do a book. So, it doesn't really account for an annual full income the way that it works out. But for the most part, the majority of the pie slices are social media, content, and licensing products.

Rob Goodman:

Yeah. And the books, there's a book on freelancing, a book on blogging, and then there's more of like a coffee table book on DIY crafting. And, what's been the experience of now just releasing these kids books? I know it's a series of three that's kind of new terrain, though you have been doing licensed products for kids and content for kids and parents for a time. That's kind of the newest in your book collection. How has that experience been?

Joy Cho:

It's been really fun and really different. I mean, I wrote the first three adult books 2010 to 2014. And so it was on the early stages of before I had kids to me being a new parent. But now obviously, being a parent to a six and a nine year old, I have more experience in that world. I have read a million kids books. I know what my kids like, and what I feel like I could add to the space. And so for me, to be able to do it now at this point made a lot of sense. Plus, sort of thinking about how do you bring what Oh Joy! is about? Other than the things that we do, Oh Joy! is about joy. It's about bringing simply joy to your day—every day in whatever ways we can. And also with happiness, with creativity, with curiosity. And so, the three books are about that.

Joy Cho:

One is about curiosity, one is about emotions, and one is about kindness. And those are all things that I think all adults should embrace, but especially to kids. Here's a way that we can talk about it and teach them about it. And I honestly never thought I would do kids books. Because, although I'm a graphic designer, I'm not an illustrator. That's not my strength. But I worked with Angie Stalker, who was our designer at Oh Joy! for several years. And she also is an amazing Illustrator. And so we worked together to create the three books. And it's funny, because when you think about what characters look like, and then how to try to parlay that to somebody else's hand versus your own, it really was a lot of back and forth. But once we sort of figured out that look, then it just was gold from there.

Rob Goodman:

And you talked about the brand of Oh Joy! bringing joy into the everyday and everyday lives of people—am I capturing kind of the brand essence well?

Joy Cho:

Absolutely.

Rob Goodman:

Okay. So obviously, we're living through pretty difficult challenging times. How have you been able to see that brand mission through for yourself and also for your massive audience over these months that have been so challenging? Are there some mantras you say to yourself? Are there days when you're like, it's not always gonna be joyful, and that's okay? And that can be part of the brand too? Talk to me a little bit about how you kind of push the brand and that idea of joy during challenging times.

Joy Cho:

I'll be honest, in the beginning of it, like the first couple months, I had no idea what was going on. It was very scary and overwhelming as I know it was for everybody. I was very overwhelmed not only with things going on in my personal life, but also my professional life. Was my business going to survive? It was very hard for me to just show up on social media and be like, "Hey guys, it's going to be okay. We're great. There's sunshine everywhere." And I honestly couldn't do that. And if anyone follows me, they also know that I don't do that all the time. I'm mostly that 90% of the time, but there's a percentage of time where I'm just like, "Hey, I had a crappy day. Or parenting is hard. Or being a business owner is hard. Or this stuff sucks." And I just share the things that I know other people can relate to, because I know it helps me when I know that friends have gone through it.

Joy Cho:

So, if I can help people in that way. So, when it comes to pandemic stuff, there are certainly phases where I've been like, "Hey, let me help you guys understand what this is." And I will fully take advantage of my physician husband to do a Q&A. We've done all these Instagram lives.

Rob Goodman:

I've seen that. That's amazing.

Joy Cho:

It's an odd way that I have been able to help bring joy during this time. Because, although it's very sciency and factual for me, it's how do we explain this to people who aren't familiar with science? Who aren't familiar with diseases? And so, that's been really great. Also, I think that it's just sort of like sharing the bad time. Sharing that we all are going through this, especially those working from home, dealing with kids at home. But also, those moments where you're just like, "You know what? I can just dance in my kitchen." Or like, I did this series where I was dancing for my kids while I was giving them a snack.

Rob Goodman:

Yes, that's one of my favorites. I told you that. You can't see your kids, but we just see you dancing and preparing a snack. And it's just like, from the angle of the viewer, it looks like they're just kind of tolerating it. Which is hysterical. But you've told me that they actually are smiling. And they're really into it on the other side.

Joy Cho:

Yeah. You see my kids from the back. So nobody sees their faces. But at the same time, and it's a mix honestly. My older one is at the stage where I'm getting embarrassing for her. Whereas my little one is like, she wants to dance along with me, but she looks at her big sister. And she's like, "Okay no, play it cool. Play it cool. Mom is not cool." But it's just so funny. Because there are days I will do that. And I really am not feeling it. And I really am just like, "This day sucks." But I do it because I also don't want my kids to see me whimpering around the house feeling sorry for myself. And so it's motivation for me too. And just reminding myself that the way that you are projects to other people. The days that I'm in a bad mood, all of a sudden, the rest of my family is in a bad mood.

Joy Cho:

And I'm in control of that. And so, I could be in a year-long pandemic bad mood, or I could at least just try in the moments that feel like there's some space to bring some light and bring some fun. And that was just one of my little ways of doing it.

Rob Goodman:

Yeah. Now, I think it's amazing. And obviously, you know your following. But for listeners out there, you're at I think around 440,000 on Instagram. And the number one pinner across the entire globe on Pinterest with almost 15 million followers, which is incredible. So, I just think it's really amazing and enviable to really show more of yourself to your audience and kind of let people know that. Yes, you Joy are an influencer. You have this massive reach. And with that comes responsibility and lots of access to lots of people. But by giving them that view of more of the humanity and the human side of you, I feel like that's a real gift. I think that gives people permission to know that nobody's perfect. People have tough days, no matter who you are. And kind of make social media a little bit more of a safer place to explore and still follow people that you admire, but also know that you're doing okay on a daily basis too, just like everyone else.

Joy Cho:

Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.

Rob Goodman:

Yeah. So, let's talk about the most recent evolution of Oh Joy! I think that this happened right before pandemic times, but you had grown an in-person real world studio space. You had grown out a team. And then, I think it was right around the pandemic hitting or right before, or right after—you can clarify—where you really scaled back on the team, and the space, and all of that. Talk me through what happened in this kind of latest evolution for the company.

Joy Cho:

So we had what I would call an Oh Joy!-high for a while. We had a Target collaboration. We had all these things happening. A lot of success. And I had an opportunity several years back to use some of that success to be able to grow my team. Grow it by employees. Grow my physical space. And so a few years ago, we had moved into a much bigger studio. We are at the point where we went from 1,200, to then 2,000. And then, we moved into a roughly 4,000 square foot studio. And we are creating content. We are doing all types of things. And I had an opportunity to also start an online shop and have a place to sell all the different things that we were working on even with licensed partners. So over the last few years, it was really moving along. And I think that in my mind, I always saw success as money at the end of the day.

Joy Cho:

I was like, "How much money can I make? How much money can my business make?" And I would try to put these numbers and attach it to every year and say, "Okay 2018, let's do it. 2019, let's do it." And it worked for a while. It worked for a while, especially in the early days when we were a smaller and more compact team. And I had extra cushion and I could do that. But it started just getting to be really difficult where I kept growing. I kept growing and I think I just felt a lot of pressure from, sort of, the startup world. Even though it wasn't a startup, I had been around for a long time. I felt pressure from people to grow the business to a size that I could sell it. Grow it to a size where I could hire a real huge VP, or CEO, or whatever that is, and me not to be the one managing everything. There was all these things. And I also have a lot of friends who have businesses—some small, some huge, some who have sold businesses.

Joy Cho:

And so you get to see all these different women doing amazing things, which is amazing and so inspirational for me. But I think that I put a lot of pressure on myself to feel like I had to be that too. And when I realized near the end of 2019, it was my least happiest year ever. I mean, I used to wake up every day so excited to go to work. I didn't have a case of the Sunday blues that people have when they have to go to work on Monday. And around then, I was starting to feel that. And I was also feeling like I wasn't around for my kids as much as I wanted to be. Which is so ironic, because when you're the boss, you're thinking, "Well, you set your own schedule, you can do whatever you want." And it's true, I could have. But I also wanted to sort of be at my office. Setting the tone for what I expected of everybody else. And making sure that I was always there and not just like, "Oh, who knows where she is today?"

Joy Cho:

And so I was always wanting to make myself available. And so it was a combination, just also the social media landscape was changing. And certain businesses, you can't always predict what they're going to do and how much money they're going to make. And your projections are just not the same as other businesses. So, so many things all together sort of culminated in early 2020 that I had made the tough decision to scale back and just sort of go back to basics almost, if you will. Not from an outsider perspective, because I don't think that most people really notice. But from an inside point of view, I scaled back my team significantly. I moved out of the large studio that we had, which we all loved. And it was a very hard decision, because everybody was amazing. And it wasn't anything that had to do with anybody's work, or their ability to work, or their job they did for me. And I had a lot of my team who had been with me for several years. So it was very hard. I mean, it was the hardest week that I had in a very long time.

Joy Cho:

And then a month later, just as I was sort of transitioning out, everybody was getting used to figuring out their next steps, and I was sort of making sure that I could be references for everybody or help them get their next job—the pandemic happened and we all got sent home. And it was just insane. And so that changed everything. Not only sort of as how I imagined. I was sort of transitioning the business. But also, how I actually did. Because my plans of what it was going to be got interrupted, because all of a sudden we couldn't work and I didn't even know if I was going to have enough work to keep me and my employees that I did keep. And so it was crazy and scary, but you know what? Last year for everybody was a crazy year.

Joy Cho:

And the first six months were very unknown. I had no idea what was going to happen as I saw so many friends’ businesses closing immediately, layoffs and all those things. It's like I had almost made my transition right before I might have had to do it anyway, due to the pandemic, and jobs just freezing, and canceling. But by the second half of last year, things sort of came back. And we were able to sort of get the work that felt good and felt comfortable again. And so we ended last year on a strong note. So, I felt really good about having gone through that. I mean, it was crappy and very difficult in so many ways. But I also think that, not only for me, but everybody involved—everybody grew stronger from that happening.

Rob Goodman:

And let's talk about that moment when you were considering do you take on investment? Do you scale? Do you grow? You're looking at all these amazing female entrepreneurs as you described, that you know who have had all these different experiences selling their business and so on. How did you find out what was ultimately going to make you happy? And how do you define success now? And I'm also curious about how you push against, or stand aside from the expectations. Like the expectations that other businesses, other people, or society, so to speak, might put on you as a founder and you as a business.

Joy Cho:

So I think a few things happened that really made me upset but also come to this place. A couple years ago, it was a culmination of being on a podcast where one of the interviewers really pushed me about why I wasn't bigger. Why I didn't have investors? Why I didn't have 100 employees? "Because you could Joy, you have such a great business. You could be doing this. You could be doing this." And it was a lot. It was very overwhelming in the moment. And while I'm all open for constructive criticism, that's what we went to art school for, but it was not something that I was asking for. And it really got in my head for a while. And that was probably the first thing. And then I had another instance where I was surrounded by a bunch of friends who are very successful in terms of scale, way bigger businesses than I am.

Joy Cho:

And they're talking about their earnings this year. And that the sheer magnitude of the numbers to me was beyond anything that I even ever wanted. And so part of me was like, "Wow, are you thinking too small?" You're just like this tiny business. And you're just always going to be a tiny business. And look at these women who have 100 locations or whatever, all over. And I think that I was talking to my husband about it, who is not in this field, but he's been with me forever. And he knows me. And he can just be very straightforward. And it just comes down to. He's like, "Well, if you wanted to do that, you could." And it's like, that's all it is. If I wanted that I could, but I never wanted to do that. And I also saw the things that people go through, who do grow in such a big way. Who have investors. Who have other people's money. And not to say it's bad at all, because obviously, it's a formula that works.

Joy Cho:

But I also saw the sacrifices that they had to make. Because you don't get everything you want for nothing, right? That's just not the way the world works. And so I think that when I finally came down to realizing that even the growth that I did have, or the responsibility I did have for so many paychecks, for rent, for all these things, it was too much for me. It was the idea that I found myself working beyond all the hours just to continue to make everything just perfect. To make sure that everybody felt happy and everybody was... Their work-life balance is great, and that they have the best job, and all this stuff. And meanwhile, I was working so hard to make everybody else happy that I wasn't happy. And I don't think I realized that in the moment. But I realized it as everything was happening and as I made that decision. And after the fact honestly, because you don't know if you can change things until you actually change it.

Joy Cho:

And so I think that pressure of like, even some of my friends who I told—I was almost worried, that by me telling some of my very successful founder friends that I've one employee now. And I don't have that big amazing office anymore. That there would be some disappointment, or they would think that I shrank down my business or whatever. But I didn't get that. If anything, everybody was like, "Oh my God, I'm so jealous." They were like, "I wish I could do that." Or they're like, "I get it. I can totally understand how you felt that way. It can be so much and you have to do what makes you happy." And to hear that from people who have reached that crazy level of success that I always thought that I needed—for them to say that, and granted their goals and my goals can still be different, but they can still understand how and why that change was needed for me. So, I think that this past year also just cemented that in just, like you have to do what makes sense for you.

Rob Goodman:

That's amazing. Yeah, I've heard you talk a lot about the idea of you do you when it comes to people building their businesses and building their brands. And I feel like you've been doing that since 2005 and before in your style in the way you present the company and all that. But it sounds like just in this past year, year and a half, that you do you mantra really got into the business operations and kind of that acceptance of this is what's going to make me happy. That's okay, versus any expectations. And it feels like that North Star for you is solidifying in this new way now.

Joy Cho:

Yeah, absolutely. And I also am one of those people where with every stage of my business, and different things that I've brought in, because I've done so many different things, I will give things time to see how they go. I had a stationery line back in the day that I started. But after two years, I was like, "This is not making enough money to be worth the time." So I stopped that part of it. We opened that online shop that I told you about in 2018. And after two years, we're like, "This is not making enough money to be worth it." I closed that part. And so I think that one thing that I have always been good at is knowing when things don't work. I won't immediately cut it out, but I also won't drag it on forever. And also, I just think that after a while, you just always need a refresh.

Joy Cho:

And refreshes can be small. Refreshes can be big. They can be a variety of different things. But nobody is content doing things the exact same way forever. And hence, why people change jobs. But when you're not a person who works for somebody else, it's like how do you reinvent that for yourself?

Rob Goodman:

Yeah. And I think it's amazing that you have that skillset—to see when something's not working and changing it, or stopping it. Because I see a lot of entrepreneurs and a lot of founders, or business owners, like they'll stick to it. They'll stick it. They'll stick to it. And they think that sticking to it, maybe even if it's a sinking ship, is the way through. And I think that it's amazing that it comes naturally to you. Because I do think that that is a big challenge for entrepreneurs to know when to cut, and know when to move forward. Actually speaking of that, if there are people listening, who are going through that kind of challenge, where they're like, "No, no, I just know. I know this is going to work out. I know it's going to work out. I have to keep going." What would you tell them about when it's time to double down, when it's time to pivot, and when it's time to walk away?

Joy Cho:

I think it comes down to gut feeling. I've always been into that for lots of things, looking for an apartment, or looking for a house, or things that you have to make quick decisions about, or contracts you to decide to sign. And also, if you're miserable and you're unhappy—that to me is the gut feeling. I agree, there are things you need to stick to. No success is going to come overnight, even in one year, two years. Sometimes you do have to put in the work. And you do have to wait. And that's most businesses. But if you're happy doing that, and you're happy chugging along, and putting in the work, and maybe not making money right away—then that's fine. Because we all do that.

Joy Cho:

It's when you're putting in the work. When you're doing all the things. It's not working and you're unhappy. Then it's like you need at least a couple of those things to be on your side. They don't have to all be on your side. But if none of those things are on your side, then that's to me when it's time to figure out how to transition out of that.

Rob Goodman:

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Rob Goodman:

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Rob Goodman:

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Rob Goodman:

We've known each other for a really long time. We went to art school together. So I've always known you Joy. And I feel like you've always been, Joy. But now, looking back on your career and your own personal evolution, can you describe a little bit about how you've evolved as a person and kind of grown into the person that you are today? What do you think have been those, kind of like, moments of transition and growth for you?

Joy Cho:

As I mentioned, when we left art school, I had one vision for my career—which was to move to New York City, which I did, to go get a job as a graphic designer, which I did. But I didn't expect to then not continue that path. And the only reason I moved back to Philly, where my then boyfriend now husband was starting to train, for a while. And so I had to kind of redirect what was that New York City trajectory, that now is not New York City.

Rob Goodman:

And in a way, you were almost like, maybe it's not the right wording, but kind of like forced into independence in that. I know that there were a couple of jobs you were going for in Philly at the time with anthropology and other jobs in Philly at that time that didn't work out. And ultimately, that spurred you to go independent.

Joy Cho:

Yeah. So I think that starting a business changed me completely. And the ironic thing is that my parents were business owners. They had and still continue to have Thai restaurants in the Philadelphia area. And so I saw that life. I saw that work ethic and what it took. And I wanted nothing to do with it. So when I found myself starting a business, granted a very different business from restaurants which have their own huge responsibilities, I think that shaped me partially. And it also made me more confident as I saw success. I wasn't confident about it from the beginning. But as the first year passed, and you see the second year pass, you have more clients. You're doing more jobs. More people know who you are. It's that slow step, because this is over 15 years I'm talking about. This is not three years ago I started, this is over 15 years. And so my path was not overnight at all. If anything, I feel like most people didn't know who Oh Joy! was until we were in Target.

Joy Cho:

And then all of a sudden, people were messaging me on Instagram. They were like, "Oh my God, I'm so glad to find you. It seems like you just had success overnight." I'm like, "I've been doing this for eight years before I even got close to Target." Which, that's still a huge opportunity. But people just forget how long it takes and how much work you have to put in. And if you don't reach success until your 30s, or 40s, or 50s, or 60s, whatever, it doesn't matter. Because nobody gets to that place overnight. And your level of success and the things that you shoot for are going to always change. But the other thing that I think changed me a lot as a person, or really made me come into myself, is California. Because I'm from Philly, I lived on the East Coast for the first 30 years of my life.

Joy Cho:

And when I had the opportunity to move out here from my husband's job, the sunshine honestly just made me a happier person. My husband even said it. And he was like, "Wow, you're so much nicer to me out here." Whereas, he and I have been together since high school. So he has seen me through several winters. And I would just become crabby, and awful, and cranky, even though I grew up with it my whole life. And so I think that when I came out here, not only did my mood get better, but my sense of color and embracing color. I remember living in New York City and I wore like black and gray. And I'm like, "What!" Nobody could believe that of me now. And I think that's when I really sort of came into my own style also, because I was previously working for other companies. And when you have clients, and you work for other brands, your aesthetic is molded into their aesthetic.

Joy Cho:

And I didn't really have to discover who I was or what I would make on my own. And the work that I got wasn't asking that of me until the time that I was out here also. So, it was a lot of different things. And I think, just being inspired by the things that are out here. Although, I missed the East Coast terribly. I think that it just brought a new set of inspirations to me.

Rob Goodman:

And we've talked about your evolution as a business, as a person, and it really kind of mirrors the evolution of social media. Because you started off, you are one of the earliest bloggers, and design bloggers, and then early on Pinterest, early on all social media platforms—and they really grew as you grew. Talk to me a little bit about how social media has evolved for you and your brand over time. And, we started the conversation by saying how big a chunk that is of your business. How have you viewed that kind of change over time?

Joy Cho:

Well, I think one thing that I always try to do, and which I tell other people to, I do a lot of consulting for other small businesses. And social media is always a big question. So to me, I just say, make sure that you are open to new things. You're open to new platforms that come along. As soon as a new one comes along, go get your handle that you want. Because if you don't, somebody else will get it. And I've experienced that multiple times where it's taken me years to get Oh Joy! on certain channels, but you don't have to always use them. Get it to get it and have it. But then you have to start playing with it. And you have to start seeing what's working for you. So, Oh Joy! is technically on every social media platform. But the things where I focus my time are Instagram, and Pinterest, and our blog. Those are the three.

Joy Cho:

And those are the ones that are most visual. They're the ones where I can tell my stories either in short form content on Instagram, long form content on the blog, and then more inspirational on Pinterest. We have a Twitter. We have a Facebook. I have Clubhouse. But Twitter and Facebook, while we will maintain those, we are not active on that. I don't have the ability to just sort of churn out all of that information on every single thing. And I don't think you do. I think you just focus on the ones where it makes sense for you. Some people have amazing Tweets and they are going fire on Twitter. And it makes sense for you. Some people have huge Facebook followings and they can sell all their merchandise through just their Facebook fans. That's not us though.

Joy Cho:

I realized where I'm the strongest. And I realize where my audiences are and that's what I stick to. But at the same time, like when Clubhouse came along, I joined it as soon as I could. I checked it out. I still have some room to check it out more. I don't really fully know that much about it yet. But I just sort of go where I think I can do my best work.

Rob Goodman:

So I want to keep going on social media and talk specifically about selling on social media. You had your own shop for a while. Now, you're fully in on licensed products. And I also want to talk about that. But how does selling successfully on social media work? Is it as simple as here's the thing, swipe up to get it? Or is there storytelling involved? Is there collaboration with the brands you're working with? Is there looking at sales trajectory, and inventories, and kind of making a strategy around a quarter or a month what the focus is going to be? Talk to me a little bit about how social selling works and how you do it so successfully.

Joy Cho:

I think that really differs by brand—the scale of the brand and the focus. But generally, I see things going two ways. You either have a very product specific brand and site, it's clearly eCommerce. And when people go to it, it's all about the product, and it's all about models showing off the product. And when people go there, they're very aware that that's what they're going there for. Now, where I've seen it done really successfully in that way, is either when people have limited edition, they do a great job storytelling. They do a great job with lifestyle content. Nobody wants to just see products on a white background on an Instagram feed. That's what other things are for. But when it's... Imagine a catalog coming to life, or you get to see a woman who looks like you, who's your skin color or your size. And you see her wearing this dress so beautifully and she is killing it—that's more convincing to you. And I follow a lot of brands out of just brand admiration, but also research. Because I like to follow and see what people are doing.

Joy Cho:

And there's lots of brands who are small. And they do small runs. And they do limited collections and things sell out so quickly—literally in a matter of 20 minutes or an hour. And then you see brands who are probably more mass market and they have plenty of availability. And they just sort of sell in a different way. For me, because my focus isn't just products, I'm a lifestyle brand—me as a person has become a brand. And people have connected with me as a person, and some of my personal life, as well as a business owner, and whoever I am to them. And so my selling is not all the time, it's not constant. It's not like every day I'm trying to sell you something. But yes, I have products that I collaborate with brands. And so when I want to share it, there is my audience to be able to reach to.

Joy Cho:

And I think it's really important for me. I always make sure, because sometimes I'm going to give you a sponsored post. Sometimes I'm going to try to sell you my Keds because they just launched, or my collaboration with this brand. But I always try to make sure that it's spread out and it's mixed in with everything else that you're getting from me that you know me for. And the reason they're probably following me, whether it's sharing stories, whether it's outfit stuff, whether it's inspirational stuff. And I think that's very important when there is a person who is the face of a brand. And also, people love seeing you use your stuff. If I have a shoe line, which we did have a kid's collection that came out last year, how would I wear that? What would I wear that with? What outfits? Because people want the inspiration to see how they could wear it too.

Joy Cho:

And anytime I know when I am following a brand that makes clothes or something wearable, or even something in your home, and you show me different ways to incorporate it, I'm much more likely to buy it than just seeing the picture of the thing. And I think especially, if you're not a person who naturally comes up with ideas, it's extra helpful then to be able to embed that into just ideas and ways to use that product.

Rob Goodman:

Are there any tips that you would give to people about selling on social media? Any kind of top overall advice? I know that there's so many different styles of brands and eCommerce out there, but are there some tried-and-true ways you've seen work well?

Joy Cho:

The limited edition thing honestly works the best. People need to feel some sort of urgency to buy things—and whether that's because it's limited in stock, whether it's because this color is only going to be around for a certain amount of time. That I think is very important. And so however that can be conveyed, because in most cases, if things don't feel limited, or like they'll go away at some point, there's no rush to get it. And I'll give you a great example. We have this Oh Joy! Academy, which you had mentioned earlier, where I offer not only consulting, but also online classes and different materials for other people who are starting small businesses, or want to start a small business. And I was trying out online classes for the first time. So the first one we created, I just put it out there—this is the price. I was like, "So many people are going to buy this." And it was like crickets. People bought it, but it was nowhere near the level of enthusiasm that I thought based on all the people who were interested in this topic.

Rob Goodman:

Right. And ask your advice I'm sure all the time—and on podcasts, and on social media.

Joy Cho:

Exactly.

Rob Goodman:

Yeah, that's very surprising.

Joy Cho:

And what I realized later, researching other people who do online classes, was that everybody either offers a special early bird rate when they first release it, and then the price is going to go up after a week or two, you decide, or they close it. It's like, "This class is only available for three months, and then it's going to be closed and you can't get it again till next year." And I didn't do that. And I realized by just putting it out there and saying, "Okay." Someone is like, "Oh yeah, well I'm interested, but I don't quite need it yet. So let me just... I'll come back to it." And then they don't come back to it. And so when I released a new one at the end of last year, I had an early bird price that we kept for about two months, and then we increased it by a little bit.

Joy Cho:

And that proved so much more successful, because there was a little bit of an impetus. Even if you're only saving $10 or $15 by getting in early, you're still giving them something. You're still giving them some sort of urgency. And I think that's really important because you can always make your things limited. Like technically, an online class is unlimited, but you can choose how you reward people for buying things early.

Rob Goodman:

And your licensed business, talk to me a little bit about how that is set up. I imagine someone at your level, maybe you're in meetings and development at every stage of a licensed product or licensed good. How do those relationships with brands come together? And how does that business overall work?

Joy Cho:

So I started doing licensing in, I would say around 2008, 2009. It was around the time that I had a stationery line. I was going to the National Stationery Show in New York. And that's when I first was getting approached with brands who were starting to do that. Some brands in the early days who were like the first that I know of to work with artists to design collections and give a commission. And at that time Target was already doing it. And they were starting to work with designers. So this model was sort of starting in, like the early 2000s. I think in my mind, but it was becoming more common. So essentially, if you don't know how it works, a brand can work with you. And you being an artist, a designer, somebody who can create artwork, to put your artwork on their products. And I always like to use umbrellas as an example, just because it's so simple. You have an umbrella brand who makes a great product. Their umbrellas are beautiful, great quality, all this stuff.

Joy Cho:

And rather than me saying, “Hey, I Joy want to make umbrellas and have to figure out manufacturing, go find a factory, order them in minimum quantities, figure out how to print the fabric on the umbrellas, and get them made.” I can partner with the umbrella company, provide my artwork, they print it on there, and we work together to make it look like me. And then it's Oh Joy! for the umbrella brand. And we both get something out of it. Now, the difference is that the amount of money that I will make is going to be much less than if I went and bought all that inventory, sold it, and then made a profit. But my amount of work is also less. And my amount of input into inventory is also less. I'm not having to put in any money for it, but I'm also making a little bit less in return in terms of royalty. So typically, when you do licensing, there's royalties which go anywhere between 5% to 15%. It really ranges and there's no set number. But typically people make a royalty off of sales. And that's how you make money.

Joy Cho:

And ever since I started doing that back then, it's been sort of my focus on how I do products. Simply because I've never had enough extra money to put into manufacturing products. I also like making so many different things and seeing my designs on so many different things, that it doesn't make sense for me to try to manufacture too many things. I always tell people that if you have one thing you really love, or one thing you've developed that you can really blow out and expand—then yes, you should manufacture that. You should focus on that. But if you are more of a person who creates art, or patterns, or illustrations, and you just want to see your stuff on other people's things, that's when licensing is for you.

Rob Goodman:

Joy, what is bringing you joy these days? What is fueling your creative tank? It could be anything. A book, time with the fam, rest?

Joy Cho:

Yeah. Well, I would say on a professional level a year ago, I finished building my house, which we've been working on for six years in LA.

Rob Goodman:

Congratulations.

Joy Cho:

Thank you, which was the craziest undertaking and certainly added to some of my stress as well. But just sort of being in it now, and being done, and being moved in. And just sort of getting to enjoy it, I realized how much I didn't enjoy the process of construction or building, but I really did enjoy the process of designing. And so now, just literally now in real time, we've been starting to reveal all the spaces on social media, on my blog, and Instagram and all that. And so it's been fun to just let people see this other side of me. And it's not to say I'm an interior designer and I want to do this as a job, but it just shows you my aesthetic now has evolved and in a different way. And it's real life too, because it's not just me setting up a set that's going to get taken down. It's my actual life that I live in. The personal side. Although, I joke I've spent so much time with my kids—like too much time—I also have really enjoyed watching them become people.

Joy Cho:

And I think that I wouldn't have had this opportunity had they been at school and maybe at work over the last year. I feel like I know their personality so much better now. And I know them as people. And I think they know me better. And also their own sense of self-developing and what they're into, even their sense of style. Which my kids are so easy, they'll let me pick out their clothes. They don't care. But even just seeing them pick out things. The designer part of me is excited by seeing what they're going to come up with. They're both really into art, and crafting, and just seeing what they create when they're left alone. So that's the kind of stuff that I'm really enjoying right now. Just sort of figuring out how to help guide that without being overbearing also. I'm not forcing you to go to art school. You can be an accountant if you want, but art school is pretty awesome.

Rob Goodman:

It's pretty fun. Maybe you see what I do every day. And it's a good time. I don't know. Some ideas. Last question for you. I know you're a planner. I know that you like to set goals, and also have dreams, and achieve those things. What do you think the next one, two, three, five years for Oh Joy! might look like? What are those new businesses or new product lines that are really like, you're feeling that fire to go towards?

Joy Cho:

I really let 2020 be the year that I didn't have goals. Because every year previous, I had a legit list of goals. And I think because last year was so out of control, out of my control, out of everyone's control, I just said it's okay. It's okay to not have a million goals. It's 2021 and we're not totally back to normal, but we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think for me, there's a world in which I would love to just continue to expand what Oh Joy! is in terms of our products. Probably more home decor. I would love to go more into clothing and personal style. And a lot of those things are things that we've tapped into a little bit and we've touched on. But I haven't quite found the right fit or the right partners. And I think that that will come with time. So, just continuing to sort of grow what I've started I think is my goal for right now.

Rob Goodman:

Amazing. Joy, thank you so much for your time and your honesty. And so much great conversation. It was so, so, so much fun to talk with you.

Joy Cho:

Thank you. Thanks for having me, Rob.

Rob Goodman:

Thanks so much for listening. And big thanks to our friend Joy Cho of Oh Joy! for sharing her time and insights with us. Some of the biggest moments that left an impression with me from our conversation are the importance of the refresh in life and in business. Joy has constantly been refreshing her brand and the projects her company takes on. The idea of staying mindful of when you and your business are ready for a good look in the mirror, and a reassessment, is so critical to success and happiness. A lot of people think Joy was an overnight sensation, with nearly 15 million followers on Pinterest, and a massive audience on Instagram. There's this oversimplified view of her rise to the top, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Years and years of hard earned freelance work, hustling to build her blog, and then year after year of growing her content into a thriving business was over 15 years in the making. Taking the time to do the work needed to grow your business and brand is critical.

Rob Goodman:

And on a very practical level, Joy walked through when licensing is the right thing to do for your business. It was a straightforward, brief class on knowing when to go with licensed products. You can learn more about Joy and discover lots more of what Oh Joy! has to offer at Ohjoy.com, including a wide range of products, incredible blog posts, and even classes on building your own business through her Oh Joy! Academy. Thanks so much for listening. This is Now What? by Wix, the podcast about how technology is changing everything. Now What? is hosted and produced by me, Rob Goodman, Executive Producer for Content at Wix. Audio engineering and editing is by Brian Pake at Pacific Audio. Music is composed and performed by Kimo Muraki. Our executive producers from Wix are Susan Kaplow, Shani More, Omer Shai, and me, Rob Goodman. You can discover more about the show and our guests at: wix.com/nowwhat. Be sure to subscribe and follow the show for new episodes wherever you get your podcasts. And if you like what you heard, please leave us a review on Apple podcasts and share this show with your friends and colleagues. We'll see you soon.

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