Shu Lindsey’s entry into the world of business started with $3,000, two friends, and one big idea. As a student at Stanford University in the heart of Silicon Valley, she became infected with the region’s entrepreneurial spirit, and during her senior year she and her two friends each pitched in $3,000 to start PCOW.- a mother corporation of small businesses. The name was inspired by Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow, which advises businesses to be remarkable in the same way a purple cow stands out from the herd. And standing out with unique microenterprises is definitely something PCOW is doing. One of the businesses that it has established is JetPens.com, currently the online retail leader in selling importehttps://www.theculturalconnect.com/files/new/2007/06/13/d pens and stationery from asia. the other microenterprise is miralieu.com, an e-shop that sells stylish non-pierced earrings. in this week’s young & Professional Profile, learn more about Shu Lindsey and the unique businesses that PCOW has launched.
Chief Marketing Officer
Chengdu, Sichuan, People’s Republic of China
Mountain View, CA
MS in Management Science & Engineering (Industrial Engineering)
BS in Management Science & Engineering (Operations Research)
McKinsey & Company
Production Systems Design Analyst
April 2005-March 2006
About the companies
PCOW, Inc. (www.pcowinc.com), is a mother corporation of small business ventures. It consists of three co-founders, Lily Kim, Adrian Mak, and myself. We had a lot of trust and respect for one another back when we were friends in college, and then decided to become venture trippers together. We incorporated first and then brainstormed about business ideas.
We named our corporation after Seth Godin’s book “Purple Cow”, which encourages businesses to be remarkable in the same way that a purple cow would stand out from the herd. We each put in $3,000 of our savings to fund the corporation in my senior year at Stanford University. BTW, I hold the second stock certificate ever issued from PCOW, Inc, hence my title as “PCOW 2”.
PCOW’s mission is to strive to make moo-la in a diverse set of interesting micro-enterprises in a fun and innovate work environment. The market niches in which we explore are large enough to allow us to be profitable, yet small enough to be disregarded by 800-pound-gorilla companies already in the same category. Currently, we compete in two of such niches through JetPens.com and Miralieu.com.
JetPen is an online retailer of imported pens and stationery products from Asia, serving pen fanatics all over the world since it kicked off in February 2005. JetPens was recently featured in the Business 2.0 magazine in April and the Fortune Small Business magazine in May of 2007. Miralieu is an e-shop of stylish non-pierced earrings. It launched about six months ago.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
As my title of “PCOW 2” shows, we are a really flat organization since there are only three of us full-time and one part-time helper. That said, we strongly believe that each of us take ownership of the specific business areas each can contribute the most. We consult one another when we encounter issues, but try to accomplish as much on our own as possible. This work style has kept our execution quite effective.
Adrian calls himself the CBO (Chief Boring Officer) for he pretty much handles all the responsibilities an MBA graduate would fulfill in a larger corporation, such as Strategy, Finance/Accounting, and IT – that’s a CEO-CFO-CTO three-in-one deal! Even though Adrian is the youngest of us three founders (at age of 24), he is the transformational as well as the transactional leader in the group.
Lily and I are the two CMOs in the company – she is the Chief Merchandising Officer while I the Chief Marketing Officer. Since merchandising and marketing are two extremely interconnected areas for retail business, we find our roles more interdependent. In terms of day-to-day operations, Lily makes all buying decisions and manages supplier relationships, whereas I take on all advertising/PR/branding work and tackle customer intelligence.
Most notable milestones
- August, 2005: Wired Blog & Uncrate.com blogged about the world’s thinnest ink pen that we carry just six months after JetPens’ launch. This was quite encouraging, seeing how well received our product selection was.
- October, 2006: Gizmodo reprinted I4U News’ plug for JetPens’ products. Sales tripled for that day; and it took the three of us the entire evening to finish packing/shipping orders.
- December, 2006: PCOW, Inc. announced its first profitable year and rewarded its owners and a part-time employee with our first year-end bonuses.
- March, 2007: Miralieu.com made its first charity donation to Home of New Beginnings, a Christian women’s shelter for victims of sex trafficking in Bangkok, Thailand.
- April, 2007: Business 2.0 magazine allotted one page to JetPens, including professional photos of the founding team and some unique products. Fortune Small Business magazine reprinted this article in May.
What’s the niche?
What’s the biggest challenge?
We want to grow our businesses into sustainable and sizable players in the respective niche markets. For JetPens.com, there are many different business options to take the e-commerce shop to the next level. Even though we love to experiment and are pretty good at fail-fast, we are limited by our resources. Our challenge is clearly to identify the growth strategy to achieve the quantum leap. To come down to metrics, we need to find ways to increase dollar per customer or number of customers per niche, or both.
What’s in store for the future?
In the near term, JetPens.com is formalizing the JetPens “Penefit” Program to consistently donate school supplies to inner city schools and teachers. In the medium term, we will roll out more programs (such as a points rewards system) to increase customer loyalty. In the long run, we have goals to start designing and manufacturing JetPens-branded products. As for Miralieu.com, we are working on sourcing improved clasp components to be integrated in a new selection of designer earrings. There will be a re-launch in the near future.
Best way to keep a competitive edge
Guiding principle in life
When I left McKinsey to return to PCOW full-time in April of 2006, I also became baptized as a born-again Christian. After a year of walking as a child of God, I have come to realize how a Christian life helps me understand and appreciate an entrepreneurial life. The guiding principle in my new life lies in the Bible in its entirety. Here, I would like to borrow a powerful prayer by Howard Thurman, a teacher of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, to share with you a life that I want to lead:
“Give me the courage to live!
Really live – not merely exist.
Daring the truth –
Particularly the truth of myself!
Live resiliently –
Ever changing, ever growing, ever adapting.
Enduring the pain of change
As though ’twere the travail of birth.
Give me the courage to live,
Give me the strength to be free
And endure the burden of freedom
And the loneliness of those without chains;
Let me not be trapped by success,
Nor by failure, nor pleasure, nor grief,
Nor malice, nor praise, nor remorse!
Give me the courage to go on!
Facing all that waits on the trail –
Going eagerly, joyously on,
And paying my way as I go,
Without anger or fear or regret
Taking what life gives,
Spending myself to the full,
Head high, spirit winged, like a god –
On…on…till the shadows draw close.
Then even when darkness shuts down,
And I go out alone, as I came,
Naked and blind as I came –
Even then, gracious God, hear my prayer:
Give me the courage to live!”
Yardstick of success
Goal yet to be achieved
Achieve a balance between work and life.
Best practical advice
Surround yourself with people who are blessings to you.
Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture
My parents definitely had a hard time accepting the fact that I got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and forwent a stable job in an established corporation to commit myself to a tiny startup. Eventually, my parents became very supportive and pointed me back to the unofficial motto of my alma mater, “Die Luft der Freiheit weht”, for encouragement. This motto translates as “the wind of freedom blows,” and is a quote from Ulrich von Hutten, a 16th-century humanist. Now, I am thoroughly enjoying the freedom that entrepreneurship has granted me.
There is a Chinese idiom that teaches one to always draw from others’ fortes to offset one’s own weaknesses. I see a mentor in anyone who has more knowledge and experience in all aspects of life. The ones who advise me on a regular basis are certainly my family and friends.
What motivated you to get started?
Being a student in the heart of Silicon Valley, where the entrepreneurial spirit is simply infectious, shaped me from a book nerd to a businesswoman wannabe. However, only until Adrian, Lily and I became great friends who shared the common startup passion, did I realize that our shared dream could be a reality post graduation. As for motivations, please allow me to quote David Beisel of the “Genuine VC” blog on the seven reasons to become a founding entrepreneur: “creation, evangelism, variety, upside, control, passion, and people.”
Like best about what you do?
Interacting with customers and coming up with solutions to help them.
Like least about what you do?
Entrepreneurship is too addictive! It takes discipline to not overwork.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A politician in China. As a child, I witnessed one of the biggest student movements in 1989 and thought that a public servant would be best positioned to implement positive change in society.
What was your first job?
I was a commissioned painter during high school years. My favorite piece was the portrait that I created for a couple’s golden wedding anniversary. My favorite medium is acrylics.
Biggest pastime outside of work
Volunteering in ministries at my church family. Currently my fiancé and I spent at least two evenings during the workweek on church activities. I get renewed and invigorated when I fellowship with others.
Person most interested in meeting?
At the moment, Senator Barack Obama. I read his first biography “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance” two years ago and am working on his second biography. I really want to ask a few questions about his Christian conversion and his view on the upcoming presidential election in person.
Leader in business most interested in meeting?
Jeff Bezos. He came to speak at my school before and I loved how passionate he sounded in person. As an owner of an e-commerce company, I have many questions to ask Mr. Bezos with regard to the future of this industry. I also simply want to express to him my appreciation for his pioneering work and continual contribution in online retail.
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I’m only 5’2″, but my best long-jump record is 5.53 meters.
- My fiancé proposed to me with a message on a Magic the Gathering game card in the middle of a fierce battle.
- The family letters between my mom and me during my high school period were published as a book in China in 2005.
Three characteristics that describe you
- Obsessive-compulsive: my friends like to move things slightly on my bookshelves and see how fast I spot the disorder.
Three greatest passions
Out of the books that I read recently, I choose “Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big” by Bo Burlingham & “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov.
Ever since I was a kiddo, I have felt the call to serve the poor or the underprivileged. One of my favorite verses from the Bible is Matthew 25:40, which spurs me on to action. Last year, a friend recommended a book titled “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World” by Tracy Kidder; I devoured it in a day and found it quite inspirational as well.
Who would you like to be contacted by?
The PCOW team loves to meet new people and make new friends in general. We would love to hear any advice on business expansion strategies and ingenuous marketing ideas in niche markets. We do offer unpaid summer/winter internships. We had three high-school interns one summer and it was a great experience for all parties. PCOW later became the central topic in one of the interns’ college application essay.
For JetPens.com, we are exploring opportunities to design and manufacture our own branded products. Therefore, we would love to be contacted by those who have manufacturing leads. We are also in the process of beefing up our affiliate marketing program, and welcome emails from partners interested in profit-sharing with us. Lastly, if you are a non-profit organization working with inner city schools, we would love to see if we can collaborate through our JetPens “Penefit” Program.
For Miralieu.com, we need more potential customers’ feedback to zero in on the winning products. If you are in desperate need of finding stylish clip-on earrings, please contact us as we would love to get your input and to learn how to serve you better. If you are a fine jeweler yourself, we would love to check out your products and explore potential partnership together. Please get in touch with us!
|June 14th, 2007, 12:14:27||permalink|
I just read the story and wanted to congratulate Shu, Lily and Adrian on capturing the entrepreneurial spirit. Its invigorating isn’t it?
|June 23rd, 2007, 04:38:27||permalink|
Well done Shu Jee!