From Pre-Med to Jewelry Designer: Steffi Keung on Figuring out Life as an Entrepreneur
When you first started your business, how many of you were in a completely different field then where you are now? Our Gem of the Week, Steffi Keung of Steffi K. Jewelry, answered wholeheartedly and truthfully to our interview questions on figuring out life as an entrepreneur so that you can get insight on making difficult decisions that push you to finding the career that fits you. Steffi graduated from UCLA with a pre-med degree, but now she is pursuing her passion of creating, which has led her to becoming the successful jewelry maker she is today. In fact, her edgy accessories were seen on one of the finalist on Season 10 of The Voice, Hanna Houston. Talk about making the right career switch and finding your purpose, am I right!?
She is a true example of going against the grain and not letting others determine what is the best for you. Read how she created her own path and how she’s owning her beautiful, yet still unfinished story.
1. What was your biggest fear when starting your company and how did you overcome it?
I think a huge fear I had when I was starting out was what people from home might think of me and my work. Here I was, a girl who focused so much on academics growing up, to someone who totally switched to the fashion industry. I realize that’s stupid and I don’t really care about that anymore, as long as I continue to create what resonates with me and the brand. That kind of goes in line with the fear of not making enough money from this business and ultimately, having to settle for a miserable existence working for someone else.
2. Were family and friends supportive of you starting your own business, or did you deal with negative feedback? If you received negative feedback, what were the habits and thoughts that helped you overcome them?
My parents were a little apprehensive; I knew they were wondering if I was serious about starting this business or if it was just a temporary phase. My mom tried convincing me a couple times to try another job that was relevant to my degree, even though I never sent out another resume again. Friends were supportive with encouraging words and thought my work was great. Some have supported by purchasing, although I’ve also realized that sometimes your friends aren’t your target market. That upset me for a bit, because I thought more of my friends would be purchasing my creations. But I can’t dwell on that, especially when there are stylists and influencers who’ve reached out and expressed interest in the pieces. That drives me and gives me hope when the people I look up to in the industry love what I make with my own hands.
3. Where do your sources of inspiration come from when making new pieces of jewelry?
I’ve always loved watching trends come and go and watching runway collections. With the invention of Instagram, it made it easier to see sneak peeks of New York Fashion Week and the new collections coming out. I think a huge source of inspiration will always be high fashion. I also love the grittiness and sassy attitude of street style and love to incorporate that into the brand. Rihanna is my ultimate example of this! Design-wise, I’m also inspired by architecture and traveling to see different cultures and people. When it comes to inspiring my mind, I love reading bios of other hugely successful entrepreneurs, like Steve Jobs or Walt Disney, who invented the unthinkable and changed the world.
4. What is your favorite piece of jewelry to create from start to finish and why?
I love creating rings! Even though it’s the most labor-intensive out of all my pieces, I think that’s what makes it so rewarding to hold the finished rings in my hand. I’m excited to create even more intricate designs and possibly venture into fine jewelry, like designing and making engagement rings.
5. What’s your personal manner for balancing work and life?
Balancing work and life is honestly so difficult for me! I try not to be on my phone so much when I’m supposed to be off, because even opening Instagram makes me think about work. I’m still learning how to discipline myself with time management. I used to never give myself breaks but now I know it’s such a crucial part of being self-employed. Currently my off days kind of mimics my boyfriend’s schedule- he’s never really had Saturdays and Sundays off and he usually doesn’t have the same days off every week. So the days he’s off are the days that I get to spend with him and go to photoshoots or meetings. It’s kind of annoying and weird not having a set schedule, but I think I’d get bored of having the set Monday through Friday, 9-5 schedule. It allows me to think more creatively about getting more done in less time, really write everything down, and actually accomplishing whatever I plan for the day.
6. What was a memorable failure you went through in life that got you to the badass boss lady you are today, and what did you learn from that experience?
When I went through so many different jobs in a short amount of time, I knew something had to change. I couldn’t force myself to pursue something I wasn’t completely obsessed with – at that point, I barely even liked the career path I was taking! I definitely felt like a failure who wasted 22 years of her life.
I remember reading an article about finding a career you loved (I read hundreds of those during those times). I read something that said… you have to evaluate the willingness with which you tackle the lower- level positions/tasks that are required in order to lead you to the greater career goal. For example, I wanted to go to medical school, and a lot of schools require experience in a research facility and many clinical hours to even be considered. I literally had zero interest in applying to a research program and barely liked working in the clinical setting… so I asked myself: did I even have the desire to become a doctor SO much that I would dedicate more time to fulfilling those pre-requisites that I hated? No. And that was the turning point for me. I realized I would only work with vigor and willingness if I dedicated myself to something I actually liked to do. I don’t necessarily like doing accounting for my business, but I figure if it’s something that will propel my business forward (which is what I want), then I will make the effort to learn the financial ins and outs of my business. And then, with that thought in mind, accounting sort of becomes fun for me. 🙂 These days, instead of lingering on the life that I don’t want, I always remind myself of my end goal, with the mindset that I’m above any problem that may arise.
7. Other than deciding to work for yourself, what was the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success?
I’m still working on this, but I think I’ve made huge strides in the last couple months in the area of confidence. I decided to believe in myself and really work off that momentum. I’ve been focusing on my goals and in making them a reality instead of thinking negative thoughts and letting doubts creep up. I’m naturally a pretty introverted and passive person, so I’ve been working on presenting myself more confidently and assertively – learning to demand instead of shy away from what I want just because it conveniences someone else. On that same note, I try to surround myself with strong, responsible, and powerful-minded goaldiggers. 😉 I really believe a strong mindset is crucial to success.
8. What piece of advice would you give to a young woman that is trying to start her own business?
As an entrepreneur, you’re going to have to figure out so many details you never had to think of before when working as an employee for someone else. Sometimes the little details of even just setting meeting times or figuring out shipping costs drive me crazy! And you’ve probably heard it a million times before, but building a business is NOT easy. I still work at home by myself most days and the solitude was hard to get used to too. It’s important to approach these new challenges with the attitude that you’re totally capable of figuring out whatever challenge comes.
And although the planning and research is really important, sometimes you just have to dive into it and launch your website or release a collection, etc… even if it’s not perfect and you’re not ready for it. (The perfectionist in me is screaming, “No!” right now.) For example, you might want to be a videographer but you haven’t been working on ANY projects at all, since you just absolutely want the right equipment and the best camera to get started. That could take years to attain, so instead, just get started now with what resources you have, gain valuable experiences, and eventually you will figure out ways to get the equipment that you really want. To quote Amy Poehler: “Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it…”
RELATED: 4 steps to start letting go of perfectionism in the next 7 days via The Gratefulist
Also remember to just be you. Figure out your working style and capitalize on it. The entrepreneur culture is so focused and almost applauds people who work 12+ hours everyday. I did that for awhile because I thought it would work for me, but I pretty much went insane. I totally understand the value of diligence, but I found that I was more irritable and anxiety-ridden when I worked those long, long days. I’m already a worry wart and an over-thinker, so those many work hours didn’t work to my advantage. I find that when I work in 50 minutes bursts with breaks in between, my productivity soars. 🙂 I also have never been a morning person, so I mostly work in the afternoons when I feel refreshed.