Towards an entrepreneurial middle class

When my sister and I started our stationery company, Hello!Lucky, in 2003, we did it out of her leaky garage with a vintage press from eBay. With the collapse of the 2000 web bubble, she had lost her corporate web design job, where she’d worked on websites like Webvan and Pets.com. She took a job at a high-end pet boutique for the discounted dog food. When the owner complained she couldn’t find good dog and cat-themed greeting cards, my sister designed some. She sent samples to Kate’s Paperie in New York City, which placed a $1500 order.

We decided to start a business. We exhibited just eight cards at the National Stationery Show and landed a few accounts. I used my corporate paycheck to fund our start-up expenses and hire our first employee, my sister’s housekeeper. Our second employee was an old room mate working at Walmart under the pseudonym of Otto. Three years later, we decided to open an office in London. Our strategy for global expansion: a friend sold our cards to boutiques door-to-door out of a roller bag suitcase. It was true a bootstrapping operation.

Setting up our booth for the 2014 National Stationery Show

Immigrants and entrepreneurialism

The kind of resourcefulness and work ethic my sister and I exhibited is often associated with immigrants. It’s no coincidence. As the daughter of a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, our family “immigrated” to the U.S. when I was 15. Before that, we lived in Taiwan, China, and Malaysia — countries that were abuzz with entrepreneurial activity.

My first job at age 13 was at a Vietnamese refugee camp, where I saw families crowded into makeshift tents living off bare rations. Chun Yee Yip, who started our London office, grew up in a one-room tenement house in New York City’s Chinatown, the daughter of two immigrants from Hong Kong who owned a laundromat and saved enough money to send her to Barnard College. There was no space to do homework in the apartment so Yip grew up at the Chinatown YMCA.

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