ELAINE CHEN / CO-FOUNDER & CHIEF OF PRODUCT AT ROMPHIM / PARSIPPANY NJ
Meet Elaine. She’s a recent MBA grad and co-founder of the viral fashion sensation, RompHim. Elaine’s entrepreneurial spirit and steadfast ambition are inspiring and left me with no doubt that this brand is here to stay. Like a boss, Elaine shares tips for starting a business, advice from her mentors, and of course, her plans for blooming. #romplife
Tell me a little bit about how you got started.
I went to NYU for my undergrad and after school, went to work at J.P. Morgan as part of a two-year rotational program. After that, I stayed on full time and worked as a product manager within their corporate and investment banking division. I did that for a while, learned a ton, met a bunch of great people, but got to the point where I wasn’t really sure that the financial services industry was for me and found myself applying to Kellogg for my MBA. I graduated last week and completed a dual degree program, an MBA from Kellogg and a Master’s in Design and Innovation.
I’m still riding off of the high post graduation but it truly was the most amazing two years. Kellogg is where I met some of my best friends and where the origin of RompHim came about. It was sort of a bunch of friends hanging out, talking about men’s fashion and we started talking about rompers. All of my friends know that I love rompers so when they heard about the project, they knew it was me. [laughs] I think these past couple of months have been pretty huge for us building this product and brand. Now we're making the most of it and trying to see how far we can go.
Did you anticipate all of attention and that the product would go viral?
The short answer is no. The long answer is sort of. We would always say jokingly, “We're going to go viral! This is gonna be awesome! We’re gonna be super successful!” The other guys and I are a bunch of happy people who don't take ourselves too seriously so we always joked about it but at the end of the day, we worked very hard on this in order to set ourselves up for success.
We started off with a Kickstarter goal of $10K and if we hit that, it would have been a success for us. So for it to happen on the first day and then seeing the national and international media coverage was so beyond whatever I could have imagined. We are definitely incredibly thankful and humbled.
What is the best advice you’ve gotten from a mentor?
Oh my gosh! So much great advice! I would say that one of the biggest things I learned was actually from this past quarter. We worked on our project as part of a Kellogg entrepreneurship course, and met a professor who has provided amazing resources along the way and continues to give us advice.
He always pushed us to get out there and do it! If you believe in your product, believe in what you’re trying to accomplish and have a vision, at some point, you need to just take that risk. You should work really hard and make sure that you’re mitigating the major risks along the way, but trust in yourself, believe, jump in, do it, and see what happens.
So often, business school students are Type A students with independent personalities and a tendency to want to work on a project for a long time to make sure it's perfect before showing it to the world. [Our mentor] really pushed us by saying, “You know what, this is the beginning. Fail fast, fail now, figure out what is wrong, and you won’t make the same mistake the second time around.” Don’t waste your time making things perfect only to find out that it’s been wrong later on. It was good advice to let go and put our idea out into the world and see how people reacted!
Another great piece of business advice, which seems obvious, is to do whatever it is you need to do to make your business successful. Whether it's talking to strangers, getting customer feedback, cold calling people’s connections, or whatever it may be, just get out there and hustle!
How will you bloom in the next year?
Since we launched our Kickstarter one month ago today, I have probably learned more in these past four weeks, than I have in my years of education. Running this business has included things that we’ve learned about in school but I think it’s different experiencing it.
From this month alone, the extent to which I've been exposed to speaks exponentially to what I will hopefully continue to learn and grow professionally from here on out. It will help me develop my thought process, see the world from a broader scale, and understand how to think through complicated business decisions in broader ways. Now having worked with mostly men [laughs] for the last couple months, I think learning to work and interact with other personalities and different ways of thinking will challenge me to bloom. The other three co-founders and myself have very different personalities and ways of approaching problems that only helps us to come to better conclusions at the end.
Good! How will you bloom personally?
I always grew up in the East Coast so one of my goals for myself in the next year is to move to the West Coast! I’m in this interesting transitional phase of my life, and why not take the risk and do something I have always wanted to do! I’m excited to jump into this ambiguous, confusing situation where I am far away from family and friends, and make this life for myself, see what I can learn, and who I can meet.
What motivates you?
Passion motivates me. If I see others really passionate about something, that gets me excited. If I find myself feeling really strongly about something, that honestly motivates me. I'm pretty internally motivated. I have been in environments where others are very competitive and always want to compare but I’ve never cared. I hold high standards for myself in whatever it is that I chose to do. If I do a good job and put out the best product, I rest well at the end of the day no matter what anyone else feels.
Have you encountered any hurdles being a woman in business?
What's interesting is that ever since the whole RompHim media blitz came out, we were always labelled as a start-up founded by four bros. A lot of times, the headline would say something like “started by a bunch of bros”. We joke about it now that I’m the fourth bro and that’s the best way to deal with it in my mind.
We’ve been in situations where the four of us have stood together or presented and someone will come up, recognize us, shake hands with the other three guys, and completely ignore or bypass me. That is never a great feeling to be assumed as…I don’t even know what they think I’m doing there, like I’m some random girl hanging out with three co-founders? [laughs] It’s pretty interesting that now is the time where I am experiencing more of those obstacles and difficulties. Thankfully, the other three guys are so supportive and always trying to figure out how they can kick that stereotype for the brand and for myself as a woman. But it’s interesting that this goes on.
I just gotta smile and say, “Hey, I’m Elaine, a co-founder. I’m here.”
What do you want to be remembered for?
Ooo! This is a good one! I hope I can be remembered for putting out more good than bad in the world and I hope I end up giving more than I take. That’s the overarching hope that I have for myself.
I hope that I will always be considered as a genuine, thoughtful person, someone that my friends and family feel that they can trust, and to always hopefully have a good sense of humor. I try not to sweat the small stuff. I try to not take myself too seriously and hopefully I can impart that even a little bit on others.
Interview conducted by Laura in June 2017 // Photo credit: @originalromphim