Founder & CEO, Jilly Bing
When you joined this past March’s Ascend NorCal Inspiring Across Generations (IAG) Conference, we talked about Ascend’s mission to develop and empower Asian and Pacific Islander leaders to become catalysts for change throughout their career lifecycle. Like our mission, you’ve played a part in elevating rising entrepreneurs (Target’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Madison Reed). What leads you to give back?
In mid 20’s, I joined Avon Products out of business school as a District Sales Manager with no sales experience. I wanted to work in the field alongside the sales representatives and be a part of the heartbeat of that organization. I cold emailed the CEO, Andrea Jung, a long and personal email making my case. And she responded! I subsequently met her at an event, introduced myself, and she literally put my resume through the Avon channel. I came into Avon as a sales manager right out of business school, because Andrea Jung took the time and gave me a chance.
I share that story because Andrea Jung’s been a very visible Asian role model and Fortune 500 business leader. The fact that she took the time to help me in my journey always stayed with me and influenced what I can do to help other entrepreneurs and young people on their journey. I will always try to answer an email because it could be the little bit that helps. Even now as an entrepreneur in my 40’s, I still feel that flutter of excitement when someone generously says yes or answers my email.
It reminds me of my parents’ U.S. immigration story. They were lucky to have other established immigrants help them. That’s how we arrived as a community, helping each other. I view it as a privilege to be asked for help by other entrepreneurs and those early in their profession. I like to pay it forward.
As the Founder and CEO of Jilly Bing, you’ve really demonstrated how necessity is the mother of invention. How is your whole team motivated by your mission to bring more diversity and Asian representation to the toy doll market?
At first, I was angry and shocked that I could not find a doll in 2022 that looked like Jillian, my then 2.5 year-old daughter. Today, my team and I are excited that we to get make this vision a reality, where children, like my daughter, can see themselves reflected in their dolls and toys.
Jilly Bing’s team is made up of all Asian American parents across different fields, from toy design to creative design. Even across different generations, from grandparent to daughter to granddaughter. We are all bound by this desire to create something we never had for ourselves as kids.
What’s been the greatest challenge you’ve experienced so far?
I think what’s been most challenging is my family has become the face of the brand. The personal origin story of me looking for a doll for my daughter Jillian and not finding one wasn't something we had planned, but we realized that's what was needed. Exposing myself and my family requires a vulnerability and a decision my husband and I have made to showcase our story and pictures on social media.
When I have bad work days, I can’t come home from the job and sulk. I don’t have that luxury and, as a mother, there are hours in the day that need to belong to my children and not the business.
It's been a learning process. I haven't found the perfect balance, but like so many working parents, we are committed to figuring it out - on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.
What advice do you have for our fellow Ascend members thinking about starting their own business?
I haven't figured it all out but, I will say in the world of entrepreneurship, the innovation and the ability to start a business has become a lot easier. I think the barriers have come down significantly in terms of access. It’s a matter of surrounding yourself with the right talent.
And the time is now for the Asian American community. I love seeing the collective pride. We’re raising the bar in how we are represented and how our stories are told. Asians are making an impact in music, beauty, in the food aisles, and across so many industries. More than ever before, I see our community amplifying each other.
People are expecting more and I'm so excited. With Jilly Bing, I want to create Asian American characters as the lead protagonist, not the sidekick character, and represent all the different ethnicities under this massive Asian American umbrella so we’re not lumped as one monoculture. That's the world I want to see.
I just think this is the moment for entrepreneurs, particularly Asian Americans.
What’s next for you?
We just sold out of our first shipment of dolls in August. We’re working on the next batch of dolls, making it in time for the holidays. Our goal is to get Jilly Bing into the hands of many, many children this holiday season!
We were also just featured on the TODAY Show. It’s really significant that we made national TV so quickly. To me it shows that our San Francisco-based small business is is more than just a local story. We are a national trend reflecting how children around the country should have a doll that looks like them or looks like their friends.
Next year, we’ve got some really exciting things coming up. I’m not in a position to share any details, but we are looking to extend beyond a doll and create a cast of characters that help you get to know the world of Jilly Bing.
Elenor with daughter Jillian playing with Jilly Bing
Elenor speaking at Ascend NorCal IAG Conference