This week on Selfmade Stories with Office Depot OfficeMax, our series that spotlights emerging entrepreneurs from our virtual business course Selfmade, we turn our attention to Shannon Huang and Jasmin Suayan, founders of KinStora (currently a working business name), a web platform and app that helps Asian-Americans preserve their family’s stories and traditions. It takes a certain relationship dynamic to make a joint venture work and we get the scoop on how Shannon and Jasmin found trust in each other.
B + C: If you were at a dinner party describing KinStora to a guest, what would your elevator pitch be?
Shannon Huang and Jasmin Suayan: KinStora creates intergenerational connection and is a web and app-based solution that preserves stories and family history through story prompts, photo archive, video function, recipe templates, and more with the unique focus of translation for Asian languages.
B + C: How did you two meet and what led you to become business partners?
Huang and Suayan: We met in 7th grade at a small school in Cerritos, CA, and realized we had a shared affinity for food, fun, adventures, daydreaming, and making a difference in the world. We both are dedicated and loyal to our friends, family, and each other! We had decided long ago that we would create a business together that would combine our passions.
After joining Selfmade, we were able to hone in on an idea that we both love! We not only trust each other, but we share a vision for why it is so important to stay connected to our family and culture and want to help our community do this, too. We have known each other for over 20 years, have gone through much of life together, and already know how to work well with each other. We are both open with our communication and can feed off each other’s ideas and energies, so our brainstorm sessions are a breeze and a lot of fun.
B + C: Are you both working other jobs at the moment or are you primarily focusing on KinStora full-time?
Huang and Suayan: We both work full-time jobs. Shannon is an arts manager at a Los Angeles-based non-profit that provides high-quality art education to youth in Southern California and Jasmin is a mental health nurse practitioner for people with serious mental illnesses trying to transition back into the world. We both founded and lead our own separate businesses — the soul edit and Do Good Swimwear — which are our first business babies!
B + C: Where were you in your own lives — emotionally, physically, or spiritually — when you came up with the idea for KinStora?
Huang and Suayan: We are both children of immigrants and were finding ourselves longing for something that would connect us with our parents and relatives, as well as bridge the gap between generations, especially with language barriers and cultural differences. We wanted to create something that families and friends could use to deepen their relationships and be a fun way to connect with others.
B + C: What do you envision KinStora to look like?
Huang and Suayan: We envision KinStora to be a web and app-based solution that allows the interviewer and interviewee to ask each other questions and tell stories that they may not have ever told before. We would monetize it by having a base service fee, and the option to upgrade with (physical or digital) packs of thought-provoking questions/prompts, games, or recipes (something interactive for the family to do, e.g. “Write out a recipe that has been passed down in the family. Bonus points for making it and sharing it!”) We would love for it to be a subscription service, one that people can pay for monthly or annually to keep all their memories together.
B + C: As Asian-Americans, I imagine that your own experiences have helped shape what this venture will look like. But since no two people have the same experience, I’m wondering if you had to further learn or research Asian-American interests to figure out what your final product will look like.
Huang and Suayan: We have conducted user research amongst Asians and Asian Americans in two different generations and will continue to build up our knowledge base so that we can cater this application to being a service that provides value and connection to our users.
B + C: What specific problems are you hoping KinStora will solve for your users?
Huang and Suayan: There is no other service that combines connection to heritage, storytelling, language translation, and story-sharing — KinStora is a solution that not only works as a place to archive family history but to connect to culture and bridge the communication and cultural gaps specifically amongst those with Asian backgrounds.
We are hoping that KinStora would allow more families and friends to connect and learn about each other, and allow families to pass on traditions and cultures with something concrete so that future generations can enjoy them too. America is one big melting pot, and there are so many people who would love to learn more about their own family histories, cultures, and stories but don’t know where to start. We are hoping that KinStora helps bridge this gap.
B + C: How do you go about splitting up the workload and who takes on certain responsibilities?
Huang and Suayan: Our process so far has been very collaborative. We have been able to identify our values, goals, and expectations for this business; and we are able to work autonomously and make major decisions together.
B + C: What are the reasons why you’d recommend entrepreneurs find a like-minded partner or collaborator?
Huang and Suayan: Working with a partner is challenging, no matter what the relationship is. Finding someone that you can work with that is on the same page as you and can complement your style is key because they can pick up on things you might miss and vice versa. Knowing that you both have the same end goal, passion, and purpose for the project really makes working with a partner that much easier.
B + C: Where are you in your current entrepreneurial stage and what are the specific challenges you’re facing at this very moment?
Huang and Suayan: We are currently in the planning and researching stage of KinStora. We are still working up logistics, what things would cost, and how feasible our idea is in all aspects. The main challenge at this very moment is finding the time to really work on our ideas, since we are both working full-time and running our own businesses, time is a hot commodity. But we are learning to make time for this project in a way that can suit us both.
B + C: On the flip side, what are some wins or accomplishments you’ve experienced that have encouraged you to keep pursuing this business idea?
Huang and Suayan: We have both received positive feedback from our friends and families as well as in our program with Selfmade. Most importantly, when we came to this idea after brainstorming different solutions that would serve our Asian communities, we both intuitively connected with this idea and are committed to bringing it to fruition!
B + C: What has receiving the scholarship to Selfmade done to help you grow your business?
Huang and Suayan: Receiving the scholarship to Selfmade has really helped us hone in on our fundamental business skills, and given us more confidence to pursue these endeavors. It was so inspiring to hear from all the other Selfmade team, speakers, and students, and we are grateful to have been able to have had such a unique experience. Selfmade really helped us learn more about how to market our brand, so we are still working out what our brand personality is. We also learned a lot from our classes on crowdfunding and considering moving in that direction to raise initial funds.
B + C: How have Office Depot OfficeMax services/products helped you accomplish more in your business?
Huang and Suayan: We love using our Office Depot OfficeMax products! We both use our business planners and organizers to stay on top of our plans/ideas.
B + C: What’s next for you on the journey to launching KinStora?
Huang and Suayan: We are working on creating our website, finding the right team to help us develop our vision, and once we have a sample product, we will work on raising funds through a crowdfunding website.
Thanks Shannon and Jasmin!
The entrepreneur journey looks different for everyone — and being in a partnership means learning to work with varying perspectives. To help all parties stay organized, Office Depot OfficeMax offers a suite of business services that allows entrepreneurs of all stripes to accomplish more — from signs, posters, and banners to get your business noticed to marketing materials to help bring even a joint brand vision to life.
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