This small business advice post originally appears in my Work In Progress blog for Forbes.com:
Kim Loan Duong is 32, and onto her third business. She is co-owner of Empire Society, which she co-founded in 1999 and organizes events worldwide. She then branched out into Prestigious Models in 2002, North America’s premiere Asian and Pan-Asian modeling agency. In 2012, she launched a third time with Image Powerhouse, an entertainment production studio specializing in fashion, beauty and lifestyle, as well as new divisions for Prestigious Models in Fashion, Print, Commercial, TV and Film. I met Duong at an event hosted at Image Powerhouse and loved her story for how she broke through some of the myths that hold back other aspiring entrepreneurs:
Myth #1: You need to have it all figured out before you start
A year after launching Empire Society, Duong started noticing a pattern of client requests for Spokesmodels (or Brand Ambassadors). Prestigious Models was born to capture the unmet demand for Asian models. Yes, it helps to have a plan in advance, but it also pays to be opportunistic and respond to a need you might not have thought of before.
Myth #2: You need to expand quickly
Duong was running Empire Society for three years before adding Prestigious Models. It took another ten years before Duong tacked on her third business. Although, Duong always had an interest in fashion and consumer-facing brands, the main industries for Empire Society and Prestigious Models were Poker, Gaming and Automotive industries. She didn’t launch Image Powerhouse until these two businesses were self-sustaining and Duong could make her move to New York. You don’t have to keep adding new offerings, sometimes not even for years. (In these days of quick-start online businesses, with $MM valuations seemingly overnight, I found this measured growth particularly refreshing!)
Myth #3: Entrepreneurship is more suitable for certain types of people
Maybe you think an entrepreneur has to be particularly creative, or a risk-taker, or from a certain background. Duong battled with the third limiting belief: she is Vietnamese/ Chinese and had strong cultural pressures to get a traditional job. “In the Asian culture, we’re raised to get a good education and become doctors, lawyers and bankers,” Duong explained. Duong even got her real estate license while building Prestigious Models to fulfill her parents’ wishes for a more conventional career. Yet, she couldn’t balance two jobs and finally had an emotional meeting with her parents and siblings to ask for support. It wasn’t an overnight resolution, but the family is now so supportive they even help out with her current projects. You don’t have to be a certain type of person to be an entrepreneur. (As an Asian-American myself, I can relate firsthand to the strong cultural expectations that favor traditional employment over entrepreneurship, so this part of Duong’s story is so rewarding to share especially during Asian-Pacific American Awareness Month.)
Kim Loan Duong exemplifies in some ways the quick-start, young entrepreneur – running three businesses by her early 30’s. But her journey also bucks some of the conventionally-held wisdom about entrepreneurship, and in this way, makes business success more accessible to the everyday woman. You don’t have to have the lightning-bolt idea. You don’t have to grow quickly. Entrepreneurship is an available option to everyone.
Create opportunities, make things happen and see your vision turn into a reality. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Get a mentor or coach, someone to hold you accountable. Surround yourself with people that believe in you and want to see you become successful. – Kim Loan Duong