How To Let Curiosity Lead The Way with Trisha Okubo
If curiosity could be a superpower, Trisha Okubo, founder of Maison Miru, would be right up there with Supergirl. She has undergraduate and graduate degrees from Stanford University in Management Science and Engineering, where she studied optimization, operations, and supply chains. She also studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. And to top it all off, she took on additional coursework in jewelry design and shoemaking at the University of the Arts in London.
While she started her career in product management and business operations roles at media and e-commerce companies in the San Francisco Bay Area, the 34 year old, New York City resident is now the founder of Maison Miru, a digitally-native fashion jewelry brand. With a tagline like "extraordinary jewelry for extraordinary women," we had tons of questions for the woman behind the brand.
Whether you want to start your own business or figure out how to channel your education and passions into a worthy project, Trisha's advice is pure gold. Read below to learn how she uses her unending curiosity to create a business she adores and a life she loves.
What led you to start Maison Miru?
I'm a former tech product manager who found her true calling while taking jewelry classes at University of the Arts London while on a “gap year” career break. I started making jewelry because I love the craftsmanship of it. It's like creating a little piece of art, a little wearable sculpture every time you sit down at the jewelry bench. I'm really drawn to all kinds of stacked delicate gold pieces, especially since they're perfect for my petite size....I have child sized hands.
As I was taking a gap year, I didn't necessarily have the budget to go out and buy what I loved. The jewelry that I loved–elegant, delicate pieces that you can wear everyday–either existed at the high end of the market (hello, solid gold and diamonds!) or at the low end of the market (aka the jewelry you can wear a few times before it tarnishes or breaks). What I wanted but couldn't find out there was high quality jewelry that I could wear everyday at a price that was fair and affordable.
It's so different making a physical product with your hands. My motor skills up until then were previously used mainly in Powerpoint and Excel. (I may have sawed myself more than once!) But there was something so right about making jewelry, pieces that I knew I could treasure for years to come. When friends and even strangers started asking me where I got my jewelry, I decided to set up a little shop.
Tell us a little more about Maison Miru and your vision for the company. Where do you draw creative inspiration from?
Maison Miru is about connecting you to the people and experiences you love through jewelry. What I love about jewelry is that the value of a piece increases with the memories it holds for you.
My most treasured pieces of jewelry each have a story to tell. This is true for the gold hand-carved skull ring I discovered on a lazy week in Paris with one of my dearest friends. We each got one, so they're friendship rings. It's just as true for my engagement ring, which reminds me of my husband's proposal in a penguin suit in our London flat.
Jewelry is love made visible, and that's what drives the design vision for Maison Miru. From the little Lightning inspiration earrings in the Ear Bar to the Evil Eye necklace that symbolizes protection and luck, each piece is designed not only to be beautiful, but also to hold an idea or a story for you.
What was the hardest part of starting your own company?
It's true what they say: the grass is always greener on the other side. When I was working an office job, I longed for the freedom of working on my own terms. I used to get SO much done when I had the opportunity to work from home (or even a coffee shop near the office). Now that I'm on the other side, I kind of miss the structure and schedule of office life.
When you're working for yourself, you have to create your own structure: your own deadlines, your own master plan of what to do and how to prioritize it. I've always been pretty organized, but even I had trouble adjusting to the lack of structure of the entrepreneurial life. I've learned to batch like activities for efficiency, schedule long periods of uninterrupted work time, and to try to shut off after hours at the end of the day, but each of these lessons have been hard won!
That last lesson, to create non-work time, has been the hardest to live. I tend to go deep on the things I love, and it's hard to stop working on something that means so much to me. But work fills up the time you give it, and if I don't stop, I'll miss out on quality time with family and friends (the good things in life).
Society loves to glamorize the entrepreneurial lifestyle, but what does your day-to-day life look like when you run a business? What is the best part? What is the most challenging?
When I first thought about running my own creative business, I imagined, just like everyone else, that my days would be mostly spent dreaming up and creating new designs in the studio. Sure, I'd have to do some admin and computer work, but I thought the creative part of the job would be dominant.
In reality, it's the other way around. I spend most of my time doing general & administrative work–everything from accounting and advertising to partnering with wonderful and amazing creatives to help realize the Maison Miru vision through graphics and photography.
Oh, and the shipping! I spend an inordinate amount of time packing and shipping parcels of jewelry....so much so that I've made friends at my local post office. I also answer a lot of emails, mainly customer service emails, and I'm thankful for my prior life as a product manager for being able to triage and answer loads of email in short order.
Before starting the business, I think I would have said that the best part would be the studio time. I love prototyping new designs and testing out different ideas. And this is definitely a perk of the job. But I find that the most satisfying part of running the business is actually the customer service part, where I get to chat with real customers.
It's super important to fix problems and make them right when they inevitably happen, and this feedback helps me make Maison Miru better for everybody. I'm the happy recipient of a good number of love notes as well. Maybe jewelry people are good people, but I've consistently been amazed by the kindness of the people of the internet.
What advice do you have for our readers who want to start a business or a passion project but are feeling hesitant?
Building a business or pursuing a passion project is hard work, and it's important to know that up front. But if it's something that's important to you, you should go for it.
How do you evaluate whether an idea is worth pursuing?
When I'm evaluating a new idea, I use what I call the Three Day Rule. If, after three days, the idea still seems like a good one, I go for it. It's not foolproof, but the Three Day Rule allows me to triage out most ideas that aren't worth doing.
Once I've identified an idea as something I should pursue, I try to gather as much information as I can to figure out how to best move forward. While you're still in idea stage, and your concept is still fluid, learn as much as possible. I start with internet research, but I try to do informational interviews with experts in the field as well. This concept of trying things out without actually committing to them is from a great book called Designing Your Life, which I completely recommend to anyone considering making a big life change, career, or otherwise.
What habits have you built that have helped you to be a successful entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur requires a lot of work that nobody ever sees, so I'm thankful for my ability to focus and go deep on things that I care about. If I'm truly engaged in a task, I can do it for hours on end without noticing time going by. This is how I occasionally find myself forgetting to eat lunch, even though I LOVE food.
Curiosity is also an asset for any entrepreneur, or really any person, period. Running your own company requires wearing a lot of hats and a lot of doing things without really knowing how to do them. Curiosity will help you learn how to do everything you need to do, even if it's not perfect.
Something I'm still working on is learning to let go of perfectionism. It's incredibly hard to do, especially since it feels like Maison Miru is a part of me and a reflection on who I am. I want everything to be perfect, but I find that waiting until everything is perfect is a perfect way to not make progress.
What resources–be it books, podcasts, practices, etc.–do you rely on for guidance in and out of Maison Miru?
Because my prior life was in e-commerce, friends and former coworkers are a great resource for a lot of business questions. And for everything else, there's Google. Chances are if I'm trying to figure out how to solve a problem, I'm not the first one.
More specifically, one of my favorite podcasts is How I Built This by Guy Raz on NPR. Each episode features an entrepreneur telling his or her story, including the triumphs and failures, and the lessons learned along the way. After listening to an episode, I am absolutely psyched to get back to work.
What are your favorite ways to recharge when you are feeling burnt out?
I love the good things in life: spending quality time with family and friends, traveling and exploring the world, and food. I love to eat and probably care too much about what I eat. I have been known to schlep halfway around the world to get the exact thing I want, or better yet, to learn how to make it. New York is a wonderful place for food, but dim sum and Mexican food are two food groups that should generally be avoided here. A couple of years ago, I went to Hong Kong to learn how to properly make soup dumplings and last year, I went to Mexico City to learn how to make mole sauce for tacos and tamales. No regrets.
If you could go back in time to your early 20s, what advice would you give yourself?
Whatever you want to do in life, start sooner. The big things you do in life start as small things, and the earlier you start, the more impact you can have. It's kind of like saving money for retirement. Thanks to the principle of compound interest, you're much better off starting earlier and saving less each month. The same principle is at work with skill building. The best time to start learning or building something is now.
Behind the Scenes
Do you have a morning routine? If so, what does it look like?
I want to be able to say that I get up early and get to work but honestly, I'm not a morning person. I hit the snooze button a couple of times, and I require a large cup of coffee before I'm functional. I try to have a phone and computer-free breakfast with my husband before I head over to my home office. It's important to build in time with the people you love, and for me, it's the best way to start the day.
What is your favorite thing to do in your free time?
Besides spending time with family and friends, traveling, and eating all of the things, I love learning new things. I have too many interests, and I'm probably too curious for my own good about how things work. This weekend, for example, I am going to try to A/B test a bunch of dumpling recipes to figure out what makes the most tasty version. I also need to head down to Home Depot to inquire about the right kind of paint or lacquer to properly harden cardboard boxes. I'm trying to make my own cardboard box modern art coffee table.
How do you refuel during the day?
Coffee. All of the coffee. My sister did that 23 and Me test and she discovered that we're fast caffeine metabolizers, which really just means that we can each go from coffee shop to coffee shop all day with no ill effect. I'm also powered by ice cream. And donuts.
Who is on your power playlist?
I tend to listen to the same things over and over again until I get tired of them. Currently on heavy rotation is a mix of Dave Brubeck, Ella Fitzgerald, Francoise Hardy, Stars, and LCD Soundsystem.
Do you have a personal mantra?
My best quality, or worst depending on your point of view, is that I approach things from an “all or nothing” perspective. If you're going to do something, go all in. If not, save your energy and do nothing at all. One of my dearest friends, Joy, best encapsulated it as “whole ass or no ass.” I stand behind that mantra 100%.