Jennie Yoon, founder of online jewelry brand Kinn, Photo credit: Karen Rosalie
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And in the case of Jennie Yoon, founder of the direct-to-consumer online jewelry brand Kinn, an unfortunate event led to a golden opportunity as an entrepreneur. When Yoon’s parents were robbed and lost all of their treasured heirlooms (including his grandmother’s antiques), they were devastated by the loss. So she decided to create her own brand of modern heritage jewelry inspired by the antique style.
Yoon was working for tech accessories brand Casetify when she first launched Kinn in 2017, and split her days between two passions: her corporate job during the days and her brand (aka her baby) after hours and before dawn.
Two years after leading all aspects of Kinn, Yoon is now focused full time on his e-commerce jewelry brand, while retaining a strategic advisory role at Casetify as Chief Commercial Officer.
Learn about how Yoon navigated both aspects of her career at the same time, as well as some of her favorite productivity hacks to make sure she maintains a work-life balance with courage and grace.
Karin Eldor: What was the inspiration behind Kinn?
Jennie Yoon: When shopping for jewelry, you are usually offered two options: 1) ambitious jewelry, which would cost you thousands of dollars, as the industry is traditionally marked by at least 10x, or 2) disposable jewelry, which can be affordable. at a glance, but we’ve all seen it tarnish over time, including turning the skin green.
I wanted to offer a third option: fine jewelry – neither plated, nor filled, nor vermeil – without the traditional mark-ups. By selling through our direct channels.
We also believe that it’s not about what happens to you, it’s about what you do with it. Ever since my parents’ flight, I wanted to create pieces that last, not only through quality materials, but also through signature pieces inspired by the old world with a modern twist. So one day you will be able to pass on Kinn as a family heirloom.
Eldor: I know you started Kinn initially, when you were working full time at Casetify. How did you make it work?
Yoon: We all have it 24 hours a day, it depends on what you decide to do about it. When I made the commitment to build Kinn, I chose to give up a lot of my personal time. It meant fewer happy hours, less Netflix, and motivating me to get things done.
While working full time, I remember waking up very early in the morning to be able to fulfill customer orders. When I got back from my job at Casetify, I would make sure to make time for dinner with my family and then be online to work again. I would also use my weekends to do less operational work, but to think about the big picture and strategize. Every now and then I would design jewelry because it was therapeutic. Then, as the week started, I was back in the sprint. There have been so many times that I have wanted to throw in the towel and give up. I was in total denial and even tried to get out of it. But eventually, I always remembered why I had started, and it always seemed to put me back on my feet.
Eldor: What advice would you give to someone doing the same thing: starting their own business while still having a full time job?
Yoon: I don’t think there is really the right or the wrong way to do it. But one thing’s for sure: make sure you’re passionate about what you’re building and stay focused. It’s easy to get discouraged. People even told me I would face an uphill battle. Keep your head down, stay in your lane, and keep moving. It’s also easy to get distracted – do this, sell that. But I wanted to make sure I was known for one thing: solid gold at an affordable price.
Eldor: Why did you make Kinn a direct-to-consumer brand?
Yoon: Jewelry is very personal. Everyone has their tastes and desires. I wanted to make sure my relationship with customers was as direct as possible so I could understand where their problem is, and also understand exactly what they are looking for when shopping for fine jewelry. This allowed us to build meaningful relationships, which then turned into relationships of trust, which are now the most loyal customers.
Another reason for making Kinn a D2C brand is that I can eliminate the middleman as much as possible to make the price more affordable.
Eldor: What are some of your favorite productivity hacks? I know you all wear hats with Kinn, and as the Founder the juggling is real!
Yoon: I tell myself that we are in this long marathon and that we are in a short sprint every day. I write down three things that I want to accomplish each day. These are the three things I will do no matter what. Put them on a sticky note or in your calendar, wherever they are visible. It can be as easy as sending someone an email, diving into your email analytics, building on the second phase of the strategy you’re working on. Whatever the three elements, it helps you get things done without overwhelming you.
Then, at the end of the day, write down three things you want to work on the next day. And repeat.
Of course, we also rely heavily on our technology, so I would use any tool possible to help you get organized (i.e. Mixmax, Trello, etc.). I also remember to turn off all notifications when I’m working on something. Maybe that’s why people are so productive on planes, like me right now!
Eldor: What are your top 3 tips for women entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?
Yoon: 1 – Ask questions and ask for comments. This not only validates your idea, but it will continue to help you develop your idea. I’ve learned that some people are not open to sharing their comments unless asked.
You would be surprised to know who would be willing to share their feedback with you or even become your mentor!
2 – Be honest with yourself, but don’t be too harsh. Ask yourself, why does the world need another XYZ company? What do you need to advance to the next level? Do you need someone to help you? Do you need to revolve the business?
3 – Remember why you started. You will hit hard times. You will run into problems. You will make mistakes. Learn from them and be flexible to pivot. But always come back to why you started. It will help you get back on track.
Eldor: Tell me about one of your missions, which is “Redefining Modern Luxury”. I love your take on this!
Yoon: Today, the definition of luxury seems to be changing. It’s not a simple equation of quality, price and rarity as it used to be. Rather, a holistic offer on how people experience your core features.
For us, luxury does not always mean the most beautiful or the most expensive things. Luxury is a state of mind of great comfort and pleasure. Luxury forgoes the trend for timelessness, so that one day you can pass on Kinn as a family heirloom.