Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Stella Guan, Founder, and CEO of Path Unbound & Bezier Home, located in Los Angeles, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Path Unbound is an online UI/UX design school with a focus on providing a customizable curriculum to students who want to change their careers to become a designer, primarily for tech companies.
Bezier Home is a multifunctional, post-modern statement designer furniture brand with friendlier price points. My customers are design-forward, urban professionals who want to have conversational pieces in their homes that are not just ornamental but also multifunctional.
Tell us about yourself
I am an immigrant to the United States. I came to the US at age 18 from China on a full scholarship and went through multiple visas before obtaining my permanent residency. I majored in broadcast journalism in college but realized it wasn't for me after a stint working as a producer after graduation. After some soul searching, I decided to pursue design and went to a 1-year certificate program in New York City, which is how I started my own design career. After ten years of working in Corporate America as a designer, I was burned out.
The idea of starting an education business didn't come to me overnight. I knew I wanted to strike out on my own, but I wasn't sure what and how. That's when I had the idea of starting to speak at conferences to get my name out there. I was lucky enough to get invited to speak at a few conferences, and the first one happened in Ottawa, Canada. I was one of the speakers, but I was way more impressed by the speech of the keynote speaker, Robert Smith, who is now a friend. He was extremely charismatic, eloquent, and very funny. I talked to him afterward. I asked him how he became so good at speaking. He said he taught at universities. I thought - I could try that, too! That's when I started to reach out to colleges in New York. I was lucky enough to be recommended to a few schools by a professor who believed in me but couldn't hire me due to my lack of a master's degree. Soon enough, her other colleagues responded and gave me an opportunity to teach at 2 of the top universities in New York City. At the same time, I also started teaching at several other private vocational schools. While I enjoyed and valued my experience there, I realized a lot of missed opportunities in the design education system and heard a lot of pain points from students. I thought I could do it better, and that's how I started my school Path Unbound.
In the winter of 2020, as I was just getting my company Path Unbound going, I had a strong urge to start another one, which sounded completely crazy. It still is. I realized I really love furniture, and I craved to design something more tangible that people can keep for a long time instead of digital stuff which will get erased in a few years. I started to sketch my ideas out and realized that I could collaborate with my father, who is a mechanical engineer, and my mother, who had production experience before and could liaise with factories for me. I started my furniture brand, Bezier Home, as a side hustle as I worked on my main entrepreneurial endeavor. It took two years for the production to finally fall into place with multiple challenges in manufacturing and international logistics due to the extreme port congestion at Long Beach and a worldwide supply chain crisis, but this summer, I am finally able to launch my mid-century modern, multifunctional and design forward furniture brand with affordable price tags compared to traditional designer furniture.
We just launched in August of 2022 and exhibited our design for the first time in the Palm Springs Modernism Week show.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Building a company from the ground up without any funding. Growing organically and building a reputation as a trusted school that cares more about quality of education than maximizing profits by getting students in and out.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
You never know if your business will survive another day. Emergencies happen all the time, and you have to put out fires. As a solo founder, I also need to survive the loneliness of it - I have no peers around me to talk about strategies. I have made friends with other small business owners, but no one is directly in my space, so I cannot ask directly for strategy advice. You also have to be incredibly resourceful and creative in getting things done with limited means. There won't be anybody else who will take care of things, and you are solely responsible.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Don't start raising funds on Day 1. Make sure your product actually has a demand and makes sense. I have seen too many companies raise a couple of millions and then fold within one year.
- Be incredibly resourceful. If it doesn't work in a way that you knew before, dig deeper and find another way. There is always a way, but you might have to compromise on something.
- You have to be very resilient. Things can get very bad and demoralizing, but don't give up. Try again, and then try again, and then try again. It's the ones who stick it out (smartly) longer that will win.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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