Julia Che is a consummate Rogue. One conversation with the entrepreneur will leave you in realization that a) She knows how to WORK b) Her worldview will make you want to widen yours.
Having previously founded Lotus Leaf Communications, a wildly successful Fashion + Lifestyle Public Relations company, she took on massive clients like GUESS, New Era, UGG, Dr. Martens, Triumph Lingerie, Alex and Ani, and NYX Cosmetics, to name a few. At the height of her success she decided to close its doors and take a year long sabbatical. And she did it all in confidence and stride, even when it was tempting not to.
It’s been eight years since you decided to leave the agency you were working at, and create Lotus Leaf Communications. How did you make that transition and start something?
Working at a large, corporate agency of over 500 employees at the time can make you feel like just a number. It took such a long time to get projects through conception to completion – a lot more time than necessary, because of process and structure. I left because I wanted to start something. From there I did fashion editing and styling editorials, and then I just began doing PR for a friend’s jewelry line. Our first pitch got us onto eTALK, Hello Magazine, and some of the top press that were highly sought after by huge brands. From there it was a domino effect. I signed New Era, Paul Frank, UGG, Dr. Martens, Guess Watches, GUESS…and all these awesome brands I never anticipated eight years strong.
I never had a business plan. There are certain circumstances where a business plan is valuable, but for my company, it was all day every day hustling. Emailing from my bed into the early hours of the morning, working through lunches – I think media saw that hard work and that was a reputation I established early on.
Bootstrapping – many people have their opinions, how did you decide that was the way you wanted to grow your business?
I never decided to bootstrap – it just ended up happening. I started the company out of my home office. I remember one of the first times someone wanted to drop off a cheque to me, and it was such humble beginnings not having an office. It showed me how things begin. I didn’t have family money or investment capital, my mother actually stepped in to help me with the finances once it became too much for me to handle on my own. Bootstrapping was a necessity.
Up until your announcement of closing down the company, you had signed large clients. What was the decision process like for this, and how long had you been thinking about it?
It was a couple years in the making – I kept yearning for something else and I didn’t know what it was. I had decided to close the agency right after we signed a big client, and in the months where things were winding down, incredible brands were reaching out. There was this one specific client that I had wanted to work with for years, and they had finally come knocking on my door.
“I kept yearning for something else and I didn’t know what it was.”
It was tough – I can’t say that I didn’t go back and forth in my mind a little over the course of closing, but I knew in my head and deep down that this was the right decision. I need to do something else, build/focus on something new. There were so many opportunities though Lotus Leaf – learning the value of hard work, hiring and developing staff, but at the end of the day I knew that in five years or ten years time, I didn’t want to be doing the same thing that I was doing, even if it was on a slightly larger scale, which is where I was headed.
“At the end of the day I knew that in five years or ten years time, I didn’t want to be doing what I was doing.”
From a PR standpoint, was there any pressure on the type of feedback you would get with this big announcement?
I did want people to know that it was my decision to make. It wasn’t because we had a lack of clients, or because we were in the red. It was because I needed to pursue something different and learn something new. That was one of the most important things — that it was on my own terms. Starting and building Lotus Leaf was one of the best experiences of my life. But I’m super ambitious in a way that doesn’t just have to do with this company. I need to take a serious leap and do something else now.
How do you manage the process of taking away a big part of your identity, comfort, income? How do you find comfort in your uncertainty?
I’ve honestly always felt comfort in discomfort. Lotus Leaf was constantly doing different things. Two to three months wouldn’t go by without trying or launching something different internally – constantly learning and constantly changing. When I learn something I decide that I’ve learned it, and need to apply it to something else. But I also need to recognize that people all learn at different paces. I think that’s why I love the tech industry, the way that Silicon Valley grows and changes so quickly every day. Being comfortable doesn’t sit well with me. That’s why I travel so much.
“When I learn something I decide that I’ve learned it, and need to apply it to something else.”
I surround myself with people who don’t have the exact same interests as I do, nor people who just say “yes” all the time. It’s important to surround yourself with people that inspire you, people who challenge you to think outside your routine stream of thought.
What are things that you’ll take from your first company’s experience, to whatever you do next? What do you know is consistent of yourself?
I am an ambitious person. I’m ambitious when it comes to learning, personal growth and self-improvement. I’m an A-type personality, and I think there’s something to be said about being detail-oriented – I don’t think it’s a bad thing to a certain extent, as long as you can take a step back to see the greater picture.
It’s also about what pushes people to be brave. I’m pushing myself to be my greatest possible self.
Managing people is something you never anticipate when you become an entrepreneur. That’s something I’ll most definitely take with me, and how to ensure that quality of work is maintained through the filters and funnels.
You’ve always been a traveller, how do you see yourself managing travel and being based out of Toronto?
I’m definitely a global person, a worldly soul. I like to feel as though I can call anywhere home. But I love Toronto because it’s so diverse, with so many cultures. There’s “little”-everything, Korea, Italy, Portugal. It’s a special place. In New York for example, it’s diverse, but it’s segregated. Here, in Toronto, if you have a dinner party everyone is from a diverse cultural background – it makes things so interesting.
I think many of my earlier/fellow-Millennials believe you have to go away and come back to be validated. I used to care about that, I don’t anymore.
Maybe it’s maturity or maybe it’s that there’s been so much talk about Toronto, it’s all over the news. Pop culture does a lot for a city whether good or bad. It’s all good.
How do you balance the structure of your life now, and finding ways to accomplish and explore all of your current interests while on sabbatical?
I’m trying to be as fluid as I can right now on sabbatical. It’s a time for exploration and discovery for me, so I’m going with it as it comes. I’ve never really been a big fan of structure, but iCal is pretty helpful – whether it be learning Danish for two hours every few days to completing a course on Effective Altruism with Princeton University. I don’t get upset at myself if I don’t actually execute everything on my calendar. I also have a big interest in social entrepreneurship and tech companies that are making a positive social impact, so I’ve been doing a lot of reading about this lately.
One thing I’ve wanted to do more of is write down goals for the day — three things in a day. Look at goals on a more short-term basis. Through that, I’ll figure out the timeframe where I see myself in the future, and what I want to spend my time on.
There’s a lot that I want to do.