Q&A with an Entrepreneur: Veronique Kherian
A regular series at The Wang Post, where we sit down and talk with notable Asian entrepreneurs. This week, we speak with Veronique Kherian, based in San Francisco, CA.
Let’s start from the beginning: where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in New Jersey of Vietnamese parents, the first generation to be born in the U.S. We lived in New Jersey, near the shores of Sandy Hook beach, until I was about 13. Then, we moved to Northern Virginia, for half of middle school through my high school years.
What were you like, growing up?
I think I was a very late bloomer. My elementary through high school years were difficult for me in a lot of ways. I wasn’t popular, and I was very shy. I would always be the last person picked for teams in PE class. That said, I always did well in school, and could turn to my piano playing, which I studied intently when I was young, and dancing, which I lived and breathed throughout middle school and high school.
I was a dreamer with some artistic inclinations—I played the piano, sang in the school choir, wrote in my journal, and devoured books. I was a bit of a loner. I liked to accomplish things myself, and to figure things out on my own. I learned early on that that was how I learned things best.
Were there any hints in your young adulthood of your entrepreneurial path?
The seeds of entrepreneurship were sown early. My dad was a great role model for me, and remains one to this day. He arrived as a college student in the United States from Vietnam in the mid-1970s, and scraped his way to success. He would tell me stories of eating rice in a “broth” of water and bouillon seasoning during those school years. Despite the tough beginning, he fought his way into NYU’s Stern School of Business, where he received his MBA, and continued into the banking world in New York City.
Eventually tiring of the city grind, he moved the family closer to his family in Virginia, where a few years after working for a small capital advisement firm, he opened his own firm with his brother and sister. Unfortunately, he passed away just before I began college, so I never was able to really talk to him in depth about entrepreneurship. I look up to him still, though. As I grow older, I understand more the depth of what he was able to accomplish while so young. That keeps me motivated to keep going.
What was your FIRST job?
My first gig ever was when I was five years old. I walked my next-door neighbor’s dog Mittens when the family was away on vacation. They paid me $20 for the whole week, my very first $20 bill. I immediately went out and spent all of it on a Barbie doll.
My first regular job was teaching at the dance school I attended. I think I started at about 15. It wasn’t a calculated move to support entrepreneurship: I just knew that dancing was something I loved to do, and this was a way for me to get paid doing it! Now, when I start something or take on a job, that question of “will I have fun?” still nudges me from the back of my mind.
You’re a licensed attorney, and also a cheesemonger. We sense a story!
Law school changed me in a lot of ways, not just by giving me the tools needed to practice law. I didn’t get into law school on my first try. I was rejected from all of them when I applied just out of college. I didn’t know what to do until my college major advisor asked if I’d be interested in living in France (I majored in French and Economics). I had nothing else going for me, and I loved the idea of living in France, so of course I said yes. Because of that round of rejection, I wound up spending a year teaching English in rural French elementary schools. I met my now-husband, perfected my French, and really became independent.
After law school, the economy was at its worst, and no one was hiring new lawyers. I sent out over a hundred resumes with no success. Instead of pining away at a non-existent law job, I started working as a cheesemonger, which has probably been one of the best decisions of my life. I started my blog, Miss Cheesemonger, the day before I started the job, and because of that, was able to learn so much about this industry that was completely new to me. I worked in the cheese shop for a year (this was in southern California), but when I moved to San Francisco, I continued writing. The blog has opened so many doors and allowed me to make many great connections. I’ve learned so much about cheesemaking and animal husbandry, and gained much respect for those who do this.
Image via Gavin Farrington ©2013
What’s the inspiration behind your current project?
You’re catching me in a career transition: I have a legal background and owned my own copyright and trademark law practice in San Francisco. There, I worked in-depth with small business owners and entrepreneurs. It was so exhilarating being around such smart, talented, motivated individuals. My clients kind of fit along my own interests: they were in technology, visual arts, film, design, apparel, food & beverage, wine, amongst other fields. It was a great way for me to learn about some great projects happening in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
After a bit of time with my law practice, I knew I loved owning my own business and helping others. I also started wondering if I could do something else other than practice law. I’ve always had a bit of a creative side, and while owning my law practice has somewhat satisfied this part of me, I couldn’t help but wonder if there’s something else that could be a better fit. Could I be of more help to people in a capacity other than as a lawyer?
So I decided I wanted to join a company– a startup. I love the challenges of launching a new business. I also love the creativity and free flow of ideas that comes from having a small team, as well as the looser company structure.
I’ve recently (a few weeks ago) started a project with a French technology company called Laster Technologies.
Laster Technologies is a French company in the field of augmented reality. They’ve offered hardware and software –eyeglasses and applications—in the B2B sphere since 2005.
Now, the company is getting ready to mass-produce its first consumer product. This new product is an eyeglass with an augmented reality lens covering one eye. The eyeglass connects to your smartphone through Bluetooth. Once connected, you can use the eyeglass for so many things: as an extension of your phone to make and answer calls, read texts, emails, articles, or listen to music. The current apps support a lot of outdoor activities: biking, hiking, skateboarding, driving, sailing, and flying. The eyeglass can show you information about weather conditions, altitude, speed, navigation, and your environment. We’re planning others in the future, though! This is only a beginning.
They’ve tested and just about perfected their prototypes, and are prepping to bring the eyeglasses to market. We’re going to be launching our Kickstarter campaign in just a few weeks. I’ll be working on their Kickstarter campaign and whatever other PR/Marketing issues that come up!
What’s been a challenge working as part of an established company, and how did you manage it?
There are a couple of challenges I see with this current project. First, there are some cultural differences between France and the U.S., which I always have to be mindful of. I’ve worked in France on several occasions, so I’ve had experience with this. The main key is to keep communications open, keep an open mind, ask questions, and express yourself clearly from the beginning.
Additionally, and everyone on the team sees this as an exciting challenge, Laster Technologies is moving from the B2B space into the B2C space. It’s different. It can be volatile. Laster’s new eyeglass product is fabulous. We want to make sure we set ourselves apart, that our message is crystal clear, and that it impacts people positively. We’re meeting this challenge by planning our brand and communications as carefully as possible, and by staying flexible to handle any surprises that will undoubtedly come along.
What are your next goals for yourself?
Personally, I am pretty sure I will start another business. At this point, I wanted more experience working with manufacturing, with tangible products, and with a small company, though, because I think that’s what my experience has been lacking. It’s one thing to just offer a service. It’s another to be faced with supply chain issues and logistics on a global scale.
As for Laster Technologies, having a successful launch into the consumer sphere is first and foremost in all of our minds!
Are there any plans to expand Laster Technologies internationally or to Asia specifically, and how?
We already have a manufacturing team in China, and the CEO, Zile Liu, is French-Chinese. I wouldn’t say it’s out of the question.
What advice do you have for new female entrepreneurs?
Image via Gavin Farrington
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. I have found that those kinds of lessons are the ones that make the most lasting, useful impressions!
Also, don’t be afraid of failure. So many of my best experiences have come out of failed attempts at something else. When I first applied to law school, I wasn’t accepted anywhere. Instead of moping, I went to live and work in France for a year, and met my now-husband. I graduated law school in 2009, when the legal industry was drastically cutting back. After sending out hundreds of resumes, I decided to follow my heart instead, and took on a job as a cheesemonger. It was physically demanding work, but it inspired me to begin writing my blog, which I keep to this day. From that, I have also gotten pretty heavily involved with the artisan cheese community in California as part of the Regulatory Affairs committee of the California Artisan Cheese Guild.
Be honest with yourself. If your mind is telling you to go one way, and you’re actually going another, it won’t be long until you find you are unhappy. Be yourself, and you’ll be happier for it.
Be persistent! If you have a dream, you just have to keep going for it! Don’t sweat it if some people reject you or your idea. Just keep moving forward. Being an entrepreneur is part of a winding, long journey. Keep the long-term vision in mind, and don’t get hung up on small stuff.
Have a mentor, or several. A lot of times, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when you’re faced with challenges and situations. Or sometimes, you just want to talk to someone else because it can be lonely at the top. Having a sounding board of trusted advisors or mentors is valuable beyond measure.
Be kind, be grateful. Kind of sounds like kindergarten lessons, but it’s true. I’ve been helped along the way by so many generous friends and colleagues. And you never know where help will come from, so be kind as much as you can!
If you could have one superhero ability, what would it be and why?
Does being able to sing like opera legend Joan Sutherland count? Because I would give anything for that!
Amongst the “traditional” superhero abilities, I’d definitely go for flight! I could visit my mom more easily that way.
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