Co-Founders Yeana Ahn and Jessica Kim on Launching CO and Achieving High-Impact Results
Please share a brief introduction about yourself and your business:
CO is a full-service brand-building and communications agency specializing in the fashion, beauty, home, and lifestyle industries. Co-founded by Yeana Ahn and Jessica Kim, CO’s engaged and intimate approach is driven by a combined 30+ years in the communications field, formed through diverse in-house and agency experiences that span luxury to commercial brand work. With a proven track record of designing effective brand growth strategies for emerging and established businesses, CO tailors its unique and high-touch programs to exceed clients’ goals, with insightful guidance through every stage of brand evolution. CO is a nimble, passionate, and collaborative agency, committed to both building up brands by achieving high-impact results within the ever-evolving media and communications landscape and to giving back for a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive tomorrow by donating a portion of revenue to worthwhile causes monthly. Yeana Ahn is an expert in developing and executing impactful, multi-platform initiatives, leveraging her high-level connections cultivated through 20 years of fashion industry experience. She’s held senior-level positions at globally-renowned companies, including Bottega Veneta and Vera Wang, and served as Vice President for a leading NYC-based communications firm for eight years. Among her successes in her agency role: launching fashion-darling labels Hayward and Claudia Li and steering the successful repositioning of Furla in the US. Jessica Kim is a fashion industry veteran with over 12 years of experience working at esteemed global brands and agencies. She began her career at the revered public relations firm KCD and held senior-level positions at Reem Acra, HL Group, and LGC as an Account Director. Within her vast client work portfolio, she’s managed editorial and celebrity communications for globally recognized labels in the luxury and contemporary markets, including David Yurman, TOMS, Athleta, and Hudson Jeans. By accessing her longstanding stylist relationships, she’s been instrumental in creating iconic red carpet and street style moments appearing on Jennifer Lopez, Taylor Swift, and Kristen Stewart.
What excites you about being an Entreprenista League member?
We enjoy all of the wonderful programming – that has been so useful!
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
We finally took the leap to start our business after we got over the mental block of uncertainty and the fear of failure. Once we gained perspective to understand that if our new endeavor didn’t work out, we really could get other jobs, we were able to move forward and felt at peace with such a big decision. We knew that already, but we really had to KNOW it.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
We both had various in house and agency positions working with some of the world’s leading brands overseeing fashion and beauty PR.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Not at all. Our parents were actually entrepreneurs but out of necessity as immigrants to the US. Growing up, we were always encouraged to have a stable, professional career such as a lawyer or doctor, but our hearts were always in fashion. To us, finding security in PR meant working for other people. This worked well for us for quite some time. However, like a well-loved coat that no longer fits, we had to make a change.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
When we first began, we networked a lot with editors, stylists, and other industry insiders we already had relationships. We also sent a lot of cold emails to brands we felt were exciting and that we could help grow and shape. Those cold emails unfortunately proved to be unsuccessful. We also focused on our Instagram feed, curating content that we believed our potential clients would be attracted to. After a slow start, we began to gain new clients through mostly referrals which were very affirming and encouraging.
What is the biggest challenge you have encountered along the way and what did you learn from it?
Like everyone else, Covid threw us for a loop. We started the business a little bit before Covid and were very optimistic. When Covid hit, uncertainty washed over the business, and no one, both we and our clients, knew what to do or how to navigate. One day, we would feel completely paralyzed and fearful that we made a terrible mistake starting something so risky, but then the next day, we would give ourselves grace because we knew the world was in the same collective boat. This is a cliche, but we learned that not only do things work out generally but also things are NEVER as bad as our minds tell us.
What is the accomplishment you are the proudest of to date?
We are proud to have taken that first step in starting our own agency. That initial leap is always the hardest. We are also proud to have a business on our terms, working with clients that are important to us, producing good work that moves the needle for them, and being intentional in giving back by donating a portion of our revenue to worthwhile causes monthly. And hearing our clients’ testimonials, and singing our praises is another proud achievement.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Yeana – I wholeheartedly believe in this! I grew up in an atmosphere where life was all about struggle, and survival. This is the mentality of many immigrants so my parents always worked. In my current life as an entrepreneur, I am privileged to be able to work in a field of my choice. I utilize the Pomodoro method of diligently working in 25 min sections with 5 min breaks. After stacking several of those blocks, I then take a longer meal break or do an errand.
What’s a piece of advice you can share that you wish you’d known when you first started your Entreprenista journey?
If a dream isn’t dying in your heart anytime soon, make that decision for yourself to do it. It’s easy to make up reasons for why you shouldn’t do something, but don’t let fear, imposter syndrome, or anything else dissuade you. On a practical level, save up for when there may be dry spells in the business, whether that’s at the beginning or another time.
What have you achieved recently that you’d like to celebrate with our community?
We were thrilled to be interviewed and featured in Rose & Ivy Journal.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
We are very proud to be AAPI-owned and led and to work with AAPI-founded brands. We want to continue to lift up BIPOC voices, especially women of color who have felt in the past that there have not been leaders who looked like them and who are making moves and changes in the fashion and beauty industries today.
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