Millions of Pinterest subscribers strong, Joy Cho is reshaping her mega success in lifestyle branding and blogging.
Q&A with Joy Cho
If you know Joy Cho—and 15 million Pinterest users do—you’re well aware she’s been on the scene for a couple of minutes now. Cho launched her Oh Joy! brand in 2005, and while 17 years is but a blip in the big scheme of things, in the warp-speed world of social media, that makes her something of a Grand Dame of the Digerati.
And whether or not you followed her career arc, she’s known for her confectionery-colored lifestyle-and-design blog. Her brand extends into books; home décor, and kids and pet products. She’s licensed the look and lifestyle to Target, Keds and Petco. Plus she has honors, such as being named to Time’s 30 Most Influential People on the Internet—multiple times.
But even diehard fans might not consciously pick up on the many pivots, changes and challenges Cho has navigated in nearly two decades in business—“transitions,” as she prefers to call them. Whether you’re a novice or not, there’s plenty to learn from her trail-blazing experience.
The247: Let’s start with some background about you and Oh Joy!
Joy Cho: Sure! I grew up a creative kid of immigrant parents from Thailand, and I didn’t think I’d have a career in art or design because culturally, that’s just not what you do. A successful career is being a doctor or lawyer. As I got older and my parents assimilated, I convinced them to let me go to art school. I majored in communication-design, which is graphic design, at Syracuse University. I started work with a small New York City design firm, which had a focus on fashion and did all the branding for Fashion Week. I transitioned to my second job with Cynthia Rowley, one of the first designers to have a line at Target, and moved into more textile and surface-pattern design to create bedding and pillows and pajamas.
After five years in NYC, I moved back to my hometown of Philadelphia to be with my fiancé, and doing freelance work when a friend suggested I try blogging. I had always been into clipping inspirational stuff from magazines and putting it into sketchbooks, so a blog was a natural extension of that. Somehow, people started to read it. This was the olden days of social media, and I never thought, “this could be a job.”
In 2011, I had my first daughter, and that’s when I decided to focus solely on my own brand, on my social media content and product-licensing work. I loved the idea of being able to design a lot of things but without having to invest in manufacturing and inventory. And up to today, that has been the focus of the business.
At what point did you realize you needed to staff up?
In the early years, when we were very much a daily editorial site, I started with interns and then a handful of freelancers and contributors. But when we were getting ready to sign this big Target contract, I realized: I need help! That’s when I left my at-home office and started an outside studio. In 2013, I grew from one to two and then three part-timers to eventually three full-time employees. As we expanded into more licensing and more content, at the largest we were at seven full time people, including myself.
As a creator, did you enjoy the business aspect of what was now a sizable operation?
I did enjoy it. I never went to business school. I learned so much along the way through a combination of reading books and talking to people. To have a community you can access is crucial. Probably 75% of my friends are business owners. That helped me a ton, not only to grow my business but to transition into motherhood while having a business. That, to me is priceless.
However, as I was growing the business, I found I was giving away the fun stuff to everybody else. We were launching 12 product lines a year. We were doing all these amazing things, but I was not being creatively fulfilled. I also was not around for my kids as much as I wanted to be. I had hired really good people, but I was managing the overall business. We weren’t quite big enough to have a COO or CEO, so I was sort of all the C-level people. We reached a transitionary point where I either had to seek outside investment and grow to that level, or I had to scale back and simplify. I chose the second.
Was downsizing a difficult decision?
That term has a lot of negative connotations. I prefer “rightsizing.” But yes, it was very sad and emotional. The timing was crazy. I was able to get everyone transitioned—it’s just me and one other person now—and one month later, the pandemic was officially in full force. Had I not made that decision at that point, I would’ve had to make changes during the pandemic. So, in some ways, it was sort of a blessing that we all got to have our transitions before things got worse.
"Around the time of this transition, I was moving to a new house that I had spent several years building. So the blog naturally shifted to be a little bit more personal again, to be about the journey of building a house from scratch."
How has rightsizing affected the way you do business?
It has been bumpy figuring out the changes in the business as well as the pandemic, but it’s working. I have been able to have my personal life and be available for my family but still have a full-time job and a business that is doing well.
It sounds like even with the challenges, you’re comfortable with change.
Editorially over the course of the blog there have been shifts every few years. I see the evolution of my business as seasons. It can perplex people that I would grow it and then scale it back, but to me it’s a season. I feel very content as it is right now. Because I have fewer people on my payroll, I don’t have to say ‘yes’ to quite as many things, so that does bring the quantity of work down, but the quality of the work is still great.
Los Angeles-based Oh Joy! founder and creative director, Joy Cho is about to release her seventh book, A Kids Book About Confidence, and has consulted for hundreds of creative businesses around the world. She’s given keynote speeches on entrepreneurship, leadership, and business at many conferences and companies. Oh Joy! Is a lifestyle brand and design company that includes various licensed product lines and daily editorial content with a focus on design, fashion, food, and joyful moments from everyday life.
By Steve Root