Peggy Li has been making jewelry for over twenty years. Her pieces have been featured in dozens of movies and TV shows, from Buffy The Vampire Slayer to Pretty Little Liars and worn by stars like Jennifer Lopez and Emma Stone. Initially it took courage to leave her full-time day job, and for a number of years Li’s business Peggy Li Creations was just a side hustle. But today the San Francisco, California-based entrepreneur says making her side hustle her full-time gig is one of her biggest successes. Li is content with how she has worked to grow and scale her company in a way that feels organic to her, to let go of comparison syndrome and to do it at her own pace.
Li’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
My parents met in the United States and were typical immigrant parents – they hoped their children would be doctors or scientists (like they were). I studied science at UC Berkeley but I had always been interested in arts and crafts growing up. Even so, I never imagined I would own and run a successful jewelry business as my career! In fact, I moved to Los Angeles after college to pursue screenwriting. It was while living there and working as a writer that I met the costume designer for the TV show Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. I was also making jewelry at the time for myself and my friends and I thought, “I should send some pieces into the show.” I did, and the rest, as they say, is history! It was the early days of the internet, and I was still working full-time, so I got my business online and had it as a ‘side hustle’ for many many years. It really was a labor of love, and I had to learn about e-commerce and business along the way.
How do you define success?
To me, success is to keep learning, growing and having curiosity about life. If you focus on those things, the rest will follow. I’ve never been afraid to pursue things that interest me, but I also arm myself with research and knowledge.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
I feel that my biggest success is that I was able to leave my full-time job to run my jewelry business full-time. It was scary and was against my perceptions of what a “real job” meant, but I was able to overcome that programming and pursue something purely because I wanted to. But I had also laid the groundwork to do so, I just had to trust my own work.
Seeing my jewelry designs on TV shows and my favorite actresses has also been amazing! Some of my favorites have been jewelry worn by actresses Emma Stone and Jennifer Lopez and on TV shows like Scandal, Pretty Little Liars, Arrow and Riverdale.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
I’ve always grown my business organically so scaling up and having a definite strategy has been a challenge. Over the many years of my business, however, I think I have come to more of an understanding that the business is the size I want the business to be. I have to work to push expectations and comparison syndrome aside.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
Both of my parents fell ill around the same time and that created a pause in my business. It really highlighted to me that as a solo business owner, it really depends on me to keep things afloat. At the same time, I was grateful to have all the flexibility of running my own business to be able to care for my parents.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
I always tell people to just get started! Work for the joy of the work, work to learn the process. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. The path to success (and the definition of success) is different for everyone – set short term as well as long term goals.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I play with my stones and materials to find inspiration! Beautiful gemstones never get old.
Who is your most important role model?
My parents are my most important role models. They sacrificed so much to come to this country and build a better life for themselves and their families. They were brilliant but perhaps didn’t get to express themselves fully. I’m mindful that I am so very very lucky that I get the chances they did not. ◼
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