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Name: Phuong Mai

Business: P.MAI

Location: San Francisco, California, U.S.

Industry: Apparel & Accessories

Reason for starting? As a professional woman, I wanted to feel polished yet comfortable wherever I was going — whether on my commute or out to dinner. However, I dreaded carrying my heavy tote and clunky laptop bag. The weight on one shoulder led to regrettable injuries, and my doctor advised me to change my bag. I knew a backpack would be a smarter option, but grew frustrated when I couldn’t find one that truly combined form and function. Backpacks were either too masculine, too sporty, too casual or fashionable but not appropriate for work. I knew there had to be a better solution.

I decided quit my corporate job and launch my own brand with a simple philosophy: combine luxury and utility into products that inspire women to look and feel their best. I believe women should not have to sacrifice comfort for style. That’s why we’ve designed a bag that is both fashionable and comfortable, so women don’t have to choose between the two.

Related: Read about another Apparel and Accessories entrepreneur here. 

How do you define success? I believe success is when you can use your greatest skills and talents to serve something greater than yourself. It’s about making a positive impact. At P.MAI, our motto is to “Carry on, beautifully,” which reflects today’s modern desire to live authentically and confidently in a way that benefits the world. We believe in helping women improve their health by changing how they carry themselves (and their belongings!) one backpack at a time.

Biggest success: Being a new startup, one of our proudest moments is launching on a crowdfunding platform to bring our idea to life. We were able to be 100% funded in the first 60 hours and raised 155% of our target by the end of the campaign.

What is your top challenge and how you have addressed it? For sales and marketing and scaling: While this is an area where I have experience, we have to think more creatively given our limited budget which can be challenging given our industry. I’ve been able to recruit a Wharton MBA intern for the summer, so we are tackling growth together this summer. For finance and cost management: This is more of a funding issue for us, and I’d like to find an angel funder in the future. We’re currently working on pitch materials.

Being an entrepreneur is inherently a tumultuous experience. From product development, operations, marketing, sales, fundraising — something’s always not going to go according to plan. For me, I’ve had to sacrifice the stability of living in one place, because it would be financially difficult to commit to a full-year lease. So I’ve constantly travelled and moved from couch to friend’s apartment to family home to sublets to optimize the flexibility in rent. The constant movement can be exhausting, but you do what you need to survive.

Related: Secrets of Growth: How Do I Develop My Product?

Who is your most important role model? My mother is my most important role model. When I’m feeling overwhelmed with work, I think about the sacrifices and courage she had to flee her country as a refugee in hopes of building a brighter future. I owe everything I have and all I’ve become to her.


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Edited by The Story Exchange