Meet a Woman Who Quit Her Corporate Job to Start Her Own Business

Updated 11/12/18

You spent your 20s working toward building your dream career, but now that you’re in your 30s, what do you do when you’ve, well, changed your mind? Or maybe you never quite figured it out, and you’re now ready to commit to something you’re passionate about, whether it’s a job, a city, or just a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we’re debuting a new series, Second Life. Each week, we’ll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.

Jellaine Dee
Courtesy of Jellaine Dee

Founder of her own beauty and cosmetics company, Jellaine Dee is brimming with an undeniable entrepreneurial spirit. "I like to call the shots and trust my instincts when it comes to creating products I know will sell," she tells MyDomaine. As much as Dee enjoys leading a team and creating her own products, she wasn't always in charge. In fact, she began her career in advertising at a major agency, and while she admits she gained valuable experience from this time in her life, she wasn't as inspired by her projects.

"I wanted to work on my own logos, campaigns, and initiatives and build my own brand, not someone else's," she says. It was this desire that led her to create Cherry Blooms, where she could call the shots, and focus on what she cared about, which turned out to be beauty and cosmetics products. Testing products at weekend markets, Dee soon began making more money on her side hustle than from her full-time job. The business really took off when she discovered an eyelash-entending mascara at a Korean beauty store and made a deal with the manufacturer to obtain the rights to sells the product to the Western market.

"I go all out and make it happen," she explains. It's clear that her entrepreneurial sensibilities have catapulted her toward her goals and her willingness to unapologetically go after what she wants has been a large part of her success. Ahead, Dee shares how she made the leap from selling beauty products on the weekends to turning her passion into a thriving business. Keep reading to hear her story.

Tell us about your first career path

I started my career in advertising at a top agency that was hard to get into. Luckily, I made my cover letter stand out by making it look like the front of a Cosmopolitan magazine and put myself on the cover with headlines about what I had to offer. The director of the ad agency called me immediately after receiving the hard copy of my cover letter and résumé. He said it showed creativity, boldness, and proactiveness, which is what you needed in that industry.

I started as an account coordinator, helping execute ad campaigns on TV, radio, print, and outdoor. I worked on some of the biggest and most dynamic accounts with million-dollar budgets. I got to experience a lot of exciting projects and saw ideas in boardrooms become TV commercials and billboards. I was thrown into the deep end and eventually promoted early on to manage my own ad campaigns and budgets.

How did you make the transition from your last career path to launching Cherry Blooms?

My first product to market was actually an interchangeable shoe accessory that would clip on to any shoe. I created prototypes using a glue gun and random accessories that I found in local craft stores. My peers noticed the clips when I wore them on my shoes and loved the idea, so I decided to reach out to international shoe manufacturers to produce an official prototype. Surprisingly, no one was selling this in the market at the time so it was challenging to get manufacturers to create something that didn’t exist.

During a holiday trip, I came across a famous shoe-making village in the Philippines. I began knocking on doors until I found a factory that was able to develop the prototype that I needed.

I began selling the clips at weekend market stalls in Brisbane and eventually did wholesale trade shows in the gift and fashion industry. This is also around the time when I decided to quit my corporate job and become a full-time entrepreneur. It wasn’t until I launched my other style and beauty products that Cherry Blooms, which also started at a weekend market stall, became successful with the global scale we have now.

Tell us about your current career path/business

I began developing a beauty organizer, which did very well and eventually led me to quit my corporate job to focus on my business full-time. I gathered every penny to exhibit at a trade show and came back with $10,000 worth of wholesale orders. It gave me the confidence I needed to continue pursuing my passion.

When the global financial crisis hit, the wholesalers couldn’t pay for their orders. I turned my attention to the beauty industry, which was “recession-proof.” One day, I discovered eyelash-extending mascara at a Korean beauty store as I was hunting for a better way to get longer lashes without the fuss of extensions. I immediately became obsessed and tracked down the manufacturer in Korea. I then struck a bold deal to obtain the rights to sell the product to the Western market with my formulation tweaks.

I was first to market in Australia and USA for fiber lash mascara and pioneered a new category of lash extensions.

The fiber lash really took off in 2013 when I went to a trade show in Las Vegas with my then 6-month-old baby and 13 suitcases of stock. After the show, we had full distribution in the U.S. and Canada across every state and soon after department stores like Nordstrom. This was the very beginning of Cherry Blooms becoming a global multimillion-dollar brand, and the rest is history!

What have been the biggest challenges in your many careers and why?

I started to lose the passion for working on projects that didn’t inspire me creatively. I wanted to work on products I liked and cared about, and I found it difficult to pour hours of time on projects that didn’t excite me. I wanted to work on my own logos, campaigns, and initiatives and build my own brand, not someone else’s. I also craved freedom from the rigid constraints of the corporate world. I was born to be an entrepreneur burning the midnight oil, taking risks, and setting my own ideas into motion.

I hated early mornings, traffic, office politics, and feeling uninspired.

What triggered your need to change this time around?

From advertising, I moved to PR thinking it would be more exciting for me and bring back the passion I wanted to experience in my career. In the end, it didn’t work. I started blooming with my own ideas of products I wish existed, hence the name Cherry Blooms. (My birth name is Cherry, and I was blooming with ideas and as a person by not settling in life.)

I tested my products at weekend market stalls and got a great response, and sometimes I would sell out. It gave me the confidence to turn my hobby into a real business. Things accelerated for me when I was making more money in the markets than my full-time job. I received large orders for my products for boutiques.

However, the company I was working for wanted to promote me, and I didn’t want them to waste resources on my professional development when I knew I wasn’t going to stay long-term. In the end, I gave my notice and got the blessing of my bosses and colleagues who wished me well. To this day, they never expected I would build Cherry Blooms to what it is.

Why is your current path suitable for your personality?

I like to call the shots and trust my instincts when it comes to creating products I know will sell. I enjoy the freedom to plan my days how I see fit, and when I’m passionate about something, I go all out and make it happen. I don’t take no for an answer, and usually, I get what I go after. I am very determined and persistent when I believe in something. I’m a very passionate person and like to live full-out. I’m also a risk taker and am rarely in my comfort zone.

What's the most important thing you have learned in making a big change in your career?

Work hard! Be a real team player: Learn the business and volunteer to get involved as much as you can. I learned a lot of my relationship management, time management, and communication skills by modeling after my former bosses. It all starts with confidence, having common sense, having superior organizational skills, and being neutral in work politics. Once you are perceived as a reliable key team player that is good with colleagues and fun to work with, you will stand out from the crowd no matter what.

How did you move past the fear of change to pursue your passion?

If your peers urge you to turn your passion into a tangible business, it’s entirely up to you to ensure it makes sense commercially (and financially). It’s all well and good to follow your passion, but you need to make sure that you’re not just ‘interested’ in this hobby, but are obsessed with it. Otherwise, it will just be a hobby and when things get tough (and they will), you probably won’t stick it out.

The way to know if it’s your passion or a hobby is to ask yourself: Are you going out of your way to pursue your passion with your current job and family? Are you working through the nights and on the weekends? Are you constantly researching and absorbing everything about this passion? Does time fly by when you’re pursuing this commitment and it doesn’t feel like real work?

What are some mistakes you made along the way that ended up helping your success?

I learned to avoid these big business mistakes, which are unfortunately very common:

Hiring the wrong people. Don’t just hire people for the sake of filling the position. Be picky about who you put on your team and never rush it.

Relying on one revenue source or one large customer. Things change, and it’s always good to have a backup plan to a backup plan. You want to be in control, not in the mercy of external influences.

Letting perfectionism get in the way of progress. People get cold feet on starting their business because they simply don’t feel ready. Just get started. You can always tweak and improve things along the way.

What do you love most about your current role and why?

I love that I have the ability to design products that will help women with their everyday beauty and style battles. I have always been a problem solver and I like to harness my creativity with my problem-solving skills. I also have a lot of energy and self-belief to make things happen and thrive from the challenge of accomplishing things that seem out of reach. I also love traveling, designing, shopping, testing beauty products, scouting trends, media watching, and meeting new people. My role as a founder and creative director allows me to do all those things as it’s part of my job.

When you look back and reflect on your previous career do you have any regret? Or are you still really happy with your decision?

I’m absolutely grateful for my experience in being able to work in the corporate world as I gained valuable experience in being able to run my company now. I picked up some great communication and time management skills, understanding of systems and processes, relationship management, and appreciation for design, PR, and account management. I had some great bosses I modeled after and don’t believe I would have been able to cope with running a company at the pace I have if I didn’t have those inherent skills I picked up along the way.

Anything else you'd like to add?

When things get hectic, I make sure to find personal time to do things that don’t involve the stresses of running a business. Catch up with your loved ones; take time for hobbies like painting, rock climbing, and writing; pamper yourself and catch up on your favorite shows. You have to realize that life is just life! It’s inevitable that things will happen to throw off your work/life balance, so make sure to have fun throughout the process.

For more inspiring stories from successful women who've made major career changes, tune into MyDomaine's Second Life podcast.

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