Hello SOTGC community,
Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to Shauna Mei, the Founder of AHAlife. I first became aware of Shauna and AHAlife through a book I just read called Stiletto Network. Shauna’s story was the first one featured in the book, and I took one look at the title of the chapter “The Tiger Entrepreneur” and I thought: “I am going to LIKE this lady!” And her story didn’t disappoint.
From arriving in the United States at 7 years old, alone, and with a hole in her heart (literally) Shauna entered this world a “survivor,” and has gone through it like a conqueror.
She graduate MIT with an Electrical Engineering/Computer Science degree concentrating in Artificial Intelligence, went on to quickly rise in the ranks at Goldman Sachs doing investment banking and private equity, co-found the Aronsson Group, an advisory and investment firm in the luxury industry, went on to serve as COO of Casall, a Swedish designed wellness and active wear company, and then decided to combine all her passions…to create AHAlife. AHAlife the ultimate discovery destination, connecting the best the world has to offer to the most discerning individuals from around the globe.
During the phone call with Shauna I noticed two things: she doesn’t mince words and she chooses the ones she uses very carefully. She also warms up considerably as soon as you get her talking about her journey into becoming more socially and environmentally conscious and this passion has translated itself into the mission and integrity of AHAlife. I hope you enjoy this remarkable story that led to the creation of Ahalife, as well as appreciate the consciousness which she chooses each product and artisan that is featured in it.
Me: During your time at Goldman Sachs did you just KNOW you weren’t meant for a corporate lifestyle? It seems like your position with the Aronsson Group and then with Casall allowed you to spread your entrepreneurial wings more…but at what point in your life did you just KNOW you needed to create and implement your own vision?
Shauna: I think it was ingrained in me as a child. When my family decided to make the move from China to the United States, the decision was literally made in 24 hours. My parents said to me, “we’re moving to the United States. Do you want to come?” My family has always made decisions and immediately moved on them so I guess you could say I grew up in a “take great risks for great reward” type of family. I was also ALWAYS coming up with business ideas. Starting at Goldman Sachs was an incredible introduction to working smart and hard, and I also LOVED the company culture. That being said, I went into my job there with the idea that I would be looking for the right opportunity and time to leave. When I met Jeffry Aronsson it was while I worked at Goldman. I got to know the luxury retail market through him and during that time I started to see how inefficient it was. What I love about that industry is it allows me to use both my creative as well as my engineering and business side. I like to call it the perfect balance between art and science. When Jeffry left Donna Karan to start his own company I went with him. I was 23 and I think when you’re that age you tend to take more risks than you would later on in life…I saw it as a huge opportunity, I jumped in head first, and never looked back.
Me: The mission of AHAlife stems from your belief in carefully creating a lifestyle of conscious consumption and living life to the fullest. What event(s) led to your “AHA Moment” which inspired this company? Also, what are some things you’d suggest people could change or add that to their lifestyle that that would help them live a more socially/environmentally conscious consumer?
Shauna: The start of my own “AHA Moment” came when the economy crashed and I made the decision to move to Sweden (literally decided overnight to go) and work for Casall. While working at Goldman and then Aronsson I lived in a fabulous 2 bedroom flat in the West Village. I had so many possessions that when I moved to Sweden I shipped a crate and a half over…and displaced a family of 3 when I moved into my apartment there. However, I soon came to realize that I was living a wasteful existence in the quantity of products I purchased and in the fact that I knew NOTHING about the companies that I purchased from. While I lived in Sweden I completely adopted the lifestyle of eating healthy, understanding where products come from and the mission and beliefs of the companies that sold the products I bought. Casall epitomized this lifestyle. They had very strong values and a culture of paying it forward and living by the mantra: “Lagom” which means “just enough.”
That’s when I realized I wanted to create a brand that would bring these values to the American consumer. When I moved back to New York I got rid of everything that came from a company I didn’t know a lot about, and started AHAlife. We recently started the Artisan Project, which shows videos of the process of creating the product as well as the passion and the detail that goes into each piece. It’s like a “retail documentary” where instead of just seeing a beautiful finished product, you’re granted entrée into the conception and creation of it.
So I’d say if you want to start leading an AHAlife of consumer consciousness: find out about the companies you buy from, and learn about the process of making the product. If the company has value and gives back socially and environmentally, it’s worth the extra cost than a brand that just stands for high volume and cheap production.
Me: If you were to write a theme song for AHAlife, what would the title be who would sing it?
Shauna: The singer would be John Lennon (if he was still with us). I LOVE the beetles and the song “Imagine” was so touching it made me cry. I feel it completely captures the feeling of hoping to make the world a better place. I guess the title would be: Living A Conscious And Inspired Life
Me: What is the one piece of advice you would give a woman who struggles with the “how can I have it all” question?
Shauna: Lately I’ve been recommending “The Power of Myth” by Joseph Campbell, I think every college graduate should read it. It’s about creating internal happiness and once you truly understand what makes YOU specifically internally happy, then you will be able to “have it all.”
Well thank you again Shauna. For the inspiration, for blazing the way for corporettes who dream of making that huge leap of faith to pursue their dreams of creating their own company, and for allowing me to stalk you on Twitter for this interview.
Photo credit: thenextweb.com
Main Photo credit: www.zimbio.com