How many entrepreneurs have origin stories about starting a business in their basement or out of their garage? Entrepreneur and toddler mom, Youn Chang was also launching her business from home earlier this year … amidst a pandemic. But she decided to look at it as an opportunity—a more level playing field between big and small businesses—because everyone was trying to do it all from home.
Chang parlayed her experience and connections from working at Glossier and Apple to debut OJOOK oral care earlier this year. And even though the pandemic pushed her launch back by a few months, she still found opportunities in the positives. “Self-care and mindfulness practices got a boost because people were spending a lot of time at home dealing with lots of uncertainty and stress,” she said.
Launching a business during the pandemic as she and her husband work from home alongside their toddler (with a little help from her mother-in-law—and even her daughter’s 93-year-old great-grandfather) has proven to be both stressful and rewarding. Read on to learn more about her path to entrepreneurship and how she aligned her company’s mission with her heritage and her daughter’s future.
Name: Youn Chang, Founder and CEO of OJOOK
Current Location: Jersey City, NJ
Education: MBA from University of Pennsylvania
Kids: Jojo, 2
You just founded your own company after previously working at Glossier and Apple. How did you get to this point in your career and what inspired you to start your own business?
I am definitely here thanks to a series of crazy luck, but also because I know what I like and try to act upon my passion. My career was not a straight line but rather a great detour. As someone who seriously considered pursuing a fine arts path in high school, I ended up getting a business degree and a finance job after college. While I felt lost in a finance career that was so far from tinkering with physical products, I kept trying to learn as much as I could but also to course correct my way back to creative and high aesthetic consumer goods, which I helped create at Apple and Glossier.
I really enjoyed my time at Apple and Glossier, but I knew my end game was not to remain as an Operations executive. When my daughter was born, I felt weirdly ready to plunge into something I could put all my creative energy into, so I could pass down my Korean heritage to my daughter and make her proud.
Tell us about OJOOK! What inspired you to start an oral care line?
OJOOK’s mission is to extend the life of our bodies and planet by transforming quotidian routines into sacred rituals. Pregnancy and giving birth to my daughter made me realize that I, indeed, have a finite life, and I really wanted to make the best out of that precious time. So, I wanted to launch a brand that helps people achieve longevity in our health without harming our planet.
Pregnancy and giving birth to my daughter made me realize that I, indeed, have a finite life, and I really wanted to make the best out of that precious time.
In Korea, the mouth is a symbol of life, and having a full set of natural teeth in old age (in your 80s and 90s) is one of the secrets of a happy and long life. So, I landed with oral care. All pieces of the puzzle fit perfectly—oral care was close enough to leverage my manufacturing knowledge and network, and I was making Eastern wellness more approachable through clean and sustainable products.
What makes your product extra special?
We created the first brand to transform oral care into a lifestyle: a mindful, self-care ritual infused with Eastern wellness principles. In Asia, wellness is believed to stem from a series of sustained, healthy habits rather than a quick-fix solution.
Our toothpaste uses 30-50 percent fewer ingredients than the industry average (only 12 ingredients and water). And we don’t compromise between efficacy and sustainability. We believe that the longevity of our bodies is tied to the longevity of our environment. The products have zero single-use plastic and packaging is 100 percent recyclable or compostable.
What challenges did you face founding a new company in the middle of a global pandemic?
We had to push out our launch by 2-3 months because of production delays caused by factory shutdowns back in March and April in Korea, but in terms of brand storytelling, we tried to look at the silver lining. With the pandemic, self-care is the next horizon, and we noticed a much higher demand for personal hygiene products with proven efficacy. In addition to that, mindfulness practices also got a boost, because people were spending a lot of time at home dealing with lots of uncertainty and stress. OJOOK’s main tagline “routine to ritual” really speaks to the emotional benefit that everyone needs right now.
Of course, not being able to do big and loud offline activations due to the pandemic is definitely limiting. But in a way, this leveled the playing field. Big or small companies, existing brands, or new brands alike, everyone has to launch digitally from home. Again, I see this as an opportunity for small start-ups with limited resources. We didn’t have to worry about other brands spending a lot of money to throw a lavish launch party or flying A-listers around the world while we couldn’t.
Tell us about your role at OJOOK as Founder and CEO. What does your typical workday look like right now?
I work unusual hours because I am a Founder and CEO, and also a full-time mom living in the pandemic. Right now, my typical workday looks like this:
10am to 4pm: My mother-in-law helps with childcare
8pm to well-past midnight: After my daughter’s bedtime, I catch up on what I missed in the afternoon and work with Korea (my 8pm is their 9am)
It can be mentally and physically exhausting to consistently work late hours, but I love that I have flexibility during the day to spend a little more time with my daughter. I am having a lot of fun with my work baby OJOOK, being creative, and being able to educate Korean wellness culture to the world.
You’re also a mom to an energetic toddler! Tell us about working from home with a toddler during the pandemic.
Jojo just turned 2 in September. Like other kids her age, she’s spent about a quarter of her life in the pandemic and counting. It’s a blessing that my daughter formed strong bonds with me, but it’s also a bit of a problem that she wants to do everything with me and only me while working from home.
It can be mentally and physically exhausting to consistently work late hours, but I love that I have flexibility during the day to spend a little more time with my daughter.
It doesn’t help that my husband is a management consultant without much flexibility in his schedule around client meetings. Since I am an entrepreneur, everyone seems to look to me to compromise and be flexible. I often feel unappreciated and angry. I want to tell anyone who is struggling with the same problem: I appreciate you, it sucks and it’s OK to feel terrible. You are doing so much. The pandemic is pushing beyond everyone’s limit, and it’s a very human response to be extremely stressed out.
On the other hand, the pandemic made our family a lot closer. I lived with my mother-in-law for almost six months, including two months with my 93-year-old grandfather-in-law (Jojo’s great grandfather!). Spending so much time with them as adult-children and seeing them also being deeply human has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will be imprinted forever in Jojo’s and our lives alike.
A new company and a toddler during a pandemic is a lot—how are you handling it all?!
I confess it’s not always going well! I really feel I could use some quiet me-time even if it’s just half a day. My husband and I definitely struggle to feel any sense of control with working, parenting, and being a loving partner to each other during this unprecedented time.
My husband and I definitely struggle to feel any sense of control with working, parenting, and being a loving partner to each other during this unprecedented time.
I am constantly trying to have compassion and empathy for myself and my family members. I literally put a piece of paper saying “compassion” on my bathroom mirror to remind myself of this intention during my morning and evening oral care ritual. I am still learning that the team spirit is the key and not trying to be exact and transactional when it comes to the family.
I have been writing a very short gratitude journal since my daughter’s birth. Recently, it has been reminding me how extremely fortunate I am to be healthy, able to work from home—working at all actually—and cherish our fast-growing toddler daughter every day.
What tips do you have for other moms who want to start their own business?
Similar to deciding when to have a baby, there is never the best time to start a business but just do it and figure it out. My tip for fellow mama-entrepreneurs is to try to align the company’s mission and purpose to something that our children’s generation can benefit from.
My tip for fellow mama-entrepreneurs is to try to align the company’s mission and purpose to something that our children’s generation can benefit from … That way you don’t have to ‘choose’ or ‘juggle’ between work and life but ‘marry’ the two.
In my case, being an entrepreneur was my attempt to be a strong female role model to Jojo, and OJOOK’s mission to be eco-friendly and promote wellness was my attempt to contribute to the future generation. That way I didn’t have to “choose” or “juggle” between work and life but “marry” the two. It simplified many things for me: my value system and how I prioritize things.
Can you share with us a few mom hacks you find helpful in your daily life?
I always have the baby’s socks and hat handy in the diaper bag—the best way to regulate body temperature. In Asia, we believe it’s the secret to keeping the baby away from cold and miscellaneous sickness. I also think the warmth makes the baby sleepier which is always nice. Another one is that I almost never use soap to bathe Jojo. Just using water can prevent so many skin issues.
Youn Chang Is The Everymom…
Best mom advice you’ve ever received? “Be nice to your own mother”—from my own mother
Go-to coffee order? I am a tea drinker—matcha in the morning and Pu’er tea in the evening. I do appreciate a weekend cappuccino for a treat with full-fat milk, a half packet of brown sugar, and cinnamon powder on top.
Favorite stay-at-home date night activity? We do a Scotch night without any electronics around.
Most embarrassing mom moment? Pre-COVID, I took my daughter to Korea twice. On the flight to Korea, Jojo would not sleep because of all the small blinking lights on the plane. So on the flight back to NY, I bought duct tape and covered our entire seat with blankets to make our own DIY blackout curtains. It looked crazy, but Jojo slept really well. Gotta do what you gotta do.