Career & Finance

How Joy Cho Turned Her Blog Into a Colorful Empire

From designer to blogger and product creator to her newest role as teacher, Joy Cho and her site Oh Joy! have turned into a massive creative brand. We’ve used her fun Target decorations at our parties and want her beautiful, bright Calpak suitcases to take on our next vacation!

Joy’s the queen of collaborations and an all-around badass businesswoman who has carefully grown her business and now wants to help other’s grow theirs! We chatted with Joy about her tips on hiring the right people, what it takes to grow a great team, how to pitch collaborations, and what skills as a business owner have helped her the most as a mom of two.

Name: Joy Cho, Founder and Creative Director, Oh Joy!
Age: 39
Location: Los Angeles
Education: BFA, Syracuse University, Communication Design
Children (names and ages): Ruby, 7 and Coco, 4

What was your first professional job and how did you land it?

I went to school for graphic design. I left college with a decent sense of what I wanted to do – knowing that I wanted to be a graphic designer. I’d done internships while in college at record labels and magazines, and after those experiences decided I wanted to work at a smaller design firm. I started my career at a small ad agency in New York City. They had a ton of fashion clients, including New York Fashion week. It was a fun way to start my career living there, being surrounded by all these amazing fashion brands and getting to go to fashion week! As a 21-year old it was such a huge deal! From there I transitioned into working for Cynthia Rowley, who was one of the first designers at Target. Then I left New York, my boyfriend (now husband) was starting a residency in Philadelphia, so I moved back with him and began freelancing, and I started a blog. That blog was a freelance design business called Oh Joy! and also a blog called Oh Joy! People began discovering my blog and it became a marketing tool for my work as a graphic designer. Companies that were launching or needed new design work were hiring me to do that, it was a great way for me to combine the things from my previous jobs that I loved the most – I loved designing patterns and creating products and designing logos and packaging. Oh Joy! started as a design company and the blog was really the companion piece to it. It wasn’t until 2011, when my first daughter was born and I went on maternity leave that I transitioned Oh Joy from being a client facing business to focusing on my own stuff – by then Oh Joy! had become well known in the blog world and social media was becoming a thing, and a blog as a job was becoming a thing.

You, your team, and your company have grown so much over the last several years. Can you tell us about your career journey since starting Oh Joy!?

We’ve really evolved along with social media. When we started there was Twitter, but not much else – a lot of opportunities came our way through opportunities that social media presented. For example, when Pinterest came along we got on there really early, and I used it as a tool before it became public, as part of the beta group. Now we’re the most followed account on Pinterest! And Instagram, I joined it a little bit late, but that’s been so big for us. I joined a ton of apps in the early days that haven’t turned into anything, but you never know. I join and focus on the ones that make sense and work with our content. We exist really well on the visual app sites like Instagram and Pinterest. But I think it’s really important to be flexible and ready for change, because these platforms are always changing.

Can you describe a typical – or since there’s probably no typical day – just a day in your life?

I get up and wake up my oldest child, get her breakfast and get her ready for school. I typically drop off one or both kids. I’m out of the house by 7am. I get to work at 8:30am, our work hours are 8:30-4:30pm during the week. 8:30-10am I’m catching up on emails. Throughout the day my team is checking in with me, asking for feedback, I’m meeting with them. I have phone calls, and meetings with partners or potential brands we’re talking to, or interviews or podcasts. Pretty much all day it’s a mix of all those things! Calls, meetings, working with my team. We take a lunch break together from 12-1pm, it’s become a part of our company culture and allows us to all catch up together as a team. I head out at around 4:30pm to get home to my kids and make dinner. After my kids go to bed at 7pm I usually work for another few hours.

What is one of your favorite things to make for dinner?

I make a lot of stir-fries, it’s good, it’s easy. They’re a good way to get in a lot of vegetables for the kids.

You’re one of the first big Asian woman bloggers, has your Asian culture/background had any impact on your career and company?

I’m a first generation Asian-American, my parents are from Thailand. I know that my parents influenced me in terms of being a business owner, they were both business owners. I saw them work so hard it actually made me not want to own a business at first, so I went the opposite direction for a while. However, you’re so inspired by the people you’re raised by without even realizing it. I realize in hindsight I learned so much from my parents about how to work hard and create something from nothing, and to figure things out on my own. I learned resourcefulness – when people come here from another country they are so appreciative of every opportunity and so I just try to never take anything for granted.

Can you tell us a little about your team in the beginning of Oh Joy! and what it looks like now?

I started Oh Joy! in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2013 that I hired my first employee. I started out working with interns and with freelancers. As Oh Joy! the site evolved I had four freelancers and we were posting three times a day. By the time I had my first daughter, and I began writing about being a parent and being more personal, it felt weird to have freelancers. So I went back to just me writing it, and went down to one post a day rather than three. Around 2013, I was negotiating my first line with Target and I had my third book in the works, that became the year to take the risk. I got an office and hired my first two employees. My very first employee was an admin assistant who I hired part time. Then I needed a part time crafting assisting. Later that year, I needed a designer, since I needed help with the designs for Target. Within the next two years my three part time employees became full time. We moved very slowly and organically. In the last few years I have added a crafting assistant – my first crafting assistant evolved into more of a styling and content creator role. I hired a social media coordinator a couple years ago. And last year we launched an e-commerce shop so I hired someone to work on that.

How do you decide when a new position is needed?

From the beginning I have been very specific about the people I need and who I am looking for. A lot of people are looking for another version of themselves, a generalist that can do all the things. That usually works okay if you just need one employee, but the problem comes in when you’re growing beyond that. When you’re growing I recommend hiring people with specialized skill sets, which is what I did from the very beginning. I focused on what I needed help with, what I wasn’t good at, and things I didn’t enjoy doing, and hired for help with those things. And then there will be a time where your business grows, and there are things that you’re good at, but that you just don’t have the capacity for. For instance, I think I’m pretty good at designing, but started needing more help to keep up with everything and so hired someone I thought was even better than me. This made me feel good about giving up a part of that work and trusting someone to go full force with it.

Where do you find your employees?

I have done a mix but have mostly done it through social media. Now when I’m looking for somebody I pretty much only use Instagram stories, especially if it’s a job where I think you should know the brand. From there I have a very particular interview process, which I cover in my ‘How to Grow a Dream Team’ course that I just released. I’m super passionate about helping people with the process of building a team, because I know it’s hard and intimidating. But I also think I’ve learned a lot in the process of doing it, doing it in a way that’s really worked out, both for me and my company, and also for my team and their work life. I believe the way you interview people needs to be very clear and specific. And think it’s important you convey the good stuff, but also the not-so-fun stuff. A lot of smaller creative companies emphasize the fun stuff because that’s what they think they need to draw in a good hire, and maybe can’t pay as much, but you need to also talk about the less glamorous parts so that you find people who are going to be happy in the job and who are really going to be able to last.

When did Oh Joy! get its first studio space? Have you moved since your first one?

Around the time I got my first studio, I had a two-year old. I was working from home, and I had childcare for her, but it got to the point where she was old enough to understand where my office was and was distracting for me. It was hard because you want to close the door and concentrate, but you can also hear your child in the other room. It got to be emotionally harder, and it was also time for me to hire my first employees. We needed room to craft and more than just a computer and a desk. We were at our first space for almost two and a half years and had about four employees there. And then it got to the point where we were doing a lot more home décor and content and it became harder to shoot that all in a small space. We also started having more people come in for meetings and it was hard to separate the messiness when we were crafting and creating content. We moved about two years ago into a space two to three times bigger. It’s nice and open and airy, but there is more division which makes it nice and easier to keep some things separated.

You do SO many fun collaborations! What have been some of your recent favorites?

So many! We were at Target exclusively for three years – and it was so great! This was the first huge one where people really took notice! That was a highlight of my career for sure. We also had a four-year collaboration with Johnson & Johnson for Oh Joy! band aids. That was so fun, because it was so usable and functional. Last year we launched our Oh Joy! for Calpak collection which is a luggage collection, and that’s super fun! When you see it in the airport or train station it’s so exciting, and you never get your luggage mixed up with anyone else’s!

When do you decide to do a collaboration? Does the company approach you, or do you approach the company?

I do the majority of the pitching for collaborations. I’d say 80% of the collaborations we do are because I pitched them. People are usually surprised to hear that, because they just assume brands come to us. We do have brands come to us, but they’re not always the right fit, whereas when I pitch a brand it’s something I’m super passionate about, and a category that I think we should be in that we might not already be in. I’m the best person to advocate for why we should do it.

What advice would you give to bloggers/influencers who would love to do collabs with brands they admire?

Number one, do your research first and make a list of who you want to work with. Then look to see if they’ve already partnered with people. It’s helpful to see if they’ve already done the same kind of partnership – but make sure you’re bringing something new to their aesthetic. From there contact with a compelling email, with a little about you, what you do and how you’d like to work together.

You have an Oh Joy! shop now, why did you decide to go into retail on your site?

After our contract with Target ended we started doing more collaborations and we were sending people all over the place to find our products, so it really came out of trying to make it easier for people to find things and having one place to house everything. I also have met so many amazing artists, designers and makers, and I wanted to create an opportunity to sell their things as well.

What are some of the skills you’ve gained through your career journey that help you as a mother?

Prioritizing, in both business and in life, knowing that I can’t do every single thing every single day. I prioritize what’s most important to meet my goals to have a happy team or a happy family. Asking for help and delegation is another big one! Moms have such a hard time sometimes asking for help. But you can’t do it all by yourself, and you just have to ask because so many times there are people that want to help you, but just don’t always know that you need it. Also, trusting your gut, and going with what feels right and makes sense to you, because you’re not always going to know the right answer.

How has being a mom made you a better business woman?

I think that I’m more efficient. I used to spend so much time on things that I didn’t need to. Now I have less time, so I have to be more efficient. Also, scheduling, scheduling is so important. I schedule blocks of time to get things done, because it’s so easy to forget or to push things off.  If something is important to you, even things like getting a workout in or doing something nice for myself, schedule that in!

What’s something you hope for Oh Joy! in 2019?

Last year one of my main goals for this year was to focus on education. I’ve missed having a more direct connection with people and helping people as I used to when doing workshops and consulting, so I started the Oh Joy! Academy last month. I started with a class on ‘How to Grow a Dream Team’ because I knew a lot of people feeling stuck at this point in their company, not knowing how to grow and lacking confidence. We’ll continue to add more classes in areas I feel really passionate about and that I feel I can help people grow in. I want to try to add a course every couple of months.

What’s something you’re looking forward to for Oh Joy! in the next 5 years?

I don’t think that far ahead – I used to, but I’ve found it to be hard, because so many things have come that I wasn’t expecting, so many things change that I wasn’t expecting, like social media.

Joy Cho is The Everymom…

Favorite self-care activity? Massages

Last book you read? Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee

The travel essential you can’t live without? Packing cubes (we sell some in our Oh Joy for Calpak collection)

Favorite part about being a mom? Getting to relive experiences through a small child! Seeing a kid’s reaction to something is so special.

Favorite way to spend time with your family? Being out in about in LA where we live and going places like the farmers market.

Favorite part about being a boss? That I get to make things my own way and if I don’t think it’s working I can change it.