Joy Cho’s inspirational journey of launching her company, Oh Joy!, is the definition of authenticity. Starting as a graphic designer in a new city, Cho started her blog, Oh Joy!, as a creative outlet, and with her accessible and creative ideas, Cho became one of the most-followed people on Pinterest with over 13 million followers. Eventually, Cho decided to expand, starting her company, Oh Joy!, a lifestyle brand and design studio that includes many product lines, focusing on design, fashion, food, and more. Cho’s colorful and whimsical style is apparent in every product that she creates.
As her family grew, Cho became a working mom. Cho learned how to balance her business and her family, but all the while she focused on her goal of bringing joy to her customers, readers, and followers through her products. Cho makes sure every product line and partnership tells her story and allows her to be authentic to her brand. Using social media to maintain her own personal voice and originality allowed Cho to shape Oh Joy! into the thriving business that it is today, selling everything from accessories to home decor. I had the great opportunity to speak with Cho about her company and her road to success.
Tell us a little about yourself. Your overall brand started as a graphic design studio and expanded into the empire you have today. Give us a rundown on the history behind your transition from graphic designer to a successful lifestyle brand.
In 2005 I left my 2nd job in New York to move to Philly for my boyfriend (now my husband). So I was in a new city, newly engaged, and looking for a new job. I started my blog as a place to keep my inspirations during a time when I had a lot of transition. The site slowly became read by more and more people and it helped me to be able to launch my own design studio due to the clients I was getting from folks who read my blog. The transition to a lifestyle site and brand was not planned at all. As the Oh Joy blog grew and as I was able to focus more on Oh Joy projects (and less on client projects) as we grew, I was able to really begin to tell my story (personally and professionally) and share ideas and inspirations I wanted to be able to share with the world. It took a long time to get to where things are today, but it’s been a fun and ever-changing ride!
What has your process been like getting your business started to where you are now?
It’s been very organic. Because my company evolved as social media evolved, there are so many things that we have done that I couldn’t have planned or predicted because those things didn’t exist in the early days. I tend not to plan my business too far out (maybe 2 years out at most) because so many things evolve and grow in different ways that you have to go with what is working and evolve your business constantly as needed.
Is there anything people misunderstand about your career or something that might surprise others to learn about your work?
Most people think my job is all fun all the time. Sure, JOY is at the heart of this business and what we aim to provide for our readers, customers, and followers, but it’s a TON of work and not all of it is fun and glamorous all the time. I have this shirt from Ban.do that says “Serious Business Woman” and my oldest daughter (who is 7), always says it should instead say “Fun Business Woman” because she also has a hard time believing I can be serious when she visits my colorful office.
You’ve had a few notable brand partnerships such as your line in Target, a collaboration with Johnson & Johnson, and most recently Oh Joy! For Calpak collection. What has been your overall goal for your business when choosing who to partner with?
My goal in partnerships (whether social, licensing, brand, or any kind) is to convey the goal of Oh Joy (to bring joy in simple ways) into that content or product. It needs to be a brand that I love and use (or would use if it’s new to me), and they need to allow me to tell the story in a way that feels natural to us!
What advice would you give someone who is just starting out and wanting to land brand partnerships?
Create your own strong content (not attached to any brand) so that brands can see what you naturally can do and what your style and voice is. They want authentic and real voices, not an account filled with only partnered and branded posts. 75% of the time we are doing content just for our readers that are not sponsored and that kind of work is what continues to show brands what we can do when we partner with them.
Social media can be both a blessing and a curse. How has your social media platforms helped and/or hurt your career?
Social media has mostly been a blessing for my business. I started as a design company designing for other brands, but social media allowed my own personal aesthetic and voice to come through and completely helped me shape Oh Joy! into what it is today. While social media can be amazing for business and career, you also have to make sure you are doing other things that don’t only live on social media and platforms that you don’t own. Don’t put all your eggs into one basket!
Instagram is usually used to show a positive highlight reel of what’s going on in your career. What are some of the less glamorous things and tasks you don’t usually get to share with your audience?
I do try and share very relatable things with my audience in addition to the pretty and happy stuff. But I don’t share very personal things that go beyond my comfort level or things involving other people in my life. For example, if I am going through a creative slump or feeling like a crappy mom, that’s something I might feel comfortable sharing because others have been through it. But if it’s something involving someone else in my life (a friend, family member, employee, etc) I do not discuss things that are not my story alone to tell. To me, as open as we feel we can sometimes be on social media, there are parts of my real life I keep safe and protect as well.
What was your first “pinch me” moment during those early years of starting your company?
There we were so many. In the early days, it’s when Grace Bonney (Design*Sponge) featured me on her blog and then we started becoming blogger friends. Being featured in Lucky Magazine and Daily Candy (those were the IT publications back then)!
What’s your best piece of advice for women looking to work or build a career in your field?
-Do your research. Know what’s out there and then figure out how you can do it differently so that you can stand out from the rest.
-Be yourself and remember what makes you special. It can be so easy to compare what others are doing and try and follow in their footsteps but there’s something that will feel unique to you that you just haven’t discovered yet.