Shauna Mei, the CEO and co-founder of AHAlife.com, embodies the spirit of entrepreneurship. In her NRF STORES interview, Shauna discusses the formation of her newest company (yes, she has founded several), AHAlife.com, an online retailer selling unique products from around the world. In our interview, she talks about what inspires her, finding your passion, and living the dream. Read on, but I think this quote sums it up: “Life is short. I love doing things that I can control, create and watch my efforts thrive and make a difference.”
You graduated from MIT with a double major in computer science and electrical engineering. Where did your interest in retailing come from? What led you to the world of online retail?
Yes, I did study engineering but not for the obvious reason most people would study it … I never wanted to be an engineer, I wanted to learn how to think critically and solve the most complex problems.During my time at Goldman Sachs (my first job after MIT), I was in a group where I was one of the few women; as a result I was staffed on two types of deals refinancing tampon companies (literally worked on Tampax and Playtex) and the sale and financing of Neiman Marcus Group.
When I worked on the NM deal and several other retail/luxury/fashion type of deals, I realized how inefficient the market was. This inspired me to create a new model. I love solving problems and the potential of making the world more flat through retail is very exciting to me.
Inspiration — and the idea of “being inspired” — seems to have influenced you throughout your career. How do you get inspired? What about the retail industry inspires you?
Inspiration or that “A-HA” [moment] comes from above…or I would refer to it as the universe. I live my live tapping into the global energy and potential we all have. Perhaps I am a bit “new age” but I think that inspiration is what leads to creation and if we don’t create… we don’t truly live.
Retail to me is not about “shopping,” but it’s the transfer of someone’s inspiration manifested into an object or experience that they want to share with others. My job is to simply tell that story and make the distribution more broad, reaching everyone in the world. It is a passion. I love being inspired every day by so many talented amazing people who are transferring their creations to make their customers inspired and live beautifully.
You have founded or co-founded a number of companies. How did you become such an entrepreneur?
I thrive in a world that’s open and where anything’s possible. I realized that being an entrepreneur is the best way to make that happen. I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I don’t like to “hop on the train” or go where is safe. Life is short. I love doing things that I can control, create and watch my efforts thrive and make a difference.
I read wellness has always been an important part of your life, and you are a competitive dancer. How do you balance work and life and other interests?
Life is life… in fact my work, AHAlife.com, is my passion. I get to meet talented inspired people creating amazing things across lifestyles, and help them make it happen and gain awareness and distribution. I don’t really separate “work” from “life”… it’s just all life to me.
What advice would you share with young people looking to get a start, or get ahead in retail?
My advice is simple. First discover your passion… if retail is your passion, you’re on your way. Most people don’t know what they are passionate about. Once you have that, just take any opportunity to open that up for you. Don’t be rigid — the best “job” I got was an unpaid job. Go for it and take every opportunity to magnify your passion.
Retail industry is intimidating with lots of people with tons of experience and old models. Embrace this… innovation is where really success happens. When you are intimidated, that means you’re onto something really fun and disruptive.
What is your dream job?
LOL….I believe in living the dream. But as I gain more experience, I would love to do more in philanthropy but more importantly, activate people to all contribute — not out of guilt, but out of passion.
Read more about the creation of AHAlife.com, Shauna’s background, and what’s next for her in the full NRF STORES interview.