Joy Cho makes us, well, joyful! It’s impossible not to smile after spending some time on her popular blog, Oh Joy or picking up one of her latest creations for Target. Joy exudes happiness through the use of whimsical colors, adorable dance party videos and the Instagram chronicles of her family life with her husband Bob and daughters, Ruby and Coco. After starting her career as a graphic designer in New York, she followed her then boyfriend, now husband to Philly and eventually to LA. Joy has been blogging for over eleven years, has written three books and designed hundreds of products from Wallpaper to bags for our friends at FEED. She was one of the first people on Pinterest and speaks at conferences nationwide. We hope that her fresh take on life and sunny outlook rubs off on us, just a little.
Joy, you are arguably one of the busiest mamas we know. How do you manage your time between work and family? Do you have any favorite “lifehacks” you’ve pick up along the way?
Well, I think the funny thing about that question is that everyone asks that question! Even people getting asked that question are asking that question of other people. I know I am not getting it all done! I’m definitely not doing all the things people think I’m doing. Yes, there are things you can see from the outside in, but at the same time they’re not seeing my day to day, they’re not seeing logistically how crazy some things are, so I have a few answers to that.
The answer that is most helpful to people is that it takes a village. Nobody can do it all by themselves. Nobody can take care of their children and run a business and try to have a personal life all on their own, with no help at all. For me, my oldest is in school five days a week, so that helps a lot and we have an amazing nanny for my youngest for when we are working during the week.
My company was initially just me and there have been various stages of the company – from me by myself, to hiring freelancers, to now where I have employees who can take over what I used to do and make it their own. This allows me to take on other things like managing the company, creative directing and overseeing our projects.
I think we as women don’t ask for help enough and when you are transitioning from being a working woman to a working mom, that’s when you need to ask for help and not be ashamed to ask for it. You can’t do everything and you have to choose what you are going to prioritize.
As for lifehacks, cooking was one of the biggest things that I felt guilty about not being able to do. Prior to having kids, I enjoyed cooking and taking an hour to make a meal and enjoy it with my husband. Now, with two little kids running around, I barely have 25 minutes to make a meal. Food delivery services have been a huge help. I’ve learned to accept that I’m not the mom that is going to make a home cooked meal every night and I’m ok with that.
On the flip side however, I look at women who have more children or bigger companies or what I consider more going on and even some who have no childcare. I don’t know how they are doing it, but I’m sure that they are asking for help.
Nobody can do it all by themselves. Nobody can take care of their children and run a business and try to have a personal life all on their own, with no help at all.
You’ve managed to scale your one-woman design firm into a full-blown lifestyle brand and business. Do you have any advice for the mama wanting to scale her company? Anything you wish you had known when you were starting out?
Every big next step is scary. For example, when you decide to go from working at home to having an office or having a full-time employee, it’s all scary. It involves money, and hope that you’ll continue to do well and grow, and you hope you can provide and pay for all these resources that you are now bringing into your business. For me, everything has happened slowly-ish but when it was ready for the next step, I took the leap. I was working from home for 8 years before I got a studio and hired employees on staff full-time. Prior to that, rent was free because I was working from home and I used interns and freelancers. I initially hired people part-time and they grew into full-time positions. You need to be careful not to overcommit and grow slowly.
It’s a combination of feeling like you’re ready to grow, but also knowing there is never 100% a good time for anything. It’s always going to feel risky, you are always going to feel unsure, but you have to know that if you aren’t going to try it and go for it, you’re never going to know. I know a lot of people who wait for everything to be “perfect” and there really is never that “perfect” moment in business.
You have partnered with some of our favorite brands from FEED, to Freshly Picked, to Land of Nod to Target (insane!). Who is your dream brand to work with and what is next in terms of partnerships and collaborations?
Target was, and is, a dream brand. It was always one of my big goals for my career, so being able to currently do that is great. To be able to reach so many people through their stores and their accessible price points has been a total dream. As for what’s next, we work so far in advance so I can’t say quite yet but what I can say, is that we are continuing to expand Oh Joy products into more categories. For me, Oh Joy is about literally spreading joy and giving people tips and ideas and recipes and content and things they can bring into their everyday life. But at the same time, Oh Joy products give people a tangible form of joy so people can purchase and instantaneously style a room, give a gift to somebody or just make them feel a little bit happier about their day. That will continue for both adults and children.
You must get approached all the time with people wanting to collaborate with you. How do you gauge whether the opportunity is a good fit for your brand?
I’ve been on social media in some way for 11 years and I feel like I know my brand really well. I didn’t know that starting out, but everyday I’m learning what we stand for, and what our customers would respond well to. Having said that however, I try not to rule things out too quickly. There are some brands who are still growing and haven’t really defined their voice yet, and you can help define that by what you do together. I take every opportunity as a case by case basis and evaluate what we would both want to achieve out of the partnership. Of course, there’s also a cost benefit analysis to see what each party brings to the table. At the end of the day, there are a lot of things I would love to do but there’s only so much time. You not only need to make sure it’s the right fit for your brand, but you also need to make sure you are being compensated for your time adequately. When all these things come together then we move forward with it.
Your blog is always packed with so many fun ideas! How do you stay on top of trends, or are you just all about what you feel like creating? Are there any resources, blogs or people that influence you?
Our team of 5 meets weekly to check in on what each of us is working on, and we also brainstorm new content. Sometimes that content is driven by a specific focus like coming up with ideas for a brand that we are working with and marrying their brand with the Oh Joy sensibility. Other times, we are just creating stuff for Oh Joy for people to enjoy, learn from and be inspired by, so we just sit down and think of ideas and brainstorm together. Everyone has their own specific role within the company so they all know which part of the idea is theirs to execute; from shopping to crafting to styling to photographing the project.
In terms of inspiration, of course there’s stuff online where we’re always keeping an eye on and getting inspired, like Pinterest. At the same time, I really try to make sure that everyone is going out and seeing stuff in real life; whether a museum or exhibit or walking around and going downtown to the fabric district. I make it a priority that my team feels that they are not always tied to their computer and they are encouraged to go out into the world. It’s especially important for those that are making things and crafting to see materials. It’s a random combination of ideas but always being sure to surround yourself with lots of different things to get inspiration and get the ideas flowing is key.
Your office seems like a lot of fun. What do you value in your company culture and is there anything you do to build camaraderie with your employees?
In general, we work very hard and are really focused – we don’t have a lot of free time. I also value family time and personal time. Our hours are very normal, 8:30am to 4:30pm. A couple of people leave a little bit earlier because they have to pick up their kids, myself included. I’ve worked at so many companies in the past where personal time isn’t valued, and I would work until 9, 10, 11pm. Granted, I didn’t have kids and I was in New York at the time, but I’ve learned a lot from other jobs on how I don’t want to run the business. Those experiences have made me extra conscious and mindful that I value personal time at the end of the day. It’s the work hard, play hard mentality. There isn’t a lot of dilly dallying around here and people are really busy, but when they’re done working, they’re free to go home and enjoy their life.
What does being a good boss mean to you? Did you have anyone that you worked for with incredible leadership skills that you learned from?
I never expected to be a boss. My parents are entrepreneurs and I saw first hand how hard they worked and how hard it is to run a company, so it was never my plan. But, when I found myself having one and growing one, the best thing I could do was learn from past experiences and learn what I did not want to do. I make myself very available to my employees, I encourage everyone to participate and even if they have certain jobs or skills, I support people trying new things. I’ve had employees start as one thing and then grow into another position within the company because they’ve shown me what they were capable of. It’s a small, creative company and people are encouraged to bring their ideas to the table.
There isn’t a lot of dilly dallying around here and people are really busy, but when they’re done working, they’re free to go home and enjoy their life.
Who would you like to take to coffee and get career advice from?
That’s a good question! It would probably be someone who has grown a business and taken it to a new level like Kate Spade. She has gone through the full cycle of her company and has now started a new business. I think it would be interesting to hear her story since you don’t meet a lot of people who have gone through the process of having something be yours, and and then it’s not yours, and then starting something new again. Not because that’s necessarily how I would approach my business, but it’s so different to me and I like to hear about other experiences that are different than my own.
Katya and I are always unintentionally dressing alike so we love your “Dressing the Team” posts. Tell us how those came to be.
Over the course of having this blog for the past 11 years, I’ve always posted about a variety of things from food, fashion, family and home decor. Fashion has always been an interest of mine and I was craving to add more fashion into the blog. There are so many fashion bloggers now that have huge followings but I didn’t want to do what they do. The one thing I knew I had that was different, was our use of color and the aesthetic of how I dress is different from the other mainstream fashion bloggers in chic, neutral colors. I knew there was probably a lack of fashion bloggers wearing super colorful things. I also feel like I’m one size and not everyone has my body type. I didn’t want our fashion posts to be just focused on me and I wanted to be more inclusive, so we decided to have all of us do it. It took some doing to get everyone on board but we’ve done it about once a month for the past year. We started with showing the same piece on everyone but it’s evolved into each person adapting each look to fit their personal style. People appreciate that we feature a range of sizes and body types and they like seeing non-bloggers and can relate to the posts.
Was there ever a time you wanted to walk away from it all? What pulled you back in?
There’s never been a serious point where I felt that. Of course, I’ve been disappointed in certain things that don’t go how I expected or you get negative comments. There have certainly been times where people bash me about something online and I feel like I want to run away from the internet but that’s always temporary. I know that I’m listening to that one nay-sayer and not the hundreds of positive people. Luckily, my business is such that we continue to evolve it and create new things to keep it interesting. I’m always striving to think of new things, and what’s next for the company so we don’t get bored. I have the ability to be able to create and turn the business into anything I want which allows us to continue to evolve. If I have a day or week-long set back, I allow myself to be sad or disappointed for the time it needs but I’m a pretty positive person and I’ve always been on the go-getter side of things. I try to move on and figure out how we can move forward.
What would your girls if you were to ask them “What does mommy do?”
Coco wouldn’t know since she’s still so little but Ruby relates most to the products she sees at Target. She doesn’t really understand the online part of my business but the products at Target are tangible and she can read the labels and see the product. Last year she thought that Target was my company, but now I think she understands it a little better.
At this point, your brand has grown so much. How much of your social media do you still manage?
I still do a decent amount, probably more than people think. My assistant helps me with Facebook and Twitter and also helps with comments and connecting with people on Instagram. She also manages the editorial calendar. The day-to-day on Instagram and Instagram Stories is all me. It’s the platform that I enjoy the most and also the one that has the most engagement for us right now. I feel like I always need to be on and checking in.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
You be you. That advice carries through a lot of different parts of life. Trust your gut and do your thing. We spend too much time questioning what people think of us or are going to think of us. So long as you are being nice to people and not breaking the law, if you follow your gut instincts on what is you and who you are, then I think that leads us in the right direction.
What is your mama community like?
I’m in a great place in terms of friendships here in LA. I had started to get to know people in LA before I moved here and so I’ve known them for a long time. Some are business owners and that fills one side of where I need support, they know what it’s like to own a business and have an untraditional job. There are also women who are mothers. The perfect combination is when they are both and hustling and doing what I’m trying to do with business and family. That’s why I love heymama, and finding the support for all these parts of life is really important. Whether it’s in person or online, any form you can find the support is helpful. You need to know you aren’t alone.
The day-to-day on Instagram and Instagram Stories is all me. It’s the platform that I enjoy the most and also the one that has the most engagement for us right now. I feel like I always need to be on and checking in.
3 pearls of wisdom
You can’t do it all, and you shouldn’t. Focus on what’s most important in your life and stick to your top few priorities. If there are things you used to do pre-baby (like cooking elaborate homemade dinners every night) that you can’t do now, it’s OK.
Trust your instincts on how to raise and guide your child. It can be easy to think you’re not doing it right or someone else has a better way. But every family is different and let your rules be yours and other family’s rules be theirs.
Every day can be super busy for working parents that sometimes it feels so go go GO! Take a chunk of time out of everyday to sit down and talk to everyone in your family (big and small) about their day. We implement this during dinner time where we go around the table telling each other our favorite and least favorite things about the day, and what we are looking forward to tomorrow. It’s a simple way to engage and talk about both the lows and highs of any day.