Mayumi Ishii of Chrysmela: “Don’t try to do everything”

Chrysmela is disruptive because we are solving a 5,000 year old problem as a newcomer to the jewelry industry, creating a new category of luxurious, easy to use, and autonomous earring back replacement with technology. As an outsider of the jewelry industry, we are purely solving an everyday problem of earring lovers without unnecessary costs […]

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Chrysmela is disruptive because we are solving a 5,000 year old problem as a newcomer to the jewelry industry, creating a new category of luxurious, easy to use, and autonomous earring back replacement with technology. As an outsider of the jewelry industry, we are purely solving an everyday problem of earring lovers without unnecessary costs by focusing on the direct-to-consumer model. We could do this, because we believe in Fashion Freedom, and giving people the ability to wear their favorite earrings everyday without worry of loss.


As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mayumi Ishii the US Chief of Chrysmela. After a career in consulting and investment banking, Mayumi made a late-career shift to running US operations for Chrysmela, the world’s most secure earring back. Mayumi currently lives in Los Angeles where in addition to running operations for Chrysmela, she is an avid golfer, with the goal to play all Top 100 golf courses in the world with her husband. She currently has 10 courses left!


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I am the US Chief of Chrysmela, the most secure earring back. I launched the brand, creating a new product category of high end replacement backs for diamond studs and statement earrings.

I began my career in management consulting at McKinsey, where I worked for 3 years in both Tokyo and LA. Following McKinsey, I was an Investment Banking analyst covering high tech in Silicon Valley. I started and ran my own consulting firm, MIV Consulting for 20 years, where I helped Silicon Valley startups match with strategic partners in Japan. At the time, I had a long, successful career, but no experience in retail and never sold anything direct to consumers. But I saw the market potential in the US and other countries of Chrysmela, which has been №1 category leader in Japan.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Chrysmela is disruptive because we are solving a 5,000 year old problem as a newcomer to the jewelry industry, creating a new category of luxurious, easy to use, and autonomous earring back replacement with technology. As an outsider of the jewelry industry, we are purely solving an everyday problem of earring lovers without unnecessary costs by focusing on the direct-to-consumer model. We could do this, because we believe in Fashion Freedom, and giving people the ability to wear their favorite earrings everyday without worry of loss.

My partner, Eri Kikunaga developed and invented Chrysmela in 2008, after she lost an earring she received as a gift from her then-boyfriend. They got in a big fight and ended up breaking up because of that one lost earring. She decided to solve the 5,000 year old problem once and for all. While she was brainstorming, she was clicking a mechanical pencil when inspiration struck. In a mechanical pencil, lead is held by 3 contact points inside the pencil casing. She doodled the earring back to be spring activated, where spring inside pushes down and closes up, securing the earring in place. When she went to find a production partner, she was consistently told no; it was too difficult for the factories to produce because of the level of detail required. 200 factories said no. Number 201 said yes. Chrysmela currently uses 6 factory locations in Japan to produce its earring backs. Some of these factories are the same ones that produce elements of the smartphone cameras we use every day.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was about to launch Chrysmela in the US, I didn’t know how to use Facebook or any other social media. I am a baby boomer generation, none of my close friends were on it, and I was not comfortable sharing my personal stuff. I was so wrong. Looking back, it’s so silly that I’ve lost so many years at the beginning. It took me a few years to learn and get comfortable. It took additional few more years to really share more. It was only over the last several months since the lockdown that I learned into it. I was a guest on a few podcasts and Instagram Live. I have amazed myself, now that I’ve been even hosting Instagram live! Who knew I was capable of doing that!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I was so lucky to work with and learn from Ken Ohmae, my first boss in my career. A legendary management consultant, he was then Managing Director at McKinsey, Tokyo. I vividly recall my final interview before I got the offer to work there, he asked me what I’d be doing before my commencement in end March (the school year starts in April and ends in March in Japan) I replied that I was planning to travel the US and visit friends for a few weeks. His reply?

1) Get a scuba diving license while you have time, as once you start working at McKinsey you won’t have time. (At that moment, I didn’t realize how hard and long hours I’d be working!) Scuba diving was not in my vocabulary back then. How much did I regret so badly that I didn’t follow his advice, many years later, before a Christmas holiday in Australia. I had to get licensed in the Silicon Valley where the ocean near Monterey is freezing and learning to dive off the beach meant to walk on the sand, wearing a 10mm wet suit with a heavy oxygen tank on your back and silly fins on your feet.

2) Plan to start March 1, instead of April 1, because I am needed. My initial reaction was “WOW, really?!” But I was flattered. In Japan, all new graduates “normally” report to work their first job on April 1, in a big ceremony at most companies.

For the barely 21 year old me, it was such an eye opener. How joie de vivre matters in life, and how cool of an opportunity it was to have a starting offer without an official college diploma in my hand?! His thinking set the tone of my career — work hard, think differently and have fun.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I firmly believe no matter what your profession is, you put your client or customer’s interest first. So if your customer needs change and significant improvements in the status quo, you should deliver disruption to break through for better results. On the other hand, if your client is not comfortable nor ready to change, we should respect that and wait for the right time and place.

For example, in my business of Chrysmela, the most secure earring back, many people have said, “oh I wish I knew about this many years ago. I would have saved so many lost earrings and heart breaks.” This is where our disruptiveness is most appreciated. Yet, there are people who need more time to see the tangible and intangible value of upgrading a back for her earring. The product acceptance and adoption curve varies, depending on cultural and economic circumstances. It is okay not to push. There are lots of fish in the ocean, as they say. I think disruption means a breakthrough for early adopters, while it makes little ripple noise for others to keep in the back of mind to simmer until it becomes obvious it’s a good thing.

Looking at other disrupting technology, even PCs, Internet and WiFi have taken many years to penetrate homes. It is still not 100% in the US. Far from it worldwide. Car seat belts didn’t become de facto mandatory until 1968. My goal is to see Chrysmela on every earring to protect it in sustainable fashion. I am ok with the current pace of progress, as we know it’s happening slowly but steadily. With 1000, 4.5 star ratings on Amazon, we are surely, confidently disrupting the category.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Say YES and Show Up. If invited to an opportunity, go and see what happens. I almost didn’t apply to the MSNBC business contest, thinking “who would pick me, there’s no chance.” I went on to win it, which led me to 2 live shows on Home Shopping Network. Don’t be a chicken and take the challenge. Simply go for it! There is nothing to lose, after all.

Don’t try to do everything, because it’s not possible. I am impatient by nature and I’d like to have everything done, yesterday. But as an entrepreneur, I have a long to-do list. It can feel endless. I have learned how to come to terms with this.

Keep asking Why. My late father told me in my college days, when I am certain I need, want or have to change something, keep asking. It is ok to want to know why. This is obviously not typical advice for a polite Japanese girl. But this permission to question has opened many doors for me.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

The key is to help consumers wake up and realize there is a solution to an everyday problem. I think lead generation ultimately is to genuinely and organically ignite the process. Whenever anyone asks, I’ll show my products to strangers on the golf course or sales staff at Tiffany’s. Everyday, I wear Chrysmela earring jackets with diamond studs or pearl earrings. I often get compliments. Whenever someone asks, it’s a mini show time!

In our business, people are losing an earring, because they are not questioning the quality or performance of earring back that came free with a new earring. So why in this technology-saturated, 21st century, are people still suffering from the same 5,000 year old problem of lost earrings?

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

COVID came so suddenly and affected all of us so deeply. The new normal life requires different things and services. As a savvy shopper and a good research analyst, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon within the first week of lockdown on online stores, Amazon and on social media. For example: Hair color kits sold out first, then the cute at home manicure kit by Olive and June, in addition to more obvious staples like bread flour, because everyone was making sourdough. When wearing masks became mandatory or the norm, our business (Chrysmela, the most secure earring back) started to pick up pace, and collaborated with an artist to create masks that were fashionable and functional, donating the proceeds to UCLA hospital lunchroom for nurses and doctors. Elastics on masks were tugging earrings and people needed to secure them. I am very grateful for that. There are things that won’t return to pre-COVID era. I see several product market opportunities, especially for mature but young-at-heart baby boomers like myself, and evaluating each. If you have an interesting product, let’s talk. I’d love to help!

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Katharyne Graham, Personal Story. The voluminous biography by the late publisher of The Washington Post is so inspiring, full of amazing stories and surreal events. It also touched and resonated deeply with me, as I had experienced a personal loss shortly before the publication. Life is full of surprises, good and bad. Life would certainly be boring if it’s totally linear. But you need to keep on keeping on, no matter what a life brings you.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Only the paranoid survive.” ~ Andy Grove, late CEO of Intel. Sometimes I cannot help but worry about things, small and large. It’s an inherent part of every entrepreneur’s life. It’s good to know it’s good to be paranoid, if Andy says so. I had a pleasure to meet him several times in person when I was a securities analyst. Of his intense brilliance, I was in awe, absorbing his every word. The current pandemic is a Strategic Inflection Point, as he coined, where we face a massive change in our society, economy and everyday life. I am taking a little bite of the challenge everyday, determined to adopt and grow Chrysmela’s business to the next level. I find myself part time paranoid, and other times immensely enjoying my entrepreneurial adventure, having fun in problem solving.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We need FUN. Let it go. Especially during these difficult times, which we don’t see the end of. Nothing scares us more than uncertainty. Let’s wear our Sunday Best to our next zoom session. Fashion and jewelry industries were seriously hurt by the pandemic. Those of us who genuinely love fashion, including myself, are missing an opportunity and occasion to shed sweat pants and dress up for a change. So why not to wear your favorite fancy dress, or at least a cute top, and flaunt your favorite earrings? That would make a fashion statement.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can check out www.chrysme.la, and follow us @chrysmela across all platforms. Let’s also connect on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/mayumiishii/)!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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