I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennie Yoon, Chief Business Officer at Casetify. Considered as her ‘second career/life,’ she joined Casetify as one of the founding employees six years ago. Jennie oversees the US and EU operations, specifically focusing on maximizing growth and generating revenue through new distribution channels and strategic partnerships. Wearing many hats, she handles influencer talent relationships and brand development through three key channels: celebrity partnerships, retail channel expansion, and collaborative brand design collaborations. Some past highlights include launching both Sarah Jessica Parker and Pharrell William’s first tech accessories collections, unique in-store activations with Colette, Nordstrom, and Anthropologie, along with high-level capsules with Saint Laurent, Thom Browne, and Clare V.
Jennie is also the Founder & CEO of Kinn Studio, a fine jewelry brand with the intention to re-explore luxury and vintage inspired pieces for the modern wo(man). One thing is for certain: she is set out to rethink, reclaim and redefine modern luxury.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”? Thank you for having me! I started on a very traditional career path in Human Resources for law firms, before landing a position at MySpace — back when I could say Justin Timberlake was my boss! Being surrounded by so many creatives and talented people, I knew I wanted to “do more.” So I quit my job and decided to traveled. While I was in Hong Kong, I’d met Casetify founder, Wes Ng (who was then running the company out of a 300 sq ft room with a single desk). Though the entire team spoke English, I initially felt awkward that I was not being able to speak one word of Cantonese. During my few months in Hong Kong, working alongside to Wes and what was a slowly growing team, I quickly understood that Wes wasn’t just building a cool startup — but a space that is so rare in the Asian culture. Though I was born and raised in Korea (and immigrated when I was in Middle School for ‘better opportunity’ with my parents), I didn’t understand how foreign this ‘startup’ idea was.
I eventually moved back to Los Angeles, where Wes asked me to open a U.S. office to run the business from here. We had so much fun — we did an activation with Snoop Dogg at SXSW, hosted Instagram meet-ups, and even launched our first ever department in-store Pop-In with Nordstrom. But also made ton of mistakes too. Over time, I knew I wanted to build a team here that represented what we’d built in Hong Kong with an American flair. Fast forward six years, we’re now distributing to 150+ countries, ranked as the fastest growing tech accessories brand around the globe.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I’ll go with interesting because the funny ones are quite embarrassing (like hugging Rob Gronkowski for too long after I’d pitched him on a TV show) — but that’s a story for another day. As a digitally native vertical brand (DNVB), we’ve been selling our products and services through the direct to consumer approach and our own channels for the first six years. It was this past year or so we decided to take our online story to select retail channels like Colette and Nordstrom. What I find most interesting is the current shift happening between online and offline channels, and the omni channel strategy is really waking everyone up. Why are so many of the traditional brick and mortar shutting their doors, while we see some of the DNVB brands thrive and opening their stores? How do you continue to tell the same story that you told online at an offline channel? The ‘future of retail’ seems to be an interesting one to stay on top of for now.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Just about seven years ago, we saw a category that had long been ignored, taken for granted. The industry was filled with bulky, black (or white), ugly phone cases. As individuals, each of us have within us a well of untapped creative potential — explored through self-expression and new adventures. With this idea, we see ourselves as a publisher for creativity and individuality. It just so happens that we make quality phone cases and that we are working with the technology that connects so many people.
A lot of people see us as a manufacturer — in fact, we’re a data driven tech company. It’s just a bonus that we have built a powerful supply chain and we make killer products.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
We always have new things in the pipeline but I can’t give away too much here. I’ll just say the new iPhone is on the horizon 🙂
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Celebrate the small wins. No matter how small. Sometimes when you’re in a fast paced environment you forget to recognize the good and the hard work. With that, if there’s a win, we recognize it. Whether it’s going out for a celebratory dinner, or something as simple as ‘great job.’ Ultimately, it’s your team and people who build the company. Not the other way around. Though we work as a team, we’re all very independent thinkers, and I encourage autonomy. Additionally, I believe in creating a space where you’re allowed to make mistakes. And when you do, I talk about where it went wrong, and I am very honest in the conversation.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
As cliche as this sounds, every person along the way helped me to be where I am today. Including the ones who said “no,” because they all taught me something new. If I were to mention three particular people who helped carve my way, they are: 1) Wes, the Founder of Casetify — who took a huge chance on me — he’s taught me everything I need to know about how to build something from the bottom up. 2) Greg, my now fiancee — who believed in me and the brand from the beginning (he’d bought everyone he knows a case when we first started dating), and who is also an incredibly sharp businessman. 3) Last but not least, my parents, who immigrated to U.S. from Korea in their 40’s and built a brand new life from absolutely nothing — just to give me and my brother a ‘better opportunity.’ (Which I didn’t fully understand until now).
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? My goal is to do a coffee or lunch on a monthly basis to those who are interested in starting a business or building a brand. I didn’t have a real mentor in my 20’s, and I really wish I had one to encourage me to take this leap of faith sooner. These are all parts of the experience that I like to share with whoever wants to hear them!
Can you share the top five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line.
Global Distribution: With our HQ in Hong Kong to focus on the ‘backend’ of the business, including analytics, operations, etc, they lean on our Los Angeles office and our other satellite offices to be the ‘face’ of the brand — handling the sales and marketing aspect. Hong Kong is known to be one of the largest hubs for distribution — with that, this has been our advantage to push for global distribution, while growing the brand in the countries that we’re trying to grow.
Open 24/7: Our social media has become more than a place to post pretty photos and ‘engage’ with followers. It has become a place where customers are leaving their ‘reviews,’ and giving us feedback on what they like, don’t like, what they want to see. Ultimately, it became a place where we can connect with the customers directly — from every office around the world. And with the different time zones, we’re pretty much ‘open 24/7.’
Melting Pot: Casetify has a unique story — as a tech accessory company that stemmed from customization. With our platform, we’ve been able to spotlight thousands of designs from artists around the world, and bring their visions to our cases. Everyone has a story to tell, and simply put, we want to bring that canvas to your hands.
Authenticity: Audiences are smarter than ever, and they know how to spot a fake when they see it. As a global brand, our large reach requires us to make connections with our consumers, as their trust not only goes into the quality of our products, but the value system behind everything we do. With diversity and inclusivity at a corporate level, this sense of community trickles down into our customer’s experience, and this genuine relationship is what sets us apart from the competitors.
Trend Forecasting: Looking to future trends is a clear way to stay one step ahead of the competition. It’s so easy to get stuck in your bubble and miss ‘the obvious’ when you are surrounded by like-minded people. Working with teams of different backgrounds and experiences only invites new ideas and innovation to the workplace. Especially in the ever-evolving tech realm, this ability/inability to adapt can make or break a company.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
It’s never too late to start. Stop sketching, start building.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
Kirsten Green, not only is she the Founding Partner to one of the most successful early stage funds in Silicon Valley, but she is someone who saw the shift in consumer behaviors earlier on. I think I can learn a thing or two from her!
Originally published at medium.com