“They told me It was impossible and I did it anyway” With Jolina Li

Look for opportunities. — Feeling stuck can make you feel unmotivated, so look for opportunities around you. Each opportunity has another opportunity embedded within it. As long as you see the potential for new growth and for trying new things, you can keep your energy. Losing tenacity usually comes when you lose sight of the […]

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Look for opportunities. — Feeling stuck can make you feel unmotivated, so look for opportunities around you. Each opportunity has another opportunity embedded within it. As long as you see the potential for new growth and for trying new things, you can keep your energy. Losing tenacity usually comes when you lose sight of the possibility of change.

As a part of our series about “dreamers who ignored the naysayers and did what others said was impossible”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jolina Li.

Jolina Li is the founder of BuzzyBooth, a selfie marketing kiosk that supports brick-and-mortar businesses with the marketing benefits of digital strategies. She started her first business in college while she attended the University of Connecticut. Li self-funded her company BuzzyBooth. She now runs one of the country’s top 20 fastest growing female-founded companies.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us your ‘backstory’?

Asa kid, I grew up in a Chinese restaurant. It was in a tough, cold city in Connecticut, but I was surrounded by warm hearts and warm food. When you’re working for your parents, sometimes they don’t pay you and helping out around the family business isn’t really a job — it’s just family.

My lack of a paycheck sparked my interest in entrepreneurship, specifically in residual income businesses like gumball machines in stores and photo booths at the mall. These simple ideas made money, and you didn’t have to be present. So in college, I convinced my parents to help me buy three photo booths — they were clunky and no one wanted to install them permanently. However, pivoting to renting the photo booths on weekends eventually became a pretty smart business that made me a lot more money than my college friends.

After college, I swapped my photo booths for a restaurant of my own. This time as a business owner, I saw really quickly how brick-and-mortar businesses don’t have the same advantages as eCommerce. Getting customers to come back or following up for reviews was 10 times harder for businesses, and although these mom-and-pop shops had plenty of foot traffic, they couldn’t make a simple retargeting ad for their one-time customers. Staff were usually annoyed and didn’t want to remind customers to sign up for loyalty programs either, so there had to be a better way to encourage customers to willingly choose to provide their contact information without feeling pressured.

I combined my life experiences with my passions and started BuzzyBooth — a sleek, selfie marketing kiosk where customers can take photos of themselves while they wait. They receive their photo with the business’s branding and address to share with their friends on social media, and the business can share it, too! Then we follow up with text and email promotions, and we even send requests for customer reviews so that the business performs better on Google and Yelp. We continue to add new features that add value to our customers.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re always adding new features to our product to support our clients. We’re currently working on a referral feature to track word-of-mouth referrals in the next four months and a scheduler for user-generated content. This year, we’re also launching a new photo booth that doubles as an interactive billboard. (It’s quite beautiful.)

In your opinion, what do you think makes your company or organization stand out from the crowd?

Most photo booths act exclusively as photo booths. Most marketing options for local businesses require a lot of effort and manpower on behalf of the business. By combining the incentive of a photo booth with modern marketing tactics, BuzzyBooth helps local businesses get their customers to willingly opt into a series of messages that help the local businesses retain their customers and convert them into evangelists.

Ok, thank you for that. I’d like to jump to the main focus of this interview. Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us? What was your idea? What was the reaction of the naysayers? And how did you overcome that?

I had friends who didn’t think that BuzzyBooth would go very far. I had entrepreneur friends in my inner circle who didn’t expect me to make it. I had friends who pulled me aside a few years in and said, “Wow, for a moment there, I didn’t think you would make it past a year, but you’re still going.”

In the end, how were all the naysayers proven wrong? 🙂

We’ve come a long way in just three and a half short years. We were recently ranked #106 in Inc 5000’s fastest-growing companies. We have BuzzyBooths in almost every state in the U.S., including Hawaii and Alaska. There are even BuzzyBooths in Germany, Mexico, and Japan! It’s exciting to see where humble beginnings and a little creativity can take you, and we’re just getting started.

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? Can you share a story about that?

I guess I would say, my parents and my fiancé. My parents owned a restaurant, and I helped out with their business growing up. That definitely had a huge impact on my journey as an entrepreneur. They also helped me pay for my first photo booth business in college which partially gave me the idea for BuzzyBooth. My fiancé is also an entrepreneur and huge support. We’re able to learn through each other’s experiences.

It must not have been easy to ignore all the naysayers. Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share the story with us?

I had a photo booth business in college, and I started a restaurant business shortly after. You learn a lot when things don’t go to plan. I bought this huge, bulky photo booth as a college kid. I was so certain that it was going to make lots of money, but no one wanted to install it permanently in their spaces. That made me think outside the box about how to use it. I ended up focusing on events. I think starting my entrepreneurial journey at an early age helped create that resilience. In fact, learning that my bulky booth was less than ideal was the inspiration for a more sleek design for BuzzyBooth. Also, I learned a lot from watching my parents manage the ups and downs of their own business. You have to keep looking for a way to make it work.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 strategies that people can use to harness the sense of tenacity and do what naysayers think is impossible? (Please share a story or an example for each)

  1. Look for opportunities. — Feeling stuck can make you feel unmotivated, so look for opportunities around you. Each opportunity has another opportunity embedded within it. As long as you see the potential for new growth and for trying new things, you can keep your energy. Losing tenacity usually comes when you lose sight of the possibility of change. When customers told me that my college photo booth was too large, I was better prepared to design BuzzyBooth.
  2. Keep going. — Things are going to get tough. The key is to never stop. Keep going; it will come back around. I submitted BuzzyBooth to Shark Tank, and they originally rejected the idea. I decided to create a YouTube video, and my team tweeted the producers. That made the producer reach out to me and offer me the chance to appear on Shark Tank.
  3. Stay focused on the goal. — You have to remember why you’re doing it and who you’re doing it for. That is what will motivate you to stay tenacious.
  4. Ignore anything that isn’t constructive. — Naysayers may say you’ll never make it, but unless they provide specific, measurable reasons, just ignore what they say. Constructive criticism should always be considered because you may learn something. However, there’s no use in entertaining naysayers who aren’t bringing anything useful to the table.
  5. Dive into knowledge. — The more you know, the more empowered you’ll feel. In the beginning, I didn’t know everything I needed to run a successful tech business, but there were resources all around to help me learn. Don’t get discouraged. No one knows everything about everything. In tech, things change all the time, so it’s crucial to never stop learning.

What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?

Try many things. Learn from failures quickly. Then, try something new, but don’t repeat the same mistakes twice. Startups are all about iterations.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” –Walt Disney

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

BuzzyBooth was created to help brick-and-mortar businesses compete in a modern, more technologically advanced culture. Since many brick-and-mortar businesses have closed due to large online businesses like Amazon, I’d like to see a movement among communities to support more local businesses. It is so important to reignite local economies.

Can our readers follow you on social media?

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Thank you for these great stories. We wish you only continued success!

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