Female Disruptors: Mimi Chan is shaking up what social impact companies can do
“I was inspired to start Littlefund after my daughter Liv was born a few years ago. Though I was appreciative of material gifts I received from family and friends, many went donated or unused. Collectively, this amounted to billions of dollars in resources wasted and ultimately, left untapped for our children’s futures. After talking to family and friends, I knew I wasn’t alone in this frustration. Gifts had changed from being a symbol of thoughtfulness to a symbol of hyper consumption. Meanwhile, parents are already struggling with savings as they’re trying to keep up with the increasing cost of raising children.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mimi Chan, serial entrepreneur and most currently the Founder and CEO of Littlefund. Prior to Littlefund, Mimi Chan was the Founding COO of Pencils of Promise and Cofounder and CEO of fashion platform Thread.
What is your “backstory”?
My entrepreneurial passion to create companies of impact was heavily influenced by my upbringing as a refugee-born daughter of Vietnam migrants. We made our way from the refugee camp in the Philippines to Houston, Texas. Growing up my parents stressed three things to my sister and I that they believed was the path to success in life regardless of your beginnings: karma, a college degree, and saving money. This meant, don’t forget to help others in need just as we had been helped, focus on your education, and save as much as you can because financial freedom is power.
I could easily see the impact of these things through my parents as the living example. Coming to America, my parents had no money or job and couldn’t yet speak the language but shortly thereafter, they were able to provide a comfortable upbringing for my sister and I. They saved most of what they made in their laborious careers as a tailor (my mom) and assembly line worker (my dad). We weren’t short of happy childhood memories even though we did not have a lot of luxuries. We did camp outs at the beach, DisneyWorld, and family movie day at the theatre. When I graduated from college, I was thankful for their biggest gift to me, starting the next chapter of my life debt-free. In addition, after working three jobs during college, I had saved up enough money for myself to “see the world”. I moved to New York City and began my career there.
Why did you found your company?
I was inspired to start Littlefund after my daughter Liv was born a few years ago. Though I was appreciative of material gifts I received from family and friends, many went donated or unused. Collectively, this amounted to billions of dollars in resources wasted and ultimately, left untapped for our children’s futures. After talking to family and friends, I knew I wasn’t alone in this frustration. Gifts had changed from being a symbol of thoughtfulness to a symbol of hyper consumption. Meanwhile, parents are already struggling with savings as they’re trying to keep up with the increasing cost of raising children.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
There are 60 million Millennial parents coming, aka digital natives, with different perspectives, needs, and lifestyles in comparison to the generation prior. This generation is less interested in collecting material stuff and instead value experiences more. I wanted to find a way to let us do that with our children instead of allowing hyper consumption to continue controlling our wallets. In the past, close family members would gift seed money using paper savings bonds at the start of the child’s life but those are no longer available.
Littlefund reimagines gifting as the beach head to savings with a modern and meaningful experience. Family and friends can easily give the Littlefund gift of savings towards a unique goal like college, Disneyland, or baby essentials for a child. From birth and onwards, gifts collect in one simple place that doubles as an FDIC insured financial account for the child earning 1% daily cash rewards.
Littlefund changes an antiquated, complicated, and restrictive process for families to collect and save for their children.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
All of these people I’m forever indebted to and have immense love and gratitude for.
- My husband. He plays many roles in my life. The support I’ve received from him is both business and personal. He’s a startup entrepreneur too so it’s helpful that we can trust one another and exchange advice. He’s a lot easier to reach too out of all of my mentors!
- Our investors. I am grateful to lean on them. They’ve given us more than just their investment. They’ve allowed me as a founder to be vulnerable and honest with them when things are hard, encouraged me when I voiced doubt or concern, and in general have been awesome partners to work with and learn from. Littlefund continues to look for the same type of smart and collaborative investors when fundraising.
- My collective peers. I have a few super smart and talented friends who consistently lend an extra hand, ear, or email anytime I ask. Their kindness is genuine and trustworthy.
How are you going to shake things up next?
With Littlefund, we’re excited to expand into offering investments and financial education for the entire family. What I love is that Littlefund is a modern brand that isn’t afraid to break from the mold of traditional financial services. We get to focus on delivering a better and easier experience for families to unlock financial opportunities as their children grow- effortlessly.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- “Make friends along the way.” You can’t possibly be the expert at everything or the smartest person in the room, so you need to make sure to find those people, ask for help, and return the favor because building a business takes a team. I’ve probably heard versions of this “ask for help”, but this is my own way I remind myself to do that.
- “Play until the clock runs out.” Entrepreneurship is an endurance sport. Physically and mentally. An advisor once gave this piece of advice to me when I felt at a crossroads with my first tech company. I was feeling defeated and almost paralyzed to make decisions. He reminded me that I still had time on the clock, like a football game, “you play until the last second.” He was right, I still could make decisions and change the course of the company or at least try. It’s about not giving up when it seems hardest.
- “On to the next.” These are wise words from Jay Z that help me not take Fundraising personal. Fundraising is a numbers game. It is brutal and discouraging at times but you can’t put so much hope on any single investor and you can’t dwell on the “No”. You have to do the work, create a process, and keep pitching. Most investors will say “No”, others will ghost you, some will waste your time, and in the end, very few will invest. You just have to find your people.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.
This was one of the most inspiring and motivational business books that I read after college. When I was younger, I spent time on mental training for competitive gymnastics so this book resonated with me and I’ve shared it with others as a must read when embarking on an entrepreneurial path. I was fascinated by the principles that had to do with desire and understanding it’s force behind success which is defined as finding your purpose in life. It’s training your mind to for this big race.
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 see this. :-)
Oprah. I don’t have a beautiful story as to why I want to meet her. She’s just always been someone I admired. Professionally and personally. I find it magical her ability to touch and relate to people of all ages, gender, status, and color. I’m fascinated by how she’s built her empire with such grace and generosity. It’s a dream that I would embody these professional qualities as I grow in my career. I remember at my first job out of college, I posted photos of people that I admired on my cubicle wall. Oprah was one of them. A colleague after asked me why I did that and like a quick reflex, I answered (oblivious that this may have been an odd thing to do), “I’d like to think of her as colleague of mine.” Since then, I have made an effort in my career to seek and surround myself with people that fascinate, teach, and motivate me daily. Maybe one day I’ll be sitting at the same table with Oprah.
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