Flying over Nevada

How to go somewhere you’ve never been before

Why my co-founder husband and I packed up and moved across the country to build our dream company.

Mica Le John
Aug 8, 2019 · 6 min read

For nearly a year, Michael and I have been working on iissllaanndd, ideating on the future of social and what needs to be built. As the flowers bloomed this past spring we made the decision to move to LA.

The LA startup scene is thriving and we were ready to commit ourselves to be a part of it — despite the fact that I’d never been to California before and the last time Michael was here, he was nine years old.

Conversations with founders, investors and other industry folks made it very clear that moving west would be an exciting change for us and our company.

Bye, New York!

A smiling woman sitting on a NYC train surrounded by suitcases.
NYC (A) train headed to Penn Station. July 2, 4:01am

Living in NY was a fun ride, and a lot happened in our three years there. Michael left his career in the fashion industry, taught himself to code and made Waves (with 2Swim coming soon!).

I balanced school full-time while directing an arts education program for NYC teens in underserved communities, and learned everything I could about the tech/startup world.

We made a lot of friends, ate Red Bamboo more often than is probably healthy, and frequented nearly every art gallery and museum in the city.

Making the move was exciting and I had zero qualms about leaving. While I loved NY, it was definitely the right time for us to go both personally and professionally.

The hardest part was leaving the teens I’ve spent the last two years working with. Holding space for such intelligent, passionate and hilarious young people was a wonderful pleasure, and I learned a ton from them during my time there (including deep insight into how Gen Z uses social platforms 🙃).

Planning the move itself was fairly easy as I already had practice having organized our 2016 move to NYC from Toronto — planning long-distance moves should be an endorsable skill on LinkedIn!

TIP: A founder friend shares office space with the folks from Moved and suggested I check it out. I was super happy with the service and highly recommend it for those booking local or long distance moves.

Someone recently noted I have a tendency to “escape to the future.”

While in some ways this is a coping mechanism, it’s also a tool I try to leverage to bring about the change I want to see. Michael and I spend a lot of time discussing what will happen — for iisllaanndd, for digital natives, for online communities.

Taking time to examine the effects digital-social spaces have on human lives is something we believe is imperative to mitigate the issues mainstream platforms have. Without planning ahead, it’s way too easy for things to go sideways. Of the many issues other platforms have, it is crystal clear that for too long the creators of such spaces have not been thinking about how their product would be used.

We want the digital-social spaces we build with iissllaanndd to be places where people feel able to express themselves fully, a place where people find community and connection in every way possible.

(Photo by Sherman Yang on Unsplash)

We are very grateful to have a community that mobilized to make the move easy for us. We have generous friends who let us stay in their place upon arrival, and within 4 days we (well…mostly Michael) found a great apartment.

We landed in Hollywood, the perfect mix of weird, fun and (relatively) inexpensive that we were looking for. Our street is quiet and residential, and a 1-minute walk south puts us smack on Hollywood Boulevard: The Chinese Theater, Walk of Fame and tourists (no, really — we love it).

An external visual of what my mind was like in New York.

New York is beautiful but only focused on the grind.

In NY, every morning would start in a rush as I hurried to get to my destination on time, to hustle, hustle, hustle.

Mental health took a serious backseat as I balanced iissllaanndd with school and work. Takeout was a daily occurrence, as was obsessing about affording it on a non-profit work salary (Michael has been coding full-time since last summer).

While I masochistically enjoy stressful situations, I didn’t really admit to myself how much of a toll it was taking on my physical health and my mental wellbeing.

I’m not a big fan of “hustle culture” in general. Why can’t we just work really hard and do really good work? Why is it always framed as something to revere or aspire to?

Los Angeles is an entirely different world.

Life is beautiful in Los Angeles; every day is sunny and seems to have more than 24 hours. In the few weeks we’ve been here we’re already in conversations to build community and creator partnerships, and I’m meeting some of the most wonderful people who have helped make our first month here magical.

I go for frequent hikes in Runyon Canyon and I no longer feel guilty about taking time to do yoga. We swim in our pool daily and have organic food delivered by Imperfect Produce (use my referral code — they’re solving the US food waste problem!).

While the Metro leaves much to desire, we’ve become well acquainted with the bus routes — and car-sharing here is so cheap compared to New York. My book is coming along nicely, my tan is stellar, and I wake up every morning and look out my window at a lemon tree.

Doing the math

Over the last few years, I’ve frequently reminded myself of the saying, “you are the product of the people you surround yourself with.” What I never thought about too deeply before was how other good things —outside of personal growth—can come about because you’re connected to these people. As Jason Calacanis writes in Angel:

Lucky people surround themselves with the most successful people in the world and take chances. It isn’t hard or impossible. It just takes the work.

I think this is so true, and something that many could use to remember. Our success is a product of the people in our lives, our risk tolerance and a measure of how willing we are to do the work. If we optimize for each of these levels, achieving our dreams is inevitable. It just takes work.

Moving across the country with my life partner to make this dream a reality has been nothing short of awesome and challenging and exciting. So often I’ve been told that security is the thing to seek, especially as a woman, and especially as a woman of color. I recognize the massive privilege I have to be able to make this decision, and deeply appreciate the opportunities that have come my way through the people in my life, my own perseverance, and most especially, by chance.

A woman in a sports bra pauses her hike to smile for the camera.
A woman in a sports bra pauses her hike to smile for the camera.
Hiking joy!

I am CEO and co-founder of iissllaanndd, a video-to-video social platform focused on self-expression and connection. If you are a content creator or a community leader interested in collaborating (or you just want to say hi), email me at mica@iissllaanndd.com. To learn more about what else I’m doing in life, visit my ever-changing info page 👩🏽‍💻. Find me on Twitter or IG.

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