Shauna Mei is an MIT Engineer turned commerce and media industry expert, and the founder and CEO of AHAlife.com. Launched in September 2010, AHAlife.com is the online discovery shopping destination for unique luxury lifestyle products. AHAlife provides a globally sourced shopping experience that prides itself on connecting the story of the artisan with that of the buyer, creating a cross-cultural exchange that supports small businesses on the international scale. Prior to launching AHAlife.com, Shauna served as the COO of Casall, a Swedish wellness/activewear company. Additionally, she co-founded Aronsson Group and has worked in both Private Equity and Investment Banking at Goldman Sachs. She has appeared on China Travel Channel and has been profiled in various publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, Women’s Wear Daily, Glamour Magazine, TechCrunch, The Huffington Post and more.
Q: It’s hard to focus on the “big picture” sometimes because we can get caught in the weeds of work and life. When does visioning come clearest or easiest for you? Or what inspires your vision?
A: About a year ago I started meditating with our Deepak Chopra play button. He guides you through a thirty minute meditation, and it’s honestly been life-changing in helping me cut through the noise and really focus on myself and AHAlife. Having those ten minutes to myself in the morning makes a world of difference in the rest of my day.
Q: Can you share a story of how networking led to a great success?
A: When I left Goldman Sachs after one year in order to keep working towards my ultimate goal of becoming an entrepreneur, I had already built up a vast network of contacts from former colleagues, clients and friends. I worked hard at keeping in touch, and ultimately, leveraging these networks was absolutely crucial in my ability to raise capital for AHAlife.
ON Career Transitions
Q: Many people become discontent with their current career yet are too afraid or reluctant to make a change. What’s your best advice for women in this situation?
A: You have to let go of inner fears. Insecurity is the most self-deprecating thing; it can entirely take over and prevent you from reaching your full potential. That being said, you must also put in the work in order to have the confidence necessary to take any kind of risk in life. Once you’ve done your research, surround yourself with your supporters and ignore the naysayers – including the one inside your head! If you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect anyone else to?
ON Giving Back
Q: What cause(s) have you chosen to support and why does it resonate with you?
A: I am an avid supporter of Pencils of Promise, an organization dedicated to giving children around the world access to education. I strongly believe in education as the ultimate form of empowerment, and their approach to the project is a long-term plan of positive impact from building schools to hiring teachers to monitoring the work done. There are currently 75 million children globally without access to education. PoP is working to change this, and I am proud to be a supporter of their efforts.
ON Cooking & Food
Q: What is your favorite Restaurant?
A: One of my favorite spots in New York City is (luckily) right outside the AHAlife loft: il Buco on Bond Street. Their kale salad is absolutely delicious.
ON Cooking & Food
Q: If you were stranded on an island and could have an unlimited source of 3 foods (and calories were not a concern), what would they be?
A: These make a weird combination, but I would choose watermelon, caviar and ramen – and indulge one at a time!
Q: Who are your favorite designers?
A: I love vintage Alaia, especially mixed with amazing modern designers like Prabal Gurung and Rachel Roy.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: I was born in Inner Mongolia and moved to the United States after the Tiananmen Square Massacre. I graduated from MIT with a double major in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, concentrating on Artificial Intelligence and Management Finance, but I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. After graduation, I worked in both Private Equity (Principal Investment Area) and Investment Banking at Goldman Sachs before co-founding Aronsson Group, a luxury fashion investment and advisory firm, with Jeffry Aronsson (the former CEO of Donna Karan International, Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta). My journey then took me to Stockholm, where I served as the COO of Casall International, a Swedish wellness/activewear company.
It was while I was living in Stockholm, Sweden, where I would frequently stumble across exquisite items in boutiques created by true artisans, that I had my “aha” moment. I really wanted to share this experience with friends and family around the world; the problem was that these local merchants had no way of bringing their merchandise online in a space that would preserve the integrity of and the story behind the products. My mission with AHAlife is to fix this problem by providing a sustainable e-commerce platform for passing these luxury goods on to the most discerning consumers around the world.
Q: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase? Or in a growth/need to ‘now scale’ phase?
A: Each one of my previous career experiences has helped me launch AHAlife. My background in banking and private equity showed me the ins and outs of the fundraising process, while my advisory experience afforded me a keen understanding of various challenges and aspirations that surface when embarking on any inherently creative (and risky) endeavor. The most resounding lesson I’ve learned as a CEO is that of prioritization. As a growing company, we must be selective and invest our time and resources wisely to make sure each endeavor we undertake is not only brand-appropriate, but also seamlessly executed. Also, as the Founder and CEO of a start-up, you can come up with all of the crazy game-changing ideas in the world, but a lot of what makes these dreams transform into reality is based on finding the right people to empower and nurture, to make your vision their aspiration. Without fostering a team that shares a collective vision, success is never attainable. A start-up is very different from working for a corporation: there is no glass ceiling, no limit to the possibilities. I encourage all employees to dream bigger, reach further, and go above and beyond every day.