Welcome back to Founding Females where we share the inspiring stories of passionate women who declared their independence and stepped out on their own to build the company they wanted to see in the world.
Today we meet Iris Zhou of Comeback Magazine, a digital and print magazine for young creatives. I actually met Iris a couple of years ago when she interviewed me for her magazine, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to finally interview her! I was impressed with her immediately, and I think you will be too.
Iris was still in high school when she launched her business, and believe it or not, this was not her first business venture!
IZ: I started many tiny businesses as a kid, posting little drawings on Etsy and selling them as printable art. What made me so interested was the fact that even the problems I faced engaged my mind and motivated me to figure them out. I didn’t know until much later, however, that what I was doing was trying to be an entrepreneur.
As Iris approached the time to make decisions about what to do after high school, she looked around her for inspiration. However, what she found was that everyone seemed to be taking the same path. Graduating. Moving. Going to college. She felt like the options were limited in terms of the paths and lives that could be pursued.
She was fascinated by the decision making process. How did people decide what to do? What factors did they consider? What was their thought process, and was there something she could learn from it that would be relevant for her life and choices?
Already blogging at that time and with a keen eye for design, she decided to just ask these people and translate those questions into a publication. She also decided to seek out those on a less traditional path.
ALV: What inspired you to start your business/brand?
IZ: As a young blogger back in the day, a question I always asked myself was why anyone would want to read my posts or hear my opinions. This thought prompted me to think of what content I felt was still missing in the world. I had connected with a lot of creatives over the years and decided to compile all their amazing experiences into a magazine.
Comeback Magazine focuses on helping creatives set and achieve their goals through thought-provoking articles and new perspectives.
Iris’s focus and her company’s reflection of it, has evolved over time. She started by appealing to creatives of all ages and focused exclusively on the print version of the magazine. But like any good entrepreneur, when she got feedback from her audience and learned more about them over time, she pivoted.
Now Comeback specifically targets young creatives, and it is a digital community in addition to being a publication.
IZ: One challenge has been defining the focus of Comeback. I’m interested in many areas of being a creative and the content I was collecting covered many categories. I knew that I needed to be specific and that has made me constantly evaluate where I want the magazine to be. While that has caused many shifts and uncertainties, it has made me a better decision-maker.
When building a business, it is not easy to say, “My company is for this kind of person and not that kind of person.” It feels limiting. You worry you could be excluding someone who may benefit from what you’re creating. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in my 3 years of building Ama La Vida, it’s that focus is key. But determining how and where to focus can be confusing, and making the decision to pivot or become more niche is intimidating.
As you have to make these difficult decisions time and time again, you become a better decision maker, which is what Iris has been experiencing.
IZ: I want to make good decisions, and I don’t want decisions to drag on. For me, it is about balancing researching and looking into possibilities with the gut feeling of, “Does this feel right?”
That gut check is so important. People have lots of opinions about how you should run your business and which opportunities you should be pursuing, but at the end of the day, you know your business best, and sometimes you need to just go with your gut.
It can be difficult to listen to your gut, though when you are making these decisions all alone. Often you contemplate an idea and aren’t sure if you are an absolute genius or totally insane. Having a great group of people around you who can help weigh in and help you find the right solution for you is key.
ALV: If you could start your business over again, what would you do differently?
IZ: I would search for a solid team early on in the business. Running Comeback on my own has given me a lot of freedom to experiment and make quick changes as I see fit. I do lack, however, a support group that can provide input, be invested in the future of the business, and take on some of the work needed to propel the business to new heights. Even just the discussion is helpful to my process.
So when you don’t have a team to help you get your business of the ground, what do you do? You ask for help.
ALV: Who has been most helpful to you on your journey?
IZ: The willingness of others to share their experiences with me. Whether with content for the magazine or answering my questions about different parts of my business. I’ve grown more comfortable with asking help from strangers and I’ve found that most people are more than happy to offer a helping hand.
At this point in the story, you’ve likely forgotten the small detail that Iris is still a teenager. In fact, I hope you have. Because while her age makes her accomplishments and ambition incredibly impressive, it doesn’t limit her knowledge or experience.
IZ: being a young creative, I’ve faced many doubters and critics that judge my abilities based on my age. I started when I was fifteen and even now at nineteen, I still have adults use my age as a reason to doubt me and the legitimacy of my business. I’ve found that I’m not the only one, and this made me realize that there isn’t a space for young creatives who want to make a business out of their skills. I’m hoping to push Comeback to become that community this next year.
What for others might be something that stops them from moving forward, Iris has used this agism as fuel to move her business forward and actually has turned it into an opportunity to create something so desperately needed by others like her. She is charting the path for other young, creative entrepreneurs who want to utilize their talents in a constructive way. And she has some final words of advice for them.
ALV: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting a business but is scared to?
IZ: For me, I chose a path to starting the magazine that had only as much risk as I was comfortable with at the time. Of course, the chances I took grew and grew, but I tried to plan and prepare as best I could for whatever may come.
Know what kind of leader you are and make sure you have the resources to help you be the best version of yourself you can be. There will be risks to be taken and challenges to overcome and if you’re feeling your best, you will be able to handle anything that comes to you.