Q. To tee up this Q & A with some context, can you tell me what your company AHALife.com is all about?
A. AHAlife.com is an online discovery destination where consumers can learn about – and purchase – unique products and gifts from around the world, collectively curated by global influential tastemakers from Daniel Boulud to Tim Gunn. We offer one new luxury item every day to our members, who sign up for free to receive to learn about our exclusive products. We showcase a range of lifestyle products, but all are united by their exceptional workmanship, provenance and aesthetic. We believe in the importance of story-telling, highlighting the inspiration, creative process and what makes our curator’s finds truly unique.
Q. What led you to start AHALife.com? Was there an AHA moment for you the gave birth to the idea?
A. The AHA! moment came to me when I was living in Sweden. I’ve had the opportunity to travel and live all over the world and am constantly discovering unique products that should be globally available. Designers and brands designer, it is extremely difficult and expensive to expand their brand and products globally. I wanted to create a discovery destination and platform for people to be able to buy the best the world has to offer. I wanted to create a destination across your entire lifestyle…versus forcing the consumer to have to go to different categories. Time is the new luxury and people want to cut through the noise on the internet. AHAlife.com is all about cutting through that noise and clutter and working with the most influential tastemakers and experts to discover and make available treasures of the world.
Q. What makes AHALife a real business instead of just a cool idea?
A. Since the company launched its site in September 2010, AHAlife has grown its subscriber base by almost 10 times. We’ve created a sustainable platform that is a destination for the most discerning consumers to find the best unique lifestyle products the world has to offer. It is very difficult and expensive for a mono-brand to drive high quality awareness and traffic to their site. We aggregate the most discerning and influential individuals to come to one place, AHAlife, to discover, learn about and purchase. Over time, as we grow, we will have more and more of an impact for our brands. We are on an incredible growth track right now. The biggest potential for us is in the global market, and we haven’t even scratched the surface, we will be shipping internationally in the beginning of December.
Q. I understand you come from Beijing. What was your path to NYC?
A. I was born in Inner Mongolia, raised in China and moved to the United States when I was 8 years old. I grew up in Seattle, and attended MIT studying computer science, electrical engineering and management. After graduation, I took an investment banking job at Goldman Sachs. While I was at Goldman, I worked on several deals in the luxury space. I was fascinated by the industry dynamics and a little after a year at Goldman, I resigned to co-found a private equity luxury advisory firm with the former CEO of Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta. After several years investing and advising brands in the luxury space, I moved to Sweden to become the COO of Casall; a premium fashionable active wear brand. It was AHAlife that brought me back to New York City.
Q. Many Chinese love exclusive products. Would the AHAlife concept work in China?
A. As an emerging luxury market the Chinese consumer has a natural appreciation for brands and quality. In the next five years, China’s luxury goods consumption will reach $ 14.6 billion, making it the world’s largest luxury consumer. This incredible growth is driven by consumers constant appetite for history, heritage and knowledge of exclusive products. AHAlife will do well in China for these reasons as we provide a constant stream of unique high quality merchandise with a story.
Q. What is the hardest part about being an entrepreneur? What’s your daily challenge?
A. The most difficult part of being an entrepreneur is having so many ideas and figuring out how to prioritize.
Q. What’s next for AHALife? Anything interesting planned for 2012?
A. Stay tuned! Our main focus will be to grow internationally as well as expand to more offline partnerships. We are opening our first boutique in the SLS Beverly Hills Hotel later this year in partnership with SBE group!
Q. I ask this question of all global travelers like yourself – What is your favorite airport, hotel and restaurant in the world?
A. Amsterdam Schiphol, Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon, Hong Kong, Gou Bu Li Bao Zi in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia
Shauna Mei is the founder and CEO of AHAlife.com
Thanks Shauna for taking the time to participate in this Q & A session and best to you and AHALife.com