James & Judy (Yi) Kyllonen & Matthew Lu
James Kyllonen shares the business journey he has undertaken with fellow Alumni Judy and Matthew.
Describe your business and your role within it
We are a high-end jewellery company Kyllonen that focuses on bringing quality and value to customers. We make the highest quality products affordable and customizable. I currently run the company as the CEO and control a lot of our strategy and expansion. In addition to this, I’m also the head designer. I design everything from our jewellery, to our store front, and even the uniforms our retail sales employees wear. Ultimately, I try to bring vision to the company and to the Kyllonen Brand.
Judy is Head of Sales & Customer Relationship. She is an incredible sales person, brings in most of our customers and manages the relationship with our VIP customers. Judy is also heavily involved in all of the big company decisions too.
How did you get into this line of business?
Well, it wasn’t a straight path. I met my wife, Judy Yi, while in London. I ended up moving back to her home country of China. While in China, I had a friend’s mother ask for some Chinese pearls. China happens to be the largest producer of freshwater pearls in the world. I saw there was a business opportunity to sell them. So, I befriended a luxury jeweller and took some classes, while studying pearls in my spare time, so I could understand the product and the market. Then we went to market and got great feedback and have been growing ever since.
How did you go about setting it up and getting established? At what point were you joined by fellow alum Matthew Lu?
Initially I met with different suppliers and they agreed to let me create a price list of their pearls, and also the same thing with factories for the jewellery. I would then take photos and sell the pearls and the setting before I actually bought the products. Then every weekend I would travel to the suppliers and buy all the items to fill my orders. It allowed me to start without having any capital risk and inventory. Now, I design all the jewellery myself and we manufacture it. We also travel all over Asia and Oceania to buy our pearls, diamonds, and other gemstones.
Matt Lu joined the team in April 2019. He is our Executive of Chinese Operations. Basically, his job is to make the company grow. He has helped us establish a better online presence as well as a retail location and many more to come.
What else is in the pipeline?
Our goal is to not just be a jewellery company, but a full fashion house. We are currently in the process of developing our own line of fragrances for mens’ and womens’ perfumes/colognes. We need about three more months before we are ready to launch, but we are all excited about the new products. We are also working on a line of Mens’ suits. But that is a little bit far down in the pipeline for now.
What has been the proudest moment in your working life thus far?
Opening our first retail store along the historic Bund in Shanghai. There were months of planning, designing and prep work that went into it. It involved many all-night work sessions. Next the goal is to keep expanding and open stores across China and then Globally.
I would say my 2nd proudest moment, though, was making a customized ring for the 2019 World’s Strongest Man, Martins Licis. The ring featured a dragon that wrapped around the top and had over 42 grams of gold!
What has been your biggest mistake/learning experience?
Complacency is every businesses enemy. I feel there has been numerous times where we get into a groove and think everything is going well, so we ease off the marketing and hunt for new customers. However, we have learned that customers come and go, and you must continue to always adapt and find new ways to grow and attract new customers. If you don’t get this marketing aspect down, you’ll find your leads and old way of business will dry up.
Any words of advice/wisdom would you impart to others thinking of setting up their own business?
If you want to start a business, look for opportunity. Business is not about starting something you’re passionate about, because there might be no market for it or even too big of a market for it. Find an opportunity for a business, then make it your passion. I was never into jewellery or fashion, but now I make sure I am an expert in the field. It has become my passion.