Julep founder Jane Park takes wraps off another startup and shares what she’s learned along the way

Jane Park holds the first packed shipment for the first order from her new company, Tokki, a gift wrap product with a digital twist. (Jane Park Photo via Instagram)

Jane Park comes bearing gifts. After years of experience as the founder and CEO of Julep, the onetime Seattle cosmetics juggernaut, some of those gifts are intriguingly wrapped in a nod to her latest venture. Others, such as confidence and drive, are just ingrained in Park, as part of her entrepreneurial spirit.

Park is starting over at the startup game with the recent launch of her second company, Tokki, a reusable gift wrap product with a digital twist.

As she again navigates getting a company up and running — attracting new customers, rethinking the way people might use e-commerce and technology — Park is drawing on lessons learned and taking a more transparent approach to the entire process of launching a startup.

There is a sense of accomplishment born out of her hard work creating a pioneer in the online cosmetics industry that turned Julep into a leading beauty brand. And there is an ease and comfort that comes with being able to back this venture herself, three years after an acquisition that changed everything for Park and Julep.

“I’m grateful to have this opportunity to do it differently this time,” Park told GeekWire this week. “And certainly leveraging everything that I’ve learned, to do this in a way that I feel most suited.”

A gift wrapped in Tokki wrap, with a special band that relays a digital message. (Tokki Photo)

Tokki — Korean for “rabbit” — is an eco-friendly gift wrap aimed at providing a sustainable answer to the millions of tons of non-recyclable wrapping that ends up in landfills. The 100-percent cotton wraps, with carefully selected designs, serve as the flair to make a gift stand out, but an attachable band for cinching the fabric together has digital and social capabilities — and is there to make the moment last.

Gift givers can record special messages and attach a photo or video, accessible by the recipient through a QR code on the band, scanned by a smartphone camera. On Tokki’s website, shoppers can purchase three different sizes of wrap priced from $24 to $34, and the gifting comes with a conscious. The product description for “A Celebration of Polar Bears” wrap, for instance, includes a message about climate change, a call to action for helping to combat it, and a donation of some profits to aid wildlife.

While the site and experience is live, it’s a work in progress. And Park prefers it that way.

“We’re iterating still on the digital experience and the physical product — iterating as we sell,” Park said. “I always say that paying customers are the most important and helpful form of feedback. I believe in the idea of getting started when you feel confident that you can delight a customer, not when the product is perfect, and then you can try to continue to build in features that delight them further.”

Introducing Tokki – bringing thoughtful technology and sustainable design to your gifting moments. Check us out at tokki.com. I kinda want to be our first order, but maybe I’ll wait to see if it’s you. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Thank you for being part of our launch! I’m holding up my glass to you. Very, very grateful. And tired. And grateful. XOXOXO ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Jane ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #ecobusiness #entrepreneurship #womenentrepreneurs #ecofriendlygifts #giftingmadeeasy #sustainablelifestyle #risingstrong #zerowaste

A post shared by tokki (@tokkigifting) on Sep 18, 2019 at 5:17pm PDT

That reflection on what’s worked for her in the past — and what’s working or not this time — is a constant for Park, and one that she plans to convey quite openly as Tokki takes off. On the company blog and on LinkedIn she has already shared a post about “taking the leap” again. She told GeekWire that building Julep was a bit of a lonely experience where didn’t feel like she had the resources where she could just “spill her guts openly.”

“It’s a lot of Silicon Valley bros who are saying they’re always killing it,” Park said. “It doesn’t really help you when you are facing challenges as we all do when we’re starting a company.”

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But before sharing what it is she’s doing, Park had to come to terms with even doing it, after giving 10 years to Julep. And especially after witnessing everything that transpired in the last couple years of the company, from the acquisition to her stepping aside to the eventual closure of Julep’s Seattle headquarters.

“I always thought that I wasn’t gonna do it again,” said Park, a first-generation Korean immigrant and Yale Law grad who didn’t really even plan on Julep as a career path.

Her parents had to be small business people, and they were really against entrepreneurship. It wasn’t a glorified thing in her household the way being a doctor or a lawyer would be.

“When I did Julep I really thought, ‘This is the only thing that I have in me,’” she said. “I actually always poo-pooed serial entrepreneurs. Like, ‘How could you have more than one idea?’ It’s like knowing that you want to be married to more than one person, it’s so all consuming.”

Jane Park accepts the CEO of the Year honors at the 2014 GeekWire Awards in Seattle. (GeekWire File Photo)

Julep wasn’t an itch that Park scratched to just to satisfy a need to do something entrepreneurial. While creating it, raising money for it and growing it, she never imagined doing anything else. She wanted to specifically build something around women and change the conversation on beauty while using what was technologically possible to create more engaged communities.

She’s bringing that all-in mentality to Tokki. And she’s bringing her own money — a luxury she didn’t have at Julep, where she used all of her savings before seeking outside investment.

“The problem with entrepreneurship for most entrepreneurs is that they don’t have access to even just a seed level of capital to get things off the ground,” Park said. “Every entrepreneur will tell you that raising money is your second or third job on top of the job of leading the company. It’s a lot of hats and a lot of constituents.”

Park made her first Tokki hire in June, but wasn’t ready to share how many she has made since. She did say that it feels like she’s starting a Spokane, Wash.-based company because the sewing production and product fulfillment is taking place in that city, five hours east of Seattle.

Her position on the board of the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, which connects leading industries to talent by reducing barriers to education and training, fueled her thinking about how the entire state is doing economically.

A variety of Tokki Instagram posts conveying a sustainable message. (Tokki Photos via Instagram)

And beyond the state, the effort has her thinking about the planet.

“Re-gifting isn’t as dirty a word as landfill,” she said, hoping that the idea of extending the life of gift wrap and turning it into a social experience will catch on. “Everybody re-uses gift bags, but we’re trying to make that cool.”

The Tokki bands can be purchased separately and attached to anything that serves as a wrapper. Park used one to tie up a bed sheet when she gave her husband a beach bike as a wrapped gift. Names and emojis viewable via the QR code are attached to various gift givers and will stay with the band so that users can track how many times it’s been re-gifted and share in a sense of collective action.

The intersection of physical, digital and social products is an important one for Park, and a continuation of what she did with Julep.

“It feels like what is possible today is a different type of richer experience that combines something physical that you can see, touch and feel in your hands,” she said, “but also is connected to a broader community than you might be able to be connected to in real time, in real life.”

As for whether she thinks Tokki can take off and end up as big as Julep, Park’s answer seemed to illustrate yet another lesson from her startup experience: exercise cautious optimism.

“I neither expect it to be nor am I trying to prevent that from happening,” she said.

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