Ahead of the Trend: Jasmine Solano

The first time I heard about Jasmine Solano, it was from the Karmaloop homie, Chris, who had just seen her perform in New  York City. This was maybe around 2008 when she just dropped "That's Not It." I looked her up and immediately fell in love with her style, her music, her creativity, but more than anything else -- her hustle.  It was so dope to see a multi-talented woman such as Jasmine pursuing several creative ambitions in New York.

With the current trend of female DJs, I wanted to feature Jasmine -- someone who has been working on the craft for a long time -- to gain insight on the world of a DJ and share her experience with other aspiring artists.

After spending a few days with her and an interview, I discovered that she is really as cool as she seems, and more. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out how much we shared in common on a personal level -- Jasmine being biracial (half Indonesian, half Russian American), she reads up on Buddhism and she was politically active in her community as a youth.

As we discussed her passion for hip hop activism, sensitive spot for race issues, the importance of being authentic, being respected for your craft and traveling the world, beyond being a talented DJ who can rock a crowd Jasmine Solano is one of the most down to earth, intelligent and authentic creative hustlers I've met. 

Since the first time I've heard of Jasmine Solano, it's been amazing for me as an outsider to see her creative career grow--from young New Yorker paying dues to internationally touring DJ. She is a true testament that when your heart and your drive is in the right place, anything is possible. In a DIY digital age pumped with hype, Jasmine Solano is building a brand for longevity. 

More on Jasmine: Listen and download her new single with Melo-X here.

How Outer Borough's Carson Yiu tells his story through food


Smorgasburg is New York's biggest and most competitive food market, with a low acceptance rate of 8.5 - 11.4%--almost as hard as getting into Brown University with its 9.6% acceptance rate. I first met Carson Yiu, owner of Outer Borough, when I was scanning the 100 Smorgasburg food vendors trying to decide what to eat. Outer Borough caught my eye with its Taiwanese beef rolls--crispy scallion pancake rolled around marinated beef shank, scallions, cilantro, cucumber and secret sauce. One bite in, and I was hooked. Over the next few days I was craving Outer Borough, so I looked them up on Yelp to see if they had a location somewhere in the city. I couldn't find an address or a telephone number--just a Facebook Page. I commented on their wall, "Do you guys have any week day appearances??" When they replied, "Not right now!" I was crushed. Needless to say, I returned to Smorgasburg the following weekend to get my fix of Outer Borough.

It was essential I included a foodie in my launch of Maker's Lane.  Some of the most notable Asian American entrepreneurs in mainstream media right now are culinary creatives and restauranteurs, including Eddie Huang, owner of BaoHaus and inspiration behind ABC's new sitcom Fresh Off The Boat, and Roy Choi, owner of LA's infamous Kogi Trucks.  Initially, I thought Smorgasburg was just a weekend gig for most of the vendors, many of them have brick and mortars around the city. After spending time with Carson and witnessing his daily grind, I realized that Smorgasburg is a full time gig requiring a week of preparation and then an intense weekend of selling to customers. With the constant flow of foot traffic at Smorgasburg, vendors serve all their business in 2 long days versus spreading it out across a week from a storefront.  It was fascinating to learn how the emergence of food markets and other event-based opportunities in New York are making it possible for food entrepreneurs to create a sustainable business outside of the restaurant route.

When I asked Carson to be featured as an entrepreneur for Maker's Lane, I knew at the very least I would get a good story about one of my favorite things to eat at the most competitive food market in NYC.  After filming him, I was thrilled to discover such a powerful and inspiring story about self-love, family, representing your culture and overcoming rejection.  As Carson describes in the episode, his goal is to use Outer Borough as a platform to tell his story to the world.

How spoken word poetry makes the invisible real

While spoken word poet and filmmaker may not be typical associations of an entrepreneur, artist and founder of Moving Earth Productions, Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, has carved the path to creating a full-time career as just that.  Since discovering spoken word poetry as a teenager in Chicago, Kelly has continued to write and perform in over 500 venues across the country, including the White House and three seasons of Russell Simmon's HBO Def Poetry.  Her creative curiosity and passion for storytelling has expanded into filmmaking, theater and multidisciplinary productions.  But what is she "selling" to her audience?  Like any entrepreneur, Kelly brings unseen ideas into existence through her storytelling, essentially creating experiences that inspire and empower her audiences.

I've been a fan of Kelly for over 10 years--she is no doubt an influence on my own journey as a writer.  Over the years, I've admired the fact that she is one of the few people I've met and seen create a full-time career as a spoken word poet. As Kelly mentions in the episode, there is not a lot of transparency about how artist careers are created and sustained to operate like other full-time jobs.  Many young artists I've talked to feel they must reluctantly default to a full-time day job and create their art on the side (which is by no means a less respectable path). But for those who want to create their own job descriptions as a full-time artist, how can it be done?

This episode aims to address some of these questions by giving viewers a glimpse into Kelly's daily grind, her creative process on solo show "Formosa" and words of advice on how to operate as both an artist and an entrepreneur.  While there are definitely some tools and strategies that could be learned for creating artist careers (such as accounting and organization), at the end of the day, each artist's career is very unique to the individual so it will never be as simple as replicating a formula.  As Kelly states, "There's something that is you, and there are people who need to experience it...your job becomes how do you find those people."

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How WunWun coder wants to write the future

Coders are like inventors of the digital age--they write new ideas into existence. Growing up, computer savvy nerds on TV shows like Saved By The Bell were always deemed social outcasts and the antithesis of cool. Today, with the surge of start ups and mobile app companies, coders are in a higher demand than ever before. 

Software developer and Co-Founder of WunWun, Calvin Lai, is on a mission to radically improve the lives of busy New Yorkers by offering free on-demand delivery service on just about any item you can think of. Smartphones gave us immediate access to the world wide web with a swipe of the finger--email, messages, video chat, search engines, weather forecasts, stocks and world news. Now with WunWun, people will have immediate access to receiving any product in real time in the real world.

It was essential that I included a software developer who could share the start up experience in the Maker's Lane series. I loved getting to know Calvin's story because his passion for technology is rooted in improving people's lives and equipping kids to protect themselves in the future.  He also brings a soft touch to the story by talking about his father's immigrant experience and how that has influenced him to pursue the risky, entrepreneurial path.

Whether you are interested in technology or not, one of the best lessons for success from Calvin is to be true to who you are and pursue what you love. As someone who used to get bullied for being interested in computers, Calvin never stopped growing his passion. Today, he gets to do what he loves while enjoying the pent house view! Enjoy.



How EZ Threadz showed me confidence makes style

EZ Threadz

I discovered NYC based fashion designer, Inez Galvez, through my good friend Gabriela who was obsessed with Inez’s accessory line, EZ Threadz.  Not only were EZ Threadz products gorgeous, Gabriela was stoked to discover a dope, Fil Am female designer who was on her own hustle.  So when I was brainstorming my wish list of entrepreneurs to feature in my web series, I definitely wanted Inez in the mix to showcase her NYC story in the fashion industry.

I spent about 3.5 days with Inez filming different parts of her life–working in her apartment, picking out fabrics, visiting her boutique retailer, running production orders at the garment factory and finding time to grab a sandwich at the corner deli.  Inez showed me that running your own business is a 24 hour job! There is always something to work on or think about when trying to grow your brand.  One of the most valuable things I took away from our conversations was how to balance integrity and values in the choices to grow capital and business. There can be no entrepreneur without passion, and there can be no business without money.

Inez and I talked for hours about being a conscious artist, an effective business person, a woman in male dominated industries and carving your own path. There's tons of footage that I couldn't include in this 10 minute piece. She is truly an inspiring woman who reminds us that we don't have to participate in certain methods we don't agree with--no matter which industry you're in.  If we're unhappy or unfulfilled with how things are run, we have the power to change this by shaping existing systems or creating new ones. 

Whether you’re interested in the fashion industry or not, Inez’s story is an inspiration for all dreamers and aspiring entrepreneurs looking to create their own frequency. Enjoy!

How I fell in love with Mott Street Cycles


When I moved to New York early 2013, of course one of the first things on my to-do list was to find the best pho restaurant in the city. After asking around and trying a few places, I decided that Pho Bang in Chinatown was my new favorite joint. The pho was nothing like my mom's--but good enough for a pho fix, the workers spoke Vietnamese to me, prices were cheap, and the owners reminded me of grandparents I never had growing up (RIP). Plus, I love supporting small family businesses. 

As I was leaving the restaurant one night, I walked a few steps down Mott Street until bright vibrant colors caught the corner of my eye. I leaned into the glass door, saw beautiful bikes of all color combinations and a lit "Strada" sign hanging on the wall.  I've never seen a cooler bike shop. Unfortunately, they had closed for the day so I told myself I would definitely come back.

The next day, I went to visit Strada and check out their bikes. I was met by one of the Founders, Tommy. He was so nice and helpful. Tommy told me about their custom bikes, how the shop had  only been open for a year, and how they first started selling bikes on Craigslist. I was immediately inspired by their story of hard work and hustle.  Cory and Tommy are both the same age as me, so I really connected with their success story and work ethic. 

After that, I waited 3 months for winter to end so I could go and buy my first bike from Strada. I was probably one of the more annoying customers who couldn't decide on the color combinations. Cory and Tommy were both super patient and supportive in me designing my first ride. Since then, I've fallen in love with my bike and ride it proudly everywhere. My Strada custom bike has become an integral part of my NYC experience.  I ride it to work, I ride it to meetings, I ride it at night when meeting friends at the bar. If I couldn't get somewhere by bike (i.e. rain or snow), I was most likely bailing. 

So when I conceived the idea to do a web series on NYC entrepreneurs, Mott Street Cycles was definitely on my wish list. The whole team is made up of some of the coolest, most down to earth and inspiring guys I've met in New York. It's been a real honor for me to spend some quality time with them and share their story with you all! Enjoy!