Refugee Camp Survivor Making it Big in NYC – Meet an Invest Diva
Monica is a refugee camp survivor making it big in NYC. She grew up doing chores for neighbors in exchange for dinner as a teenager. Now she is the CEO of a successful startup in NYC. A true Invest Diva, she is an example that shows making smart investments pays off. In this case, Monica invested in herself and her passion.
In 2006, Monica Phromsavanh moved to New York with 200 dollars in her pocket, a suitcase stuffed with her belongings, and a dream to make it on her own.
“I used 73 dollars to buy a Metro card,” said Phromsavanh. “I used the rest to eat Dollar Menu every day.”
Yet within years of setting foot in the city, she’d found her niche, built a business from scratch, and generated $3 million in revenue by its third year.
Naturally, I had to interview her and share her secrets to success with you.
Interview with Refugee Camp Survivor Making it Big in NYC: Meet Monica
Tell me your story as a woman in male dominated industry, or as a minority in general
I’ve considered the odds stacked against me. I am a woman, a minority and an immigrant. Women are CEOs of a tiny percentage of all businesses in the US and minority immigrant women make up only a tiny percentage of women run businesses. On top of all of that I am a high school dropout. But I don’t let any of those facts define me or my approach. Customers might be attracted to Modabox in part because of my personal story but they won’t stay because of it. They stay because they love the service we provide. I do want to use my unique status to inspire other women and other minorities and immigrants. I believe if someone who got the start in life that I did can build a successful business in New York of all places, then anyone with determination can as well.
What has been your absolute best achievement?
Considering my background, running a start-up and being capable of presenting my plan to investors feel like great accomplishments to me. But my greatest satisfaction comes from being able to create jobs and provide an opportunity and livelihood for others. Knowing that I might employ someone, inspire them and change the course of their life is very rewarding. I was born in a refugee camp and before I was a teenager I would often resort to doing chores for neighbors in exchange for dinner. My journey began when I got my first job so I could afford life’s absolute necessities. I can truly appreciate the value of an opportunity and I believe Modabox is providing a great one to those who work with us. I want to give the people we hire the chance to do something they love using the skills they have and develop the skills they don’t to grow personally and professionally.
OK, so nobody is perfect. What is the biggest thing you can improve on?
I like to aim to consistently be a better version of myself; I want to be someone that never stops. Sometimes this has caused me to be stubborn and tune out the advice of my trusted cofounders and advisors. I am a determined person and a lot of my determination comes from my confident knowledge of the challenges I face. I need to remember that although the goal may be clearly defined the route to get there will always be filled with variation and being able to adjust usually means achieving what we set out to do.
What was the funniest thing or incident that has happened to you at work? Any cringe worthy or epic fail moments?
A couple of years ago, Modalistas, my 4000 sq.ft store at the Limelight Shops was a hotbed of activity and shoppers when I was approached by a team of producers working on a reality show profiling female entrepreneurs in NY. It was incredibly exciting because they were serious and there was a great vibe around myself and the store. My team and I spent weeks preparing to shoot a demo reel and it turned out great! For reasons that nothing to do with what we shot, the show never aired. Although it was a disappointment, I look back at the video we shot and it’s still pretty exciting. I have a great team filled with strong personalities and it makes me happy to know that I built that! We would have made great television!
What is your biggest dream?
I’d love to one day be able to one day focus all of my time and energy toward philanthropy. I want to change people’s lives, especially those of underprivileged women whose stories might be similar to mine. My life was touched by some sort of miracle. I was raised in a refugee camp in a extremely poor environment where my family had little hope for a better future. We lived day by day hardly getting by and we were happy just having a meal on our table. I know the feeling of hopelessness felt by so many women around the world living in poverty and my biggest dream is invest myself in making a positive impact on the lives of others.
What is your advice for women in male dominated industries or minorities who are struggling to get ahead?
Society often makes us believe we are inferior to our male peers or we are less capable but I truly believe the person next to you whether man or woman faces the same challenges running a business. If I compare myself to someone that is 10 steps ahead of me, it dawns on me that this person did not have special powers, they are human regardless of any advantages they might have had. Everything he did I also can do. My advice is to ignore any disadvantages you feel that you face, believe you are capable, focus on your achievement and keep moving forward and one day you’ll look back and be surprised how far you’ve come. The only way to overcome any challenge is perseverance. Knowing your position when you begin is only useful in measuring your progress. I am a woman, a minority and an immigrant. I started my life in America not knowing a single word of English. If I considered only those facts when I decided to become an entrepreneur, maybe I would never have even tried. But I knew that my determination and belief in myself would allow me to defy the obstacles I would face no matter where they were rooted.
Monica is a true inspiration for all women. She is a refugee camp survivor making it big in NYC. If she can do it, why can’t you?