Monica Kang is a passionate community bridge builder, creative culture educator, and curious researcher. She enjoys finding impactful ways to integrate different worlds, such as entrepreneurship and public policy to build a more multifaceted community.
Monica founded InnovatorsBox to help professionals tap into their creative potential. Through workshops, coaching, and supportive community, she empowers professionals with confidence and insights in creativity to enhance professional and personal growth. She also continues to pursue her passion in politics and nuclear nonproliferation.
Monica gained a deeper appreciation for nuanced differences and the importance of community building through living in 5 different countries and her prior experience in government, nonprofit and international organizations for 6+ years.
She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. at Boston University. She is also an active leader in StartingBloc, Hive, Startup Weekend, and Coach Diversity Institute.
In this interview, Monica shares with us why she built InnovatorsBox and how she bridges communities to integrate creativity in their professional and personal life. She also shares what keeps her pushing forward to reach her goals.
Her advice to entrepreneurs starting a business:
Understanding your intentions will help you determine what goals you want to set, how far you're willing to go and why.
Can you tell our readers a little bit about InnovatorsBox? What else do you do as an entrepreneur?
InnovatorsBox is an education startup fostering creativity for professionals in all sectors through workshops, games, and a supportive community.
Creativity is key to personal and professional growth. However, studies show that 75% of professionals do not feel fully creative and feel stuck. This is especially a challenge in DC, where a majority of professionals work in industries that often hamper creativity.
With limited opportunities to express their creativity, they began to doubt it existed. This result is not surprising because despite the increasing amount of information on the internet about creativity, no community exists that is tailored for the traditionally non-creative. No program exists to teach professionals to incorporate creativity into their daily routine or to remind them that everyone is creative in different ways.
InnovatorsBox aims to break the stereotype and allow professionals in non-creative industries to recognize that creativity comes in different forms, and that one does not need to be an artist or musician to express it. My mission is to redefine creativity by making creativity affordable, accessible, understandable, and relatable.
As a solo bootstrapping entrepreneur, I do everything and am learning a lot about the depth and complex nature of running a business that is focused on social impact and human behavior change.
What does InnovatorsBox do that makes it better than the rest? In other words, how did you find your competitive edge?
We are unique in our educational programs and games, the community we attract, and the impact we create as the only creative program not led by a traditional fine-art creative.
InnovatorsBox was born because there was a lack of community and programs that professionals outside of traditional fine art could learn and integrate creativity. Regardless of how much the importance was voiced, there really wasn’t much workshops, stories, and tools that helped professionals be more creative without going back to art.
I understand their pain points because I suffered too. I was a nuclear nonproliferation expert and worked in international affairs for 5+ years and while I loved my field, I struggled integrating creativity in my daily routine. Recognizing that there was no suitable program to learn how to build a creative mindset beyond ideation tools. I wanted to help curate that platform, community and tools.
Instead of learning how to ideate, we focus on experiential programs where participants learn about curiosity and questioning by doing exercises that they have to be curious and ask questions. As a result of our approach in community, B2B, and product, we are able to redefine the way how our community sees and relates to creativity.
Did you have a hard time starting your business? How did you handle time and resource constraints?
Of course! And I still do. I don't know how many times people discouraged me from taking this path that seemed to have no clear monetary value and no clear scalable plan. I kept getting push backs and questions like, “So when are you going to make this go online or make it into an app?”
The problem to these notions was first I didn’t want that as a customer, and my customers validated that they didn’t want it. I knew my business model will be hard for investors to jump in but I knew I was in the right track when I see the 360+ individuals glowing with happiness after experiencing one of my 32 events I have done in the past 9 months.
I used all my past work experience, knowledge, insights, and network to outset my constraints and challenges. For instance, my previous work as a project manager helped me play a critical role in managing multiple projects, keeping consistent professionalism and brand visibility. Knowing that my biggest assets are time and energy, I strategize in managing them to make the most out of each hour.
What is the biggest business mistake that taught you a powerful lesson? Would you mind sharing how it changed your business?
Two stand out — jumping too fast and having a scarcity mindset.
I’m fast in my decision making and thinking process. It helps me fix, adjust and be flexible but sometimes, I get too excited or jump into things too fast without diving deeper or waiting to see if that client would really become a client or not.
Now that I’m a year into the business, I get less jumpy about the decisions I make and always add extra buffer time for myself to think through my decisions to make ones. It also makes the decision process less stressful if I feel like I don’t have to do everything immediately which is how I felt sometimes early on.
Mindset is powerful. For a while, I focused on how to save money, resources, and energy. This caused me to step back from certain decisions and take less risks. But it wasn’t working. My saving would only save a little. It was only when I started to change my mindset as an investor and marathon runner that I saw more opportunities to grow than to save.
As someone told me ‘you can’t expect to grow without spending,’ I realized my attitude of wanting to save too extremely early on was the cause of limiting my growth. As soon as I changed that mindset of abundance, I have not only felt more free and reflective but also made decisions that made direct improvement in my business.
Abundance will come to those who think and live like they have abundance. Note, this is different from thinking that you have the abundance of money. That’s different.
What does a typical day look like for you? Is there something you make a point to do each day?
Every day is a mix of relationship building, product development, event planning, writing, reflecting, and strategizing the future. As a result, I spend a lot of time over emails, phone calls, in-person meeting, events, and hosting my own events. Some days I would be in meetings from 9 AM to 9 PM straight back to back, while others I would sit at my office all day working nonstop without talking to someone in person.
I’m getting back into eating healthier, taking walks, and exercising every morning. These small habits are helping me keep my body fitter and have the energy to think and process information in the way I need to.
Ultimately, if you're tired and not feeling well, your execution and deliverables will not be the same. I focus on being present and unplugging at least every day for a bit to recharge as well.
When times get tough, what would you say motivates you to keep going? To not hit the snooze button and to keep fighting for your goals.
I take walks, go treat myself, read, and remind myself why I took this path. Sometimes that reminder is from a text I get from a friend or a passage I wrote down on my notebook. Sometimes, its the bad real life experiences that remind me of why I wanted to work hard to pave the way for others.
And sometimes, its just reminding myself what it's like to be a consumer by going to events, learning, and meeting new people. These experiences enlighten me and remind me to look at things in new ways.
I also enjoy reading biographies of other successful leaders because reading about the struggles they had to go through to build their milestones show that moving mountains requires struggle, time, and patience.
What attitude/habits helped make you successful while starting InnovatorsBox?
Consistent determination, passion realistic optimism, hope, and creativity. It’s almost like a jar-mix of these ingredients that constantly flows, grows and moves. Without one of them the engine will not be the same as it could be. I consistently seek to be a better version of me and make a better version of this company.
Where do you see InnovatorsBox in the next 5 years? Any new products/services in development?
If we can do 32 events in 5 cities for 340+ individuals, we can’t wait to see what we can do in 5 years. By 2031, we plan to build a strong community hub in 6+ cities, make 6+ new creative games, offer more corporate training online and offline, and start special programs for veterans, elderly, and students in college.
We’d like to be the company known to be the place for creative and that's redefining creativity in society.
I strongly believe in reading. Do you have a book that you highly recommended Startup Savant readers and I grab a copy of?
I love reading too. Here is a list of some of my favorite books in creativity. Out of them, I highly recommend Creativity, Inc by Ed Cutmall on his journey of building Pixar, if one wants inspiration and perspective on how to build a creative culture.
As an entrepreneur, I really enjoyed The Hard Thing about Hard Things that put lots of life into perspective as an entrepreneur; Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit to understand human habit forming; Adam Grant’s Original on how original thinkers thought differently and went beyond the norm; and Jonah Berger’s Contagious on understanding how to build products that will catch and work for people.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice that you would give someone starting a business in DC? What do they need to know from the beginning?
1: Why do you want to start a business? Understanding your intentions will help you determine what goals you want to set, how far you're willing to go and why.
2: How far can I go - financially? And if I want to sustain longer, what would I need to be prepared? These are real questions to think ahead of time and be prepared. Knowing my financial lines helped me make better decisions. Know when to step up and step down.
3: Why you and Why now? Understanding your uniqueness helps you determine your value and potential. Even if you have a good intention, budget and motivation, if you can’t articulate why you're unique that's an issue. It's also harder to fight against those who disagree with you if you don’t believe in your own uniqueness. It shouldn't be something that could be replicable.