Nine years ago, Cassey Ho quit the corporate job that was making her miserable and started following her passions: Pilates and fashion. Almost a decade later, she now has 4 million YouTube subscribers and is poised to launch the fourth collection in her activewear line, Popflex, this spring.

Creator of Blogilates Cassey Ho and her POPsters

Since 2009, Ho has kept two things at the center of her business—listening to her audience and staying creative. She regularly asks viewers to comment on her workout videos with requests for body areas to target, and then will package it in new and quirky ways, like a Wonder Woman-themed workout. Similarly, when she noticed more and more body-shaming comments appearing on her videos, she channeled the negativity into one of her most personal (and most watched) videos, “The ‘Perfect Body,’” which reached more than 12 million views.

“When I started the YouTube channel, it was because I was moving from California to Boston and wanted my students to be able to keep following me,” Ho says of Blogilates’ early days. Now her unique mix of Pilates moves, pop playlists, and a perky personality can be seen around the globe, and her “POP Pilates” classes are licensed out to nearly 1,000 venues worldwide.

We asked Ho to share more of her creator story, including how she’s funded the company and developed a strong team culture.

How did you find the confidence to stick with your vision when you decided not to go to medical school or to quit your corporate job in order to teach Pilates full-time?

I’ve always been confident in myself because I have been confident in my skills. Even when people didn’t believe in me, I knew I would figure it out and be successful one day. I just kept working on my skills. It’s not about being better than anyone else. Put your head down, work hard, and the facts will speak for themselves.

While you’ve said your parents didn’t initially agree with you leaving the med school path, how do you think being raised by immigrants contributed to your own entrepreneurial spirit?

Everything we go through makes us who we are. My parents came to this country, didn’t know the language, and worked in the face of discrimination. That drive is also in me. They’ve made me very conscious about spending my money smartly and making the most of my education. I put education at the forefront of what I was doing. But at some point, it became too much because it wasn’t the only thing that mattered.

How have you funded your company?

Growing up, I’ve always been entrepreneurial. In middle school, I started a cookie business by melting down Halloween candy and selling it to my friends and even teachers! I made some money that way, and so I’ve always had some money saved up. In college, I had printouts of ebooks that people didn’t want to buy their own copies of. Probably illegal, but it helped me save up some money!

Then, when I made my first purchase of fabrics to make my first yoga bag, I went to the LA fashion district, bought bolts of fab for a discounted price, and found a manufacturer in Oakland by flipping through the physical yellow pages! That’s how we started. I never got an investment from anyone. I started with what I had and built it from there. I grew the way I knew how to.

“I never got an investment from anyone. I started with what I had and built it from there.”

Who was your first employee?

Unofficially, my parents. They let me use their garage, which then expanded to the living room, the family room, and the kitchen before we got our own space.

My business partner—now fiancé—Sam Livits was my first employee. Since we were small, he did everything. He helped me film the very first video. We used a tiny camcorder and the sound is terrible. That was his first duty, but now what he does is negotiate brand deals and manage e-commerce and technical stuff on our site.

After establishing a following for your fitness videos, how did that translate to customers for your activewear brand?

As the YouTube channel started to grow, I got an audience who trusted me. It’s really important that your fans know you and they can trust that you wouldn’t screw them over. It gives you a marketing power that is so unique. When I did launch my first T-shirts, they sold out in a minute. Then they started asking for leggings. I was inspired by what the audience asked for and meshed that with my creativity.

“It’s really important that your fans know you and they can trust that you wouldn’t screw them over. It gives you a marketing power that is so unique.”

It can be difficult for scrappy, ambitious entrepreneurs to give up control after wearing all the hats in their business. How have you dealt with that as your team has grown?

That’s something that I’m learning how to handle better. My best advice for that is to hire people who are better than you at those certain things so you can feel comfortable giving up control. If you don’t hire someone better than you, you’ll always see the faults and it won’t be good for the business because you’ll always be checking their work. They need to impress you.

“If you don’t hire someone better than you, you’ll always see the faults and you’ll always be checking their work.”

How big is your team now?

We have 10 people, including the people in the creative office in LA and shipping in Northern California. We’re hiring all the time because we’re drowning in work.

I found that has been one of the most difficult things—finding people that align with your vision and personalities that can help you build that solid culture.

How would you define the Blogilates culture?

Our culture is happy, positive, very encouraging. Basically, who I would like to hang out with. All of us work really hard and are really creative. During our interview process, we try to do tests to make sure we all can work together. Talent is important, but not as important as being able to let your ego go and try the best you can to get the results.

Who do you turn to for advice on how to create culture?

I talk to fellow CEOs and businesswomen about culture and hiring all the time. I have a core group of YouTube friends I talk to, including Lindsey Stirling, Rosanna Pansino, Lilly Singh, I Justine, and Payal Kadakia of Classpass. The more I talk to people, the more I feel OK with the problems I’m having. When culture isn’t going right, it eats at my heart. It’s really good to know that it may not always be my fault.

“When culture isn’t going right, it eats at my heart.”

What areas are you hoping to expand into in 2018?

We’re trying to grow our wholesale business. We haven’t tapped into this yet because we have an audience already who will buy our product. To be honest, I’m not totally versed in this. It will be fun to learn. And we’ll definitely need to hire for that.

From the beginning, fashion has been part of the business, starting with you designing yoga bags while you taught Pilates full-time. How much of your business is the fashion component now?

It’s the biggest part of our business. Merchandise, in general, is the biggest part. Stationary, water bottles—everyone wants a piece of the brand and the story. That’s something special that we have.

The personal touch is the reason the brand is what it is today. You can see that even with the YouTube videos, where I’m talking about nails and shopping. That may not add to the workout, but it brings you closer. People trust people, not brands. It’s important to consistently be transparent and be honest.

Where do you get inspiration for your fashion and fitness?

I always ask fans what they’re looking for. I do research on colors I think will be hot. We don’t subscribe to trend reports. I just go with, I like stars, so let’s go with it. So far it’s worked. If you have a story behind what you’re sharing, people will respond to it.

What’s a recent example of producing something based on requests from followers?

One of our hottest selling products is our Fit Planner. We just sold out of the 2018 edition. That started five years ago because people kept asking for a way to be organized and fit. Over time, we’ve created [better and better versions] of these journals. This year had best design and most positive response to it.

You’re getting married this year. With these big personal changes, do you imagine your business changing along with you?

I do. In terms of product range, I see it changing. Leading up to the wedding, I’ll do a bridal boot camp. I wouldn’t feel good doing that unless I was actually getting married. Then maybe later I’ll be making fitness clothes for babies! Life is exciting, and we should keep evolving and sharing with people as it changes.

What are the two key traits that have contributed to your success?

My ability to be creative in problem-solving and my attitude of never giving up.

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“I was the butt of many jokes,” says Jiliang Ma, an entrepreneur based in Suzhou, a Chinese city about 90 minutes west of Shanghai.

When he saw a friend lose a baby late in her pregnancy, he got the idea for a fetal monitoring device. Friends teased him because he wasn’t even married, let alone a father, but he persevered.

Three years later, Ma’s wife Rebecca and 15,000 other pregnant women around China have used his device called Modoo, which tracks their babies’ development. The device — a flat, cordless disc that attaches to a mother’s belly with silicone gel stickers — measures fetal heart rate and other vital stats, and relays the information via a smartphone app.

Modoo inventor Jiliang Ma celebrates with his wife Rebecca and son Yoyo.

The device also monitors the strength of a baby’s kicks. The name Modoo is adapted from the company’s Chinese name Meng Dong, which means “adorable performance” or “cute kick.”

“During my wife’s pregnancy, she used my product every day,” says the 29-year-old entrepreneur. “I got data instantly on my mobile phone. I could see how hard the baby kicked, his heartbeat.”  

Even though he was traveling a lot for business during his wife’s pregnancy, Ma was happy that he could help monitor the progress of his son Yoyo. Ma laughs as he recalls one time when Yoyo’s kicks became quite intense: “I said to her, ‘He kicked you too hard. We are going to have to kick his ass after he comes out!’”

Modoo inventor Jiliang Ma jumps for joy when he wins at the Shanghai Creator Awards.

Modoo connects to an app that allows users to share data via social media sites like WeChat and Weibo. Ma says that makes it easy to help family and friends feel more connected.

At the Shanghai Creator Awards, sponsored by WeWork, Ma and his company took home the Business Venture award. Ma’s first reaction when he won the $360,000 grand prize was to jump for joy. The award, Ma said, “gives me confidence and energy to compete more.”

He also expressed his gratitude to his team of 30, which is based out of Beijing’s WeWork Wangjing. “I know how hard it has been for all of us these past three years,” he says. “We all work 20 hours a day. I’m really thankful to them.”

The prize money, he said, will help the company expand into new markets like Canada and the United States. But first he wants to take a while to savor the moment.

“I’m going to stare at the trees, the lakes, and then visualize our next step — New York — and beyond that, how we will conquer the world!”

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Nick Lim understands firsthand the life-changing power of a pair of pants.

Growing up in a humble household in Singapore, Lim loved singing but was unable to participate in school concerts because he didn’t have the right clothes. When he was 10 years old, his choir teacher asked him to meet her after school. They visited a shop where she purchased him a pair of slacks and a crisp white shirt.

Recalling that moment more than three decades later, Lim says his teacher’s generosity “allowed me to express myself onstage and develop self-respect.” It was occasional moments like this throughout his life, he says, that restored his faith in humanity.

“When you grow up poor in a dysfunctional family, you think the world is cruel,” he says. “You grow up thinking, ‘Why is the world so unfair?’ Every once in a while someone helped me though they had no obligation to, and that made me look at the world with a different perspective.”

Lim says those acts of kindness helped him stay on track at school and succeed as an investment banker. But as he excelled in his career, he began to question his life’s value.

WeWork Shanghai
At the Shanghai Creator Awards, Nick Lim accepts his prize from WeWork founder Adam Neumann.

“At the end of the day, we only live once,” he says. “What am I put on this world for? Definitely not to make as much money as possible.”

Five years ago he started baosquared, an organization that collects used clothing and other items and sends it to needy children in rural China. It also partners with brands like Vans to make sure their surplus merchandise doesn’t go into incinerators or landfills. So far it has helped 4,596 children.

“If people could help me the way they did and push me in the right direction,” he asks, “why couldn’t I do it for someone else?”

 The organization takes care to distribute only clothing that is not torn, stained, or otherwise damaged.

“You don’t want to give children something that makes them feel devalued,” he says. “If you give them something nice, it makes them feel loved. Checking a piece of clothing takes an extra 20 seconds, but makes a huge difference. If they grow up to be kind, generous, and loving, then we have a better chance.”

The same person who wore his first formal suit to perform with his school choir took the stage in front of hundreds of people at the Shanghai Creator Awards to receive the WeWork Community Giver award. The event celebrates and provides funding to innovators and entrepreneurs who are making an impact on their communities.

“It’s great to know there is an organization out there like WeWork looking for guys like us and shows its appreciation to little guys doing what we’re doing,” he says.

Lim feels that he’s helping to change the world one child at a time.

“When I visit the children, they try to show their appreciation,” Lim says. “I say to them: ‘What I would like you to do instead of thanking me is to someday when you are in the position to help someone, pay it forward.’”

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Kate Wang’s daughter Tingting loves to sing, socialize, and meet new friends. She also loves makeup, often taking herself to the hair or nail salon. She is like any other 25-year-old girl living in Nanning City in Guangxi, in southern China — except that when Tingting goes out, she does so by electric wheelchair.

Tingting was born with cerebral palsy, a muscle disorder that in China is considered an illness, rather than a disability. Wang struggled to find appropriate long-term resources and support networks for her daughter.

“People think of children as angels,” said Wang, “but when they see a disabled child or a family with a disabled child, they think of it as a burden or even a disaster.”

When Tingting was rejected by local public schools, Wang and her husband, Lvijiang Li, started AngelHouse, which provides housing, physical training, education, and counseling for around 90 children and young adults with cerebral palsy.

“I want to tell everyone that children with disabilities are still angels,” Wang said.

When it was started in 2002, the nonprofit encountered a host of unexpected challenges. As disabled children are sometimes considered bad luck in China, neighbors petitioned to evict AngelHouse from one of its locations. They’ve had to move five times in the last 16 years.

AngelHouse founder Kate Wang: “I want to tell everyone that children with disabilities are still angels.”

Relying on her family for childcare, Wang tried to balance the nonprofit and her work as a TV reporter. She was left with no time for herself or her daughter. “I was not only very tired,” she said, “but also very conflicted.”

But this period didn’t last long. “I was sure my daughter needed this, and others like her needed it,” Wang said. “Without AngelHouse, they didn’t have a future.”

When Wang swept both the Nonprofit and the Audience Choice awards at WeWork’s Shanghai Creator Awards, it was the culmination of her hard work over the past 16 years. “When I looked down at those two awards in my hands, so many images came to mind — the work of so many years, the faces of our AngelHouse children,” she said.

Winning the Audience Choice Award was particularly momentous. “That one felt amazing,” Wang said. “And it was such a surprise.”

AngelHouse started as a means for Wang and Li to do good for those in need. But today, after having helped thousands of children and families, Li says that she herself has been the ultimate beneficiary. “I can’t say that I’ve helped them,” she said. “It’s more accurate to say that they’ve helped me.”

Just after winning, Wang talked to her daughter and received yet another gift. Tingting exclaimed, “Thank you, Mom! Your efforts keep reenergizing us, and you always keep reenergizing me.”

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The inaugural Shanghai Creator Awards took place in a massive former aircraft factory transformed into an art exhibition space, the West Bund Art Center. The entire area along Shanghai’s southern waterfront was developed seemingly overnight five years ago as part of the city’s ambitious plans to kick-start its arts scene onto the global stage.

WeWork, a network offering space, community, and physical and virtual services that currently has physical locations in 21 countries, was introduced to China less than two years ago but aims to move in a similarly explosive and transformative way. The scale and energy of the company’s signature event, the Creator Awards –– which celebrates entrepreneurs, nonprofits, community leaders, and performing artists –– was testament to the likewise outsized dreams, plans, and successes of the featured entrepreneurs from China, as well as to WeWork’s unprecedented growth in the country. It was a night that celebrated, as Shanghai itself often manifests, the glimmering vision of the future.

Here are the biggest, best, most touching, and most awkward moments of the night.

Best swag: Original T-shirts emblazoned with the night’s logo “Created in China,” available from a live screen-printing station run by Shanghai’s IB Print Club. Created in China and right in front of your eyes (drying made more expeditious via a hand-held hair dryer.)

Tiniest item for sale at the pop-up market: Jelly, billed as the world’s smallest smartphone –– about as compact as a deck of cards.

Best reason to freshen up your LinkedIn profile: A crowd lined up for free professional headshots offered by WeWork’s photography team at the job fair, best selves delivered to inboxes that very night.

Members of the Yuedong Jumprope troupe amazed the audience.

Dream job for Netflix bingers at the job fair: Writer for Pink Koala, a feature film screenwriting company.

Dream jobs for the fashionista at the job fair: Farfetch, Lululemon, Yoox Net-a-Porter, NuSkin Beauty, and Coty were marketing dozens of positions.

Most relaxed: Lululemon, the global athletic wear company that houses offices in Shanghai’s WeWork Weihai Lu, set up a dome in the far corner where visitors were invited to try out meditative VR programs.

Highest torque: William Li, founder, chairman, and CEO of NIO Car, which produces premium electric and autonomous vehicles as well as sports cars. In a master class on mobility, Li, the oft-monikered “Elon Musk of China,” said that mobility was a matter of space, speed, and time. “Cars have thus far given people access to more space more quickly, and the next transformation in transportation would give back to people the time and freedom to do what they want to do [instead of driving].” Li also pointed out that taxi drivers are facing stiff competition with new ride sharing apps, as many drivers are illegally sharing licenses. “Don’t do illegal things in the name of ‘sharing’ or ‘doing social good,’” he urged.

Best selfie: Taken in the middle of the selfie-hungry crowd by Li and NIU Technologies founder Token Hu. In the photo are the smiling faces that master class moderator Chen Yao of IDEO called “the godfather and the genius” of China’s startup scene.

WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann (right) walked onto the main stage to kick off the night with “Shalom Shanghai!”

Biggest gauntlet thrown: WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann walked onto the main stage to kick off the night with “Shalom Shanghai!” After announcing in passing the news about WeWork’s acquisition of Chinese-based community-based shared workspace and lifestyle brand naked Hub, he issued a challenge: “I’ve got a message to every global company on the earth: If you’re not in China, you don’t exist.”

Most tear-inducing scene: AngelHouse’s founder Kate Wang, who started a nonprofit that provides housing, education, and care for children with cerebral palsy, brought the audience to tears when she introduced the reason for her project: her daughter, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and couldn’t find entry into normal public schools in Guangxi. “Because this wouldn’t have happened without her, I can also say that my daughter is a creator,” she said.

Most awkward comment from a judge: “You look like a teenager,” Mary Ma, CEO of fashion company Maryma Haute Couture, said about the youthful appearance of 33-year-old Nonprofit finalist Jie Xiao, founder of E.G.G. Walkathon.

Most acrobatic: Performing arts winner Yuedong Jumprope gave an athletic performance of jump rope tricks, flips, and moves set to dance music. The crowd let out a collective gasp and then a cheer when two members grabbed another by the arms and legs, swinging her around like a human jump rope.

Toughest grilling: Business Venture finalist Jiliang Ma of Extant Future, which produces the Modoo fetus monitoring device, was peppered with questions from the two female judges –– and mothers –– Angela Dong, GM and VP of Nike Greater China, and Mary Ma.

Kate Wang of AngelHouse swept up both the Nonprofit as well as the Audience Choice awards.

Biggest winners: Ma’s Modoo took home the Business Venture award, and Kate Wang of AngelHouse swept up both the Nonprofit as well as the Audience Choice awards. Wang, who previously told WeWork that she felt she had been “preparing for this moment for 16 years,” was overcome with emotion at the unexpected windfall, throwing her fist into the air in a jubilant gesture.

Catchiest catchphrase: “Created in China” was the big slogan of the night, plastered in oversized letters on the walls as guests arrived, projected onto the screen in the auditorium, and live screen-printed on swag. To those who say China lacks creativity, the night served as an in-your-face challenge to the hackneyed label.

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