We had the good fortune of connecting with Celine Chai and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Celine, why did you pursue a creative career?
The creative industry and performing arts has been a part of my life for as along as I can remember. 5 years ago, I moved out to LA to attend Loyola Marymount University as a dance and marketing double major. I was interested in pursuing a career in modern/contemporary dance, however due to a combination of injuries, changes in long-term goals, and COVID, I dove head first into the advertising world and never looked back.
I chose to pursue a creative career because creativity has no boundaries. With dance, I love how the stage was my solace – every movement, every feeling was raw and 100% mine. With advertising and running my own creative agency, I get to help brands/clients find their voice through different forms of content. Developing strategies and creative concepts to help my clients build an authentic and strong relationship with their customers is exhilarating.
A creative career has allowed me to become a confident storyteller – whether that’s through movement or a social media graphic or pitching a new idea to a prospective client. Life is filled with unknown narratives, and through my career, I’m able to explore a magnitude of stories and continue to amplify the voices around me.
What should our readers know about your business?
Less than a year ago, I graduated class of 2020 from Loyola Marymount University in the midst of a global pandemic. With no job openings in sight, myself and 5 other LMU grads banded together to form our own opportunities. Together, we co-founded NinetyEight – a creative agency dedicated to helping brands speak to and with Gen-Z.
NinetyEight is the future generation of creatives in advertising. All born in 1998, our team is driven by the hope of Gen-Z. As curious digital natives, we’re self-taught and fluent in social media: from platforms, to trends, content creation, and more. As curious strategists by trade, every piece of creative work we make is grounded by original (and sometimes unconventional) insights. We are Gen-Z. We give our attention to brands that give a sh*t about something. We are authentic and confident in ourselves, and inspire our clients to do the same.
What I’m most excited for with NinetyEight is our growing roster of clients. Within the past 3 months, our clientele and project list has doubled. While that means crazy work hours and endless brainstorm sessions, it also means an upward trend of revenue. For entrepreneurs, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel – the vision of why we chose to start this business in the first place when the monetary gains does not measure up to the number of hours and effort put into the work. I’m proud of my team for all their resilience, perseverance and grit through the tough times (because there has been a LOT). Some gold star moments to look forward to in NinetyEight include our very first summer internship program, working with more brands both locally and internationally, and what’s a Gen-Z agency if we’re not always having fun on TikTok?
Since starting the business, our business model is still in the works under the guidance of our former professors and business mentors. A huge challenge for our team is that all of us are trained creatives & strategist. Our marketing major with an emphasis in advertising trained us to work at large full-service agencies — honing in on special advertising skills. That being said, to own a business, one has to know how to run one… and that wasn’t and still isn’t our strong suit. Lessons we’ve learned along the way are to seek help when you need it. We are so fortunate to have a team of mentors walking us through business processes and sharing legal/finance/operational advice. We’ve learned that with a small team, each of us have to wear multiple hats and be ready to jump into roles you never imagined taking on. Every day at NinetyEight you learn something new! We also firmly believe in teamwork. While there are designated leads per “department”, we operate on a team basis, ensuring that each leader has a support system to collaborate with and bounce ideas.
At the end of the day, we want the world to know that if anyone (brands, people, agencies etc.) have questions about this very complicated generation known as Gen-Zs, we have the answers for you. We know this demographic better than anyone else because we live it every day. Our Gen-Z agency not only serves to help brands better understand the Gen-Z community, but we hope to amplify Gen-Z voices — giving this generation a platform to be heard.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’ve been fortunate enough to spend the last 5 years on the Westside of LA – exploring the little nooks and hidden gems of LA. LA is a hotspot for many of my out-of-state and international friends due to the sunny weather and multitude of things to do. Some of my favourites include: visiting local farmers markets (I’m a local at the Playa Vista market – especially the BakeShack vendor), Abbot Kinney (cutest murals + coffee spots), Getty Museum (beautiful art and views AND it’s also free!), Malibu Hikes (Point Dume and Charmlee Wilderness Park are my favourites), Griffith Observatory, Melrose Trading Post for the thrifters, Westfield Century City for an upscale shopping day, the Venice Canals for a nice morning stroll, Playground LA and Millennium Dance Complex for a groovy jazz funk and hiphop class, drive-in movie theatres, and all the incredible beaches (favourites are: Manhattan Beach, El Porto, Marina Del Rey, El Matador),
As a major foodie, some must-eats include: Portos, Wanderlust Creamery (I can almost guarantee, you will not find more
unique flavours elsewhere!), Tsujita LA, Anaheim Packing District, Uovo, Sushi Gen, Little Fatty, Ensenada’s Surf N Turf Grill, Marugame Monzo, Manhattan Beach Post, Mr. Sate, Rose Cafe, Gjusta, Blue Bottle and Cafe Vida. My favourite food streets/towns are Sawtelle, K-Town and Echo Park.
I’m also a lover of short weekend getaways/road trips. Here are some of my favourites:
– Catalina Island – just an hour boat ride away from LA and I feel like I’m in Greece
– San Diego – more beach and outdoor fun
– Joshua Tree – the best place to go stargazing and camping/glamping
– San Francisco – a bit of a drive worth every second of it. The food, the views, the architecture – SF has it all!
– Santa Barbara – more beach and sunshine!!
– Solvang – a little Danish town with great eats and history
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to dedicate my shoutout to two groups: My NinetyEight team & Kelsey Ang (Director of SHIFT Dance)
To my co-founding team at NinetyEight – Sammy, Fran, Bryant & Gia … what a whirlwind this journey has been! As we approach our company’s one year anniversary, I couldn’t be more proud of this team. Each of you have shown tremendous grit, tenacity, perseverance, curiosity and positivity. This year has been tough – tougher than what any of us could have imagined, but week after week we push through and prevail. I am so excited to continue building our collective vision and watch us become strong, yet poised Gen-Z leaders.
To Kelsey – thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me artistic drive, inspiration and wisdom. From our first project together back in 2018 until now, my artistry is shaped by our collaboration. Though we are thousands of miles apart, working in different timezones, we manage to keep each other grounded and continue writing the next chapter in our third culture lives. I thank you for all your patience, hard work and passion. I can’t wait to dance with you again!
Other: check out my business website + IG handle: ninetyeightla.com || @ninetyeightla