We had the good fortune of connecting with Jekka Kuhlmann and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jekka, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I always pause a bit on how to answer this question as I had quite an unconventional upbringing in a way so I don’t necessarily have one place I’m from. I feel like I’m from a multitude of different places. And for that, I feel very fortunate as you’ll see how that has so beautifully led me in the multi-faceted directions I’ve taken both in my personal and professional life.
I come from a bi-racial family as my Mom is Chinese and my Dad is American. My Mother was born and raised in mainland China to a family of musicians and went on to major in English in Beijing which would change the trajectory of her career and life at large. My Father was from Buffalo, NY and devoted his entire career to educating the underprivileged and less fortunate all over the globe including teaching in the Bronx through to crossing borders and teaching in the Peace Corp in Chile and international schools in Turkey, Spain, Morocco, France, China, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.
I spent most of my childhood growing up on a gated Expat compound in Saudi Arabia that was home to nearly 40+ different nationalities and at a young age, I was surrounded by individuals of varying backgrounds, ethnicities, religious beliefs, and ideals. My eclectic experiences – watching my Muslim friends wear Hijabs and fast during the month of Ramadan, to joining in on Diwali celebrations and Henna drawing to observing the various ethnic foods – instilled an appreciation for a range of cultures and the beautiful celebrations, tastes, sounds, and smells that came with each. Thinking back, we were almost given this very special and unique opportunity to travel through each other’s heritage and home countries by way of the lunches their parents packed for them. One thing I remember noticing was that we all had these similar dough wrapped treats. However, the insides of these “dumplings” represented something so much more powerful than meets the eye. As we’d swap our “dumplings” with each other, we were essentially exchanging with each other the deep cultural history of generations that came before us through the various spices and fillings. Learning that although different in size, color, fill, and smell, we all shared a common bond unified by these little pockets of flour. Meanwhile, throughout my time growing up in the Middle East, my Mother and I would travel to China every year to visit her extended family there. I can remember countless hours we would sit around a table together with 3 generations under one roof chatting and laughing while rolling the dough, preparing the filling, and folding hundreds of dumplings (most of which my Grandma would make fun of me for because my fold job was awful). There is such a beautiful communal aspect of this age old ritual that makes dumplings such a special experience and treat! I had no idea at the time of course, but all of these influences would be the propeller to one day co-authoring a children’s book about Dumplings and building a brand we hope to take far beyond books.
Along with this eclectic childhood environment, being raised in a bi-racial household is a huge influence on who I am today. It gave me this really special balance of both culture’s values, disciplines, and skill sets. My father instilled a deep curiosity and love for sport and healthy competition and giving back and supporting those less fortunate in the world. My mother championed the belief that there are absolutely no limits and you can and belong in any room that you desire. She pushed me to develop this unwavering fierce independence and work ethic that’s benefited me across the board to this day. Both of my parents were driven by curiosity first and foremost- always seeking to learn and explore more. The combo of their influences are badges I wear proudly as they’ve collectively instilled this extreme seeker disposition in me that is always looking to grow- all the time- spiritually, emotionally and mentally. And with that, my muscle for human connection grows more day in and day out. And for me, success in this life is measured by my wealth in human connections, not the size of my house or the car I drive.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’d say my career path began after college when I decided I’d go spend a year teaching English to 600+ graduate students in China at Beijing Normal University (where my parents had both taught and met each other 30 years prior). I had no previous experience whatsoever in teaching but I knew at the core I loved to mentor people and to be given the opportunity to do so in a country that is home to half of me felt really special. As I’d grown up traveling to China annually, I felt this was a particularly amazing moment for me to not only get better acquainted with China but to also show my pride in my Chinese heritage to my mom’s whole extended family out there. This would also be a truly humbling experience as I was able to really overcome my fear of public speaking through this opportunity and although I didn’t realize it at the time, this would lay a really strong backbone for my entry into my core career path as a startup Sales Executive in San Francisco and New York.
In my many years working for startups, I have taken full advantage of the impressive brains I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside through coffee dates, happy hours, ping pong matches, and more. Each interaction has not only been an amazing opportunity to get to know one another and thus, work together more effectively but has also served as mini-mentorship sessions of perspective and insight that I am so grateful to have learned. I cannot stress enough the value of mentors throughout your career. Identifying a few key individuals at your company or in your field that you have incredible respect for and that you feel connected to is a game changer. I’d also have to admit that there are countless moments throughout my career where the “fake it till you make it” mantra proved beneficial as there were a lot of rooms I felt I had no business or experience being in but knew I needed to just get myself IN those rooms and I could turn up the studying and hustling through the process. And that has truly proven to be a successful equation for me thus far.
Over the years, I’d continue down the tech sales path but noticed that with each new venture I’d go on to join smaller and smaller organizations and ones that were more aligned with my passions (Advertising Tech → Fitness Tech → Community Building Tech). Discovering along the way that I perhaps wasn’t made for the larger, more corporate organizations and that my skill set and risk tolerance was far more suited for early stage start-ups. All the while, I’d have my hand at my fair share of side hustles- none the same but all ideas/projects had this ark of community and passion. From working on an app for the secondary marketplace for concert tickets to brainstorming a travel app that would provide travel recommendations to friends based on personality to building out my own boutique fitness consulting agency, I’d also found joy in the building process and bonus points if I could do that build with friends!
This leads us to March 2020 with a new stay-at-home order and a lot more time to work on side projects. My cousin Krissy and I had spent countless hours over the years chatting about our love for dumplings, noodles, sauces and all things Asian food and the many nuances and commonalities that come with being raised in a bi-racial home as she is Korean-American. We’d fantasize and laugh constantly with one another on how we need to do something with this idea of inspiring conversations around cultural appreciation and diversity through something every country has in common – dumplings. What started as a few words and images on a Google doc soon took physical shape with the help of the ever so talented illustrator and sweet college friend of mine, Haley Weisberger. She designed the characters and drew out the entirety of this book in just a few short weeks and off to the races we were. We went to Kickstarter to start with the goal of raising $5k to publish our first set of 1000 books. Within 48 hours we had raised $19,000. To say “it takes a village” here is an understatement. To witness the support and celebration that flooded in those two days from our family and friends was absolutely jaw dropping and incredibly heart-warming. This gave us the legs and confidence to really start thinking about building a business and not just a one and done order of books. From here, we’d learn how to become self published authors, advertisers, website builders, Amazon sellers, and so much more. What a ride it has been and feel like there is much more to come for this Little Dumplings team!
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?
For me and my crew of friends, a recipe for a solid trip anywhere includes a sweat, a nature walk/hike, live music, delicious bites, and dancing. Dancing being an absolute must..
Sweat Yoga – https://www.sweat-yoga.com/hot-yoga-santa-monica/
F45 Santa Monica – https://f45training.com/venice/home
Flake for Brunch- https://www.veniceflake.com/- The Veggie Sausage Burrito. MmmMM.
Cafe Gratitude – https://cafegratitude.com/
Huckleberry Cafe – https://www.huckleberrycafe.com/ – *hint, hint * Kimchi Rice Breakfast Bowl every.time.
Rusty’s Santa Monica on the Pier for Live Music
Roosterfish – Abbot Kinney
Solstice Canyon Loop
Zuma Ridge Trail
The Wave Silent Disco on the Beach – https://thewavemovement.com/events
All my LA friends’ Living Rooms 🙂
The Burner Warehouse Parties
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Every single human that I have crossed paths with in my life to date is to thank for every person has provided a lesson and perspective I didn’t have.
I do have to highlight and dedicate my shoutout to both my born into and chosen families for I truly believe I have the strongest and most supportive of tribes. This tribe spreads far and wide from Bali to New York City and beyond and they have cried with me through the darkest of times and celebrated with me in the highest of times. Not enough words to describe my gratitude for them as being human is not easy and I could not ask for a better batter up team to go through this rollercoaster ride with.
For the Little Dumplings Book endeavor more specifically, HUGE amounts of accolades and gratitude towards my co-authors/illustrators- my cousin/sister Krissy Kuhlmann and dear friend from college Haley Weisberger. The birth of the Little Dumplings project was a total (s)team (ha. Pun intended) effort and would have never taken physical shape without our perfect trifecta. What a fun journey that was and will continue to be with you both. So much love and celebration to you both!
As for where else I’ve found inspiration and guidance, I’d have to say the below resources have stood the test of time for me and are ones I revert back to often.
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself – Michael Singer
When Things Fall Apart- Pema Chodron
Stillness is the Key – Ryan Holiday
The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz
Tribe- On Becoming and Belonging – Sebastian Junger
The Body Keeps the Score – Bessel van der kolk
Can’t Hurt Me – David Goggins
The 5am Club- Robin S. Sharma
A New Earth – Oprah and Eckhart Tolle
Aubrey Marcus Podcast
The Rich Roll Podcast
The School of Greatness – Lewis Howes
Making Sense with Sam Harris
Invest Like The Best
How I Built This
Giving a plug here to Analogue that is a dear friends’ social platform app to share your favorite reads. You can check out my digital library here → www.analogue.app/@jekslucy