We had the good fortune of connecting with Michelle Li and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michelle, what role has risk played in your life or career?
There’s a big difference in Eastern vs Western mentality when it comes to risk taking and debt. In the East, people tend to be a bit more risk adverse. I’m going to use China as an example since that’s where I’m from. Many people in China still do not own credit cards (compared to the US) and China actually only recently (1980’s) allowed citizens to own property and take out mortgages. Before that, all housing development was owned by the Chinese government. I say all of this to say that my upbringing by my Chinese immigrant parents imparted me with a similar mentality. That borrowing money was bad and if you wanted something like a house or a business, you had to make sure that you could pay for all of it in full. Which made owning anything more expensive than a Honda Civic less than attainable. Sure, some people were successful at owning their own business, but those people were the exception and not the rule.
It wasn’t until later on after college when I met friends of friends and other people my age who owned small businesses. Sure, they weren’t millionaires, but they weren’t failing like I thought most people who owned businesses did. And to top it all off, they were doing something they loved and had full autonomy over. They created something of their own out of nothing and for a person that was searching for something to pour themselves into, that sounded like bliss.
My journey to small business ownership since then has been less than a Cardi-B glow up story. In 2019 I did take a risk by investing 90% of my savings and taking out a medium sized loan to purchase an Aerial Fitness franchise (www.airfitnow.com). But I also found a business partner who would take on half of the responsibilities with me so that I could keep my full time job as a financial analyst. That way I could maintain financial stability while my business was in its infancy. Am I working twice as much to keep everything afloat? Yes. But, like many other small businesses, we were absolutely devastated by the impact of COVID-19 . If I had quit my job and completely relied on the income of my studio, we would not be able to re-open our doors again right now. Taking on risk is important. Especially in order to do the things you love, but always hedge your bets.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am an aerial artist! Have you ever seen those people dangling from silks on the ceiling? Well, that’s me! I trained for 5 years in aerial silks and now own a studio where I teach others to do the same. I chose to focus on teaching and owning a studio because I love to share my passion with people. Similar to how dancers express themselves through movement or how painters express themselves through a paintbrush, Aerial is my outlet where I release emotion and also improve my mental and physical wellbeing. The training is not easy, you are pushing your body and contorting it in ways it sometimes does not want to go. But the visual progress and feeling you get from looking back at where you were 6 months ago is so rewarding.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
LA is my playground. I’ve met so many interesting and creative people here and tried so much unique and authentic food. First, food & drink. My favorite sushi spot in LA is Uzumaki in Culver City. They have an amazing pre-set menu that is only around $40 per person. This has been my go-to during the pandemic because they package the set up so nicely and it’s an easy but tasty take-out meal that will still taste good when you bring it home. While we’re still in Culver City, we gotta hit up Margot at the Platform for a drink. They have an amazing rooftop that’s not too crowded and make the tastiest Aperol Spritzes in town. Perfect for a pre or post dinner drink. Dinner there is also delicious but more on the pricey side. I think you know that you would be remiss to skip a trip to Koreatown and get Korean BBQ. A good premium option is Kang Ho Dong Baekjong but my favorite all you can eat place is Meat Love or Hae Jang Chon (but their wait on a Friday is usually 2+ hours). On Sundays, I would definitely take my friends to a flea market and go hunt for vintage clothing. Silverlake Flea, Melrose Trading Post or if it’s the first Sunday of the month then off to the Rose Bowl. Everyone loves a good vintage find. As far as sightseeing, I would probably get out of LA for that. Manhattan or Hermosa Beach has the best beaches (not Santa Monica). Or drive 30-40 min to Vasquez rocks for a cool hike that is reminiscent of Joshua Tree without the long drive. I could go on and on… ask me personally if you want more recommendations!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would love to shout out Pretty Thing LA (https://www.prettythingla.com) and their founders Myah Hollis and Sarah Hawkins for bringing their entrepreneurial badass energy into my life. Pretty Thing serves to connect other women who are creatives figuring out how to navigate things like branding, social media, being their own boss and basically succeeding in what they do. They have helped me navigate this crazy crazy world of being a business owner!