Today our guest is Ying. Ying is a rebel who has followed many different paths. She’s a high-school dropout who went on to finish a Ph.D. in Psychology at Stanford. She’s probably the best pole dancer who used to be a McKinsey consultant. She made a bold career decision when she quit her well-paid Nike executive job to open a sex shop in China where sex is heavily censored. She is onto her second start-up, B.Peachy, which is focusing on promoting menstrual health.
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I’m definitely a third-culture kid. I was born in Shanghai and moved to Hong Kong. I grew up in Hong Kong, then went to Canada for high school and then went to the US for college and grad school. After grad school I moved to Japan for a job before moving back to Shanghai. I basically lived all over the world. It's kind of funny when people asked me about my roots, because I don’t know the answer to that.
I don’t remember the first time. But I do remember the first time I orgasmed from masturbation in my 20s. It was a very different experience and it was striking. A lot of women could go through their entire adult life or long period of sex life but never know what an orgasm is. Did you guys know that research shows a lot of women don’t actually orgasm for the first time into their late 20s or 30s? And that was my experience. Just one day being at home and feeling like oh, you know I’m close to something and you didn’t give up and kept on trying.
You hear so much about orgasms and think it’s going to be an overwhelmingly explosive out-of-the-world moment. For me, it was a warm sensation rather than just a super physical experience. For me it was spiritual.
Relief from pent-up tension! The pressure just goes away! I guess it’s like a form of yoga or meditation to calm and relieve the brain to a certain extent.
So, what were your learnings after leaving your career at Nike and McKinsey to start your venture as a sex shop owner?
It was definitely a passion project for me because I had the idea of opening a sex shop back when I was in Grad School. I was in Bay Area at the time and it’s a very open-minded and sexually liberated place. There was a female-owned sex shop called Good Vibes and it was an eye-opener for me. I thought, one day when I go back to China, this is something that will be fun and what Chinese women really need.
Years later, I was working at Nike in my late 30s thinking to myself, do I want to keep climbing the corporate ladder or do I want to do something that is meaningful to me? I don’t have kids nor tuition to worry about so why don’t I just take the plunge and try it out! At that time I wasn’t really sure about the business opportunity of opening a sex shop myself. Of course, industry-wise there definitely is but I wasn’t sure how it was going to be for me, and the culture here still treats this topic as taboo.
When did you open the sex shop?
We opened in 2017 and we closed it last year during Covid. We’re still operating online but it’s a small presence.
What is your biggest learning from corporate to owning your own sex shop?
Running a physical store and your own venture starting from zero is really different from having a corporate job. When you have to build things from the ground up and obsess over every detail. It was things you didn’t have to pay attention to when you were in a management position in a corporation as you work on high-level projects.
It was a lot of different challenges that I never faced before from recruitment to dealing with the government and getting permits. You might think by working in a big company like Nike I would be well experienced, but when you try your own business starting from one shop it’s not very applicable. My learning curve was definitely to start from ground zero and start fresh!
Having a team is also very important. It was part of a few reasons why we decided to close VSpot. I still believe in the mission to help women get better at sex and learn more about sexual health, but owning a sex shop right now is not the right time.
What were your encounters at the shop like? Who was your clientele?
Shanghai is such a cool and diverse city with a lot of people from different backgrounds that are open-minded. From S&M players, to oversea expats, to local Chinese were all my clients. But out of them, there were a lot of white-collar, highly educated, and independent women who were liberal and agreed with the importance of sexual health and wellness.
I also had a lot of women that came in to buy their first vibrator and they knew nothing about orgasms or vibrators so they were coming to the shop to learn. There were some other couples that came in looking for performance-enhancing products.
It was really nice to be in a shop and meet this full range of people because owning a sex shop is an intimate thing and it’s warming to see people opening up about their vulnerabilities.
This is interesting as we touch upon a more socioeconomic topic where time is important to enjoy sexual wellness so that may be the reason why you have a clientele that comes to the shop with higher economic level with more time and money.
So what did your parents and friends think when you opened VSpot?
They were so supportive because I got the idea from back in grad school. I took my mom to Good Vibes and she thought it was funny and mentioned that Chinese women should have a place like this! Both my parents are academics and my mom would actually send her students to my shop too. It was funny!
Women are chased by this narrative that you have to be attractive. Especially in China and through my experience I was told you need to be attractive to succeed but at the same time, NO ONE TELLS YOU THAT YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL! My family would give me negative comments about my body but it wasn’t like they wanted to criticise or discharge me. At the same time, they don’t give positive feedback so I along with many women out there feel like they have this hopelessness!
So my advice to my younger self and to the women out there is don’t be anxious with your looks and attractiveness because you’re not defined by your appearance. You will find your way to express your attractiveness and your looks will not define your success or happiness.
Lastly, what’s your favourite self-love quote?
“Self-criticism asks: are you good enough? Self-compassion asks: What’s good for me?”