Los Angeles, CA
It all started with… high school activism.
Ann Wang is the Co-Founder and CEO of Enrou: an online marketplace where every purchase creates positive impact. Partnering with socially responsible brands and artisans from around the world, Enrou empowers developing communities with opportunity ranging from mentorship to health education. In October 2014, the company took home the $400,000 pressure cooker prize for the Forbes Under 30 Summit — a win for Enrou as well as the communities they support. This is Ann’s story on how she turned consumerism into a good cause.
Was there a particular moment of inspiration that sparked the idea for Enrou?
It was actually a moment of frustration. I had always been interested and involved in social impact, wanting to find ways to create change on a global scale for many years. I was an activist in high school, I fundraised and volunteered whenever I could, but I kept coming up with more questions and problems. Solutions weren’t as effective as I’d wide-eyed hoped them to be. Enrou came out of this notion of — wouldn’t it be amazing to create impact while empowering somebody else to do the same?
How do you set goals around something that’s constantly evolving?
You have to have a very clear vision. What is your goal? What is the one, big, passionate thing that keeps you up at night? What is the thriving idea for your company that will never change? There will be small steps towards that goal, but you have to have a core purpose. Enrou's core focus is to give people who want to fight for a dignified life and future for themselves and their families an opportunity to do so.
Any lessons you had to learn the hard way?
All of them! I started Enrou when I was a senior at UCLA, and had very little knowledge of what it meant to start a company. One of the first lessons I learned was to let go of control. I can be quite particular and want to do everything myself. I learned that I should never be the smartest person in the room, and that you need to surround yourself with people who can help you with your weaknesses.
You should spend less time thinking about your weaknesses and more time nurturing your strengths — tailoring them to be your strongest tools in the shed for success.
How do you balance listening to advice with your own instinct?
Advisor whiplash is a real thing and it’s happened to me many times. The best way to balance the advice you receive and your gut instincts is to have a really strong understanding of yourself and what you’re trying to achieve. Before I get advice from anyone, I make sure I’m aware of my own perspective and have that as a point of reference. If you know what’s driving your company, often the advice that matters will show itself in one key direction.
How does Enrou support and empower women?
One of the most direct ways is through employing women in developing communities, as well as through providing access to skill-set training and micro-financing opportunities. Women are anchors of peace and reconciliation, and are responsible for growing the next generation — so when you give them a chance to provide for their families, there’s a huge shift in culture, conflict and corruption. From a consumer perspective, we love seeing people wear products that they connect with and believe in. Empowering our customers to invest in women that way is really special to us.
Products on Enrou are beautifully curated. Is that aesthetic a reflection of your own style?
I see the aesthetic of Enrou on a whole as a reflection of my style. I have a big hand in the branding, right down to the product photography. I would describe my style as minimal, offbeat, earthy, and raw with a little color. I love having a reason for why I chose something and I think that resonates with Enrou, where all products have a story behind them. Customers constantly tell us that people on the street stop them and ask, 'Where did you get that?' We love that we can create those conversations through fashion.
Any advice you’d like to pass on to other entrepreneurs?
Ask the right questions. There are so many opportunities where asking the right people good questions can accelerate your learning. You also need to have a sense of tenacity and believe in what you’re doing. You will face so many negatives, and that strength of joy and passion is what will see you through to the next level.
Photographed by Bridget Fleming September 2015