Interview with Lily Kim, Co-Founder of JetPens, Online Store for Japanese Pens

Many of you who have traveled to Asia may recall stepping into seemingly standard stationery stores only to find that they have the coolest, (and cutest) pens that rock every other pen you would normally find at Staples. Instead of traveling to Asia for your supply refill, all you have to do is visit JetPens, an online store that sells high-quality Japanese pens, notebooks and other supplies. We got in touch with one of its co-founders, Lily Kim, to dish on her entrepreneur spirit and how she came up with this great idea.Tell me a little bit about your background and what prompted you to start a store dedicated solely to selling pens, pencils and other stationary supplies. How did your cultural background influence you in starting this venture? JetPens was founded in 2004 by the three Asian Americans: Shu Yao, Lily Kim and Adrian Mak. We were all friends in college. We first decided that we wanted to start a company together, then we decided on what the product would be. Because of our Asian background, Shu and I loved Asian stationery. I was particularly a fan of Pilot Hi-Tec-C pens. After some research, we found that there was a market for Asian stationery in the U.S. We pooled $3000 in savings each to buy our initial inventory and start the company.  We now ship over 30,000 pens a month.

What is so unique about Japanese pens? Asia uses much more intricate characters than the U.S.  Kanji, or Chinese characters, can have over a dozen strokes.  One missed stroke can turn a Chinese character’s meaning from "greedy" to "poor" or from "love" to "anxious", thus the importance of a pen’s writing performance. Combine this with Japan's expertise in product design, and the result is a fascinating line of high quality and innovative pens and stationery. We carry international award-winning pens ranging from ultra fine tipped 0.18 mm pens capable of writing on rice, to 1.6 mm broad tipped pens. We have colors that range from soda blue to apple green. Whatever your pen preference, I bet you we carry it!

Is there a favorite pen/pencil/notebook that you use everyday? Yes, I use Rhodia New Web Notebook + Pocket and a Pilot Hi-Tec-C gel pen every day for journaling.

How is running an online store different than from, say, operating a physical store? An online store is wonderful for its flexibility.  I'm a new mom and I can work from home, at any hour of the day. I think I have a 10 second commute to my desk. ;)

Your logo is quite cute! What is it, though, exactly? We have a boy and girl mascot, Jet-Do and Jet-Da.  They are ink-inspired characters that ride around on rockets. The rockets represent our fast shipping and service. They are both designed by our creative talent, Shu.

I noticed you have a very active forum; how have you publicized this? We have lots of social networks including our forum , Twitter and Facebook . We give prizes and giveaways on them to encourage active participation. We would be honored if the Mochi audience would join our Facebook for a chance to win some awesome prizes!