Monica Wang is known as a lot of things throughout our office: a friend, a photographer, a former director of finance, a force to be reckoned with—the list goes on and on and on.
You may already know Monica from her incredible (and unexpected) career journey. The last time we spoke with her, she was both the Director of Finance at Saucey and the owner of Monica Wang Photography. She single-handedly proved that the notion that you have to choose a career in either a science-minded field or a creative one was null; she showed that you can have a hand at both—and excel at both too.
Since then, she decided to try her hand at yet another career journey: opening up her own event venue/photo studio hybrid in Los Angeles, The Revery. What started as an idea became a 14,000-foot reality; a space that could hold anything from events to weddings to TV production. But as we know, life doesn’t always go as planned.
When Monica and I first scheduled a time to talk back in April, we were going to discuss how she financed her business and about the advice she had for others—but then COVID-19 hit. As with many things, COVID-19 affected the opening of The Revery and the plans that Monica had for its debut.
The opening and planning of The Revery took more time than Monica had initially expected. The idea for it sparked years ago, and the location that it was built on was found back around October 2017. Along the way, there were several speed bumps—some expected, some not, even before COVID-19 took hold of any plans.
“It was harder than I expected,” Monica said. “Even the loan application was really intense, especially for a business.”
The loan that she had previously been approved for ended up getting dropped due to COVID-19, something she obviously hadn’t expected.
Once Monica found the right location for her business, getting her idea off the ground took a village—and a carefully curated one at that. But as we’re all painfully aware, the effects of COVID-19 have lasted longer than we initially hoped—which is even more clear (and terrifying) to the owner of a new business.
“When I first went through the initial shock of COVID, I wanted to be hopeful that the effects would only last a couple of months, but as the weeks passed by, my intuition told me otherwise,” Monica said. “I couldn’t make financial plans for my business based on hope alone. I needed an actionable way to make up for the income that we were missing out on as our ongoing expenses continued to build up.”
Like so many who opened new businesses in 2020, Monica had a new, unique idea she knew would fill a void in her industry. The vision was unlike anything else she knew of in LA: a venue that could be used as a photo studio from Monday to Friday and a wedding venue on the weekends.
“I thought, ‘nothing else exists like this in LA, so I have to build it,’” Monica said. “A lot of the venues in LA are auto mechanic shops or churches. I was building something from scratch, and it didn’t exist before. The fact that I have a commercial kitchen inside our studio space is remarkable because we had to go through the health and safety department and all these rules and regulations. Other spaces are usually converted and don’t have all the amenities you want—it’s always missing something major.”
The uniqueness of the space opens the doors to a wider variety of events being held there—one of which was supposed to be the filming of The Bachelorette before it got postponed. But because of the effects of COVID-19 on the wedding industry (and event industry as a whole), Monica used her intuition to pivot The Revery’s focus as a venue location to one that offered safe, in-house photography.
“I had weddings cancel on me and I had to make full refunds,” Monica said. “Our revenue was inconsistent at best, and the fixed monthly expenses just piled on top of one another.”
“In April, I quickly pivoted our business and started to offer in-house product photography as a way to safely meet the content needs of brands that had to move away from traditional photoshoots. With my background in photography, it was a natural transition and a service I knew companies still needed during a pandemic,” Monica said. “To gain traction, I personally reached out to businesses through Instagram and email to see if they needed any product photography. Slowly but surely, the bookings started to trickle in, and we were able to get through the first couple months of the pandemic.”
“I wanted a business that fostered a community, and one of the qualities I enjoyed from doing photography was meeting people I wouldn’t have necessarily met. To me, this was an opportunity of a lifetime.”
While Monica pivoted her business to adjust to their unexpected first year, it still was more difficult than she ever could have imagined.
“It felt like a really bad nightmare but I was living in it,” Monica said. “There really is no sugarcoating it. This past year was brutal.”
Obviously, The Revery’s first year wasn’t what was expected when the project began. But given its current state and some of the traction they’ve gotten, Monica still feels optimistic.
“If we made it this far and have been able to sustain our business against all odds, I am really hopeful for the future!” she said. “We are hanging in even during the toughest of times, and there isn’t a moment that goes by that I am not thankful for that. I feel incredibly fortunate to keep our doors open when other similar businesses may be permanently closing.”
Monica’s background in finance was obviously vital in getting the project started—as well as in its completion and survival during the pandemic. While many small businesses are trying to figure out how to survive, and others are considering beginning one of their own due to lay-offs and furloughs, Monica had advice for financial survival during the pandemic:
“Before starting photography and opening The Revery, I worked in finance, so I would have to give some practical advice: build a business where you can focus selling your goods or service online, invest in social media (word of mouth is the best marketing), figure out exactly what you need to make your business function and generate a profit and trim the rest, and lastly, do not give up,” Monica said. “As challenging as this time has been, it is also the perfect opportunity to pivot and try something new that you have always wanted to do!”
The last time we spoke to Monica, she said that the advice would have given her 23-year-old self would be to trust her intuition more. Three years, a pandemic, and a business later, she’d tell her younger self something a little different.
“I guess for me, it’s hard. I honestly wouldn’t change anything because I think a lot of times, I felt pressure to prove myself to do more, and I would just tell myself to chill out.”
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