As a young figure skater, Emily Elizabeth Duong didn’t like the dress options available to her.
So when she was still in high school, she started her first business: a skate dress line.
“I was a competitive skater for 13 years, and as a teenager, I just wanted to do things my way,” she told MarketWatch.
“My way” started with Duong, who often goes by just Emily Elizabeth, collecting design inspirations on a Pinterest-type board and asking her mom for help finding a manufacturer. Her parents had immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam, and she ended up working with a manufacturer there. She said she used money saved from gifts and summer jobs to get started.
What began with word-of-mouth orders for her custom made-to-fit dresses led to a brand, Elite Skate Wear, and a store on eBay when she was 17. During college, she launched an e-commerce website. Now the dresses and other products are available through her website and in a dozen pro shops. Her custom made-to-fit dresses sell for $220 to $400, and the number of sales varies based on the season and whether she has a team or wholesale order to fulfill.
The business is now “continuously running in the background,” she said, generating a portion of the revenue that allows Duong, now 26, to be fully self-employed. She has since started two more businesses: What Fulfills You?, a podcast that makes money through ad sponsorships and merch, and Loshattan Co., a social media marketing firm.
Duong grew up in a town of less than 10,000 people in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. She was a competitive figure skater and tennis player, and despite her small-town roots, felt like a “big city person.” She dreamed of moving to New York, but from Pennsylvania, went to college in Southern California with a partial scholarship and her parents paying most of the costs.
After graduating, she got a full-time job in corporate sales, “cold calling and prospecting on foot in heels in Southern California,” she said. “That was a great experience for me leading up to starting my own agency.”
In early 2020, she launched her podcast, What Fulfills You?, hosting episodes on topics like finding balance, manifesting a dream job, budgeting, negotiating and healthy relationships as the Covid-19 pandemic began. The idea came out of her interest in podcasts by Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss and Ray Dalio, and realizing she could be a “big sister role model” for her demographic and give insights on personal development. She created a companion card game, and her podcast has more than 600,000 downloads.
By the end of 2020, Duong wanted to go full force into entrepreneurship. She gave herself an April deadline to leave her job and told her closest friends that if she didn’t, she would owe them each $500.
“You gotta put pressure on yourself somehow,” she said. “You tell people the goal so that it seems embarrassing if you don’t hit it.”
She built a website for a social media marketing agency, Loshattan Co., named after Los Angeles and Manhattan, and started looking for clients. She sent emails and used the freelancer marketplace Upwork and other platforms. Once she had two clients on a retainer, she felt confident enough to quit her corporate job.
“I put my two weeks in and moved on and haven’t looked back since,” she said.
Duong moved to New York City in August 2021, the culmination of her long-held dream. These days, she works from coffee shops and her lower Manhattan apartment, where a large window beside her bed looks out over the city. She has one employee helping her with Loshattan Co., which she said is her primary source of income with a gross revenue in the six figures. She rents time in studios for her podcast interviews, and ships out figure skating dresses from her apartment.
Her businesses don’t require much capital upfront. The agency has minimal overhead costs, and with the skatewear, she doesn’t create an item unless she gets paid. “That’s always been one of my strategies, how can I reduce risk and upfront costs,” she said.
When she’s not working, she plays tennis, skates and coaches young skaters when she can.
“I’ve always been the type that needed and loved independence, and in my career, I think I can only gain that from being an entrepreneur,” she reflected. “I make my own schedule, I eat when I want, I work out when I want… I’ve always wanted the freedom to choose.”