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Helping creatives thrive, one small business at a time.

Jane Zhang, founder of The Better Melon

About Jane

Hello, I am the owner and founder of The Better Melon. I am from Toronto, Canada, which means I live in a climate that swings between -30°C during the winter and 30°C during the summer.

I started my post-secondary education in life sciences, studying subjects such as biology, psychology, calculus, chemistry, astronomy etc. I later studied design strategy, which is mix of business, marketing, and design, all tied together by the concept of human-centric design. This program opened my eyes to the design of the world, it was a huge mind shift from academia. I especially loved the business aspect because it was what made design ideas a reality. If I could redo my education all over again, I would major in business. I discovered that I was more interested in spending my free time studying business models than reading scientific papers.

My career shifted a lot over the years. For most of it, I was an information designer. I spent a lot of my time thinking about how to present data in a visual and engaging way.

This was a fun project I did where I visualized the menu of a Korean rice hotdog spot in Toronto. This project got a lot of attention from the community.
Check out the full project.

This profession allowed me to seamlessly blend my skills in science and design. I started out working in a global market research firm, and later tried freelancing full-time. Overall, I had a rewarding experience while freelancing. I was very active in the information design community, I published a couple of articles that put me on the map. My writing launched opportunities to speak at conferences and also feature in a podcast . I made friends from all over the world. Unfortunately, this career didn’t work out for me. It had a lot of challenges, such as the market demand not aligning with my skills, among many other factors (if you're interested, I wrote a detailed essay about my freelance experience). After leaving this career, I thought a lot about what type of profession I wanted to pursue. I eventually decided on e-commerce. There were many events that led up to this decision, but the biggest one was when I was experimenting with a business idea of selling cards with complex information. I entered a mindset of selling products over selling services and I thought a lot about the role of products in our society.

In 2017, I attended an Alibaba conference in Detroit. I saw Jack Ma talk about his company’s philosophy and it stuck with me since: “Customers first, employees second, shareholders third”. Jack Ma’s words resonated with me because I was taught human-centric design in design school. Jack Ma said too many companies made the mistake of reversing the order: “shareholders first, employees second, and customers third”. Keeping a fixed focus on the customer is hard. It takes a lot of grit to listen to customer feedback and use that to change how you operate as a business. I’ve experienced it firsthand. I used to do a lot of personal design projects to improve my skills. One such project was when I decided to design a project with the gaming community on Reddit.

This project was a huge breakthrough in how I understood the value of information design. It changed my process completely.
Read more about this project.

I put up my drafts and openly asked for feedback. Sometimes, the feedback was brutal, and I almost wanted to give up at one point because the feedback was intense. It’s not like getting a critique from a teacher, they know how to guide you. Feedback from lay people is not structured and doesn’t feel useful at first. I saw the project through and made a fantastic piece that the community appreciated. From this experience, I knew that customers were the only stakeholders who mattered. They have the answers we need, and they know how we should grow.

I am currently deeply invested in the creative community. As a creative myself, I know how hard it is to balance the need to express your own art with running a business. When I first started in e-commerce, I joined online groups where new businesses asked for feedback on their new Shopify site. They didn’t understand why they were getting no sales, despite getting traffic. My number one question was: “why would someone buy this”? If customers can buy what you offer on Amazon for a lower price, then why you? This is a very complex question but it’s one I love to solve. As a creative, I’ve been lucky to have aptitude in business skills and I love helping other creatives build these skills. My focus is on helping my clients build a customer centric mindset so they can continue to be their own boss. A business will experience ups and downs that’s out of its control, but if they focus on their customers, they can build a business with foresight and resiliency.

This is a slice of bitter melon and this is how it is usually prepared before cooking.

What does the Better Melon mean?

The name is derived from the bitter melon, a gourd widely consumed in Asia, Africa, and Caribbean. It tastes as it sounds, bitter, and that’s how it’s enjoyed. I grew up being told: “eat this, it’s good for you”. Despite disliking how it tastes, I would force it down because of its health benefits. I often hear my elders say “吃苦” in Chinese, which literally translates to “eating bitterness”. It's a mindset of “no pain no gain”. I perceive it as a form of long-term thinking, in which we recognize that if we want to be rewarded, we need to work hard for it, no matter how hard it gets. As I was thinking about what to name my business, the metaphor of the bitter melon resonated with me. Being a small business owner is tough: you’re always worried about your next sale or if your products delivered on time. Every order you get is simultaneously filled with gratitude and anxiety. I believe that entrepreneurs who embrace the challenges as a natural process will be able to put their hardships into perspective and thrive. Think long-term and keep your eyes on the prize. Your hard work will pay off. Things may be bitter now, but it will always get better.

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