About me

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. My focus is on helping my small businesses 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.