Taryn Rose was one of the featured speakers at the TEDxBAW12 conference on Global Women Entrepreneurs in Mountain View, California on December 1, 2012. She shared her journey from an early childhood in war-torn Vietnam to designer shoe entrepreneur. That’s right, she doesn’t operate on feet, she dresses them.
Her family fled from Northern Vietnam to the South during the height of the Vietnam War. They had to flee again as the South fell to the North. She describes her dad carrying her sisters across the ttarmacto board a plane as the sound of gunhots shattered the air.
Once the family landed in Wake Island, she says her Dad was asked which refugee camp he wanted to be sent to in the States. He answered Fort Pendleton, as he had connections in the area who could serve as a sponsor—evidently a requirement to leave the camp and start your new life.
When the plane landed, the family was surprised to find out they weren’t in California, but rather in Arkansas! Ever resourceful, her Dad went to the pay phone (remember them?) in the camp and started cold-calling doctors to see if one would become a sponsor. He figured since he was a physician, his best chance at finding a sponsor was a fellow professional.
After a number of calls, he reached a front office manager who said she was the wife of the doctor and that she would have to talk to him about the request and call him back later. So he gave her the pay phone number and the next day had to cajole the other refugees to leave the phone open long enough for him to get the call.
The doctor did call back and agreed to sponsor the family. Taryn’s point in telling this story was to emphasize how important resourcefulness is not only for entrepreneurs, but for taking charge of of your destiny.
She then told a charming story about how she won a spot on the cheerleader squad primarily because she wanted to wear the little short skirts. Her dad told her she couldn’t join because he didn’t think she should be sitting on the sidelines while others were actually participating in the sport.
So she regrouped and decided to take up tennis—because that way she could still wear the little short skirt and she would be doing the sport. She offered to be the assistant of the tennis coach in exchange for use of a tennis racket and some lessons. She excelled in the sport and eventually won some youth championships.
She didn’t tell us much about going to medical school or completing her residency which was interesting since most of us who have done it would hold out that experience as one of the most important in our lives.
Rather she told us about starting a shoe company in her garage. And fearlessly reaching out to people in the industry who could help her get started. At one point, she convinced Gucci to let her attend a Milan shoe event staying in the Gucci Corporate room block of a luxury hotel. So fearlessness was another lesson she was teaching us.
Another really fun story was learning that she pitched Oprah and eventually was successful in appearing on her show. Even though they were not primarily talking about shoes, at one point Oprah blurted out, “I love your shoes.”
In a short period of time, Taryn Rose shoe sales doubled from $8 million to $16 million. Eventually, sales reached $40 million. Eventually, she sold the company. So, I guess the lesson is resourcefulness, fearlessness, good shoes…and luck!
Here is a bit more about her from her formal bio on CalEntertainment:
“In addition to earning her medical degree from University of California School of Medicine in Los Angeles, Taryn Rose has been recognized for her numerous honors: In 2006 The Women’s Leadership Exchange group honored Taryn with the Compass Award for shifting the paradigm of how women are perceived as business leaders. Women’s President’s Organization and Fast Company ranked her first in a new entrepreneurial competition of distinction, “25 Women Entrepreneurs Who Are Changing the Game” (2005). New York Moves magazine recognized her as one of the most powerful women in New York City (2005); she was highlighted as a distinguished role model and entrepreneur in the city of Los Angeles during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (2003); recognized by the Women’s Venture Fund as an outstanding entrepreneur during the Highest Leaf Awards in New York (2003), and by the Small Business Administration as one of four outstanding women entrepreneurs honored during the 50th Anniversary of the SBA in Washington DC (2003). The Women’s Entrepreneurial Conference featuring Martha Stewart selected her for their distinguished panel of female entrepreneurs (2007) and she’s continuously a featured panelist for events such as Pink Magazine’s “Fall Empowerment Series” (2009) and Women Entrepreneurs “Rock The World” conference (2010). Dr. Rose and her shoes were featured in the Smithsonian museum in 2007 and she was invited to meet First Lady Laura Bush at the White House since Mrs. Bush is a fan of her work.”
This is a remarkable woman with a remarkable story. She is a inspiration for all entrepreneurs, but particularly for women. Thank you TedxBayAreaWomen for introducing her to the Bay Area Women Entrepreneurs.