By Tomboy KC | Photography by Alyssa Greenberg
We stumbled upon AHA in one of our desperate searches for cool product. It wasn’t ten minutes after discovering it that we had circulated the site among our entire team and spent the next two hours emailing product back and forth (this also happened to be when we discovered our current go-to bachelorette/lingerie shower gift).
So when we connected with Founder and CEO Shauna Mei, you know we had to ask her to sit down and explain just how our favorite site to scroll through came to be. Lucky for us, she indulged our questions.
TKC: You’re the Founder and CEO at AHA. What does it look like to be the CEO of such a global enterprise?
SM: I am getting better at balance. I have an incredible team around me who manage all the key functions in AHA. My main purpose as CEO is to set the agenda for my team and continue to stretch our thinking as well as continuing to innovate. On weekends, I do tons of reading and I keep myself busy traveling often and meeting people from all walks of life. In the office, I am usually either planning or meeting with my executive team to make sure we have the proper processes to execute our vision and plan. Finally, I spend time meeting amazing artisans and designers and hearing their stories.
TKC: How did AHA come to be?
SM: AHA came to me in an “AHA Moment”. I was living in Stockholm, Sweden at the time and as an online consumer myself, I was really missing a destination that inspired me. There were plenty of great places to buy fashion/apparel but when it came to lifestyle goods ranging from home, beauty, gifting, dining, tech, etc, there was nothing out there that was well-curated, focused on quality and presented me with beautiful products from all over the world. From my travels, I’ve always been the “go to girl” for my friends looking for that unique find. It occurred to me to build the ultimate discovery destination for discerning, well-traveled and busy individuals, who don’t want to sacrifice quality or style when it comes to purchasing beautiful products for every aspect of your life. That’s where AHA was born. Today, we work with over 4000+ designers and artisans to bring you the best the world has to offer. We believe in bringing you products that truly make your life better, bring you happiness and are created by the most amazing designers and artisans discovered around the world.
TKC: What aspect of your work is the most meaningful to you?
SM: Meeting artisans and helping them succeed is the most meaningful part of my work. I am inspired by the 100+ applications we receive each week. We work carefully to choose the very best, after vetting quality. Then we work with the designer to help them tell their story and have their creations really shine on AHA. I am always excited when we find a new “genius” product or find something with the incredible back story.
TKC: It’s amazing that each product showcased on AHA is actually handpicked from designers and makers in over 45 countries (wow). Explain the process that goes into selecting those pieces and where you step in.
SM: We have in house curators as well as external curators living all over the world. Our curators find and introduce new brands for us to consider. Separately, we receive over 100 applications per week directly from artisans and designers that hear about AHA. Currently, we have about a 20% acceptance rate and we really look for amazing products with great quality, great story and seasonally relevant. I come in at the last stage to vet products to ensure they are consistent with the AHA ethos. I continue to also curate products throughout my own travels and experiences.
TKC: We know this is hard with so much to choose from, but what is your favorite thing on the site right now?
SM: We just bought the brand Kaufmann Merchantile and I absolutely love the entire collection. The brand’s ethos is to buy something once that lasts a lifetime. It is focusing solely on sourcing well-designed, functional and durable every-day items. I just moved into a new home and will be upgrading most of my wares with Kaufmann products.
TKC: If you had a motto, what would it be and why?
SM: Live a conscious and inspired life. “Conscious” because I think it’s really important to live with intention and always know what you want and how you want to feel. “Inspired” reminds me to stay open minded and catch the wonderful magic from the universe.
TKC: Who have been your greatest supporters or mentors?
SM: My husband Sachin, who is co-founder and President of AHA, helps me each day realize our dream with AHA. Deepak Chopra, also on our advisory board, has been a guiding light from the beginning. Fern Mallis, also on our advisory board and founder of NY Fashion Week, has consistently given us good sound advice.
TKC: What does your work “uniform” look like (i.e., what would we find you in if we popped in to your office)?
SM: This summer I am wearing lots of kurtas I bought recently in India during my wedding celebration and beautiful delicate jewelry.
TKC: Name one beauty product you couldn’t live without.
SM: I swear by this hair-care kit for hair thickening and lengthening. It’s a cult brand and I make sure to even travel with it instead of using hotel stuff. It is created based on ancient Aztec techniques.
TKC: Coffee or tea?
SM: Definitely tea. In fact, matcha tea.
TKC: Lipstick or lip gloss?
SM: Lip Stain.
TKC: Instagram or Twitter?
SM: Definitely Instagram.
TKC: Is there one moment that stands out where you felt like you finally “made it”?
SM: When we took our company public last year in July!
TKC: What advice would you give to 22 year old Shauna?
SM: You don’t always have to win, make more mistakes and learn faster.
TKC: What can we expect to see from AHA in the future?
SM: We have started and will continue to introduce more spiritually aligned products. What does that mean? We are sourcing more and more products that help you be your best spiritually and awaken your inner goddess. From the most beautiful incense from hand-grown herbs to exotic beauty rituals to objects that are made with ingredients to give you good energy. We are growing this area and thoughtfully curating lots of amazing products in the pipeline!
Live a conscious and inspired life. “Conscious” because I think it’s really important to live with intention and always know what you want and how you want to feel. “Inspired” reminds me to stay open minded and catch the wonderful magic from the universe.