Updated: May 22
Welcome to our fifth write up in the Ethical Kollektiv’s Ethical Business Series, where we share the stories of some incredibly driven humans who have committed to running their own for-purpose businesses that are having a positive impact within our community.
This week we speak to one of the legends of Melbourne and friends of the Ethical Kollektiv, Serial Entrepreneur Melissa Yu.
With honours in Psychology for her academic background and no stranger to the commercial world through her entrepreneurial endeavours, Melissa is a truly empathetic and inspiring speaker and leader. Melissa’s overall purpose is to leave others in a better position than before meeting them. Having lost her late partner to suicide, Melissa harnesses this difficult life experience to advocate for causes relating to suicide awareness and prevention.
Through personal life experiences, mental struggles and working in different industry fields – Melissa fell in love with the opportunity to create events and unite a community. At 27, she listened to her gut instincts and took the plunge to start her own events company.
In addition to directing MCO Events, Melissa is the Founder of Ego Expo Australia, an annual two-day expo for independent and growing brands in streetwear fashion and urban culture. Sought after by brands for her brand management and communication skills, start-ups for her expertise and vision, and by individuals inspired by her personal story, Melissa continues to lead by example, attracting a loyal following through industries as diverse as she is.
She has most recently been nominated for Young Australian of the Year 2019 and Channel 7’s Young Achievers Awards for Social Impact 2019. As though her work doesn’t keep her busy enough, Melissa launched her own podcast in 2020, The Authentic Me, sharing stories and life lessons of Australian influencers, entertainment artists, life coaches and creative entrepreneurs. Common topics involve self-development, successes, failures, mindset and how to create a life of purpose.
We've been following you for quite some time and are in awe about the community work you do and how you somehow seem to find time to do EVERYTHING. Tell us, how do you do it and why do you do it?
Mel: Prior to starting my own events business, I had really wanted to become a qualified psychologist… helping other people and working hands-on with people has always been a passion of mine. After my four years in psychology, life had different plans for me. When COVID-19 hit, and the pandemic wiped out face-to-face events overnight, it forced me to pivot and to provide value to my community with my other skillsets. If we couldn’t do face-to-face events, it meant I had to go online.
So, I pivoted and started hosting personal development events online. From a few virtual events, I took the jump and launched the coaching arm of my business. This has really come naturally to me and I now work with approximately 10 clients at any one time and have a diverse range of programs to suit anyone needing growth in their life – either personal or In business.
It has been the best move I have ever made, and I feel so privileged to be able to do this work. The moment where everything clicks for my clients and they achieve clarity and vision is my truest satisfaction where I feel blessed to be part of my client’s journeys with them. It is such a unique connection between my clients and me and we all need a sounding board in life. If you haven’t considered it, I urge you to get a coach in your corner.
Let's Talk about EGO Expo, tell us more about that, how did the idea come about and what are some of your favourite moments in that journey?
Mel: Ego Expo has been my baby since 2017. I was in a stage of my life where I was frustrated at my current workplace culture and I believed that we can do business in a successful way without hurting or bringing people down.
I wanted to create my own company culture where we left our egos at the door and collaborated with others rather than compete against them. The foundation value behind Ego Expo is authenticity – to show up and be yourself, there is a community space for you here where we will celebrate diversity, individuality and support your crazy dreams and ideas.
I noticed in my own circle of friends that there were lots of independent streetwear brands wanting to start a business. Because cash is often tight in start-ups, most brands are side-hustles and were also limited to only an e-commerce platform, I wanted to use my events background to curate an event for all Australian Streetwear Brands to showcase and build brand presence to their direct target market. People buy into stories and what the brand stands for – especially in the streetwear industry – sharing the reasons for what their fashion brand stands for, is what resonates and influences a person to buy.
My proudest moment during this journey is looking at my team. My team works around the clock and belief in the mission and what we are trying to do with Ego Expo. They have had my back from Day One, and there is no successful or proud moment that could have been achieved without the support of my team.
Ego Expo is now the largest Streetwear & Lifestyle Expo in Australia.... how did the idea conceptualise and go from idea to action?
Mel: I laugh at this question because in hindsight I made so many naïve mistakes. But the reality is, you need a little naivety and ignorance to start. You will inevitably learn from doing, from taking action. I didn’t dwell on the idea for too long, I took actionable steps to make my idea a reality. I regretfully didn’t even make a budget for this business, I just started booking things and cold calling/emailing fashion brands to exhibit. I didn’t have anything, no one knew who I was, but I did have passion. And it was the passion and taking massive action that got me to where I am now.
You will never be perfectly ready – start and learn the rest along the way. You will never stop learning!
The journey isn't always (never) a straight line of success, especially with covid thrown in the mix for 2020, how do you manage to ride the emotional ups and downs?
Mel: The reality is if you are starting your own business or becoming a founder of a product/service, there is something emotionally pulling you to start and disrupt the current market. I have learned over the years that business is a numbers game, a business needs to be profitable and sustainable. There is a place for emotions, but it is important to not be driven purely by emotion because that is a recipe for disaster. My advice and what I wished I had when starting out, was seeking a trustworthy business coach or mentor.
It may feel like a heavy investment, but I promise you, you will save a lot more money and avoid a lot of heavy errors with the guidance of someone that has been where you have been.
Success leaves clues; do not reinvent the wheel. Ask for help and you will find it.
Following the theme of that question, how does Mel Yu define success?
Mel: My definition of success is living a full life on your terms. It is living in alignment with your core values and you wake up every day working towards your purpose and contributing to something bigger than you. Success looks different for everyone, so make sure you have done the self-work to determine what it looks like for you.
What’s The Plan From Here?
Mel: The plan is to keep progressing, keep improving and keep growing in all areas of my life. I am focusing on creating deeper meanings in my work, my relationships and my lifestyle. I get excited about future collaborations and opportunities;
I am always open to learning new things. As humans, we are not just one thing, so the plan is to continue on this journey and enjoy the process rather than focusing on the destination. Some of my greatest and most favourite moments are the ones that are unexpected and unplanned.
As we do with all of our distinguished Number 1 tip to anyone looking to start out?
Mel: My mantra – ‘Dream Big, Start Small, but START’.
Thank you so much for sharing your story Mel, you are a true inspiration. We look forward to following more of your amazing work, you mentioned your door is always open, how do we reach you?
Mel: That's right, coaching, Ego Expo, business or personal....don't hesitate to reach out.....