Isa Wang is helping people introduce themselves
Running a business

Isa Wang is helping people introduce themselves

In honor of Pride Month, QuickBooks is spotlighting the LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs who play a vital role in creating an inclusive and vibrant small business community.

Name: Isa Wang

Location: Easthampton, MA

Pronouns: He/Him

Tell us about your business. 

Gamut Pins designs and produces professional pronoun identifiers, such as enamel pins, magnets, and vinyl stickers. We donate 10% of our profits to organizations that support LGBTQ+ individuals and partner with nonprofits to provide resources and support to our community.

Why did you decide to start your own business? How did you get started?

At the time, I was already running a plantable stationery business called The Bower Studio with my partner, Vincent. I got the idea for Gamut Pins in 2016 because I was frustrated by people misgendering me. I am transgender and my appearance can be androgynous. I felt like I had to immediately state my pronouns to every person I met or risk having them guess incorrectly. If you have ever been misgendered, you know it feels like a slap in the face and can leave you reeling.

I wanted a way for my pronouns to be communicated for me, so I did a quick search online for pronoun pins. I only found the plastic button type of pins and that didn’t seem appropriate for work or visually appealing. I decided to start Gamut Pins as a side project, but it was received so well that it grew into the sister company of The Bower Studio.

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If you listen to your customers they will become your biggest advocates.

What is the biggest lesson you learned in the first year?

Listening to customer feedback is really the best way to design a product that people will love. I thought “They/Them” pronoun pins would be the least popular because I personally knew so few people who used those pronouns. To my surprise, they were far and away the most popular.

I solicited feedback about the size of the pins, readability, and pronouns that people felt were missing from the line. If you listen to your customers they will become your biggest advocates.

What was the most surprising thing about becoming a business owner?

I learned such a diverse array of skills because I had to wear all the hats! In the beginning I was doing production, marketing, design, social media, bookkeeping, sales, and customer service. Sometimes it can feel like I’m a master of none, but when the skills build on each other I am glad to be well-rounded. Now it helps me understand the challenges my employees face because I’ve probably experienced them, too.

What is an aspect of running a business that you needed to learn more about when you started? How did you learn about it?

All the legal stuff is such a challenge, especially for creatives. When you are trying to be

innovative and inspired, the last thing you want to do is file paperwork. I bought some “For Dummies” books on starting a business, went to workshops, and talked to mentors. It’s still the thing I hate most about running a business, but I am responsible for making sure we’ve got our legal ducks in a row. Resources like the Small Business Administration and the local chamber of commerce are there to help you.

How does running your own business make you feel?

Extremely satisfied and independent. I have been selling things online since I was twelve because I love making things that other people will enjoy. Both of my parents were freelance textile artists and I grew up with them working from our home studio. It has always been in my mind as the ideal lifestyle for me. 

The difference between freelancing and being a business owner with employees is that I am now responsible for other people’s quality of life too. That part is daunting at times, but I am so grateful to work with people who inspire and motivate me.

What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome or are working to overcome as a business owner?

Leadership is the big one. I have been accustomed to working independently but now I have to communicate with a team. This position requires me to constantly think beyond myself and my needs. Information has to be shared with lots of folks instead of keeping it all in my brain. It’s hard, but I am working with mentors and learning all the time.

What are your proudest moments?

Camp Aranu’tiq, a summer camp for trans and gender-variant kids, sent us a photo of a plaque with “Gamut Pins” on it because we have been donating to them regularly. Beyond feeling proud of the donations we made, I hope a kid sees the plaque and finds our website. I want them to see a thriving, trans-owned business and know that they can choose entrepreneurship if they want to. That’s the best.

What are the next big plans you have for your business?

We want to help employers offer pronoun pins to their teams and give them the resources to implement them successfully. Workplaces that provide pronoun identifiers are fostering an equitable environment and relieving their staff from the responsibility of supplying their own. We also want to offer more pronoun combos and there are some very exciting new products on the horizon!

What are three things that you feel have contributed to your success as a business owner?

My support network, trusting my gut, and treating the business like a marathon.

I would not be here without my friends and family. Besides being emotionally supportive, I have called on them many, many times for help. My network has helped me move, pack rush orders, set up at trade shows—the list goes on. They are also the reason why I trust my gut! They believe in me when others don’t, and that gives me the confidence to push on.

I keep an optimistic attitude about the risks I take, and that helps the business grow. As it grows, I have to be careful to take care of myself. I have been running a business for eleven years now, and I know that a big key to the success I have found is pacing myself. I protect my boundaries and work in an iterative process. That’s why the parent company of Gamut Pins and The Bower Studio is called “Small Victories LLC.”

What challenges do you feel are unique to small business owners in the LGBTQIA+ community? Have you come up against any bias?

There are a lot of challenges unique to business owners in the LGBTQIA+ community. I think it’s important to remember that there was no federal protection in America against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity until June of 2020. 

The issue I have come up against is that I am not always taken seriously. I am a trans Asian American, and some people think I am much younger than I actually am. I still get asked which school I go to and I’m 32 years old. That can cause some imposter syndrome, especially when you are leading a team. But I’ll be laughing when I’m 60 and look 32!

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs in the community?

Give back to the community whenever you can. That can be through mentorship, donations, partnerships, or resources. Connect with fellow entrepreneurs. It’s not just because it’s the right thing to do—that network of people who have received your help will be there to help you. They will see that your entrepreneurship is built on values that they will respect and support.

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We have to believe in ourselves when no one else will.

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going?

Every time I see a positive review it makes me so freaking happy. These are people I truly empathize with, and a community I care deeply about. I love hearing that someone’s life is a little less stressful and that they feel validated. I love hearing that someone is being a great ally and bought a pin for themselves or to show support for someone in their life. Thank you notes from our customers motivate me to keep showing up for them.

What’s your “power song” and why? 

“Tear Me Down” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Specifically sung by John Cameron Mitchell (no offense Neil Patrick Harris). It’s the opening song and it introduces Hedwig as this powerful, punk rock queen. Through the rest of the story, you see a softer and more vulnerable side to her and I think that’s why I love it. Queer folks are masters at embodying self-confidence through our fashion, performances, and art. But that confidence is a hard-won survival skill. We have to believe in ourselves when no one else will.

To learn more about Gamut Pins and support the business, visit their website or them out on Instagram.

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