CEO Jessica Hung Talks about her Journey with Parasol Co
She’s a mother. She’s a co-founder and CEO of ParasolCo. She’s a lifelong learner. She’s a first-generation Taiwanese immigrant to the U.S. And she literally wears her heart on her ankle.
Meet Jessica Hung who recently sat down with us to talk diapers, travel and tattoos.
Q: So how did your ParasolCo journey start?
A: (Laughs), it was a journey with a capital J. In late 2014 through early 2015 when Parasol Co was the beginning of a serious business opportunity in my mind, I traveled to more than 20 countries on four continents— Asia, Europe, North America and South America—to meet with more than 20 raw-material suppliers and diaper manufacturers. I wanted to get to the source of the product and get an insider’s perspective on the industry. Wherever I went, I would hit the local retailer store and talk to local parents. I would show them samples of the popular U.S. diaper brands and get their feedback. When they showed me the diapers they used, it was an eyeopener. Diaper products vary from country to country, largely due to cultural differences in parenting, family values and behaviors.
Q: What kind of response did you get when you showed parents some of the leading U.S. diapers?
A: The first mom I met in 2015 in Japan almost dropped her jaw when she touched the U.S. brand diaper. I didn't know why she looked so surprised. Incredibly, she asked me three times just to be sure she understood me correctly, “This is the most popular brand in the U.S.?!” Then she said, word for word…I’ll never forget this, “American parents are rude?!” I had no idea what she meant…was I missing something in the translation? But then I realized her choice of the word ‘rude’ was her reaction to the ‘rough’ texture of the diaper materials. She was stunned that parents would put this irritating material on a baby’s delicate skin for 24 hours/7 days/52 weeks/2 years, a time when they need soft comfort and protection the most. Not knowing how to answer her, I asked to see the diaper she used. When I touched the extremely soft Japanese diapers she shared with me, I immediately understood her feedback and knew she was absolutely right. The bar was defined and raised in this and in so many other interesting conversations on this worldwide journey. I knew there was no way I could not develop a diaper that would win the hearts of those little, precious lives. Our babies may not be able to speak for themselves yet, but they will definitely show us what they like and don't through their body language.
Q: So you travel the world researching, talking, investigating, learning. Then what became of all that?
A: When I returned home, I was a go-go-go maniac (laughs). Those who know me know that when I am that inspired and laser-focused, nothing can stop me. I could imagine this ultimate diaper I wanted to create, and my entire life was centered on figuring out how we were going to make it. It took me a year to develop Parasol's first generation diaper. I like to say I curated and implemented the best of the best I had observed—combining the Japanese, ultra-soft materials, the European sustainable manufacturing process, and the American parents’ desire for inspiring print designs. In 2016, we introduced the first Parasol diapers, and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Parents told us that they were ‘obsessed’ with Parasol diapers.
Q: Have Parasol diapers evolved since their introduction? Did parents give you feedback that was important to address?
A: As the product journey continued, we learned from Parasol parents that there were issues we needed to address ranging from leakages, blowouts and product defects to rashes. We worked diligently—my team would say ‘fiercely’ (laughs)—on the solutions and continued to push my manufacturer to help on product improvements, one by one. The progress for product improvement was slow. Frustrated after one year, I made the decision after all I had invested to pursue finding a new manufacturer. It is always painful when you have to cut a vendor relationship and re-develop a new one but I knew there was no other choice if I wanted to stay loyal to my Parasol babies. We advocate for them when they can’t speak.
Q: Would you say that experience was a setback?
A: It was a setback for my own personal timeline as a business owner and a dreamer, but it was a major gain for the quality of our product in the long-term. In 2018, we launched our second- generation diaper designed with a super-thin core that achieved the dream combo of being super light and highly absorbent. It’s not in my nature to just sit on success…there’s always something to improve, some way to improve the experience for our babies and their families. We knew the subject of diaper rash was (literally) an irritating one in the product category. Diaper retailers seem to accept that diaper rash is inevitable, and so they offer rash creams to soothe the symptoms. I decided that wasn’t good enough for our babies and set out to improve our diapers as an end to diaper rash. In 2019, our third-generation diaper was introduced with our patented RashShield™ protection, and it’s been so successful we promise no more diaper rash or your money back. Now we are in development on our fourth-generation diaper—all I can say at this point is that babies will sleep like a rock (and their parents,, too) with our new overnight design.
Q: So your pattern seems to be, innovate, learn, improve, innovate again, learn again, improve again…
A: That’s the way it goes for a lifelong learner. With each generation diaper, we pushed for the most innovative materials and manufacturing. The product difference…super-soft, super-light, super-absorbent, super-dry, super-clean, rash-free…has to make a difference in our families’ lives. They already have a lot on their plate, and it’s our job to take care of the diaper part of the equation so that they don't even need to think about it, whether their baby has sensitive skin or not.
Q: You really seem to identify with and value your community of Parasol parents. How important is that for the success of your brand?
A: Oh, it goes beyond the success of Parasol, the brand. As a parent myself of two kids, now 21 and 17, I love talking with our parents. It’s the thing I most look forward to…forming those bonds, developing relationships…it gives meaning to why I do what I do. It’s so gratifying to listen to parents’ needs, come up with solutions, and know you’ve made a difference in their lives. Parenting can be a lonely road at times, and it means so much to me to be there for and with our parents.
Q: With all of the demands of traveling worldwide, running a business, managing your own family, how do you make time to stay in tune with your Parasol families?
A: I prioritize, without compromise, having weekly one-on-one video meetings with Parasol parents. I have about 5 individual visits a week. It has taught me that if I do care, good things will happen. I listen, I learn, I improve what we put out in the world. Parents not only value that I make time for them, they feel they can be open with me, so I hear it ALL. In these times we’re in now, there are so many different challenges hitting us each day, each week, each year. However, when I Zoom and see Parasol parents' faces, my excitement is energized and my focus switches back to make parenting easier and babies happier.
Q: How big do you see Parasol becoming as a brand?
A: Parasol is a very small brand…I don't have a goal to make it big (I had this wrong goal six years ago when I first started). I plan to hold hands with parents as long as I can with a product that brings joy to what is undeniably the poopiest part of parenting (laughs). It has been a fulfilling journey, and I am very appreciative that Parasol parents allow me to be part of their families each step along the way.
Q: So, I can’t help but notice that little something on your ankle. Can you share that with our readers?
A: (Laughs) Oh that’s the Parasol logo tattooed inside my left ankle. I did that to constantly remind myself to walk the walk, step by step…to do what I said I would do and to only say what I have truly done. It keeps me on the path, even in my dreams.