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Meet Celine Chai of NinetyEight in El Segundo

Today we’d like to introduce you to Celine Chai.

Celine, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Having recently graduated from the M-School, an advertising specific program at Loyola Marymount University, our professors sent us an ominous email with the subject: “Don’t get a job. Start an agency”. As the pandemic disrupted the job market, the six of us (Celine Chai, Gia Lee, Sammy Lent, Fran Magsalin, Bryant Lin, and Eduardo Rafael Pablin) came together, rose to the challenge and built NinetyEight from the comfort of our homes.

At first, we didn’t really have a clear goal – it was more of “if no one is going to hire you, hire yourself”. We had the skills, we had the passion and we had the talent to make everything happen… we just needed a little push. That push came from our mentor Eric Johnson who handed us a potential client and asked us to create a campaign idea within 48 hours. Using all the skills, exercises and resources, we learned from the M-School and our internships, we put together a pitch of a lifetime. It was exhilarating.

From there, we started researching the legal aspects of starting a business, from registering our business with the state of California to opening our own corporate bank account, sh*t got real.

Oftentimes people ask why we named our agency “NinetyEight” and it boils down to two answers: 1. all the co-founders are born in the year 1998 and 2. 98 is the atomic number for Californium – which is where everything began. As a team of diverse, agile and multi-faceted Gen-Zs ourselves, we vowed to redefine the creative advertising space. We are dedicated towards helping brands speak to and with Gen-Z. Today, the NinetyEight team creates work that makes a long-lasting impact and are looking to help our clients adapt to the ever-changing, technologically-driven culture of today’s society.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Pursuing start-up is no walk in the park. We’ve all had to be scrappy with our personal finances, sacrifice the security and comfort of working at a traditional company and work incredibly long hours. However, a challenge we constantly face as young entrepreneurs is being taken seriously. There have been times where people have commended our ideas for being innovative and disruptive, but finished the sentence with, “we’d prefer to collaborate with someone with more experience”. While it’s hard to subvert the bias of age equals experience, everyone has to start from somewhere right? as young entrepreneurs is being taken seriously.

Another struggle is creating a long-term business model. Even though all of us graduated with a BBA, school teaches you how to work for people, not: how to start your own company. A lot of the hurdles we faced early on were the logistical sides of starting a business such as legal, finance, accounting and general business operations. Luckily we learned on our mentors to guide us and provide necessary resources to get us on our two feet. Currently, some struggles include navigating our cashflow. Lead generation and new business are two areas we as a company are devoting the majority of our energy to.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
NinetyEight is a creative ad agency dedicated towards empowering, understanding, and connecting the new generation with the world. As the generational divide grows vast, we seek to bridge the gap between brands and Gen-Zs. Our team specializes in brand strategy, content creation, social media management, and search marketing. With NinetyEight, we can help your brand speak to and with Gen-Z.

What sets us apart from other marketing/advertising agencies is that we are experts in the Gen-Z markets. Even though some might see our age as a disadvantage and “lack of experience”, we believe it is our greatest strength. Gen-Z is an extremely complicated generation, thus making it really hard for brands to capture the essence of this generation and how to authentically market to us. That is where NinetyEight comes in. We understand Gen-Zs because we are Gen-Zs and therefore, we have the ability to bridge the generational gap. Our youthfulness has allowed us to become digital marketing and social media experts… TikTok? We have that all figured out.

Winning clients is always such a thrilling moment but personally, something I am most proud of as a company is publishing 98things: a quarterly amalgamation of everything brands needs to know about Gen-Z. Each quarter we release 98 paragraphs that discuss Gen-Z topics from memes, to digital habits, to young entrepreneurs. This white-paper is a true representation of our strategic thinking, brand voice and creativity.

What were you like growing up?
I consider myself a third culture kid. (individuals who are (or were as children) raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of their country of nationality, and also live in a different environment during a significant part of their child development years.)

This meant I grew up around the world, living in: Malaysia, China, Indonesia and nowhere in Los Angeles. While it was a dream come true to live in different parts of the world and be exposed to different cultures, languages and foods, constantly relocating was really hard – especially for a little girl. Growing up, I had two personalities. The first being a really shy kid. I struggled to make friends at school because I was scared I was going to move away the next year. On the other hand, I was really talkative and mature. I read books beyond my years, was placed in an advanced math class and could hold conversations with adults and strangers like no other. My personality fluctuated between being the really shy and timid girl, to suddenly feeling comfortable in a room and exuding confidence. I’d like to think that nothing has changed today.

Some personal interests include: playing sports (volleyball), cooking, and dance, especially ballet. For as long as I could remember, I wanted to be a ballerina and pursue dance in a professional setting. I actually graduated college with a B.A. in Dance, however did a 180 and ended up in advertising! That being said, the best thing about being my own boss is that I still get to explore my artistic side and curate dance on the side.

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