Building the Brand — Everything Up to This Point
It took a while, but we're finally here. We spent the past year and a half laying down the foundation for a publication focused on fostering community, supporting creatives and maintaining an ad-free experience. The process has been nothing short of rewarding.
This installment of Building the Brand coincides with the launch of MAEKAN. As we transition away from beta, we're proud to share our journey and experiences with you.
Text & Narration by Eugene Kan
Illustration by Alex Maeland
Photography by Alex Maeland & Eugene Kan
Audio by Elphick Wo
In a previous life, going to work meant being part of a larger machine...
… whose purpose was rooted in rampant consumerism around fashion, sneakers, and material goods, all while breeding inadequacy along the way.
Here we had a large, young and impressionable audience, and the best we could do was push a superficial lifestyle on them and create identity through material objects? We weren’t about that life anymore. It didn’t sit well with us.
There wasn’t one particular moment that set the wheels in motion but more so a general disinterest in what we were doing. We weren’t alone in the feeling of perpetually running a hamster wheel, and we could feel the negative vibes that permeated almost everything around us. It made us wonder, do we sit back and complain while collecting a paycheck . . . going through the motions without any passion? Or do we venture out on our own and be the change we want to see?
Friendship and mutual respect are at the core of MAEKAN. Alex and my relationship began with an interest in street culture, but it’s grown to be much more. We’re still very different people, personality and interest-wise. I still haven’t given up on using a PC, Alex loves all things Apple. What I’m terrible at, Alex is great at, and vice versa. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, but there’s this common thread that exists towards creating something that’s highly considered and detail-orientated.
I’ve always lamented the lack of purpose behind so many things that see the light of day. Purpose was an important part of MAEKAN’s identity from very early on. Our intention wasn’t to create something for people to enjoy unconditionally. It was about having a point-of-view to introduce new ways of thinking and questioning. MAEKAN never needs to be right, but if you had a bone to pick with something on the platform, at the very least, we would offer our position and reasoning.
It was also about making sure that whatever we created could stand up to something more because, well, we were seeking more. Alex and I had outgrown our previous opportunities, and we were confident many others had as well. The creative culture we immersed ourselves in had impacted a lot of people, but many didn’t have something deeper to sink their teeth into. These people, like ourselves, sought education, empowerment, and discourse to improve themselves and those around them. We’re fortunate to be part of a community where if the people around us raise the bar, the whole community benefits.
For any start-up, experimentation is the name of the game, and when there’s no measuring stick, you can virtually do whatever the hell you want. I have a saying: “Mistakes are perfectly fine and expected but making the same mistake twice is unacceptable.” It couldn’t be truer than when you have limited resources and you’re trying to move quickly. It was time to start thinking about what the major hurdles were actually going to be.
Entering these trying times gives you a swift kick in the ass and can provide a sense of clarity. You’re on a short timer to make something happen. If you’re destined to do something and make it work, you simply find a way. The problems you fix today are part of a never-ending stream of future problems that will need tending to.
Life. Paying the bills. And of course, feeding ourselves.
A few months ago, we were working out of a co-shared office in Los Angeles, sleeping there at night. The first evening was so cold and we had no blankets. We had to make do by layering on all of our clothing we had packed. Eventually, our friend Jenn Kong donated some blankets, but we’d wake up every morning, groggy, never truly getting proper rest. The building’s central lighting system would come on automatically alongside the first workers of the day.
Readjusting your expectations and being very intentional about what makes you happy become paramount. Building, creating and having the autonomy to make decisions are invaluable. This surprising freedom alongside that tiny #startuplife salary push you to really want to exhaust everything possible to succeed. You’d be surprised at how many fun things can be done when you’re balling on a budget. Great conversation, challenging yourself to learn something new via the Internet and just going out and connecting with people over their stories all costs virtually nothing.
Things are about to get real around here, and as we exit the beta phase things will definitely change. Looking back at our journey, it’s been nothing short of amazing—for the fun stuff just as much as the hurdles we’ve encountered. I’ve found it immensely humanizing and almost satisfying to not know the answers and make mistakes, especially coming from a previous role where I was expected to have all the answers. On the flip side, there’s a sense of pride when Alex, myself and the team figure out the difficult problems. As we continue building, it really comes down to having had more wins than losses.
I’ve rarely shared my feelings because I don’t love being vulnerable, but I am more proud of MAEKAN than anything I’ve ever worked on before. Whether things end up being super successful or a catastrophic failure, I know for certain that regardless of the outcome, work you’re proud of will never leave you disappointed, and I have lists and lists of lessons learned.