How One Immigrant Daughter Pivoted Her Career and Built an Award-Winning Event Production Company

Dee Lee's journey from being a middle school teacher to the founder of an award-winning event production company is a story that inspires us all to pursue our passion.

By Hannah Liza Tapan

May 12, 2023

Despite facing various challenges and setbacks along the way, Dee persevered and learned from her mistakes, which ultimately led to her success. The road has been filled with ups and downs, but she never gave up.

Dee is a first-generation Teo-Chew Cambodian woman born in the United States. Her parents escaped from the Cambodian genocide and she is the oldest of three siblings. As a daughter of immigrants, she loves to use her platform to educate, inspire, and bless it forward to her AAPI community. 

Join us as we explore the challenges Dee faced and the valuable lessons she learned on her journey towards success.

FROM MIDDLE SCHOOL EDUCATOR TO EVENT PRODUCTION COMPANY OWNER

Dee was a middle school teacher in the largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, starting full-time teaching at just 23 years old. She had a talent for grant writing for the various schools she worked at. However, Dee’s pivot came when her daughters were born, and she felt unsupported.

“I was doing events and photography as a hobbyist. I quickly learned that I found a new love and pursued it part time. Eventually I retired from teaching and opened my first  LLC, got liability insurance, and the rest was history,” Dee said.

She faced a lot of challenges at first, mostly because she didn’t have enough business background to understand how to properly run a business. “Both my Bachelors and Masters were in education. I didn’t have a mentor. I learned a lot through trial and error.”

Eventually she found a network of event professionals that opened more doors for her. She started out in the Quinceañera market, where she made a name for herself as a designer in a Latino market. Although it was challenging, Dee thrived in it.

Setting trends in the quinceanera market on TV

Along with the challenges she faced, she also encountered people who told her that she couldn’t make it. There was a time that she assisted a celebrity planner she admired, and was told that she was only good enough for small things. This was a devastating blow to Dee’s confidence. But despite these challenges, Dee persisted and emerged victorious. She continued to grow her business and inspire others with her journey.

Dee with her team assisting the Director of Events at Unforgettable Gala

MISTAKES SHE FACED ALONG THE WAY

Dee made a lot of entrepreneurial mistakes in the beginning of her journey. It was a new learning curve for her. She quickly learned why liability insurance was so important to have as a business owner, and she learned about quarterly taxes. She wanted to buy everything but she knew she shouldn’t.

“I still had a hobbyist attitude about pricing when I jumped into it full time. I didn’t know what market value was on anything and had to do a lot of research,” Dee said.

Networking was also a crucial part of her journey, as she learned the value of connecting with others in her industry and receiving valuable advice from them. Every piece of advice was like a gold nugget for her, and she took it all in. She was realistic with her expectations of growth and knew that success would not come overnight.

When Dee met Oprah

WHAT MOTIVATED HER DESPITE ALL HER SETBACKS

The honest truth about why Dee was so motivated and determined to succeed was the fact that she was the oldest daughter of her immigrant parents, and they thought that she was crazy to leave her profession as an educator and her two degrees. Even her cousins thought that she was just wasting her time in event planning.

She considered every mistake and situation as a learning experience and worked tirelessly to establish herself and her business. Her goal was to become so successful that everyone would know who “Dee Lee” was.

Good Day LA Feature

HER CREATIVE PROCESS OF MAKING EACH EVENT UNIQUE AND PERSONAL TO EVERY CLIENT

When it comes to designing unique and personalized events for each client, Dee takes a meticulous approach. She is passionate about her work and loves the design process. She begins by sending her clients a list of discovery questions to help her gather information about their preferences and needs. She then schedules a virtual discovery call with her clients via Google Meet or Zoom, where she listens carefully to their ideas and aspirations.

Dee involves her clients in every step of the process, creating design boards together, and incorporating their personal preferences into the final product. Her approach is to make the process less transactional and more personable by humanizing the whole process.

Dee values building personal relationships with her clients, and they often embark on wedding planning and foodie adventures together. This helps her clients get to know her better, and it also enables Dee to understand her clients’ personalities and preferences. As a result, Dee is able to design events that are unique and tailored to each client’s needs.

ADVICE TO THOSE WHO WANT TO PURSUE THEIR PASSIONS AND THOSE WHO WANT TO ENTER THE EVENTS PLANNING INDUSTRY

Dee advises those who want to pursue their passions but don’t have the courage to do so to align themselves with a mentor to shadow. She emphasizes the importance of learning to do things the right way, which can be achieved by having a mentor who can guide and teach them. Dee also suggests networking and meeting new people, as it can lead to opportunities and connections in the industry.  Community is important to growth.

Dee receives a lot of emails from people who want to shadow or become a wedding planner until they see it unfold live. She acknowledges that this kind of job is not for the faint of heart.

“There is a reason it is not made for everyone and it is one of the top ten most stressful jobs. You have to know how to think on your feet, fix things on the fly, in order to survive,” Dee said.

CONNECT WITH DEE

Facebook: Dee Lee Designs

Instagram: @deeleedesigns

Pinterest: Dee Lee Designs

TikTok: @deeleedesings