Park left a high-powered job at Starbucks to launch Julep, a nail-products business that now has four salons and a busy online operation.

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Jane Park had a law degree from Yale and a key executive role at Starbucks when she told her parents she was leaving the high-powered corporate job to start a chain of nail parlors.

Her mother and father cried.

They must be feeling better now that Park’s Seattle company, Julep, operates four boutique nail parlors and has a thriving online business with about 150,000 subscribers.

Park said nail polish attracted her because it allows women of all ages and sizes to participate in broader fashion trends and connect to other women.

“Color is a really powerful way to express who you are and to show creativity,” said Park, who at an interview wore a canary-yellow dress and a tomato-orange peacoat, and carried a bright orange purse.

Her nails were polished a nude shade, except for one nail that glittered from the testing of a new red, white and blue Julep polish for the summer.

When Park opened the first Julep parlor across from University Village in 2007, she set out to reinvent the nail salon as a social, health-oriented gathering place for women that was more welcoming than high-end spas or discount nail salons.

“Men have golf courses and sporting events and different places they go for work or celebratory occasions, and there just wasn’t that place for women,” she said.

As for health, Julep products are free of many nail-polish chemicals that may be harmful, such as formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate or DBP. The parlors also don’t provide artificial nail services, which Park said produce strong fumes that can be harmful to employees. Also, all full-time employees of Julep get medical insurance.

Three of the four Julep parlors have a liquor license so guests can sip on premium beer or malt beverages while receiving services. And the parlors have movable furniture so guests can rearrange things to sit closer together.

Once parlors in Bellevue, downtown Seattle, Gig Harbor and across from University Village were established, Park and Kate MacDonald, a former colleague at Starbucks who is now Julep’s COO, launched an online nail polish subscription program called Maven.

Park said more than 150,000 women are now subscribers to the Maven service, which sends a box of Julep goods, such as two nail colors and another beauty product, for $19.99 a month.

Subscribers can opt out for a particular month or send their box directly to a friend or family member instead.

MacDonald said she was excited for the opportunity to work with Park to unite what they saw as a fragmented business.

“No one had done to the nail salon what Starbucks had done to coffee shops,” MacDonald said. “We saw it as really an opportunity to re-imagine the nail salon in a healthy way.”

She said Park is “is uniquely balanced in being extremely passionate and extremely persistent.”

“Jane isn’t doing Julep because she wants to be a billionaire … frankly she wants to create a place that she wants to work at.”

Though Park won’t release sales figures or say whether the company is profitable, last month Julep raised at least $4.4 million from investors, according to a regulatory filing.

“We’re in growth mode,” Park said. “We’re definitely doing some things right if we’re continuing to get investors.”

Park said the product side of the company is now much larger than the parlor side. She added that the main focus now is growing the online and product segment of Julep further. This month, Park will make her debut on QVC selling Julep polish.

Worried parents

When she left Starbucks, where she was director for new ventures, her entrepreneurial plans worried her parents, Park said.

Park’s father was separated from his parents during the Korean War and never saw them again. Her family moved from Seoul to Toronto when she was 4 to provide more opportunities for her and her two younger sisters.

“They’ve just worked really hard their whole lives to make sure all their children had access to education in a way that they didn’t,” she said. “Professionals just meant law or medicine to them, and that was it.”

Park said her parents, who had run businesses themselves, were concerned about her starting a business, especially in a field that “has been sort of stereotypically Korean.”

Still, she said, they’ve been “incredibly supportive” and now spend half the year in Seattle helping with her kids.

Park said having her own children has been key to improving her skills as a leader. She felt like she’d achieved a great success when she found parenting techniques to motivate her first child, Eli. However, when Park and her husband had their second child, the system of charts and points that was effective with Eli just didn’t work — so she changed her approach. Yumi, whom Park named a Julep color after, needs fun songs for motivation, Park said.

Such experiences have helped her keep away from a one-size-fits-all approach to managing employees and decisions at Julep, Park added.

“I think a lot of managers make that mistake, where they have a proven success record and they think that they need to behave in exactly the same way to get the same results,” she said. “It’s all about understanding what’s in front of you.”

Jason Stoffer, a partner with Maveron, the investment firm backed by Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz that has invested in Julep, said Julep has done a great job using social media to reach and engage customers.

Park, he said, has proved to be a tenacious entrepreneur.

“She has through good times and bad figured out the right path to turn Julep into a valuable beauty brand,” he said. “We think Jane is an intuitive brand builder and she has assembled a team that is incredibly capable.”

Erin Flemming: 206-464-2718 or