Ngoc Nguyen Lay's Story
My story has multiple chapters; I am the dreamer and achiever behind a few brands: Skybox Event Productions, Inspired Celebrations Book, My Wish for You Book, & Together Bears Book.
It all started with my desire to help others. That, paired with a sketch of a personal business framework, resulted in the birth of Skybox Event Productions. Since then, it has grown into an opportunity to help others see their dreams come to reality.
Skybox officially started during my college years, where doodling in my notebook took precedence over listening to lectures. I envisioned a business that impacted others’ lives and gave them real support and guidance for celebrating and entertaining. In reality, it started much earlier when I would watch my mom plan and prepare weekly Sunday gatherings for our extended family. These gatherings laid the foundation of my planning skills and resulted in a 12-year-old me decided to host our family’s first ever Thanksgiving Dinner Party. As an immigrant family, my parents were not familiar with this holiday, but I was convinced that we should celebrate it together and I was determined to host it for our family of 30 people. All of those years of shadowing my mom, the perfect hostess, convinced me I could do it – and I did.
Today, Skybox Event Productions serves all of Southern California by providing creative ideas with planning, dining options, event design, publicity, and much more! We believe all celebrations should be uniquely memorable. Whether your event is an intimate dinner party, a swoon-worthy wedding, or a larger than life gala, Skybox makes the impossible possible. The business has grown over the years and now, has 12 employees who celebrate all kinds of life moments.
Although event planning is where everything started, I’ve never stopped growing and expanding. In 2010, I decided to write a how-to entertaining book. I wanted to share my inspirations for life’s celebrations while collaborating with some of my closest friends.
I wrote a book proposal, sent it to publishers, and finally had the opportunity to start this journey. I partnered with two accomplished friends, photographer Caroline Tran and nutritionist Tram Le, who both agreed to help make this dream a reality. Stepping out of my business to start this book was exciting, adventurous, and scary. There was so much risk and so much potential. In those days, it was the taste of this dream that sparked energy and excitement. My first book, Inspired Celebrations, was about my passions: event planning, celebrating, and the people who surround you. This book was launched on July 1, 2012, and was the culmination of long hours, literal blood and sweat, friendship, and love. I was excited, then nervous, then terrified, then excited… all times 100 and on repeat.
I found out I was pregnant with my first son the day after my book Inspired Celebrations published, and it changed my focus entirely. I had just put my “baby” into the world in the form of the book and now, I was about to welcome a real baby into the world! Now, I wanted to put my energy towards projects that mattered not just to others, but to me, and I wanted to start directing my business on a new path, coaching my team to execute successful events.
As I started restructuring my event planning business, with a new baby in the picture, and I started to dream about my next book – one that would not be for me, but for my son. At first, all I could think about was the first time, and how Inspired Celebrations was a true “labor of love.” I did not think that I could take the time away from what I valued most- my family. Then, one night after putting my son to sleep, I was reading the draft of the book when these words struck me: “I wish you’ll always reach for the stars and never give up, no matter how hard.” If I were to tell my son about this moment, I wanted him to remember that I hadn’t given up either.
Unlike Inspired Celebrations, My Wish for You was not for me, but for my son. This book was a heartfelt message for our children at every stage of their lives. Through a poem written by Michelle Urriquia and illustrations by Candace Ott, we were able to wish for the best life has to offer for our little ones, hoping one day these wishes will be fulfilled. My role changed with this book; I was not the author, but the creative director. The experience of creating A Wish For You was different but rewarding. Most of all, it prepared me for the current stage of my business.
Fast forward a couple years; I told the world I would never write another book, and then my second son was born. While he was a newborn, it was hard to balance out time with his older brother. During our bedtime routine, I would explain to my oldest son that his little brother would get bigger and they will soon be able to play together. We made a list of things that he could look forward to the experience with his brother. Then Together Bears was born.
Originally, I had planned to finish Together Bears in 2016, but if there is one thing I’ve learned through my role with parenthood, it is the need to be flexible. Parents out there, you know what I’m talking about! I felt like we were moving forward but not making progress; instead of finishing, I took a hiatus to have space to think, to breathe, to create… I wanted to love this special book because it’s for my boys – liking it would not be enough. During my break, I would take photos of the two of them, capturing the essence of their youth and childhood. This break was truly the best decision; it allowed me to work with my illustrator to make sure that each spread captured what my two boys did together. The results are absolutely perfect. Together Bears became a simple children’s board book and a reminder of the daily adventures siblings could have together.
My business, Skybox Event Productions, is still going strong, with my talented team running the day-to-day business. This allows me to explore the latest avenue of my business- the speaker circuit. Public speaking has never been my favorite thing, but recently it has been a joy to talk about my journey, my perspective as a first-generation Asian American, about pursuing my passion while using my degree. There’s so much more than the black and white choices that “college me” thought there was, and it’s allowing me to relate those choices to similar dreamers and future business owners. Presenting at speaking engagements allows me to connect with a large community of people; it is something I plan on continuing for a long time. I really love sharing my story in order to inspire others to start theirs.
As a business owner, there are times I am pulled in a variety of different directions; the same could be said about my experience as a mother. Having business and motherhood mesh together is sometimes a mess, and sometimes a beautiful coexistence. Being a new parent enabled me to prioritize my life, and in doing so, I found new dreams to chase, such as writing children’s books and developing as an empowerment speaker (especially in the college environment).
It became clear that as a woman, a mother, a wife, and a business owner- every choice I made required a sacrifice and every sacrifice had beautiful consequence. My husband is incredibly supportive, and I’m incredibly lucky. For a long time, he was the person who held the proverbial microphone for me to speak, and he has helped amplify my voice to a place where I am now. We’ve had to learn how to swap roles throughout our relationship, and will do so forever. Sometimes, it’s hard to not know the right answer or not have a clear plan that you simply have to execute. It’s often hard to navigate the “how” and “when” in your personal life while also building a business.
I’ve learned that smooth roads lack a sense of adventure; the bumpy ones push your boundaries. In our 20s, our struggles seemed hard, but also easy. It felt like I had all the time and energy in the world to accomplish my goals. Sure – late nights, working weekends, and multiple jobs were daunting, but I also had the joy of innovation that fueled my passion. In my 30s, the struggles still seemed hard, but different. When I started my business, there was no such thing as creative meet-up groups, internet communities, and shared experiences. It was a lonely, solitary, experience. It was difficult to find a like-minded community I could trust; now I find groups with supportive colleagues everywhere I go. It makes things so much better to know that when I’ve had a hard day, I can find a community that will not just relate and normalize my experience, but lift me up in the process and keep me going one more day.
As I have mentioned, I am the founder and Creative Director of Skybox Event Productions. I received my BA from the University of California, Irvine in 2003 and a Masters from the University of Southern California in 2005. I have been working in the event industry ever since.
I am known for over 13 years of successful events with Skybox, as an author/creative director of 3 books, and as a keynote speaker. My company specializes in all life events – from social to corporate. We are proud of making moments, whether for business or personal, and I’m so proud of my team. This business isn’t run by me. It’s run by amazing team members who are dedicated to the mission of my company. Truthfully, if they didn’t want to be part of the Skybox team, then Skybox wouldn’t be here. When I first started this business, I was the business. Now, I’m the person working on the business, while my team members use their unique talents to give back to our clients and thrive in this industry. I support each of them in their dreams, and know that they should be allowed to explore them as much as I once did. I try to make Skybox a platform for my team to explore and grow, while also providing high quality service and care for our clients.
Success is a somewhat nebulous concept, and one that has changed as frequently as my goals have changed. In the beginning, it was a success to get paid for finishing an event. I was happy to be hired to do what I love. It was a success to have clients – and then have those clients refer new clients! Building the business was time consuming, but exciting. It took a long time to actually feel like I was a business owner.
As I continued to set and achieve goals, I continued setting new “success criteria.” My metric for success evolved with each project. It became simple; success was not the notion of “making it,” but actually creating goals and then achieving them.
There was one time where I felt that I “arrived” and this moment was a major benchmark in my self-evaluation of success. It was the first time I ran an event open to the public, and it was a fashion show. This allowed my parents to attend and see me in action for the first time ever – and this was a few years into my business! That same night, I was interviewed for a Vietnamese television channel. This was a channel that hardly anyone watched, but it did have two regular viewers – my parents. As I stood there, stumbling with my non-English words, trying to look composed and confident while everything rushed around me, I saw my mom out of the corner of my eye, beaming. It was such a small moment, stretched beyond its purpose, but it gave my mom a chance to see what I have been working on and talking about all of these years. I knew in that moment that arriving meant nothing if you arrived alone. Seeing my mom “feel” my success made me realize it wasn’t a lonely achievement, but a moment you could share with those you love the most.
Each phase of my career has given me opportunities to share the struggle of change as well as the joy of success with my parents, my husband, and my two boys. They are the reason I strive to push myself to continue to dream, all these years later.”