courtesy of Gudrun Snyder
- Gudrun Snyder left her job as a Hollywood assistant to become an acupuncturist.
- She wanted a job that connected her to her Chinese heritage after her grandmother got sick.
- Snyder opened her own business in 2020 and earned more than $200,000 after her first year.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Gudrun Snyder, an acupuncturist and business owner in Chicago, about leaving Hollywood to start her own business. It’s been edited for length and clarity.
I opened Moon Rabbit Acupuncture in June 2020, and in 2021, I earned a little more than $200,000 in profits. But before I became an acupuncturist, I worked as a Hollywood assistant.
I never really wanted to work in Hollywood. I was trying to find a job in finance when a friend who worked in HR at William Morris Agency told me to come in for an interview — the agency was trying to find more agent trainees. It was 2006, and at the time William Morris was one of the largest talent agencies in the world. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t say no to.
I flew to LA for the interview, did a typing test, and answered personality questions about how I handle stress. They hired me on the spot. It was only after I started working that I really learned what the job actually entailed.
I started in the charitable department working on foundations for many of the clients. After one year, I got promoted to an assistant for head of motion picture talent, which was a big jump.
It was a very cool first-job, but I left work each day feeling depleted
On my first day, I remember running down Rodeo Drive to return my boss’ Oscar dress to Chanel, while on the phone with James McAvoy — it was something straight out of a movie.
I was earning around $14 an hour and working 80 to 90 hours per week. I’d put on a suit each morning and rush to work to make it before my boss arrived so I could park her car, get her coffee and breakfast, and start rolling calls by 7:30 a.m. I had two computer screens, three phones, and a nonstop day.
After about two years of working at William Morris, my grandmother got sick and needed kidney dialysis. Growing up, I was always so attached to her. She’s from Shanghai and was an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) trained at Yale’s Medical Program in China. She was unable to practice in the US when she moved here due to restrictions on her degree.
When she got sick, I had this moment where I asked myself, “What am I doing with my life?” Yes, I had a job that people would step over me to get, but I felt no connection to it. I wanted to feel a connection to my heritage.
In 2008, I left William Morris and went to acupuncture school
I attended the Pacific College of Health and Science (formerly Pacific College of Oriental Medicine) in Chicago to get a doctorate of acupuncture. It’s a four-year doctoral degree that requires 3,000 clinical hours and exams. Going to acupuncture school is relatively inexpensive, about $8,000 per semester, which isn’t much compared to other degrees.
I spent 10 times more on my other degrees. I studied general management at Stanford University and trained as an EMT at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, before graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2006 with a BS in economics and a minor in neuropsychology.
During my acupuncture program, I sat for comprehensive exams in years one to three — similar to the exams that you take in medical school. Then once I graduated, I sat for three different board-certified exams.
I chose Pacific College because it has a good reputation and is more rooted in traditional Eastern medicine than some of the other options. I went to visit my grandmother in Cincinnati, and I got to show her the textbooks in Chinese — that meant a lot to me.
I graduated in 2017. It took me a long time because I had two babies and I got breast cancer at 32, when my first child was only 1 year old. I’m still taking medication to prevent my cancer from recurring and will be doing so for another five years.
I worked in Cedars Sinai hospital and Venice Family Clinic as an EMT and research fellow. I also worked for my mentor in Chicago as her apprentice, but I knew that if I built a patient base working at someone else’s clinic it’d be hard for me to leave them. So I financed my own business through personal investments, primarily from my mother.
When I opened Moon Rabbit Acupuncture, I found myself busy very quickly
Snyder standing outside Moon Rabbit.
Gudrun Snyder/Moon Rabbit
We treat a wide range of conditions. I personally treat fertility, stress, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. My team also treats a great deal of back, shoulder, and neck pain, as well as headaches. There’s really no single bucket of concerns that we treat, as acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine is a whole scope of medicine.
The build-out of the space and initial startup costs were less than $150,000. When I first opened during the pandemic, it was just me, but I had to start hiring staff after one month of being open because of the success. Now I have a staff of 15 people — five acupuncturists, four massage therapists, three managers, and three front-desk assistants.
Now, with the added staff, I only see patients twice a week, and I have a waitlist every day that works on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Cultivating talent is important to me. I’ve hired people who are acupuncture students to work the front desk and develop their talent within Moon Rabbit. I spend about 25% of my time seeing patients, about 10% doing events or talks, around 20% developing and training my staff, and the rest goes to admin work.
Before I opened my business, I did a lot of cold interviews with business owners. Some of the most valuable advice I received was that you get what you pay for — don’t count every dollar so much that you’re cheaping out on things that are super important, like a good HVAC system. Permits, legal issues, and what I should spend money on versus what I should do myself were the little nuances that I asked other small-business owners about.
Influencer-marketing has been lucrative and organic — and for me, an incredibly worthwhile investment
When I opened my clinic, a few people I used to treat in my mobile business became my first clients. I started my concierge business right out of acupuncture school — I’d go to my patient’s home and charge a premium for travel costs.
From there, it was largely word of mouth that helped my business grow. I tried to do mailers — I purchased about 1,000 mailers to send out into the Chicagoland area, which cost about $1,000. Not a single one came in, so I hired a PR agency to do our social media, and the referrals exploded. I now spend approximately $3,200 a month on marketing and publicity.
We brought in some influencers, too. My daughter goes to school with Ceta Walters, a social influencer in Chicago, and I asked her for advice on dealing with other influencers. She said that she’d come to visit and ask some of her influencer friends to do so as well in exchange for a complimentary treatment.
I’ve never had more website visits than after she came in. Ceta Walters was like me — a young mom with a decent income and health concerns — and so many of her followers are the same.
We only offer treatments to influencers in exchange for their social-media posts occasionally — less than four times per year.
Working out my price point was interesting, since acupuncture isn’t seen as a necessity
Chicago has a different market than New York or LA. Acupuncture is still viewed as a luxury good here, and we can’t charge a high price or people just won’t bother.
I wanted to make sure my services were affordable, so that’s why we take insurance. I hate accepting insurance because of the administrative hassle, but we do it. I also created a membership model, so that people would be motivated to continue their care but be locked in at a price point.
Our current membership costs $130 a month and includes a treatment, an infrared sauna session, 10% off all product purchases, a free gift for the first month, and membership pricing for additional services. It’s month-to-month, so there’s no commitment or enrollment fee. I felt a young working professional could afford this price.
Opening a business associated with Asian culture as a mixed Asian person made some people worry
Given I opened Moon Rabbit at the beginning of the pandemic, there was some fear around foreigners and a developing anti-Asian sentiment.
My mother recommended that I didn’t include “acupuncture” on the signage. She was afraid that people would target Moon Rabbit. However, I felt that a huge reason for becoming an acupuncturist and opening Moon Rabbit was to link to my Asian heritage, my lineage, and my culture. So I proudly put acupuncture on the signage and shared my story.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how important my cultural identity as a mixed Asian person was — it gave me purpose.