30 Under 30: LiLi Gao turns up celebrations with One Up Party

Her Vancouver-based company is a one-stop-shop for party planners

LiLi Gao, 27

Co-founder and COO, One Up Party

Life Story: Surprise parties are fun. Surprises while party planning are not so fun, as Vancouverite LiLi Gao discovered when organizing a birthday celebration for a friend. Communicating with different vendors for cake, balloons and flowers was a nightmare, and the end result was a disaster: the cake got lost, the balloons were two hours late and the flowers didn’t look anything like she expected them to. “I was really disappointed and embarrassed,” Gao recalls. She had the idea to create a platform for party planners to order everything they needed from a single place and bootstrapped her way to founding One Up Party in 2018.

Instead of crayon-hued décor à la Party City, One Up Party focuses on trendy, modern decorations like metallic foil letters and balloons with sparkling string lights. It’s the stuff Pinterest boards are made of, and Gao is out to make the process as flawless as the photos: because it uses an in-house pastry chef, florist and delivery team, the company is efficient and nimble, able to take on large orders with as little as 24 hours’ notice. One Up Party sells its supplies online and through its brick-and-mortar location on Vancouver’s Fraser Street; goods are also available at London Drugs.

Bottom Line: One Up Party celebrated $500,000 in sales in 2023, and Gao anticipates the company will hit its goal of providing supplies for one million birthdays in 2024. The team has five full-time employees and has currently launched products in four London Drugs stores (soon they’ll be available in 40 LD locations). One Up Party is also conducting a helium tank pilot program with the goal of eventually providing balloon fill-up service at kiosks within major retailers.