Paul talks to creative force Tina Roth Eisenberg about how the pandemic has forced her to interrogate what matters, and knowing when to let go. Even if that means letting go of your business.
Episode 8: Tina from Tattly and CreativeMornings
Paul: Hey there friend, I’m Paul Jarvis, and you’re listening to Call Paul, business as unusual, where we explore how business owners are working their way through their first pandemic.
Tina: What I'm really trying to do is really defend the bright corners of the internet, and the world. And I just wish more people would really focus on that. OR SIMILAR]
Paul: That’s Tina Roth Eisenberg, who’s currently running a business that’s thriving and one that’s struggling. She’s the founder of CreativeMornings, Tattly and several other IRL internet companies including a coworking space. While Tina started out as a graphic designer twenty years ago, she shifted to creating businesses that helped other, similarly minded folks connect. One of Tina’s businesses, CreativeMornings, is based on the premise that magic happens when you get kind, generous and creative humans together in the same room. This has obviously been challenging since being in the same room currently is out of the question. Another of her businesses is Tattly, a temporary tattoo company that makes realistic to whimsical-looking temporary tattoos, created by amazing artists. While Tina herself continues to ship individual tattoos, their main driver of revenue, large wholesale orders, have stalled with shuttered retail spaces. Tina, like so many others, is working from home these days, from her bedroom in Brooklyn, not too far from the coworking space she’d usually be working at.
Tina: I basically have two floors in this beautiful old factory building in Brooklyn that on the one side is all artists in residence. And then the other side, there's two floors that I run my businesses out of. So I kind of hover on two floors and I must say I miss the space so much. To me because I'm and extrovert, that's where I have the best ideas, over lunch, over a coffee break, walking over to the couches and snuggling with the dogs and then having an impromptu conversation that unusually leads to a good idea for the business. So I thrive on the less structure and more sort of random encounters.
Paul: Have you been able to replicate that in any way at all right now? Or is that just something that you're missing and hoping to go back to at some point soon?
Tina: No, I've not been able to replicate it at all. I always say I'm a feeler. I very much read someone's entire body language and the way they move and the way they sit. And I just sometimes feel like I have a few more antennas than other people. I feel like because there's that element missing that you cannot really put your finger on. It's like an energetic read and exchange of humans. There's something so unnatural to me, to be on all-day video calls.
Paul: Let's get into the business side, what's been different about the businesses that you run as a result of the pandemic over the last few months?
Tina: Yeah, what a ride it's been. Well so, I run three very different businesses, one of them is a coworking space which is very small and very intimate and that one obviously, I just had to close the doors because we have shelter at home right now. We're not even allowed to have the doors open. Then I run Tattly, a temporary tattoo company, where we ship around the world our biggest income stream is wholesale, meaning we sell to stores around the world. And the minute the stores closed down, to us that was a huge source of income that just dried up.And I did not have a huge cushion. So I had, after a few weeks, I unfortunately had the most heart wrenching day of my career, I had to let most of my team go. So that was really sobering and a really hard day for me. And I've since been just trying to keep Tattly alive with online orders, I'm the one going and then literally fulfilling. If somebody would have told me that I would be doing this for three-plus months I would have probably lost my mind. But that's the second business. And then the third one is I run a global lecture series called CreativeMornings. It's, in fact, the largest face-to-face community in the world, and we have 217 chapters around the world in 67 countries. It's a volunteer-run organization. Over 22,000 people get together every month for a breakfast and a talk and it's entirely for free. So of course, when his pandemic hit, all my friends were texting me in all caps and going, "OMG, what does this mean for CreativeMornings?" But interestingly enough, I have one company that is really hurting and that's Tattly and I had to let most people go. And then I have this in-real-life event series CreativeMornings, that is literally having a pivotal moment in its 12-year history in that our volunteers, our hosts that run these events around the world just fearlessly jumped off the cliff and said, "We're doing this virtually." Which, to be honest, me as the founder, I've been hesitant if not even reluctant to do so. And have then attended these events that they put on virtually, because now you can attend it in Germany and in Austin and in Colorado. And I'm basically sitting there in tears because I did not believe that you can replicate the magic that is CreativeMornings in a virtual, digital environment and they've proven me wrong. So to me the past few weeks have been an incredible lesson in really trying to pay attention to where am I close-minded, where have I actually not seen opportunities because I'm just not softened or open enough to see that they're there. And to me, I truly believe that for CreativeMornings this will be an organization-wide, one of the most historic moments in our organization. Because our engagement has doubled, if not tripled over the last two months.
Paul: CreativeMornings are about building community and reducing fear, why are those things important?
Tina: Well, CreativeMornings sort of started out because when I moved to New York, I grew up in the Swiss countryside and I moved to New York 20 years ago after I graduated as a graphic designer with the dreams of living in New York for three months and then I never left. But I remember the first year, I was just like, where the heck are my people? And why are we meeting only amongst graphic designers or photographers? There was so many things that I just didn't understand. And also, where is the kind people? So, I mean I was super lonely in New York City, I was an extrovert but I had a hard time finding my people. So eventually a few years later I started CreativeMornings and it was really under the notion of just, let's just find really kind, generous, creative humans and get them in a room. And I know I sound like a cult leader, but if you haven't attended one, please do so, or just even virtually now. There is just a kindness and warmth in the air that just makes you realize that there's goodness in the world. And I really feel that's what the world needs. People are so fearful. So many people are so scared of everything. Not finding a job or not being in the right job, or not having friends. And especially now, it's amplified and I really do feel whenever people go to CreativeMornings, and when we had the real life events I always say when we play this stand up game where I say, "Stand up if you're here alone, or if you're here for the first time." I always tell them, "Come up to me, I want you to know how welcome you are. I will give you a hug afterwards." So afterwards I have this huge line of people coming up to me, and it's always the same picture. They have their heart on their hand and they go, "I don't really know what happened, but I feel really good right now, and this was wonderful. And I feel filled up." And to me, we just need more events and organizations that just, again, kind of fill you up and make you believe in humanity and that people are here, generously donating their time to put on events for free for their community. And the pandemic, I really, really feel underlines that more than ever. That people are scared
Paul: Do you think, then, that the essence of CreativeMornings has changed, or do you think that the essence has just expanded to include more things?
Tina: HQ was talking and discussing through this big change, also realizing that this might be for a while now. And I'm honest, I was grieving the fact that in-real-life events are gone. I mean, I founded the organization because I believe in real life, in face-to-face connection. And then our COO, Catherine, just very calmly said, "But you know what Tina? CreativeMornings is in the business of connection, and it doesn't matter how we make that happen." And to me, that was a real pivotal moment and a shift in thinking. Because if you look at it, how we make that happen, there's different offerings we have now.So talks don't really work so they're more now conversations styles in Zoom where you can have people ask questions, which is really beautiful in itself. So it feels a bit different but the warmth is still there and the generosity's still there. And for example, the one thing that one chapter did is, they said we can't offer you coffee and breakfast right now, and you can't meet people standing in coffee line. But what we can do is have a pretend coffee line and break you out into little break-out rooms and then you just pretend you're standing in line. So I had to start realizing that at the end of the day, we have a beautiful community that's so open-hearted, so kind, so generous, that is creative and wants to meet and all we have to do is just find ways for them to do so.
Paul: From an outsider and somebody who doesn't even live in the US, what's happened in New York City since the pandemic hit has been scary, basically. I don't know how else to say it. Can you describe what the first virtual event there was like, given that that's basically the epicenter of the pandemic?
Tina: First of all, our events are usually 500 to 600 people, which they're already big to begin with. But the sign-ups were nuts. We streamed to YouTube Live, so we had, I think, almost 2000 people participating, which was a new record for New York City. And on top of it we had Priya Parker as our guest, and for those of you that are not familiar with Priya, she wrote a book in 2018 called The Art of Gathering, which has literally changed my life. The one big take-away I think that her book gave me is just really have purpose, and really think about what the meaning is of your gathering. What you want people to walk away with. What's the feeling you want them to walk away with? And then be ruthless in executing in that and also be ruthless in excluding who shouldn't be there because they might not help that purpose. It has changed how I look at any kind of gathering, ever. Being a meeting, a birthday party, a dinner. And she, of course, is deep diving right now into what this time means for gatherings. Like how can we meaningfully gather digitally.What we need right now is a reframe of yes, we can grieve what we lost. But at the same time, there's such beauty and opportunity in this moment as well because it's catapulting us, basically, ten years ahead. So she was just a beautiful reframe and just helping us see the opportunity and the... For example, there was ways of interacting on Zoom that opened up almost new ways of communicating.-- She was talking about this company that sort of created a system where you can change the color of your Zoom background, the virtual background, to underline what somebody's saying and if you agree or don't agree or how you feel. Which I thought was beautiful, right? And just having someone like her on just really helped me see the opportunity and sort of choose love over fear, and a moment like this was really helpful especially being in New York where things were rough. They still are.
Paul: I'm curious how the business side of that works, because it's a free event, it's volunteer, how does that work as a business? Can you describe what that looks like?
Tina: It was important to me that it was free because I remembered when I moved to New York and I couldn't afford any of the events because my salary was so low. Just this barrier of paying. To me there was something there that just took the innocence away. So I just kept running it for a few months in New York and studios invited me to host it at their studio and they would pay for coffee. And I just knew the value of like-minded people in a room, and how much that energizes people. And I always said, "If this is meant to be, I will find a way to pay for these events."
And then Ben Chestnut of Mailchimp emailed me four months in. And basically sent me an email saying, "Hey, I love what you're doing with these CreativeMornings events, can we support you?" And I literally didn't know what to do with that. And I wrote back, "I don't know. Do you want to pay for breakfast?" And 11 years later, 12 years later Mailchimp is still supporting us. And what I've realized, and I kind of learn as I went, I realized that there is value for companies that cater to the creative community in supporting this because it's so genuinely generous and grassroots and it feels so good. And if you're catering to a community and you can say, "Hey, our community with their marketing budget is helping to put this event on," there so much good juju attached to that. And so over the years I just basically learned how to create partnership packages that light a brand awareness fire under a company's butt with our community. And we have global partners that want to reach our community and support a community and care about the community meeting up. And so we, with three, four global partners we make it happen.
Paul: Was that a conscious decision to call them partners instead of sponsors or advertisers?
Tina: Yes, absolutely. Because I mean we're so not a typical sponsorship gig. We're HQ in New York, we're ten people. That's my team that helps run the organization at large and helps grow the community around the world. And then we have three to five new cities pop up. These are individuals that want to run a chapter in their city that are jumping through insane hoops to have that title to be CreativeMornings host. And so, once we figure out that they're the right person, they have the motivation, they have the team it takes, and we give them what I call the key to the Porsche, which is our custom built backend with the ticketing system and everything that need and the handbook. And then we basically make them go through what I call a leadership boot camp, because they have to learn how to run a volunteer organization in their city to put on these events to raise money for breakfast. And we at HQ help them through that. - And there's no money flowing from HQ to them or from them to us. So when a chapter does really well, funny enough, a lot of Canadian chapters are just killing it because apparently Canada is really generous and supports this.
Paul: How did Tattly start and what was the idea at the onset of that business?
Tina: Yeah. So I have a personal rule that I live by, which is basically, if I catch myself repeatedly complaining about something, I have two options. Either do something about it or let it go. And in 2011 my daughter came home from a birthday and party and yet again, asked me to put these hideous temporary tattoos on her that were in a goody bag. And I just had it. They were poorly designed, they were really poor quality. And I noticed, I'm complaining again. I just have really zero tolerance for complaining, it's such a waste of energy.
And then I sat down, at the time I ran my own design studio. And creating a website is easy, I've been running my blog celebrating other people's art and illustrators for years. I was like, wait a second, why don't I put these things together and just for kicks create a really cool, fun website with a few fun design. So I researched what it takes to make temporary tattoos, I reached out to my artist friends, and sure enough they all responded within minutes, "Oh, this is cool, creating art for skin, yeah." And then two months later I literally, more of a joke than anything else, I launched Tattly.com. I've always started everything as a labor of love and just because I wanted it to exist in the world and never really was this business plan, more just like, this is fun. I followed the fun, I followed the joy and the stuff that makes me happy. But I also believe that when there's doors opening, when things come to you, that's also a sign of the universe that maybe you should, you know, you should maybe spend a little bit more time on that.
So then I slowly but surely just hire people and we bootstrapped Tattly into a ten-people company, shipping tattoos around the world over the last nine years. And basically shaping an entire new industry. There was no high-end temporary tattoo market and then sure enough, everyone started copying me and I was like, oh wait, this is interesting. And so nine years later, here we are and interesting enough I've been realizing, last year, I really know that my super powers. I really know what I'm good at. And that's creating a brand and something that feels really good and really high-end, is really authentic and joyful and I've done all of that.
But what I'm not good at, and I just don't enjoy it, is I like building the machine, I like seeing how the machine works. But then I don't really care how much the machine outputs. So I've never really cared about moving the sales dial up. Which to be honest, the last eight weeks have given me a lot of time to sort of think about how I do things and what I want to do. And so I've realized that Tattly really should be in better hands, or partner with someone who really cares about scaling it, which is not something I really care about, to be honest.
Paul: I think, and I don't know why more people don't talk about it, or maybe they do and I'm just not aware. But there does seem to be, and I've been in the startup world for more than 20 years now. It seems like there's a very different skillset and a very different personality type for people who can start a business and make it successful in the beginning, and then another very separate bucket of people who are very good at taking that and running for a long period of time. And I think a lot of us, I guess, who identify as creative, maybe feel bad... I'm saying this from my own personal experience, I feel bad when I don't want to run something I made.
Tina: Oh, I'm right there with you.
Paul: 100% for me. How have you come to terms with that?
Tina: Well, to be honest it's been my personal journey and personal mountain to climb over the last three years to actually admit that I don't think I should be running Tattly anymore. Iit took me about til a year-and-a-half ago to even say these words without crumbling. Because I love the things I build, I love my teams. There's so much of me ingrained in these businesses. I pour so much love into what I build, that it's hard for me to then say, "I actually don't want to run this anymore." It's like rejecting a part of yourself. Which is very nuanced and weird. And so last year I actually really came to terms and I actually started putting feelers out to find someone to partner with, the past eight weeks, and again, this is really what I think is happening with this pandemic and granted, what I'm saying comes from a place of privilege, I'm not going hungry, I still have an income. What I'm saying please take this with a grain of salt and I see my privilege here, but it has really accelerated my personal... Sort of looking at where I am in life and what I actually... It has accelerated decisions that I have not been taking because I was scared of it or just kind of avoiding. And so last year I actually really came to terms and I actually stated putting feelers out to find someone to partner with, and obviously that has ramped up now, given where we are. And I don't know about you, but the past eight weeks, and again, this is really what I think is happening with this pandemic and granted, what I'm saying comes from a place of privilege, I'm not going hungry, I still have an income. What I'm saying please take this with a grain of salt and I see my privilege here, but it has really accelerated my personal... Sort of looking at where I am in life and what I actually... It has accelerated decisions that I have not been taking because I was scared of it or just kind of avoiding. And I actually, again, think that's a really beautiful outcome of where we are right now. This moment of reflection. I guess we all have been giving a lot of time to think. And just me saying that I want to find someone who can honor Tattly and scale it, because it could be a really big business. To me, there was such a relief that I sort of experienced when I finally said that and became more public with it, because I never talked about it before.
Paul: I think that we dismiss the weight that not making a decision has on our psyche. It can really affect us.
Tina: I actually have an example for you, for something I feel like we grownups could learn from. My daughter, who's now 14, had a phase of four years of being really into slime. Slime is thing, you're making slime. She sold slime. I helped her make a website with slime. I mean my friends all knew. She was teaching it, she was in it, like deep in it. For four years. And then one day I look at her Instagram and it was a black image and it said, "I'm done with it, I'm done with slime. It was great while it lasted. Bye." And then I looked at her and I was like, "Are you going to regret this? This is really cool." And she goes like, "Nope." And she moved on and I had so many grown up friends of mine that follow her. We talked about how liberating of a move is that, that you can just stop and move on, because that's actually what I've been battling. I've not been able to just say like, "I'm done."
Paul: I feel like that's my... If I have a super power it's quitting.
Tina: Wow, you need to teach me then, Paul.
Paul: I guess maybe it is, in knowing when to quit or walk away from something. Because it is difficult, I can't push that aside. That it is very different. But I think we get into this... Yeah, maybe it is a grown up thing. Maybe we need to learn from kids, because I think we get into this, especially when we do creative work, I think we start to define ourselves by our work and that can be okay, I guess, in some regards. But if we outgrow it then there's this feeling of who am I, if I'm not this?
Tina: Given my personal struggle to admit that I think somebody else should run Tattly, has also made me realize wow, if I start something new now, I am probably going to think more about what it means to maintain it and to stop it. Which I've never done before. I've always jumped off cliffs like, let's do this! So I would probably think twice now, to start something new. I feel very lucky, and in a moment like this where the world is really hurting, I am leading a global organization that is so heart-driven and so generous and is really leading the way in what I call right now sort of the aligning of heart, that I think that's what's happening to the globe right now. Is that I feel this is a huge wake-up call for humanity at large for us to realize we're all in this together and we're all one.
Paul: Why do you think that, as you put, aligning hearts. Why or how do you think that has a place in business? Because you've obviously been able to make this work. What if somebody felt, well, I don't think, in this capitalist world or whatever, I don't think there's a place for heart in business. What would you say to that?
Tina: There's a quote by Jacqueline Novogratz, in which she said, "What if we measured true success not in the amount of money you have, but by the amount of human energy you unlock, the amount of human potential you enable? If that were a metric our world would be a different place." And I just believe that whole-heartedly. I am not here to maximize a spreadsheet, I'm really here to look back at one point and say, "I've created teams that are loving and kind.” If you just operate from the heart, if you lead from the heart, if you make people feel heard and safe and welcome and they go home and they're better spouses and dads and moms. So I truly believe that companies can be a vehicle for change in this world.
Paul: With all that in mind, what’s really important to you right now, what are you focusing on?
Tina: What I'm really trying to do is really defend the bright corners of the internet, and the world. And I just wish more people would really focus on that. We all have to follow the light right now, and what makes us feel good and gets us into a little bit of a better place. And I just really hope the world will come out of this and stay on that focus in some extent.
Paul: It’s no secret that I’ve been a huge fan of Tina for years. There’s a resilience she possesses that’s enviable. She sees obstacles, navigates them, and continues to create in an intelligent way, all while seeing the positive in everyone and every situation. The companies she’s created over the last handful of years have showcased this wonderful joy she brings to her work, and I think it’s why CreativeMornings and Tattly originally took off like rocketships. What’s surprising is that the online company that should have thrived, isn’t. And CreativeMornings, a previously-in-person only company, is. It's a good reminder as an entrepreneur to reconsider what you may have held onto too strongly. It’s your business after all, you can make the rules or change them if they don’t suit you any longer. As business owners, there is so much to take from how Tina thinks and operates. First, notice what we’re routinely complaining about, and use that as a source of inspiration for new business ideas. Second, notice if the business we’re currently running is the one we want to keep running. Third, is that, if something isn’t working out, we can give ourselves permission to walk away… black Instagram background messages optional. None of these things are easy, of course, but when used with a bit of introspection, can lift huge weights from our psyches. Oh, and finally, work to build your job into something where you can find yourself laughing on the regular. Too often entrepreneurs are told that we need to be cut-throat to succeed. Yet, Tina believes that companies can be positive vehicles to change the world, and she succeeds using kindness and empathy towards others. If you want to attend a CreativeMornings, virtually right now and in-person eventually, there may be one happening in your city, so visit www.creativemornings.com And, if you find yourself wanting to sport a stylish temporary tattoo or two, check out https://tattly.com/
Call Paul is produced by Ruth Eddy and is a Mailchimp Original Podcast. Subscribe now on your favourite podcast platform, so you can hear more stories like this one from other small business owners. To learn more about my thoughts on business and living online, you can hop on my newsletter at www.sunday dispatches.com. If you’re a small business who’s adapting and becoming more resilient, we want to hear from you, so send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Things are returning to normal – but that doesn’t mean we should go back to the way things were. Paul Jarvis is back, interviewing entrepreneurs who prioritize passion over profit and renegotiated the status quo.
Things are returning to normal – but that doesn’t mean we should go back to the way things were. Paul Jarvis is back, interviewing entrepreneurs who prioritize passion over profit and renegotiated the status quo.
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Sarah, owner of small agency 816 New York, discusses marketing with integrity.
Tina, a creative force with many successful endeavors, discusses letting go.
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Paul checks in with his first four guests to see how they’re doing.