Tina Roth Eisenberg, a Swiss-born designer also known as Swiss Miss, runs four businesses with just 17 employees. And they're not small businesses. The one for which she is probably best-known, an event series called CreativeMornings, hosts monthly events in 100 cities. Tattly, another of her companies, makes temporary tattoos that have been sold by the Tate Modern. Her to-do list app, TeuxDeux, has fans such as Seth Godin and the blog Design Milk. And oh, she runs a co-working space in Brooklyn's Boerum Hill neighborhood, called Friends. (An earlier version of this story said that Eisenberg had five employees. She clarified that CreativeMornings has five employees.)
How does she do it? At a breakfast hosted by podcast series Broadmic and co-working space LMHQ earlier this month, Eisenberg spoke with early-stage investor and startup advisor Kelly Hoey about her journey as an entrepreneur. Depending on your perspective, Eisenberg's keys to success are going to warm your heart or make your eyes roll: Fun. Love. Trust. And, of course, emergency confetti.
Here are a few of the maxims that Eisenberg says she, and her businesses, live by.
No complaining. Either fix it, or let it go.
After the success of her blog, all of Eisenberg's businesses have grown out of something that irritated her so much that she just had to fix it.
Her blog, she says, got her invited to all kinds of conferences -- which in turn made her realize that people want to meet inspiring people in their fields, but don't have the time, money, or connections. That led Eisenberg to start CreativeMornings, which are free events featuring speakers of interest to, as Eisenberg puts it, "the creative world." She started Tattly out of dismay over the ugliness over her daughter's temporary tattoos. "They were just offensive to my Swiss design sensibilities," she says. And TeuxDeux grew out of her frustration with other more complicated to-do apps.
Being generous always pays off in the end.
In retrospect, Eisenberg says it was her blog that started everything. She was constantly emailing her web finds to friends, who eventually tired of all that email. She started her blog mostly as a personal archive for all the cool stuff she was finding online. She spent years highlighting other peoples' cool things without asking for anything back (although she did eventually join an ad network).
When it was time to launch Tattly, her temporary tattoo business, the blog paid back in spades. In its first hour, Tattly had 100 orders. On day two, the Tate Modern called asking for her wholesale catalog. "I was so cool on that call," says Eisenberg. Then I hung up the phone and screamed. Then I looked at Cameron (her neighbor in her co-working space) and said, "Cameron. What is a wholesale catalog?"
Similarly, her CreativeMornings events are free, and she kept TeuxDeux free for as long as she could. "My main mode is, 'This is fun! I'll give it to you free!'" says Eisenberg. "I actually believe the generosity model pays off in some way. Not always in money, but in connections and opportunities."
Only hire people who have a side project mentality.
Here's how Eisenberg hires. "If I am interviewing you, we will probably go for a walk," she says. "I want to hear about what excites you. I want to hear about projects you're working on. That you had an idea, and you executed on it. If I don't see that I will not hire you, because you will not thrive with me."
Don't forget to have fun.
Obviously, "fun" means different things to different people. For Eisenberg, it means she has a desk drawer full of confetti. "You need emergency confetti," she says. "You never know." Any shipment from her can come with confetti, and also features a confetti warning sticker. "We had to give people a warning because it might piss them off," she says. "You've got to be respectful."
It's not just confetti. "Like" something on the CreativeMornings site, and it will rain hearts. The profiles on CreativeMornings can be filtered by city and by skills, but also by whether or not someone is single. It's a little lightheartedness, which is all too rare in the business world.
If you say yes, you've got to really say yes.
"There is nothing worse than the half-assed yes," says Eisenberg. It was a proposed partnership agreement that made her realize that. She had a gut feeling, just before she signed the agreement, that maybe it wouldn't be such a great idea. She realized it was better to be embarrassed in that moment rather than be struggling for the next year.
"When I say yes to something, I'm willing to go all the way," says Eisenberg. "I am all in and I will not underdeliver. ... I feel like there's too many people saying yes and not going all the way."
Make things in America.
Eisenberg says this maxim has the effect of "making it really hard on myself." She packs her tattoos out of Brooklyn, a strategy that she freely admits is "insane."
Her obstinacy, though, comes out of a belief that there are not enough low-wage jobs in New York. She once placed a Craigslist ad looking for people to collate 5,000 sets of tattoos, at $12 an hour. After an hour she had so many responses that she turned off the ad. And the cross-section of people who showed up to work astonished her. Some were young people, some were working on their PhD theses. "It really blew my mind," she says. "We've got to keep the work here."
When asked if this made her a social entrepreneur, Eisenberg grimaced. "I don't like the label, social entrepreneur," she said. "The business should make the world better in some way. We should all run our businesses like that."