Well, I did it. I started a company.
It wasn’t cheap, and it definitely wasn’t easy, but it is a lot of f*cking fun.
How It All Began
Oh Tiny Heart (luxury canine style & products) launched on September 23, 2016 purely as a side project and way to keep my hands busy. After adopting Mylo, I purchased a sewing machine in order to make cute clothing for him (total mom-status, I know), taught myself how to use my new machinery in two days (I’d never sewn before), then opened an Etsy store just for fun. Of course, me being me and unable to help myself, I applied all of my career knowledge in digital branding and creative marketing to Oh Tiny Heart, making the store look way more official than it probably was.
On the first day (and to my own amazement), Oh Tiny Heart exploded with sales (we sold out of our wares!), so much that I quickly quit my job to pursue my “side project” full time.
Growing too fast became a problem.
After a month or two into running my Etsy store, the demand for my designs was out of control. Delivery times got pushed back from 1 week, to two weeks, until eventually it took over a month to fulfill orders.
I was working out of the living room of the small San Francisco apartment I shared with my boyfriend and roomie, and the business was taking over every square inch and surface available. There were shipping boxes piled in corners, fabric scraps strewn across the floor, odds, ends, and notions scattered across tabletops, and the entire thing was a f*cking mess. I had no idea what I was doing. I wasn’t organized, was custom-sizing everything I produced for my customers (which took forever and wasn’t scalable for a one-person-army), and the clutter had begun to strain my relationship with Tony (who’s a total neat-freak, BTW — love ya’, babe!).
I ended up putting Oh Tiny Heart on hiatus for almost two months while I worked to get my life in order, giving up thousands of dollars in sales to work through a sudden bout of depression, anxiety, and self-doubt. Customers started freaking out, thinking I would never deliver their orders. Tony and I almost broke up! I didn’t return to visit my family for the holidays because I was so filled with self-loathing that all I could do was cry and worry over the terrible mistake I’d made in quitting my job to pursue Oh Tiny Heart.
Then, my roomie moved out, and I quickly shoved everything related to Oh Tiny Heart into the now-available bedroom, converting it into the Oh Tiny Heart office.
Turning Scalability Problems Around
Slowly, my life began to get back in order. We bought furniture for the new office (tables and shelves), a set of peg boards to mount all of my sewing supplies on the walls, and I launched Oh Tiny Heart on a new website hosted on Shopify in order to maximize my sales.
I developed a weekly schedule to keep my work in order (cut fabric on Mondays, sew fabric on Tuesdays, etc), and started recruiting passionate volunteer help from customers that were local to help me handle the insane demand. I stopped creating custom orders (they were too time-consuming), and instead standardized all of my sizes in order to better prepare myself for eventual wholesales and retail store debuts. I also fulfilled all of the orders that I’d fallen behind on and resolved to wipe the slate clean by pursuing my business goals faster, better, and stronger.
I started listening to audiobooks on business, chronicling my struggles as a way of venting through teaching, purchasing tools like planners and calendars to help me better organize my days and structure my goals, and forcing myself to wake up + sleep on a schedule.
In under 6 months, Oh Tiny Heart quickly grew to over 10,000+ followers on Instagram with over 500 luxury dog products sold around the world, and press is constantly rolling in to cover our insane growth and beautiful designs.
On February 3, 2017, Oh Tiny Heart became an official California company. And I’m proud to say I own 100% of it, and I’ve taken zero investment to get it this far.
How does it feel to run my own company?
Scary. Scary as sh*t. I wake up every day thinking, “Please, dear God, help me get sales.” I work past 10pm most nights crunching numbers, budgeting, eating instant pho, and dreading looking at my bank account. To go from being able to demand any salary I wanted, to working on my own project while feeling broke is, again, scary as sh*t.
I’m having a lot of f*cking fun.
The freedom of being able to decide my own working hours makes the long nights enjoyable. It doesn’t feel like work. It feels like … Fun! I’m struggling for words to describe this feeling because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever felt before: I’m making my own money. I don’t have to answer to anyone. I can smile and feel proud of everything I’ve accomplished because I’m not seeking approval from some non-existant superior. I get to play with Mylo all day. And in general, I feel like I have a purpose. I don’t feel like I’m being dicked over by people stealing and taking credit for my ideas (well, other than all these knock-off companies that have popped up recently who mimic Oh Tiny Heart exactly, Lol). I don’t feel like I have to fit in with colleagues who gossip behind my back. I’m running the show. And it’s f*cking awesome.
Plus, how cute are my customers?!
The Struggle of Running a Small Business in an Expensive City
Running a very hands-on business like Oh Tiny Heart while living in the 2nd most expensive city in the nation has been tough. The large sums of money I used to make while operating as a marketing executive in my previous positions cushioned most of the expenses I incurred while living here. But now that I’m relying solely on my own grit to make ends meet, I’m shocked at how mom & pop shops survive.
How do little bakeries and boutiques make money in this place? How do small handmade clothing stores survive? With the price of rent in San Francisco skyrocketing, and with more expensive technology companies moving in and driving up property value, I’m shocked that stores owned by San Francisco locals are able to exist in this city at all.
I used to take my local cafes and shops for granted, passing them up in favor of brands that were more well-known like Starbucks and Safeway, or paying hefty Uber fees just to take me to the mall so I could shop till I dropped. Now knowing what I know about the expenses of running my own company, I do my best to shop small as often as possible. When I meet other small business owners, the warmth they often welcome me with is genuine. They value their customers because they depend on their customers to survive.
Small business owners will often go out of their way to accomodate my needs (specialty fabrics and rare materials) in order to maintain a longer business relationship with me. And it’s this sort of personalized service that I crave. There’s a warm and fuzzy feeling that I get when I shop small and local because to me, it means I’m helping another small family like my own survive in this insanely priced city.
My Dreams For Oh Tiny Heart
There is so much I want to do with Oh Tiny Heart that I haven’t been able to do in this first half year since launching the company.
Oh Tiny Heart’s current strengths are in its often-mimicked luxury dog scarves that typically sell out on the day of release, and on the amazing and loving community that has rallied around the brand (I love my customers more than words can express). I’m also in the process of developing new products that my customers are dying to get their hands on, and welcoming small mom & pop brands to the Tiny Heart Boutique (a highly curated and exclusive dog boutique for well-deserving small businesses; I share my marketing and branding knowledge with these companies and help them grow, along with driving sales and traffic to their stores).
What I want to do is make enough money through Oh Tiny Heart that I’ll be able to afford charitable contributions to my local animal shelters. What I want to do is hire employees to help me create my products and package them for shipment. What I want to do is employ a warehouse to produce my luxury dog products for me so I can focus on the stuff I’m good at: marketing, branding, and promotion. What I want to do is automate everything that I’m doing now so I can actually visit my family again without worrying that I’m missing out on thousands of dollars of sales just to go on holiday with my family and recently-turned-3-years-old nephew (I recently had to turn down an invitation from my family to go on an awesome vacation with them, all for Oh Tiny Heart).
If only I had the money!
Is the struggle worth it?
The sacrifices I’m making for my company are heartbreaking. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t worry over what I’m missing out on. I’m 29 years old, and I’m spending the last year of my twenties hunched over a sewing machine and coding on my computer instead of out with friends, or at home visiting my family.
This is a risk I want to take. If starting a company was easy, everyone would do it. The personal growth I’m experiencing — you can’t trade this sort of experience for anything else in the world. This is the only way to get it. I’m enjoying finding creative ways to overcome obstacles that pop up again and again. I’m enjoying being a part of this very small club of female founders — and founders in general.
What’s the worst that could happen? Oh Tiny Heart fails?
I am the master of failure.
I’ve made so many mistakes in my lifetime that f*cking up is the least of my worries.
If Oh Tiny Heart fails completely, I have several backup options:
- I take my failures, learn from the mistakes I’ve made, and restart Oh Tiny Heart again at full force and with a new direction.
- I pack up my bags and start a new company using all of the knowledge I’ve gained in founding and running Oh Tiny Heart.
- I co-found a company I believe in with any of my several brilliant friends who are eager to mesh minds with me.
- I accept a new position at a company I believe in, stack up a few more career awards (again), and help put that new brand on the map.
- Blog full-time. Again. Or illustrate full-time. Again. Or become a photographer full-time. Again. Or pursue any of my other previous talents full-time (or learn something completely new as I did with Oh Tiny Heart) with the knowledge that I am fully capable of doing anything I put my mind to.
My biggest motivator is knowing that as long as I continue to inch forward with progress every day, all of those inches will add up to miles, and before I know it, I’ll be so far ahead of whatever goal I initially dreamed up that my passion for pursuing greatness will be limitless.
Tomorrow’s progress can’t get here fast enough.
And I am so excited for the future.
Shop Oh Tiny Heart Luxury Dog Products here.