Welcome to Tako People--a mini series giving you a closer look at the individuals that make Tako tick.
From the writer: It gives me great joy to have the privilege of writing this month’s Tako People feature, because the subject is my right-hand woman: Emma Cloutier, Tako Ops Wizard. (And yes, that was her choice of title.)
Not only is she an utterly invaluable part of the Takosphere (seriously, we would be lost without her) but she’s also quickly grown to be a close friend of mine. Conducting this interview was a blast. I hope you enjoy getting to know this treasure as much as I have.
OK, Emma, introduce yourself to our peeps hanging out at the Stand.
That’s what I was supposed to say, in line with the template that Emma used to kick off all the rest of our Tako People features. What I said instead was:
OK, let’s get started here, and yes, I promise I will use the template. How dare I even DREAM of deviating from the template. But -- while we’re on the subject: why are you so obsessed with rules and templates and organization?
Because, if I was not obsessed with rules and templates, three quarters of what I do at Tako would not exist, and I would have one quarter the income.
This is true. You bring a tremendous amount of order to the Takosphere. Of the three of us (Z, Mallory, and I) I think I’m the most organized, and you’re WAY more organized than me. You boss ME around now!
I just love Team Drives, okay?!
All hail the Team Drive. But like, were you like this before you came to Tako?
Yes. I like structure. I actually have a really hard time maintaining mental stability if there’s not some semblance of order. Like I can’t stand for my house to be messy. I can’t stand it when tasks just sit on my list forever; I have to have things resolved. I’ve always really admired people who are like “Yeah, whatever, just go with the flow, be like a seaweed, in the ocean, just chillin...”
(At this point she’s waving herself around on screen, imitating the gentle [and RELAXED] movement of a drifting kelp strand.)
That, like, gives me anxiety. I admire [people that can do that]!
The organizational work that you do is relatively thankless. It’s really important to you and it’s really important to the company as a whole, but the rest of us are running so fast that it can be difficult to stop and really appreciate the effort you’ve put in to solving these problems behind the scenes. Like, no one’s excited about folder organization, except you, because you’re a weirdo.
That’s the thing though! I’ve never necessarily thought “It sucks that people don’t appreciate the beautiful work that I’m doing” because the work is just literally something I enjoy. Just use the systems! That’s all I want.
(We use the systems. Emma is very...persuasive.)
When I care about something -- and it takes a lot for me to decide to care about something -- I want to do everything I can to make sure it’s successful. I really care about Tako and I really believe that organizational stuff, like the Team Drive, is important to operating efficiently. It’s behind the scenes, it’s something that people don’t see, but it optimizes the business--makes everyone’s lives easier, even if they don’t know it.
So when I see a hole in the system and I’m so insistent on fixing it, what I’m saying is, “I really care about Tako and about how we operate, and I need you to not compromise that.” ...even if that’s Z. 😬
OK, Emma, introduce yourself to our peeps hanging out at the Stand. (I did it, see? TEMPLATES!)
My name is Emma, I am the Ops Wizard at Tako Agency, which is a fancy way of saying I do everything--including badgering people into following systems. I have some core competencies but I am easily bored, and need lots to do.
Outside of work, I’m an avid cat mom, martini lover, watcher of Real Housewives...maybe we shouldn’t print that. I love to run, am a fitness enthusiast in general, and I live in Dallas but I’m from Seattle. PNW!
So Ops Wizard is your official title, but we struggled to come up with something for you because you do so much. What are your subtitles?
Well, I started as a Junior Editor, thanks to you, and I still do that, I write...hmm, maybe it’s best to break it down by department. So, for content, I write and edit. I also manage our social media presence. Second, I recently took on managing our partnerships (and I’m really excited about what I’ve seen and done so far), working with you with you on whatever you need...and the Ops Wizard part--all the organization and systems stuff.
And the client communications stuff.
Yes! Client communications, responding to new contact tickets...chances are if you’re contacting Tako...you’re gonna go through me first.
Yup! You WILL see the Wizard, first, because that is how things work at Tako.
Yes. [laughs] You must pass the Wizard, you must answer her questions three.
Can we have a quick rundown of your professional history?
Suuuure. My first job when I was 19 was working at Victoria’s Secret. Lemme tell you, there is nothing worse than working at VS on Black Friday. Do you know how hard it is to fold a thong? I wanted to kill myself. When you get a bunch of zealous middle aged women in VS at 6 AM... [frantic throwing and sorting motions] … underwear everywhere.
So retail is not for you.
No. That’s the only retail job I’ve ever had. I was there for four months, just long enough to do Black Friday, and then decided to quit and go back to school. BUT! While I was there I did get two awards, one for customer service and another one for something I don’t remember, and I had my name on the wall in the breakroom. Obviously, as a 19 year old Leo, I was like, “I’ve made it.”
You can’t peak after that, honestly. Did you...did you peak at 19?
I think so, yeah. It’s been all downhill from there. [laughs] Don’t print that or Z might fire me.
(I decline the suggestion but thanks anyway Emma.)
Flash forward, I had some customer service jobs -- I was a receptionist at 24 Hour Fitness, which made me terrified of any physical trainer in a corporate gym because [whispers] they don’t have to do much to get there. I also worked as a receptionist at a luxury spa that was connected to a five star hotel and a cosmetic surgery clinic. The clientele was...ahem...shall we say difficult? But I worked there for a long time, 3 or 4 years.
Were you in school at the time?
Nah not really, I dipped in and out of community college...I started college when I was 17 and still in high school, and was “done” when I was about 23. (Although I did take a project management certification course thing in 2019.) I just started working, and there wasn’t anything important enough for me to continue studying to actually get a degree. I had changed my “major” so many times that I was like, “This is a waste of money, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m already working, so I may as well keep working.”
Are you a certified PMP?
No, I just have a fancy plaque thing from SMU (Southern Methodist University) that says, basically, “Emma is certified in...knowing things.” [snorts] It’s leaned against my living room wall behind some art. It wasn’t an official PMP but it was a pretty intense course.
Do you want to get your PMP? Do you want to be a project manager?
Honestly, I thought so, but I think it would really depend on the project to be honest. Because something I really love about what I do at Tako is that I am not one thing.
I think if I was a legit project manager somewhere else, it would be like “I AM A PROJECT MANAGER and that is what I do.” Yes, it’s organization and systems and stuff but I would be like a glorified babysitter. And I think, like, I love the traits that you need to have to be a PM, but I think being just a PM would be boring to me.
You need a lot of variety in your workday; I’m like that too. I think it’s important because it stretches different parts of your brain. You are a multi-talented individual, so to pigeonhole you into a box -- even if it’s a box you’re very good at -- it’s like caging a songbird: they’ll sing the song, but it’ll never be as beautiful as if they were free.
Awww. You think I’m a songbird! 🥺
I mean, like, a HEAVY METAL one, but yeah.
(She was wearing her black Thrasher sweatshirt during this interview, which is a popular piece in her closet rotation.)
What compelled you to answer that job listing on Upwork, for Tako, and did you know what you were getting into at the time?
[deep laugh] Ummm no I did not. I’m thankful, though! Because it was exactly what I was looking for, I just didn’t know it at the time.
Note from Emma: R.I.P. my long hair
So why did “Junior Editor” appeal to you specifically?
Because I knew that I could do it. I’d been writing in one way or another for most of my life. I’m a musician, so I write music, I’ve written some one-off stuff on Medium and Facebook notes (when that was a thing for me lol).
[When I started freelancing] I worked for startups and, as we all know, they require you to wear many hats. The minute anyone found out I could write, it was like “You should do that for us.” So I’ve never held a formal “writing” position but I’ve always been writing.
I was also raised by somebody who is [shakes head] You think I’m meticulous? This woman, with grammar. So on top of being anal retentive in general, I was raised by this militant grammar police person. [laughs] Because of that, and because I had exercised those skills in other jobs, it seemed like a good bet. Plus, it felt like a classically creative thing, which I hadn’t had a lot of in my work life.
[At this point her cat, Pawblo Picasso, interrupted the proceedings by appearing, and he’s so cute he derailed things for several minutes, with Emma trilling to him and me squeeing over his little white feetsies.]
OKAY--back to my question. Why did you answer the ad for Junior Editor?
Okay, I promise I’m going to get more succinct about answering these questions. The ad...
Stage one, I saw “Junior Editor” in the title and it sounded fun, and I knew I could do it. Plus, I needed a job, because the rest of my life was falling the fuck apart. So! That was step one.
Stage two was the fact that the ad was professional, but like -- open. Not necessarily friendly, but like...open. Like you! I just...don’t know how to articulate that. [stares off into space]
I thought you were a writer.
😐 Yeah, a WRITER, not an orator!
Um, it just felt very, like...me. Because I don’t feel like I’m a particularly “friendly” person but I am very open to people. Like if you want to come talk to me, that’s great, but I’m not gonna go be like “OMG I just loooove you!” And that’s how the ad came across, so it felt like something I could get with.
Also, in the ad, it said “make sure you go read the blog” which, like, is something I would’ve done anyway, but...I can follow direction. So I went to the blog, I read a couple different pieces, but the one that stood out to me was How to Survive Remote Work Without Being Fired, Going Insane, OR Getting Caught With Your Pants Down and I was like OOOHHHHH they got jokes!!!
So I thought not only is this something I could do, but these are professional, open people with a snarky sense of humor, which is what I have. I have struggled in past jobs to connect with people because of that, so I was like, yeah -- I can do that. I spent two hours writing my cover letter.
You spent THAT LONG?
Well, it was an hour and a half, but I wrote it, went through and edited it, and then walked away for 20 minutes, came back and edited it a bit more --
OMG, like a good little editor. My little editor heart is beating so fast! Oh my God.
[laughs] So yeah, that was the three pronged approach to answering the ad for a Junior Editor at Tako Agency.
I wish I could have hired you full time from the beginning, because I knew you were the right material. You were the right stuff for our team. I remember seeing your cover letter and feeling my heart seize like, “OH MY GOD! I found her!”
(She didn’t know I was the one who posted the job listing when she sent the cover letter.)
(Sidebar: I was really, *really* stressed out when I was hiring for Emma’s position. Hiring can be a long, draining, drawn out process and I was not looking forward to it. Connecting with her so significantly through her cover letter alone felt like the heavens opening up, because not only did her arrival onto the scene save me from that torture -- she has made my professional life easier, better, richer, funnier, and more fulfilling. She’s also brought a TON of value -- see below.)
Do you consider yourself to be creative?
How’s that for succinct?
Bitch, WHAT? “YES?!” No, continue. You’re supposed to expound on that, because you’re a good interviewee. Plus, I have HEARD you play the guitar and sing with your sweet, melodic voice like in that one Coconut Run song that’s my favorite, and you’re a writer, you’re interested in art...GO ON...
It’s West Coast by Coconut Records -- wait, did you find the ones on YouTube? I haven’t performed live since I was 21 or 22, but there IS a YouTube, and there is footage.
OK well...I’m gonna find that, but yes, I love that Coconut one. I know it’s a cover and so maybe considered “less creative” art, or whatever, but I don’t care. Voice talent and singing is about evoking emotion, and that song made me feel things.
You should listen to the original, it’s great too.
Amazingly, you STILL haven’t answered my original question. DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF TO BE CREATIVE?
Yes, I do, and it’s something that my Mom always encouraged in me because she is a creative person (and my Dad encouraged in me because he doesn't know how to not be my fiercest cheerleader).
Especially growing up in a religious household, it’s very...contained. Like, you can’t ask a lot of questions. There’s only a certain level of curiosity you’re allowed to reach, and once you reach that point you’re not allowed to ask any more questions or wonder.
You would think that that environment would stifle creativity, because creativity requires curiosity. My whole family has since diverted from religious fundamentalism because of our experience, BUT, what was so magical was that even in that environment, my Mom and Dad still managed to leave room for [my sister and I] to express ourselves and be creative.
When I was 9, (testament to my parents’ unrelenting belief in their kids) I remember laying on my Mom's bed, watching TV. She walked by and I was like, “Hey Mom, I think I’m gonna play guitar.”
I don’t even remember why I thought that. I was just like, “I wanna do it.” And she was like, “Okay!”
So, at 9 years old, my parents took me to Guitar Center. We weren’t bad off, financially, but we weren’t the Rockefellers, throwing money around everywhere, and they still bought me a Taylor Big Baby, which -- Taylor is an incredible maker of guitars. I still have it.
You have the same guitar now as you did when you were 9?
Yup! The case is the same too.
[At this point, she gets up to go get it and show it to me.]
And then I have an electric acoustic [which my parents bought for me for my 17th birthday], and I have an electric electric guitar [which my parents bought me for my 15th birthday].
Why guitar, and not something else like piano, or violin?
Oh I have a piano too. Well, a keyboard. A weighted one.
You play piano too?
Nooo, no. I am learning. I LOVE guitar, and I’ll do this until I die, even if it’s just for me… but I’ve always felt like piano is the only instrument that actually...speaks. I’ve always felt like it's talking to you--pleading with you. And I don’t really feel like that about guitar, unless it’s like, old blues music--that shit gives me the feels.
DID YOU KNOW: there’s actually scientific evidence suggesting that if you’re a person who gets goosebumps when you hear music, or you choke up at music -- the music itself, not the lyrics -- then you actually may have some connections in your brain that other people don’t?
Do you have that?
Yes. It’s actually incredibly frustrating because sometimes, when I’m trying to play something, I’ll start singing the lyrics -- even if it’s a cover -- and I’ll get a lump in my throat and I won’t be able to sing. It's not even a conscious emotional response; it just happens.
And you’d think like, “Oh, that’s so great, you’re so sensitive and you really feel the music,” but like NO BITCH it’s really fucking irritating!
What is it in creative endeavors that makes you cry?
Usually...it’s one of a couple things. Well, songs in minor chord, in general. [laughs] But no, for real, in general it’s one of two things: first is someone doing something incredibly well.
I saw Eric Clapton in Seattle [at Key Arena] years ago. I don’t even like arena shows, but seeing Clapton, and the ease with which he did what he did -- the dude looked like he could have been asleep and reading the newspaper and drinking coffee at the same time and he was still, like, doing all this shit, and I was like...HOW? How does he do this?
I cried, because this person has worked this hard to do this ONE thing, so incredibly well. What I’m watching here is the culmination of years and years and years of dedication, blood, sweat, and tears to this one thing. He has honed his craft. That is incredibly moving to me.
The other thing is, when I listen to things and I can feel empathically what the person was feeling when they wrote that song or performed that cover -- that gets to me.
I’ve fucking cried at Dua Lipa power anthems because I’m like, OOOO, yes, whoever wrote this song 1) understands what it takes to get our brains hooked by pop music and science is cool, and 2) understands on some level what it’s like to go through this experience.
So you mentioned that your parents encouraged creativity in you and your sister. You’ve talked about her before--her name is Abby and she’s 5 years younger than you, right? How do you feel about her?
Oh, I love her. She’s my best friend. I want her to move to Dallas. I don’t want her to be in Seattle anymore...there are beautiful things about it, but the culture there is very about appearances, which makes it hard for genuine people, like Abby, to connect with the city and people in it.
Note from Emma: this is one of my favourite photos of my sister. She looks so cute in my hoodie. 🥺
How do you mean?
They just think it's more important to appear kind and like they care than to actually, you know, care? Here’s what I love about Dallas: in Seattle, you go into a bar and hang out, and some girl comes up to you and initiates conversation and is like, [Valley Girl voice] “OMG, we’re gonna be best friends, like lemme follow you on Instagram, yaaas!” Then you never hear from her again.
That same girl, in Dallas...if she doesn’t want to fuck with you, she won’t fuck with you. If she engages with you, it’s because she wants to.
When I first moved to Dallas, I went with my then-boyfriend, Jeremy, to this weird warehouse-y event where they were playing FIFA on a projector, and I’m like… “Where am I?” [laughs] They had Jell-o shots and I was like, “YOU’RE ALL PEASANTS!” [bursts out laughing]
I did have a Jell-o shot, though. I’m not a 16-year-old girl sneaking into a frat party, but I still had one. I’m still friends with the guy who organized that event, to this day. Shoutout Keenan!
Note from Emma: holy shit why am I translucent.
Anyway, I met this girl Ashley there. She came up and started talking to [some other friends I was with]. It was her birthday the next day, so they were making plans. Ashley, who had already had a few drinks and was having a good time, looked at me and was like, “Hey! It’s my birthday tomorrow, we’re having a pool day, you should totally come, I’ll text you!”
So I was like “Yeah, okay, great!” But in my head, I’m like, “This woman is not going to text me. None of that is going to happen. She thinks she likes me because she is drunk and nothing is going to come of this.”
The next day, at 10 AM, she texted me, “Hey! Are you coming to the pool today? Here are all the plans for what we’re doing!” and I was just like … “Who are you?” because I was so used to people being fake in Seattle! They say they care about you, but when it comes down to it, they don’t give a flying fuck.
I haven’t experienced any of that fake in-between shit in Dallas. The culture is very straight-forward--in social interaction, values, whatever. People speak their minds and mean what they say. Bonus points: that also makes it easy to sort out the racist assholes from the genuinely good people.
P.S. Ashley is still a very dear friend of mine...even if she did ditch me for L.A.
Tell me about a couple of mentors or people who have inspired you or made you into the person you are today?
I think number one is my Mom, because she’s always been such a strong advocate for me. She’s never made me feel like an idea I had was dumb, she’s always made it a priority to give me the tools to be successful. Even though we weren’t wealthy, she always wanted me to have the best that we could afford. Like, I wanted to play guitar, so I got a Taylor. I wanted to draw with colored pencils, so I got Prismacolors.
Her philosophy was like, “You won’t know if you really want to do this if you don’t have the right tools.” I always felt so grateful that she cared enough about what I cared about to invest in it.
Aside from that, she’s very curious, and is always thinking about all the possibilities. I’m not that way, naturally, so she opens those doors for me and gets me thinking out of the box.
We had some rocky years, for sure, when I was just an asshole -- I was just going through some shit and I distanced myself. But even then, she never guilt tripped me, she never acted like she was angry with me … she realized that nothing would ever come of it if she forced things. She gave me the space to do what I needed to do.
She gave you space to just “be.”
Yeah. Which was really valuable, because even though *I* felt like there were expectations, because I always do, and always feel like I’m not meeting them -- there weren’t any. She just loved me where I was at, even though it was hard for her.
OK, so your Mom is first on the list of mentors or people who made you into who you are. Who is second?
I’m not sure if I want to say this...but it’s true, so I should. My ex-boyfriend, Jeremy. He was incredibly instrumental in everything that my life is now. At risk of him somehow randomly reading this and getting a giant head -- I never ever ever would have quit the job I was working (which was a grind sales job) to go freelance, and that was literally the catalyst for every bit of personal and professional development I've experienced in the last few years, which has led to me building a life that I'm just really fucking proud of.
So, how did that go down?
We had been dating for about 8 months and I had a really bad day at that job, where I just wasn’t being treated well, and I called him crying. He was like, “You have to quit this job,” but I’m not one of those people that can just quit a job with no backup plan. I just can’t.
That was the end of the conversation at that point and I went back into the office. A few weeks later, we were at home and I was sitting on the couch, just at a loss with how stressed I felt about this job, and again he was like, “JUST QUIT. We need a writer for Jrrny [the company he was working for]. It’ll be a pittance, but you have me, and we’re going to be fine. So just fucking quit your job, because I can’t keep watching you do this.”
I had never done any freelance work at all, didn’t have a clue how to go about it, but I decided to trust him and trust that I was going to be able to do the job. So I did!
I quit, started writing for Jrrny, and my position grew as the company did. Eventually, I became a full time Account Manager for Jrrny’s child company, Range Influence...that was where my freelance journey began. Because of that experience, I’m at Tako and the happiest I’ve ever been in a job.
Beyond that, Jeremy has this insane ability to just...always believe that things are going to be fine. Not because he’s an optimist--because he’s not, he’s a Capricorn lol--but because he grew up absolutely destitute. Like, REALLY poor.
He had to come out from under that to get where he is now. He had to either “figure it out” and believe that he could do it, or resort to a life that might have literally killed him. And he fucking did it. He started his own video production company--Subject Pictures--when we were dating and it was wildly successful. Still is, as far as I know.
So that might be the most valuable thing he gave me: it’s not about optimism, it’s not about positivity, or “manifesting”, it’s literally about understanding that people are more capable than they think they are.
I think people who don’t do the things they want to do are held back by one of two things: either one, they don’t want to work, they’re just lazy -- you gotta work -- or two, they just, deep down in the pit of their soul, don’t believe that they are capable of doing what they want to do.
And that was me! I felt that remote jobs and freelancers and people who did stuff like that had special circumstances, or were really smart, or just had something I didn’t. Jeremy was like “Literally, NO. They’re just people who see an opportunity, take a risk, and expand on it.”
Yeah. We can’t discount risk as part of this. Becoming a freelancer is an enormous risk.
Yeah, and that was something that was terrifying to me at the time. Risk is still uncomfortable for me--even calculated risk. I am an extremely risk averse person. That’s why, until that moment, I had never quit a job without immediately having something else lined up. I can’t deal with unknown variables.
Which is ultimately a disadvantage, for me, because there will always be unknown variables -- and if I’ve spent all this time calculating the risk and then one of those variables pops up, it’s extremely jarring for me.
You don’t handle change well.
Well, I didn’t used to. Even small changes, like someone wanting to move our plans from 4:00 to 4:30. I’m just like… <mimes robot> “Uhhhh, what do I do now, what do I do with this.”
It sounds like you haven’t experienced a lot of change in your life...because let me tell you, nothing forces you to accept and deal with change like having a fuckton of it.
No...no, I think I’ve had a lot of change…
Did you just resist it the whole way?
[nods emphatically] Yes. Oh yes. [laughs] But Jeremy’s “you are capable” philosophy helped me with that, too. Now, when changes happen, I have confidence that I can deal with them.
Which was handy, because when we broke up in March of 2020 (after over four years together), there was A LOT OF CHANGE! I had no relationship, no house, I lost my job, I moved back to my parents’, and then COVID hit.
FWIW, that’s when we hired you at Tako, and I had NO idea that you had so much shit going on in your life. You were always super professional and reliable.
That is the result of Jeremy’s influence on my life and my natural proclivity to “never let ‘em see you sweat.” My life may have been falling apart, but I would be damned if I was going to take it lying down. And that’s not because I’m this badass “Boss Bitch” or <snaps fingers> Career Woman. It was just what Jeremy taught me--if all you can do is survive, survive really fucking well.
Note from Emma: it me, surviving.
Do you have a “favorite project” you’ve ever worked on at Tako?
“Favorite project,” no, but I really, really love getting to swing from one function to another--like, one minute I’m exporting data and building reports for clients, the next I’m designing a whole ass Instagram grid. Gives me butterflies just thinking about it.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m a huge fitness nerd, like in a very science-y way. I just got my ACE personal trainer certification (YAY) and I’m working on getting certified as a specialist in youth fitness as well. So I spend a lot of time reading, studying--and doing my own workouts, of course. I love to run.
Aside from that, I love to cook and draw, watch the same 4 shows on a loop, hang with my cat. I walk a lot on the weekends, clean my house, and spend a good amount of time with friends (**outdoors, on the patio**) at this bar that I love in East Dallas, called Goodfriend.* I’ve also randomly really gotten into making ashtrays lately? I don't even smoke.
*Note from Emma: Another ex-boyfriend shoutout, because that's normal--super grateful for my ex, John, for introducing me to this place and to a small collection of really amazing people who have been sort of a lifeline for me lately.
Everyone at Tako is a high energy overachiever--what side project are you working on right now?
The fitness and personal training stuff, mostly, but I also write regularly for FabFitFun’s online publication.
Laaast question: what’s your favorite taco filling?
My father makes a vegetarian taco filling that will change your life. I mean it; your soul will actually leave your body and return to you, enlightened. It has beans and bell peppers and carrots and this seasoning stuff...I’m sure there’s more to it. I don’t ask questions, I just eat.
Note from Emma: very pleased to leave you with this photo of my father and his triceratops taco holder, which I share any chance I get.