Welcome to Tako People--a mini series giving you a closer look at the individuals that make Tako tick.
Editor's Note: Tako Agency is and always will be a 100% remote agency. For us, it’s a no brainer and the future of e-commerce related businesses. COVID-19 has thrown the importance of remote work into even sharper relief.
The benefits we enjoy are plentiful: healthy work-life balance, flexible schedule, geographic freedom, minimal pants. But, like anything in life, there are downsides too--one of the biggest being that we can’t invite clients to our offices to hang out! As a result, we miss out on some of the elements of getting to know each other. (If I had my way and we had a “real” office, my title would be Creative Director + Chief Cocktail Party Planner.)
So, we’ve decided to do the next best thing: pull back the curtain and put a face (and backstory) to the name you see on all our emails. The imbibing of cocktails is optional but highly recommended.
Grace, Creative Director
Hey Grace! Introduce yourself to our peeps hanging out at the Stand.
I’m Grace and I’m the Creative Director at Tako Agency, which means I oversee everything related to creative work--marketing, branding, design, UX/UI, and content/copy. I manage all of our writers and designers. My job is perfect for me because it requires a lot of problem solving, but it all revolves around creative tasks, which I love.
Problem-solving is often thought of as a more logic-based skill. Imagine that creativity and logic are mutually exclusive (since they’re often seen as such). Are you more creatively driven or logic driven?
It’s funny, for a long time, I didn’t think of myself as a creative person; I always felt that I was more analytical. Then I started working with developers and I learned what analytical really means. I am...not that. [laughs] At least, not as much as I thought.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mallory [Tako’s Technical Director] and what she does [managing our team of developers]. That takes a whole separate skill set.
What made you realize that you’re actually a creative person?
Well, I guess I’ve always been “creative,” but not in traditional ways. I can’t paint, draw, or sculpt. Cooking is a great creative outlet for me because I love the idea of temporary art, which is exactly what food is.
I’ve also been writing my whole life, but I never really saw it as “creative” until I was older. I mean...it’s just words. [shrugs]
My mom, on the other hand, was a classically creative person--she painted beautiful porcelain and watercolors. I went through an intense horse-drawing phase when I was 12, but like, so does every 12 year old girl.
Well, were they any good?
They actually weren’t bad! [laughs] I stumbled across a few when I got a little older and was like, “Damn these are awesome.” I tried to recreate them, but failed miserably.
So, there was something inside that knew you were creative--you don’t just sit down and draw horses for no reason. What do you think stopped you from leaning into that?
I just didn’t understand that there are definitions of being a “creative” beyond the paisley-wearing, incense-burning hippie stereotype. Plus, I have a lot of qualities that align more with the logic-driven archetype. Hello, INTJ.
That said, once I got into [the tech industry] and spent time on the creative side and on the development side, I realized that I am way happier being in a place where, yes, I’m managing people and problem solving, but it’s all within this sort of creative sandbox.
Speaking of getting into the tech industry--how did that happen? Can we have a quick rundown of your professional history?
I didn’t go to college right out of high school; I got married instead, which...0 out of 5 stars; would not recommend. [laughs] Even if I hadn’t gotten married I would’ve done something else, because I knew I wasn’t ready for college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and didn’t want to waste time and money trying to figure it out.
In high school I did the usual kind of stuff...I was a waitress for a while, a carny...
Hold up. “Usual stuff,” to you, means...“carny”?
[laughs] Yeah, that was one of my part time jobs in high school. Had a red and white striped vest and everything.
There was more normal stuff, too! Retail and admin things. The first “real” job I had was as a paralegal in Washington D.C.. I was hired as an admin assistant, but was quickly promoted because I was being underutilized. I worked there for a few years and adored it. I only left because I wanted to finish my degree.
I ended up getting a Bachelor of Science in Marketing with a minor in Entrepreneurship, so my specialty is business development and marketing. I think it’s kind of in my blood; my Dad is an entrepreneur and has always been in sales. I took the very long road coming back to that because I tried so many other things, but I think this is where I was always “meant to” end up.
Grace tells me that one of her duties at the D.C. law firm was to "wash the dragon."
Was Tako your first big gig then? That’s a pretty big jump--from Paralegal to Creative Director.
HAH! I definitely did not waltz into the role of Creative Director, I assure you. After college I was offered a job with a hospitality consulting group, doing marketing and business development, so that’s where I started getting my legs under me.
Eventually I left that job and started my own thing--Grace Marketing Group--because I wanted to work for myself. I started working for Tako as a marketing and copywriting freelancer; they were just another client. When I started it was only me and Z, one designer, and two developers. At last count we had 16 people in the agency, not including writers--pretty substantial growth for two years.
GMG still exists--I still run it, still have clients, but Tako has become more of my main focus because my role has grown along with the rest of the Agency.
I want to go back to the writing thing for a second because I first met you as a writer*, and you mentioned it’s something that’s always stuck with you. Tell us more about that.
I’ve always been a good writer. I think part of that is innate talent, but more than anything, I think my writing skills can be attributed to the fact that I was such a voracious reader as a kid.
I regularly maxed out my library cards--both at school and at the public library. It was the great tragedy of my young life that the school had a limit of 7 books checked out at a time, and 14 at the public library. During the summer I’d blow through those in less than a week. Eventually my Mom got tired of constantly shuttling me back and forth, so she’d check out another 14 books on my behalf with her card. [laughs] What a scheme.
*Writer’s note: Grace was the one who put me on Team Tako, as her Junior Editor, so this is a very special interview for me. :’)
What did you read, mostly?
Literally everything I could get my hands on--Reader’s Digest, Family Circle Magazine, the Boxcar Children, horse books, Harry Potter, science books...even my Mom’s battered old copy of What To Expect When You’re Expecting when I was like, nine. (?) I was just so thirsty for knowledge about anything and everything. Still am. You would shudder to see how many Wikipedia windows I have open on my phone.
I did get very into Fantasy growing up, because I was bullied hard as a kid. My family moved over from South Africa when I was in third grade, so I had like, this weird accent, and no friends, and I was just really lonely. Fantasy allowed me to live a thousand different lives and build emotional bonds with fictional characters that I struggled to achieve in “real life.”
Harry Potter is a perfect example of that. I grew up in lock-step with those books, and the attachment I feel to that story is deep and enduring--I think I’ve read the full series at least 15 times over.
Was there one character that you personally identified with?
I mean...Hermione, obviously, because she’s a bookish know-it-all and so am I. [laughs] She’s not here for your shit, and that resonates with me.
I also had a crush on Draco Malfoy because I had a massive weakness for bad boys with, like, a microscopic, infinitesimal shred of redeeming quality.
I can identify with that. The bad boy thing, anyway...neeever had a crush on Draco Malfoy.
I had it bad. I used to read fanfic about him alllll the time as a young person.
Don’t lie...it was like, last week.
[smiles] No comment.
You’re going to hate me, but I do not care. I’m absolutely publishing your quotes on Draco Malfoy and--Senior Editor or not--you cannot stop me.
OK, OK, but if you must put that in there, at least mention that I have evolved. Now my type is intelligent, sexy G.I. Joe men--and I found one! And I have tricked him into loving me!
[typing motion] “Grace says she has evolved…[pause]...highly suspect.”
MOVING ON. What made you decide to pursue a remote career?
Oo, good question, and one I enjoy answering because it was a fully intentional outcome that I worked hard to achieve.
When I went back to college, I did a lot of soul searching to figure out what was most important to me. One of the values that emerged was geographic flexibility.
I’ve always had this romantic idea of traveling around the world, but not like, touristy traveling. More like accepting opportunities to wander. I wanted the freedom to pick up and go at any time, no questions asked, and still be able to support myself. That freedom became non-negotiable to me, and it’s stayed that way.
What’s the best part of being remote, aside from the flexibility?
I mean...no commute. No “real people” clothes. NO MAKEUP! Those are all little things, but they require effort and time. It sounds cheesy, but time is the only resource you can’t get back. Working from home saves me from spending time doing useless crap, and allows me to reallocate that 1-2 hours each day to things that are more important to me.
What’s the most challenging thing?
I think there are two big things. The first is just general isolation and loneliness. I’m quite introverted, so personally I don’t struggle much in a remote environment--at least, not as much as extroverts can. But even I sometimes wish I had someone to talk to that wasn’t a dog or a plant. In the Before Times™ at least there were opportunities to meet and bond with people. Now, with COVID, it’s become so much harder.
The other challenge is building meaningful bonds with your coworkers. At the law firm [in D.C.], we had really tight emotional ties. It was a small firm, we saw each other every day, and we genuinely became friends. It takes a lot more effort to do that when you’re remote, and I think it happens less often. Tako seems to be the exception, and I love how close we all are.
Do you have a favorite project you’ve ever worked on at Tako?
Building Sparetoolz has been really gratifying. That was my first big project, and I touched a lot of pieces--UX flows, copy, design QA, and marketing.
With little consistent efforts over time, it continues to gain traffic and new users. I love it because it’s like this little seedling that I’ve seen grow exponentially, and I’ve been able to play a significant role in that process. Plus, it’s just a damn good idea.
Grace's home office
Who are three mentors or other people who’ve had a hand in making you the person you are today?
First one that comes to mind is Dr. Dennis DiPasquale. He’s a professor at the University of Florida and I took his Sales Management class. That was, bar none, the most valuable class I took--partially because he ran it like a business, not a “I’m the teacher and you’re the student” class, and partially because his view of sales and marketing aligned perfectly with mine. Good marketing isn’t about shoving stuff down people’s throats. It’s about identifying a problem and then solving it in an authentic way.
Another is my partner, Garrett. He’s incredibly intelligent and ambitious, so he’s the perfect sounding board for everything in my professional life. He’s a supportive partner, but he’s not a bullshitter, so when I talk to him about business ideas or challenges, he’ll ask me critical questions that force me to think. He also knows all my tricks and how to call them out. [smiles] I won’t call him a mentor because I don’t want to inflate his ego, [laughs] but I’d say he’s in my close circle of advisors.
The last one is a previous employer, who showed me by example what I didn’t want to be as a businessperson. Often when we think about mentors, we recall people we aspire to be like, but the opposite is just as valuable. The experience was tough, but it solidified my professional--and personal--values in hyper speed, which has led to profound, authentic connections with people (and agencies, wink) who share those values.
What do you do in your spare time?
I cook. I play games--board games, card games, computer games. I love board games the most. I’m also a big television consumer, but I have to be multitasking. I can’t just sit and watch TV.
What do you like to watch?
I watch a lot of cooking shows--Gordon Ramsay is massive in my house. I also enjoy fantasy stuff like Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, etc. I just finished Mad Men...again.
Often the stuff I watch impacts my work. Mad Men, for example, revolves around advertising and it’s written so well, I feel like I’m just watching very talented colleagues work. It really stretched my brain and gave me some good ideas this time around.
Then I started watching the Big Bang Theory, which is just nerdy and silly, but it got me thinking sort of mathematically and scientifically, which inspired some branding that I’m working on for a client. You can find inspiration anywhere, and I’m not ashamed to say that sometimes it comes from TV!
Do you think that allowing yourself to be so completely immersed in fictional stories and characters as a kid actually affords you a greater ability to allow characters and stories on TV to influence your work, today?
Huh, that’s something I’ve never thought about before. I think so. Forming emotional bonds with fictional characters makes you buy wholly into their world--which means it doesn’t feel all that fictional.
Mad Men is a great example. This was my fourth time through, but it legitimately felt like professional development this time. That natural inclination to emotionally bond with characters makes me feel like I’m going to work with them, which essentially puts my brain in the room with their creative process. All of a sudden, I’m strategizing and designing right alongside them. Don Draper might be a complete disaster in his personal life, but as a Creative Director, he’s pretty genius.
Virtually everyone at Tako is a high energy overachiever--what side project are you working on right now?
I’m one of those people that is constantly picking up a new hobby, getting really obsessive about it for a few weeks, and then sort of moving on. I’ve gotten into plants recently--collecting them, cultivating them...trying to convince them to not die. It’s a good challenge.
I also write and mail postcards to a small circle of friends once a week. My best friend Lily is pregnant, so I decided that, in lieu of a traditional baby gift, I’ll write and send postcards addressed to the baby. I’m going to relay all the stories and memories I have with Lily and Zach, including the ones I’m sure they plan to censor from their innocent child. When the kiddo’s grown, they’ll be able to flip through and read about their parents throughout someone else’s eyes.
Turns out postcards are really small when you have a lot to say. [laughs]
Last question: what’s your favorite taco filling?
Carnitaaaaaaaas! I am very specific about my taco order, though. It can’t be just carnitas. It has to be a soft taco, with carnitas, cheese, sour cream, roasted corn, guac. No lettuce. Shredded iceberg lettuce makes me irrationally angry. [eyes wide, head shaking] It’s the most useless food in existence.
Thanks for the chat, Grace! Next up, we'll connect with Tako's Technical Director, Mallory. Keep an eye out for that post, coming next month. :)