<insert Gucci Mane joke here>
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, CEO + Creative Director
Hey Jackie, introduce yourself to everyone hanging out at the Stand.
Alllright. I'm Jackie. My responsibilities at Tako are many, but my title is Tech Lead. That encompasses a lot of things: front end development, QA, managing projects, client communication, and wrangling the dev team.
...Which is probably the most difficult part, right? The wrangling?
Yes, for sure. I've been in [the dev world] for eight or nine years now, but this is my first real management position, so that’s consistently the most difficult part of my day.
I can imagine. Do you feel like it's something that, once you get the hang of it, will get easier? Or do you feel like management is always a bit tricky?
Well, I mean, I'm hoping it gets easier for sure. [laughs] People management is definitely an acquired skill. No matter what team you’re working with, there’s always going to be a mix of personalities, which presents unique challenges.
*Writer’s Note: Can confirm. Like... Grace's personality. It’s so annoying.
**Editor’s Note: Well obviously you are fired, Emma.
Can we have a quick rundown of your professional history?
Sure. I started out teaching myself [to code] when I was about 13 years old. At that point I was just building websites and stuff like that for friends and family--nothing too crazy. I found out pretty quickly that I could get a job doing that without a degree, so I moved up to New York City, fresh out of high school, and interviewed with a few companies. I was offered a job on the spot by the second company I interviewed with.
Yeah. I was speaking with the president [of an ad agency there] and he heard my story and was like, “You just moved up here, no questions asked? That takes balls.” [laughs] So yeah, that was my first role as a front end developer.
From there, I moved on to another ad agency that works in WordPress development. That’s where I started working remotely. I worked there for seven years, then started at Tako!
Hold up. You're from Florida, right? So you moved from Florida to New York...just like that?
Well, I grew up in Florida. I'm originally from Bermuda. [My family] moved to Canada first, when I was probably like, nine months old. We stayed there until I was about two and then we came down to Florida. I went to New York from there.
Why did your parents choose Canada and Florida?
Hmmm, if I recall the story correctly, they moved to Canada initially as a retirement thing, but they couldn’t hang with the winters. [laughs] They read that Port Charlotte, Florida, was one of the best places to retire, so -- not realizing the average age of a retiree is, you know, 60 or 70 (my parents were in their 30s) -- that’s where they went next.
So...people retire much...earlier in Bermuda?
Eh, not traditionally. My father was a serial entrepreneur and had some successful businesses there, so he was able to retire early.
So [entrepreneurship] is in your blood. Are you looking forward to retiring in your thirties?
[laughs] I would love to. I'm like, “I've been working for less than 10 years. I'm just so ready to play golf and enjoy the sunshine in Florida.”
Do you consider yourself to be creative?
Oh, that's an interesting question. I'm going to say...yes. Only because almost every person I've gotten to know well has told me that I'm creative.
I hesitate to confirm it because I tend to associate “creative” with “artistic.” When I was growing up, I did paint a lot and I’ve always loved writing. Those are more traditionally artistic creative hobbies, I guess! But I kind of fell out of them as I grew out of my teen years because I found it very difficult to feel inspired if I wasn't completely emotionally miserable. It's really hard to make anything I think is good when I compare it to the stuff I made when I was sad.
So, being creative recently has been a matter of me finding hobbies that emphasize trying to see the beauty in things. I bought this huge camera rig a couple months ago and I've been trying to shoot photos. There's nothing yet that I'm proud enough to show anyone, but it's something I get enjoyment from.
Are you a “do a bunch of research and learn everything about all the things” kind of person--for new hobbies, and just in general?
Oh, 1000%. [For photography] I bought tons of books and courses. I had to analyze it all to death before I was confident enough to take that first step. Very different from how I learned how to code--just jumping right in there and figuring it out.
Which method of learning do you think is more effective?
I think just jumping in head first is more effective. Like with code, I was in a MySpace stage at 12 - 13 years old. I was like, “How do I get this cool song on my page?” or “I want these flashy glitter backgrounds...how do I do that?”
Ah, hell yeah. MySpace taught me everything I know about HTML. [laughs]
Yeah I’m sure it launched the careers of a thousand developers.
What made you decide to pursue a remote career?
I tried the in-office thing because I felt really pressured at the time--like, this is “what you do”: move up, get a job in an office, blah blah blah. But I found it very difficult to work in that environment. Especially these days, when open concept offices are so prevalent. They want to create this space where people are always bumping into each other and having conversations. I can’t function like that. If someone stops me to talk, they’ve completely interrupted my thought process and I’m not able to get back in the groove for a while.
Not only that, but I found myself consistently sitting directly underneath an air vent, no matter what office I was working at. It's impossible to do good work if you're sitting under a blanket, freezing.
People wouldn't stop talking and you were freezing. So you were like, “That's it I'm going remote.”
Yeah. “I'm going home. Don't want to wear pants.”
What's the best part of being remote (other than the lack of pants)?
The flexibility, I think. Last weekend, I was up in Nashville, just hanging out. The weekend before that I was over in Massachusetts for a weekend with my family. Being able to do those things is so unbelievably valuable to me. [The freedom] keeps me from burning out.
What's the most challenging part of being remote?
You know, I’ve historically said work-life balance, but I feel like that's been a lot better since I've been at Tako. I see you guys come in and kill shit all day every day, but once it's time for you to knock off, you're gone. Having that modeled for me has been so important.
That's awesome. So it hasn't been that way in past positions you've had?
No, no, definitely not. I was killing myself all the time. Like, a client has a last minute request late at night--who else is gonna do it? I was never really “off.”
Do you have a favorite project you've worked on so far at Tako?
I feel like naming a specific client is a trap. I love all my clients equally. [smiles] I think the Tako site redesign [was my favorite] because that was the first thing where I jumped in on the development end and was able to just put my AirPods in for the day and crank on something, which I hadn't gotten the chance to do in a while.
I didn’t know you did development on the site! Do you like a balance of development and management kind of stuff? Or is there one that you prefer over the other?
When I started [at Tako] I would have said “both,” but now that I'm getting into the swing of things with the management stuff, I think I prefer that.
Development is just such a treadmill of learning. I am someone who always wants to be learning, but with the way front end development is--especially these days--there's so much you need to know at any given time, the language du jour is always changing, and it’s difficult to keep up.
So, for now at least, it's better for me to be on the management side and just keep everybody together.
Who are three professionals, mentors, or other people that you admire?
The first one is a bit of a twofer: my horseback riding trainer, Kobi, and his wife, Pam, who are essentially my surrogate parents at this point. Pam is this bad-ass “take no shit,” logical wealth management SVP, and she is such a counterbalance to Kobi's very intuitive, more emotional personality. They've given me nothing but unconditional love and guidance for the past few years. I wouldn’t be where I am as an equestrian or as a person without them.
The second is a composition professor of mine from back in my...sophomore year of college, I think? His name was Zahir Small and he was one of the first people who told me, in an academic setting, “I know you’re good at this writing and business thing, and you want to play to your strengths, but I think you’re selling yourself short by not pursuing something more academically challenging.”
That wasn’t because he looked down on liberal arts degrees or anything; he just saw that I excelled really easily in research, English, and writing and he thought I was, effectively, not getting as much out of it as I could something that would be more challenging. Almost immediately after that conversation, I switched into computer science and never went back.
He gave me my favorite compliment I’ve ever received, too, which was that my writing aesthetic was beautiful.
That’s so simple! Why did it hit you so hard?
I don't know! I think just because I was always very uncomfortable with having people read my writing. Just turning something in to a professor was daunting for me. He took me from that [level of insecurity] to coaching me into receiving a small research scholarship for a paper I wrote. [His words and attention] were validating. For someone who is as introverted as I am, that meant the world.
Do you still write?
Um--kinda sorta. I've been slacking on it lately. Most of the writing I’ve done has been for me; it’s not something I’d show anyone else. I’m working on a couple different novel concepts, which might turn into something, but if they don’t, hey, that’s honestly fine.
What kind of stuff do you write, when you “write for you”?
I like the format of fictional novels. I'm working on one right now that’s a bit of a political thriller.
How many fictional stories have you written that no one’s seen?
I couldn't even tell you at this point. I was always that kid in middle and high school--I could write stories all damn day. I haven’t kept many of them [laughs] but it’s always been a thing for me.
It's really interesting to me that somebody who was that way, even in childhood, grew up and then had a difficult time associating herself with the creative archetype.
Right. I guess I'll say it like this: I feel like I was creative but it was something--like a personality trait--that I could lose.
I'm not sure that's...how that...works, Jackie.
Well [laughs] what can I say--I think I'm living proof!
OK whatever; we’ll put a pin in that...for now. Third and last person you admire, please!
Ah, so, fun fact: I actually wanted to be an attorney when I was in middle- and high school...until I realized that lawyers have to, you know, put on pants and go to the courthouse and all that.
ANYway...I was an absolutely abysmal student in high school. Like, I was definitely the only kid at that school who scored over 2,000 on the SAT and then struggled to maintain a 2.0 GPA.
Prior to going to this public high school, I attended a private school with basically the same 10 kids and teachers from the time I was a toddler through eighth or ninth grade. I found the transition into the [public] high school environment--where you're “just another number” because teachers see hundreds of kids every day--completely unmanageable.
BUT I had a law teacher and mock trial coach named David Riley. He was different in the sense that his teaching style was more individualized--which is what I was accustomed to. So, I really flourished in that environment.
I was screaming for help in the only way [a high school kid] knows how to communicate and no one was getting it. Without him listening and being willing to go to bat for me, I literally do not think I’d be sitting here speaking to you right now.
Wow. That's amazing. What do you mean when you say that you were “screaming for help in the only way a high school kid knows how”?
Um...just like, very indirectly. I had a lot of anxiety, but I didn’t know how to communicate that because I didn’t know that what I was feeling was anxiety. I had no idea it wasn’t normal. I thought it was just something weird about me that I’d never change.
So, you look at this kid, who’s clearly intelligent and capable, but they just can’t--or won’t--do the work...I don’t know, I feel like if I were a teacher with that kind of student, I would recognize it right away; like, “There’s something else going on here. There is a reason they’re not performing.”
It makes sense that you would be like, “I am the only person that feels this way,” even though there were hundreds and hundreds of kids in the same boat, because no one was really talking about mental health at that time--at least, not anywhere close to the way we do now.
Absolutely. That started just as I was leaving high school, like early college age--that's when people started talking about mental health being important. I’m like, well, f*ck. Thanks guys. [laughs]
Well, at least the conversation's happening now.
Yeah. There's hope for Gen Z, but Millennials...like, sorry, you’re just f*cked.
As a fellow Millennial, I don’t disagree, but you're being a real bummer right now, Jackie. I'm gonna need you to dial it back.
OK, OK, sorry.
Next question...what do you do in your spare time? The only unacceptable answer is “what is spare time?”
Oh, has that been done to death?
OK…[sigh]...what do I do… Well, as I briefly mentioned earlier, I'm a horseback rider. I’ve been doing that off and on since I was five years old. It's only been as an adult that I've been able to take it seriously and get involved in a more substantial way. My parents never had the money to buy me a horse or send me to horse shows when I was a kid because it’s an astronomically expensive hobby.
Now that I'm an adult with a job, I can afford a horse or two, and we travel for the summers, going to different show circuits around the country. That's a lot of fun.
In addition to that, I love watching the Boston Bruins. I’m big into ice hockey. Uhh...reading, writing, weightlifting and exercising, and I love watching films.
What kind of films?
I like a bit of everything. Some of my favorites right now are Annihilation, Two Lovers and a Bear, Full Metal Jacket, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. I tend to gravitate toward stories that are introspective--like, examinations of the Self. Annihilation is definitely an example of that.
We've already touched on this a little bit, but: everyone at Tako is a high energy overachiever. What side project are you working on right now?
Oh, goodness. Well, primarily, I own an equestrian company [Ostler Equestrian], which is my first foray into a business that sells a physical product. That’s presented a lot of challenges but I think, ultimately, it’s been the most rewarding of all my business endeavors.
We make belts and matching spur straps and spur cover sets that are tailored toward an equestrian style. We launched a couple months ago with just a few different colors--seven, I think? We've sold through a lot of our inventory already and are about to order our second batch.
One of the big challenges with [Ostler] is that our belt buckles have to be manufactured in Italy, because there's just absolutely no industry left for that sort of thing in the United States. I find that incredibly sad.
Working through the language barrier there, and having my design and vision executed in a way I'm happy with, has taken literally two years. There were many points where I was just like, this is never going to happen, it’s going to be a money pit forever, I should stop. And now...I was walking around a horse show the other day and saw three or four people wearing my belt. That was such a surreal moment.
I bet. If it did feel at one point, like “this is going to be a money pit forever,” what kept you in it?
My dad, primarily. He offered to come in as a partner and he funded the project, which took a lot of the pressure off me. Putting in that kind of startup capital as a young person with limited savings is really scary. To have that backing and the expertise of someone who’s such an experienced entrepreneur kept me going.
Is there anything else you're working on outside of Tako and Ostler?
Mmm--not really! My father and I buy horses to train and sell, but that's really just an extension of horseback riding. It’s for sure my quietest endeavor. “Quiet” meaning “passive,” because the horse stays with Kobi for training. I show up and ride, obviously, but it's super hands-off compared to other things I've done over the years.
Congrats on having something that gives you a little break! We’re coming up on our last question, but I have something else I want to ask first: did you read my questions beforehand and pre-write your answers? Because I saw your eyes do this [subtly shifts eyes back and forth] every time you’d answer a question.
[laughs] I didn't pre-write them, but I wrote a list of things I wanted to touch on because I have a tendency to forget everything about myself the second people start asking me questions.
Ahh, OK, I was like, “Yes good ol’ methodical Jackie, reciting her pre-written answers. Lol” ALRIGHT...last question. What is your favorite taco filling?
I love Fritos in soft tacos. I don't know if that counts as a filling, but...wait...why do you look so offended?
I’m sorry. Like... chips...Fritos chips.
Well, if you think about it, right, they're basically a corn chip. So you have the soft taco shell, and with a little bit of crunchy corn inside, you get the best of both worlds, right?
No. Not right. God damn. Between your Fritos and Z putting fries in his burritos...I cannot. I’m quitting [Tako].
OK, OK...refried beans! Is that a more acceptable answer?
Yes. But it's too late. You've already told me that you'd like to put Fritos in tacos. ANYWAY...congratulations on not forgetting everything about yourself; I’ll let you get back to your dev wrangling.
[laughs] OK byyyye.