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 Nicole! Introduce yourself for the folks hanging out at the Stand.
My name is Nicole and I am a single disabled mom to disabled twins.
And your position with Tako?
I’m a project manager.
Awesome, how are you liking it so far?
I’m loving it. You guys are great!
Yay! What’s your favorite and least favorite part about project management, in general?
My favorite thing… I’m an introvert, so it’s something I can do without being in front of people, in an office.
My least favorite thing... just getting one of those projects where you’re working late into the night and you’re dog tired and your eyes are crossing but you have to get the project out the door. I hate that most because...I love to sleep.
Yeah, I don’t blame you at all. How many hours of sleep do you need to feel happy?
As long as I’m asleep by like 9, that’s just fine, and then I wake up at like 10 in the morning. It’s being able to sleep in until 10. That’s what I need. Otherwise, I get cranky.
Does that usually work for your house? It seems like having kids would make that much uninterrupted sleep difficult!
Well, my kids are older; they’re 11. So when the dog [editor's note: named Meryl Streep, by the way] wakes them up at 7 AM, they close my door and know not to bother me until they hear my alarm go off at 10. I send them a Skype message that says “babies,” and that’s their cue that they can come in, but before that...do not come into my room. [laughs]
That’s cute! I love that you guys have a whole morning routine.
Yeah. I have to in order to maintain my sanity. The morning and when they go to bed at night is my only “me” time, so I cherish it.
That's so good that you do that. Seems like it could be really hard to draw those personal boundaries as a mom, especially one working from home. You said that your kids are 11-year old twins. Boys or girls?
A boy and a girl.
Was it nerve-wracking to find out you were pregnant with twins?
Yeah, it was kind of a shock. It still shocks me that I have twins. It shocks me that I have kids, period. [laughs]
Well, it sounds like you're managing it alright…you guys have even done a lot of traveling; can you tell me a little bit about that?
Sure! I did lots of road trips with them as babies, in the States. We did a Disney cruise in the Caribbean, and let's see…we left the U.S. in 2018 and just country-hopped. We lived in Mexico for a bit, and traveled around there by bus. It was interesting...I know Spanglish, so that's how I got by.
We went to Medellin, Columbia, and then back to Mexico, then Scotland...we traveled around and lived in Portugal, and finally moved to South Africa. When COVID hit, things got really bad there, so we came back to the U.S. We're definitely itching to leave again.
I bet. COVID put a damper on a lot of fun plans like that. Did you do a lot of solo traveling before you had kids?
Yes, I took a trip to Cape Town, South Africa, and traveled around the U.S.; when I was little, I lived in Japan with my mom. Most of my [solo] traveI was in the States. I didn’t really do international travel, except with my mom and then with my kids.
So have you had remote positions for a long time that have allowed you to do all of this nomad-ing?
Yeah, I mean, when I left my federal government job in 2018, I was actually doing my first Masters in Peace in Conflict & Studies from the University of North Carolina - Greensboro, so I didn't do any work. I just lived off my retirement savings until 2019. That's when I started doing gigs on Upwork--personal assisting and project management, mainly--for digital marketing agencies.
I've done a lot of different things, but I found that I love project management work within the digital marketing sphere the most.
You mentioned that you had a government job. Were you there for a while before you took 2018 off to go back to school?
Mmm, no...not really. I started with the USDA in 2015 when we moved to Colorado. Then I moved to a different position within the organization in 2017, in North Carolina. But working in a government agency was just not for me. There's so much bureaucracy.
Yeah, I can imagine. So was that job in an office or was that remote as well?
I did get to do some teleworking, but it wasn't enough for me. I hate being in an office environment ‘cause I felt I never got any work done.
Girl, me too. I would cry for the rest of my life if I had to go back to an office.
Do you consider yourself to be a creative person?
I don't think so. I see myself as more analytical. I like looking at a problem and figuring out different ways to go about fixing it. I can sit back and look at the bigger picture and see all the little pieces and how they all fit together, but I don't think I'm creative. I'm a problem solver.
Do you feel like...hmm...I’ll use myself to illustrate. I consider myself a creative person, but I can't imagine having a job that is just creative without any problem solving kind of stuff. My favorite jobs have been ones that require creativity in order to solve problems. Do you feel like that's true for you as well?
Huh. You got me thinking... that is true. I guess I just, I always saw it differently. I know different sides of your brain serve different functions and I always felt like I used my analytical side more, but I guess you do have to be creative when problem solving, because you’re designing different pathways to solve a puzzle.
Can you think of an instance where you had to exercise both of those things? Like you had to be particularly creative in an effort to solve a problem?
Ah, once when [my kids and I] were traveling. We were supposed to stay at this place in Mexico for three months, but the elevator broke down. I walk with a cane, so I was not going to be climbing up a flight of stairs with groceries every other day. So we left. One good thing about traveling with kids is this community called the worldschooling community. I connected with a whole bunch of people through that, so I had a network to reach out to.
I was directed to someone who had housing for us. She lived six hours (by bus) from us, so we hopped on a bus. Unfortunately, the housing didn’t work for me with my disability. So I had to get really creative. Where were we going to go, in Mexico, on short notice, running low on funds? (I hadn’t yet gotten the deposit back from the first place we couldn’t stay.)
We ended up going to Guadalajara by bus and renting a room at a lady's house through Airbnb, until I got that deposit--then we’d get to move on to our own place. Before we even got to Guadalajara, though, our bus ticket got messed up; so we were standing at a stop in Mexico, in the dark, with a whole bunch of luggage, and our bus never came. I ended up waving down another bus that happened to pass and getting creative with my Spanglish to get this driver to take us to Guadalajara.
As I look back on it now, that was a really stupid thing to do as a single mom with two kids in the middle of nowhere. We could've been stranded there overnight and had to sleep outside...that could have ended up really bad. [sigh] Anyway, yeah, that's my creative situation.
Holy shit, that sounds scary as hell.
[laughs] Yeah. The bus company spoke only Spanish on the phone. No one spoke English. So, it was just...yeah, it was, it could have been really bad. Thankfully, it wasn’t. But yeah.
Have you found that you've been more careful to plan things in general since then?
Not really. I mean, I always book our travels spontaneously. Normally we just have a one way ticket and I don't buy tickets for our next location until the day before, or even like, a few hours before we fly out.
That’s what happened when we were living in Lisbon and needed to get to Scotland. I booked our tickets at like, 2:00 AM and I woke the kids up at 4:00 AM and we went to the airport.
Your life stresses me out.
[laughs] That's how you can get amazing flight deals! So that's how I travel. I'm buying for three people. I don't want to spend an arm and a leg just for convenience.
Is that freedom ultimately what made you decide to pursue a remote career, or was it just your pure hatred for being in an office?
Yeah, the freedom to create my own schedule is really important to me. When I was at USDA, I barely spent any time with my kids. We had a little bit of time in the morning, but it was rushed because I’d wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, and shuttle them to school. Then I go off to work, spend all day there, rush to their school, pick them up...we’d eat dinner, then it's homework and bath time, and off to bed.
There's nowhere in there for family time. Now I can have those moments with my kids. I can see them grow up. They’re homeschooled, so we can go out to breakfast or lunch if we want to. We get to plan our days around family time. I love that I can be there for them, as a mom.
That's amazing. That really creates a sense of like, we're working to live instead of living to work.
Where do you feel most focused? Like, where is it easiest for you to get in the zone when you're working?
Normally it's sitting in Starbucks, but as soon as I broke my knee...my bed is my office right now.
What happened to your knee? Was that a recent thing?
Yeah, I broke it in South Africa on some rocks. So I had surgery in South Africa on May 7th and then we flew back to the States. I'm still recovering from knee surgery.
Oh my God. I had no idea*.
It's been crazy, but I’ve finally gotten into PT now, so it's going more smoothly.
*Writer’s note: I swear to god I’m not an oblivious asshole. Nicole is a...painfully private person. 😅
I'm glad to hear it. What's the most challenging part of working remotely?
Especially with kids, it's dealing with interruptions. My son has autism, so he doesn't know anything about volume control. They know that if my door is closed, I’m in a meeting, but distraction is just inevitable with kids and fur babies.
Yeah, that totally makes sense. Do you have a favorite project you've worked on at Tako so far?
*Writer’s note: We did a custom homepage and navigation for them, and a completely custom customer portal and it turned out GORGEOUSLY.
Who are three professionals, mentors, or other people you admire?
Hmm. The first one is Viola Davis--that actress from How to Get Away With Murder. She’s considered the Black Meryl Streep. And she's faced so many challenges as a Black woman in Hollywood, trying to get the right pay and everything, but she’s still so accomplished. And if you look at her Facebook she's always posting positive messages, uplifting other actors of all races and creeds. It’s just so beautiful to see someone of her caliber taking the time to recognize other people.
The Rock--he's amazing too. It’s great to see someone rise through the ranks, coming from a poor background to where he is now, and he's still so humble. That's inspiring.
Another person...Simone Biles because...Simone ~ fucking ~ Biles. That’s all.
Oh! My two favorite people: Barack and Michelle Obama...and Hillary Clinton too. Oh, sorry, and RBG! Yes. Okay. Now I'm done.
I'm curious--the first two people who came to your mind are actors. Are you big into movies?
I am! That's the only outlet I have right now as a mom--watching Netflix and Hulu. I don't go out partying anymore…I’m an old fogie now, so it’s Netflix, watching movies. That's my excitement. [laughs]
Other than watching movies, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Besides traveling, I like going to the beach...not to swim, but just to sit and smell the ocean air, listen to and watch the waves. I also like going kayaking, hiking, and visiting different wineries. I love trying different wines and beers, reading... I don't have that much free time anymore between work, my PhD program, and my kids.
What's your PhD program in?
Sociology, gender studies, and anthropology.
Very cool! Do you have plans for what you want to do with that when you’re finished?
I actually would love to start a non-profit dedicated to helping single mothers on a global scale. It’s also my dream to teach at the College level.
Well my next question is supposed to be, “Everyone at Tako is a high energy overachiever. What side projects are you working on?” But I feel like we had to have covered them already. Is there anything else?
No, that's enough right now, thanks. [laughs]
I honestly wouldn’t have been shocked if you were like, “Oh yeah, I'm also writing the next great American novel.”
It’s on my wishlist.
Oh, would you like to write something like that?
Mmm...I like academic writing. I tried my hand at blogging about our travels. Also tried my hand at Instagram, got about 10K followers and then was like, yeah, I can't do this. It was too much for me as an introvert.
[As for novel-style writing], I just don't have the patience...but I do love academic writing.
You're in good company at Tako--lots of writers here. Alright, we have come to our last question, which is: what is your favorite taco filling?
Oh, crap. I should look at my Upwork application* to see what I put.
Don’t worry, we’re not going to fire you if your answers are different. [laughs]
Okay, I love salsa. Salsa and vegan cheese.
*Writer’s note: Because all Tako positions require keen attention to detail, all of our career listings end with “please tell us your favorite taco filling.” Any applications that fail to address that question are summarily tossed in the bin. :)
Are you vegan?
Yes, I'm vegan.
Oh I didn’t know that! Cool! Z’s vegan too.
Oh, cool! I’ll have to trade recipes with him.
OK, I lied about that being the last question. Now I’m curious: do you find these kinds of experiences, like sharing about yourself with people--especially people you don't know very well--do you find that uncomfortable as an introvert?
Yes, but it's easier doing it like this on the telephone versus in person; that's hard. For example, have you heard of the show House Hunters International?
OK. For our move to Scotland, we were featured on one of the episodes; doing that was the hardest thing ever as an introvert--being on camera. So doing this on the phone is super easy compared to that.
OK, yeah, that sounds like it would be awful for an introvert, but how COOL!
Yeah, it was an experience for sure! I was referred to the show by another single mom blogger I met in Merida, Mexico who was also featured on the show. The show was really keen on our story because rarely are disabled individuals showcased on House Hunters.
For filming, there were long days, but the crew was very considerate and gave me time for plenty of breaks. I can't give away too much on the filming process, but we ventured to activities around St. Andrews and Dundee. For avid golfers, you will notice we filmed on St. Andrews Link, which is the oldest golf course in the world and the bridge on the course is famous. The crew kept us fed and we were able to eat at some pretty fancy restaurants in the town.
The worst part as an introvert was filming in public spaces and having people gawk at us. Talk about anxiety overload. But I would do it all over again if I had the opportunity….guess this means I need to move abroad again!