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.
This week, we’re starting with Z, the Founder of Tako Agency. Take it away, Emma!
Grace, Creative Director
OK, Z, introduce yourself to our peeps hanging out at the Stand!
My name is Z. I’m the Founder of Tako Agency. I absolutely love working in technology and with our awesome team. I hang out with my dog 90% of the time and have a girlfriend, Armina, who isn’t in the tech world. I really enjoy that there’s balance between her work and mine.
Ah, what’s your girlfriend do?
She’s a recruiter. She has a degree in accounting and is a CPA. She used to be in finance and accounting herself, but that was--as you can imagine--boring as hell [laughs] so now she recruits for that industry instead.
That’s real...numbers-y. Running Tako, you need to have business sense, and part of that is working with numbers--but you seem more the creative type. How do you see yourself?
Oh, definitely more creative. I do love systems and processes and enhancing efficiency, but honestly, my ideal job would be to spend all day creatively fleshing out ideas...and then throwing them at other people to be analyzed and executed.
Can we have a quick rundown of your professional history?
Sure. I’ve been interested in technology since I was a kid. I built my first computer when I was 10 or 11 years old, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to turn computers into ATMs ever since. [laughs] Like, “How can this thing make me money?”
In my early adulthood, I worked in hospitality. I was sort of a hospitality octopus, actually; I was a bellman, I drove a limo, I worked the front desk...all kinds of stuff. I went to college on a soccer scholarship, but after two years, I absolutely f*cking hated it. College is just too political. I was like, “I want to do my own thing. I don’t know what that thing is, but I’m gonna figure it out.”
So I did! I had a friend who ran a web design agency. Super talented guy, but he was really young and a little bit scatter-brained. I thought that an organizational piece could take his business to the next level, so I offered to help out. That ended up being my first project management gig.
I juggled that with another job, in retail sales for AT&T. I hated it. [laughs] I couldn’t stand to be micro-managed. Thanks to that bit of f*ckery--and because I just really wanted a change of scenery--I decided to move out to LA [from the Bay Area]. Two weeks before I left, I was introduced to a serial entrepreneur named Roger, who ran an online store selling computer parts. He ended up calling me right when I got to LA and offered me a job running the shop, which I accepted.
While I was there, we went from being a new company making no money to making a few million. Once we reached our goals as a company and everyone involved was ready to move on, the shop was closed. At that point, I’d built up enough experience and expertise that I was able to become an independent eCommerce consultant.
In 2016, I connected with a few friends who wanted to do some design and development work. We decided pretty quickly to start an agency. One day, we were sitting on a video call trying to figure out next steps. One of our first questions was, “What do we call ourselves?” Two of the three of us were eating tacos, and it was literally that simple. I bought the Tako Agency domain right then and there.
We got our first client within days of registering the business, and it was kind of a big one, so we were pretty nervous. We got everything done and it was a really successful project. Everything else stemmed from that!
How did you manage to get such a big client straight out of the gate?
Well, I was also a freelancer doing project management consulting and PM work for other agencies. There was a client that came across me on Upwork and extended an invite for a PM job, but once I saw what they were doing, I realized they needed design, development...all that. The Tako guys and I put together a pitch deck and we got ‘em! That project really sharpened my PM skills.
Circling back to something that piqued my interest earlier: you mentioned that you hated your sales job at AT&T. It sounds like it was more the bureaucracy that got to you than the job itself. Now that you own your own company, how do you feel about sales being a large part of your job?
That’s a great question. When I stepped away from AT&T and started freelancing, I wasn’t selling products anymore, but I had to sell myself. When you’re contracting, no one’s ever going to just look at you and be like, “You’re hired.” You have to sell them on your expertise.
By the time I started Tako, that kind of came naturally to me. The real struggle is finding a team that is passionate enough about your business that they can “sell it” like you can. When you start a company and put everything into it like I have, it’s like your firstborn child. No one’s ever going to love your child like you do.
I was really fortunate to find Grace [Tako’s Creative Director]. I believe that her passion for the agency and what we’re doing for our clients mirrors mine, and that’s what drives her to wrangle everything and push things forward internally. That kicks me in the ass with motivation, and it’s like a cycle.
That said, I would love to find someone who can take over my sales responsibilities so I can focus on high-level creative ideas. We’ve tried, but it’s just so hard to find someone who knows all the ins and outs and can sell like me, while staying honest and organic (read: not “sales-y”). If I could clone Grace four times over, she’d have four different jobs, and one of them would be sales. [laughs]
Speaking of creative ideas, when do you feel most creative?
My creative juices really get flowing in the morning. I make a cup of coffee and walk my dog. Whether I’m listening to a podcast or just taking in my environment, the mornings are great because no one’s out and I can just clear my head.
I get that jumpstart in the morning and it doesn’t really stop for the rest of the day. I listen to a ton of podcasts and read a lot about what’s going on in tech throughout the day. A lot of my creative inspiration comes from just seeing all the weird and innovative stuff other people are doing, breaking down why they decided to do those things, and seeing the results in the market. Often I’m like, “Damn, I didn’t know people needed something like that!”
What’s the best part of being remote? The most challenging?
The best part is that I get to be with my dog Buddi all the time. That’s literally not a joke; he’s my sanity. Having another soul in the house reminds me not to stay glued to my computer 24/7.
He’s also a big part of the reason I decided to stay remote. Buddi reminds me of my commitment to myself that I’d never step foot in another office. Having the flexibility to take him to the vet or take care of other life things is extremely important to me.
The most challenging thing is creating boundaries between work and regular life. I do have a few ways of combating that, like I don’t do anything in my office that isn’t work-related, and I try not to do work stuff in other areas of the house. I also make it a point to completely turn off my computer at the end of the day so I’m not tempted to just “hop on and take care of things” after hours.
Do you have a “favorite project” you’ve ever worked on at Tako?
I’d say the Sparetoolz app because it was our internal project. We could do things on our own timeline and in our own way. That was really fun. It’s also just a straight-up good idea.
Who are three professionals, mentors, or other people you admire?
This is a really hard one for me! I am constantly listening to and reading about incredible people in [the tech space] and others. Tim Ferriss and Gary Vaynerchuck are two that I listen to a lot, but I don’t have a favorite. I admire anyone who can talk openly about their failures and practice what they preach.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’ve been focusing a lot on my Tako Talk podcast recently, so that’s the biggest one, but I also love spending time with my dog and my girlfriend. Cooking is big for me. I’m vegan, and the fact that something is vegan doesn’t automatically mean it’s healthy--so it’s fun to try new things and make healthy plant-based meals.
Virtually everyone at Tako is a high energy overachiever--what side project are you working on right now?
See above! [laughs] Other than the podcast, I’m really just focusing on growing Tako, both internally and externally.
And the final question we ask ALL the Tako Stand guests...what’s your favorite taco filling?
I just love avocados. Give me any kind of [plant-based] taco and put an avocado in there, and I’m a happy camper.
Thanks for the chat, Z! Next up, we'll connect with Tako's Creative Director, Grace. Keep an eye out for that post, coming next month. :)