Entrepreneur Tina Roth Eisenberg Shares the Details of Tattly’s Beginnings

Starting a business is easier said than done—from startup costs to finding suppliers and endless unexpected challenges. This week we’re chatting with Tina Roth Eisenberg, founder of Tattly, to learn more about the nitty gritty of how she took the idea for a temporary tattoo company and turned it into a reality.

Read part 1 and part 2 of Tattly’s journey.

Let’s talk startup costs. Can you provide a breakdown of what costs went into getting Tattly started?

Tina Roth Eisenberg: Because I am a graphic designer I was able to do all of the branding, web design and packaging design myself. Graphic designers have a huge advantage starting a business in that regard. The most substantial cost was getting the e-commerce site developed and printing the first round of tattoos. All in all I was able to launch Tattly with $15k savings.

Did you have investors? If so, how did you work to line them up?

Tina Roth Eisenberg: No. I have bootstrapped Tattly from the beginning. I am proud of that.

What was your biggest expense in founding Tattly? What ended up being way more affordable than you’d imagined?

Tina Roth Eisenberg: If I would have known how many employees you need to run a business like Tattly I am not sure I would have dared to get started. We are 12 full-timers right now and have 4 helpers. We could easily hire another 3-4 people to help with the workload. As a result, salaries comprise a larger chunk of the expenses.

Also, business software is really expensive. I remember getting quotes for the ERP software to keep track of our inventory, orders and accounting. I nearly fell off my chair when we got the quote. It currently does run us about $20k a year.

I can’t think of anything that is more affordable than I expected.

What resources were the most helpful in getting the business started—websites, magazines, software, etc.?

Tina Roth Eisenberg: Friends who have started similar businesses were the most helpful. I couldn’t have done it without them. Talking to other small business owners and asking them for advice around specific topics is my way of doing research and overcoming obstacles. Of course you can Google specific topics, but nothing beats advice from a trusted source over coffee.

How did you go about finding suppliers? Who did/do you work with?

Tina Roth Eisenberg: We obviously did deep Google searches but best is always to ask friends for recommendations. We’ve been very lucky with our suppliers, with one exception. We had one that lied to us about where the product was manufactured. That was a rough roller coaster ride and called for some serious damage control with our customers. We were honest and apologized to our customers.

In the beginning, where were Tattly products stored and how were they shipped? How has this changed?

Tina Roth Eisenberg: We have always shipped our products ourselves. We have never used a fulfillment house. I considered going that route in the beginning  but realized that I wanted to control the entire experience. I also wanted our opening price point to be $5, but. as soon as you move to a professional fulfillment house an order needs to be at least $15 for it to be financially feasible.

It’s important to me that a shipment from Tattly feels like mail from a friend. In the beginning we used real stamps on our mailers to help create that feeling. My team fought hard to get me off my stamp obsession. Eventually I gave in, as we needed to be able to track packages.

How do you manage getting the rights to the images that designers and artists create for you? How do you arrange payments with artists?

Tina Roth Eisenberg: I approach artists and ask them if I could license specific designs. If they are interested, I’ll send them our license agreement. We pay a generous commission which is above industry standard and we’re proud of that. We built our own artist back-end that ties into Netsuite, our inventory and bookkeeping software. We pay our artists quarterly right via our back-end, with a click of a button. I don’t miss the days when we calculated the royalties with spreadsheets and paid each artist via PayPal.  

The tattoos themselves look really cool, and the packaging only enhances them and really gives it a modern look. Who did you turn to for packaging your products?

Tina Roth Eisenberg: We work with AM LItho on our packaging. They have been a fantastic printing partner. And I like that they care about sustainability and use renewable energy as much as they can.

How do you feel that the packaging for Tattly is successful in communicating the values and mission of your brand?

Tina Roth Eisenberg: I care about clean, thoughtful, high-quality design. I believe our packaging design reflects that.

Give us an idea of your timeline. When did you first get the idea for Tattly, start hiring people, line up suppliers, etc. all the way to having physical products to sell?

Tina Roth Eisenberg:

2011

  • April – I had the idea for Tattly after my daughter brought home hideous temporary tattoos. I started researching suppliers, reaching out to artists and started working on the brand Tattly and website.
  • May – I spent my savings on the developers building the site and ran out of money to do the actual print run of the tattoos. Rusty, who worked with me in my design studio, came up with the idea of a ‘Bonus Tattly’ in every order and that it could be sponsored. We approached MailChimp about being our first partner for this and they were game. The first two months of orders included a super cool chimp wearing curlers designed by Mr. Bingo and sponsored by MailChimp. Without the support of MailChimp Tattly might not exist right now. We still have the tradition of a Bonus Tattly in every online order!
  • JulyTattly launches on July 12th, 2011 with 16 designs. It all happened with the help of Yoko and Rusty, both of whom were working part of my design studio. We had over 100 orders on the first day.
  • August – We get proper shelving to store all of our inventory.
  • September – We create wholesale packaging and ship our first wholesale order to Dewey’s, a candy store down the street from our Brooklyn office. Shortly thereafter we shipped our first Australian wholesale order. And we hired our first intern to help us with shipping.
  • October – We filmed our first Tattly commercial with the team of Made by Hand.
  • November – We really really loved putting beautiful stamps on our packages in the very beginning.

2012

  • JanuaryTattly moves into its own office space, down the hall from the first design studio/co-working space. It was so exciting, we documented it! For example, we moved a Tattly display down the hall. And here’s a timelapse of the move in. – We were mentioned in the German Magazine PAGE, which we believe is the first (of many) printed magazine mentions.
  • February  – We shipped our 10,000th online order.
  • March – The custom Tattly department is born thanks to an inquiry by the head of marketing at Brooklyn Brewery. The design was by no other than design legend Milton Glaser. (Custom designs can be seen in our online archive.)
  • May – When we grow, so does the need for organization. Here is Bekka getting us organized and putting up a wall with the upcoming launches.
  • July – We hired one more full-time team member and hire part-time helpers for packing and assembly. It’s getting tight at Tattly HQ. – We start the tradition of having a 50% off sale on our birthday. We can barely keep up shipping orders. – We launch the impressive Everything Set with 242 Tattly. When we launched Tattly we had an everything set with the 16 designs we launched with, we figured we should keep going.
  • August – We have our first booth at a tradeshow: the Gift Fair in NYC. We were mobbed the entire time. This is the team right after we set up. (Also, what a hideous booth.)
  • October – We are expanding Tattly HQ and are breaking through to the space next door. – We got invited to meet with folks at Martha Stewart HQ. We were giddy. And nervous. We ended up working a Martha Stewart Wedding event. This kicked off Tattly events. – Tattly was invited to have a booth at the prestigious Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards. – We hire Sarah Anderson to be in charge of our Wholesale orders. And Natalie Mollaghan to handle the online orders. The team is now 5. – We are bursting out of our seams and are renting a sad windowless space down the hall, as storage space and photo space.  
  • December – Major upgrade for the online shipping department: Super fancy fulfillment station.

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

  • January – Tattly made the official Women’s’ March Tattoos and handed them out in NYC and DC. – We sign with prestigious rep group Keena. – We have a booth at the Atlanta Gift show for the first time. – With Keena we are present at Gift Shows in Las Vegas and SF
  • FebruaryTattly partnered with Vogue and launches vintage designs in the honor of the Magazine’s 125th anniversary
  • March – We reached $1million in paid out artist royalties since our launch.
  • April – We sign with rep group Anne McGilvray & Co.