In our season one closer of Someday List, Cameron Koczon (Fictive Kin) sits down to interview Tina Roth Eisenberg, perhaps better known as SwissMiss, the creative force behind CreativeMornings, founder of Tattly, and of course, the co-creator of TeuxDeux. Together, they talk about building heart-open companies, learning to let go as a founder, and creating a sustainable work-life balance while running multiple businesses and parenting, on top of a global pandemic.
Listen to the episode or check out some interview highlights below:
One of the things that caught me on one of your calls, you said you wake up at 4:30 every morning. I was curious if you still wake up at 4:30 every morning and if you could take me through a typical day in the life.
No, it is no longer 4:30. I'm still a morning person but I really do feel like the pandemic, everything has been upside down. I still get up fairly early but I go to bed ridiculously early. I'm the first one to check out and it's hilarious. When the kids aren't with me, because I co-parent, I'm in bed by nine, but then I'm up at 5:30 but I just want manage to wake up. I'm one of those annoying morning people. When we used to co-work, I used to get up super early and jump out of bed and go straight to the computer and work for an hour before the kids got up and while those days are gone, I've found a bit more of a balance of just waking up and easing into the day and meditating. So I'm grateful that I've gotten a bit healthier.
I really don't have a typical day but I would say I take my dog to the dog park which has been amazing. I adopted a dog 10 months ago and it has been a really good ritual for me to force me to get out the door. I go to the dog park and then walk to the office. I would say I start working at 9:00, 9:30 and then I usually stop working around 5:30. Back in the days when you knew me, I think it was the hustle culture days, the glorified hustle. As I'm getting older, and I think with what's been happening in society the past few years that just have been hard, I feel like there's been a bit more flowing with my day. Working more gently with what's coming my way. I don't know, I'm just not forcing it as hard anymore as I used to.
I didn't know you meditated. Is there a specific type of meditation that you do?
I just started out with some guided meditations that I would find online and do those for a while. Eventually, I cherry-picked pieces of it that really resonated with me and then created my own way of meditating and I must say, there was a time especially before the pandemic where it was just the thing I needed to do. Some friends are runners and they tell me, "I can't go without my morning run." I always wished that would happen to me one day. I've never had that with physical exercise, but I would sense it if I, for some reason, couldn't meditate that day.
Unfortunately, the pandemic was extremely challenging. I run multiple businesses and it was just extremely hard and I feel like I lost it a bit and I'm just now coming back into it. And interestingly enough a lot of my friends that meditate too had a hard time with what I call dropping in. So I'm trying not to be hard on myself but I do feel, when I have a solid meditation routine, there's a grounded-ness and a calmness, that I operate from. It makes everything better; it makes life better, it makes work better, it makes parenting better.
With CreativeMornings, CreativeGuild and Tattly, do you wake up and fight whatever fire is right in front of you? Or do you time block, like the first two hours are Tattly, and then CreativeMornings? How does that go?
I admire people who are extremely structured. I am not. I'm like, whoever screams the loudest, whatever is the most urgent, and I don't wanna say that my day is dramatically frazzled. It's just there's a flow to it. I know certain deadlines are looming, I know certain people need help and I just can't work with extreme, tight structures.
For example, the one thing I think of is Jessica Hische. She used to have admin Mondays which I aspire to, that's so cool! It just doesn't work for me, and I'm not frazzled when it comes to working, it's just I have given into the fact that it's more of a flowing way of what needs to get done.
Do you treat them as one big team or does each team feel like it's its own thing, with its own culture?
Before the pandemic, my two companies, CreativeMornings and Tattly, were sharing one big, open loft space and the companies were very clearly on their own and autonomous, but there was a shared community feeling when it came to lunches or birthdays. I actually loved the fact that even though they were separate, there was a community feeling amongst the team. At the end of the day, there was a lot of overlap in terms of just celebrating creativity and that was very cool.
In 2019, I really hit the stride of speaking about how I led my companies. The way I set up my companies spatially, my whole ethos around running companies, was all about the joy of being in community with each other and it's also my superpower. It's what I'm really good at. I was invited to speak at really big tech companies and internal conferences and I was paid a lot of money and I was like, oh my God, this is happening, this is so weird! Then the pandemic happened and we became a remote company and to me that was the biggest shock to my system, having to adapt to remote working. While I mourn the in-person, I also see the incredible advantages and the beauty of being a remote company
I was in physical pain for the first few months. I would log off a zoom meeting and literally be in tears. Viscerally, I had a very hard time dealing with it, feeling very disconnected from my team. But now, what is it two and a half years later? I just eventually realized that I can't swim upstream. I can't fight what is unfolding and I think a lot of life and business is just that. You need to eventually just go with the flow and realize okay, we are becoming a remote company, which makes sense for what we are. We have events and chapters all over the world, so it makes sense that we are that. To me, that has been one of the biggest changes and this's totally not what you asked.
Let's keep going that way. The shift to even having CreativeMornings be virtual, it felt like you were on that pretty quickly. I noticed that you're live again in New York and curious, generally, how you feel about in-person versus virtual after two years of this.
So, for people that don't know, CreativeMornings is a lecture series that I started in New York, which is basically the community I wish existed when I moved to New York and didn't know anyone. I'm a trained designer and I built it on the premise that I believe in face-to-face connection, that real connection is made face-to-face and not behind the screen. That's what it was built on. So, for 11 years we've been running CreativeMornings and it's grown into a completely global phenomenon, run by thousands of volunteers around the world, and then the pandemic hits.
We are literally the world's largest face-to-face creative community and a global pandemic hits that doesn't allow us to meet up. The whole notion of our organization is to meet up face-to-face. To be honest, I was in such complete denial and shock when it happened. I realize now what blinders I had on, as a founder of this organization, because I would've never touched a virtual event with a 10 foot pole. I would've never allowed it to have the name CreativeMornings on it because it was not what I believed in. I didn't believe connection can be made, deep connection can be made, virtually.
But then, this is the magic of CreativeMornings and our volunteers, three of our chapters, in April, put on the most amazing, thoughtful, curated heart opening events. They just moved it to virtual. And I remember sitting there, bawling my eyes out because I realized I was wrong. Here we were for years, teaching new hosts how to put on thoughtful, in-person events, what the elements are of gathering community in person. We had to instantly switch to okay, what does a CreativeMornings feel like virtually? What are the elements that we can translate? What has to be redefined? It was a huge undertaking to help our hosts to serve their community and we really did an amazing job.
I had this one moment with Baratunde Thurston, he was our second virtual guest and we really highly-produced our New York city events. I mean, they were just a heavy lift but we wanted to create events where people log off afterwards and they're buzzing. And I remember Baratunde Thurston, we had a big pre-opening program, I introduced him and then he just gushed for about three minutes that he's been on all the zooms, but this zoom takes the cake, and I remember sitting there and going, we did it! Then, companies came to us asking if we can teach them how to put on impactful, heart-opening, online events. It was a testament to me and my team, that we really know what we're doing and it actually doesn't have to be in-person.
I don't know if you think about this, Cameron, or if the pandemic had the same impact on you, but I am now consistently looking at my lens on my company. Where else do I have blinders on? Where else is there incredible opportunity that I'm not allowing in? While we are moving back to in real life, there is now a new digital event series that came out of the pandemic that we call FieldTrips, which is literally a peer-to-peer learning university from our community, where our community steps up and says, "I'm good at yoga and I'm gonna teach it" or "I'm good at SEO," whatever it is, and these events are incredible. If you attend them you go, how in the world did we never consider this could happen?
As I'm getting older, and I think with what's been happening in society the past few years that just have been hard, I feel like there's been a bit more flowing with my day. Working more gently with what's coming my way.
Now that you've been running businesses for so long, is there any advice you would go back and give yourself?
Oh, so much. I really must say my personal insecurity, when I started hiring people and I became a boss and an entrepreneur, my insecurities around am I doing it right? I just wish I could go back to the younger version of me and say, "Tina just trust your intuition." There is no right or wrong. And that's what I was talking about when I said earlier, that I was invited to speak at these giant tech companies, internal conferences, to talk about how I lead my businesses. And it's so simple, Cameron.
Sometimes, I stand there and look at my slides and go, really? We really have to talk about the fact that work should be joyful? That aspiring to have a joyful environment is such big news? My intuition told me that it is okay to have a very loving way of leading a company. And I feel like there is now a real trend to talk about heart-centered leadership which is something I always wanted to intuitively do and have done, but I felt very insecure at the time. I felt almost ridiculous a little bit like oh, there she is, she has no idea what she's doing and what are you talking about love and joy and fun at work?
I still think the reason why I was able to attract such incredible people in my life, in my teams, and such purpose-driven, smart, thoughtful, resourceful humans that are gonna be friends for life is because there was a human factor in how I ran my companies. You didn't have to put on facade coming into work. I wanted the full person, the real deal, and I just think that's where companies also need to head more and more, especially now with people working more from home.
You mentioned, at the beginning, you have some really great teams. Does everything have a CEO?
No. Tattly, I hired a CEO about a year ago because I realized I really needed to focus on CreativeMornings. While I love Tattly, I just knew at the end of the day CreativeMornings is my legacy and it's just where my heart is. That's why I found an incredible person with so much experience that took on Tattly. That was a real moment for me, of letting go, because I was the CEO of both companies and I'm still the CEO of CreativeMornings.
You have this thing, I don't know if you still stick with it, but if you're complaining about something you have two choices: do something or let it go. I was curious about your general approach to about letting go in general, and then maybe letting go as it pertains to Tattly.
I feel like not a lot of founders talk about the process of selling a company and what happens afterwards. And it was interesting, there were a lot of big name founders that sold their businesses that reached out to me saying, "Hey do you wanna talk about the feelings?" A lot of them explained long and hard processes of working through their emotions and I really think I've done so much work, I've literally worked with coaches and therapists in the letting go process for years, that once it's actually here, I am done. I am also very lucky that I was able to pass my labor of love to someone that I know it's in really good hands. So it's an ideal situation.
It's like grieving. I lost my dad last year, and my sister and I have a very healthy approach to death. Our dad talked about past lives all the time, so there's a lot of spiritual background in the way we approach life and we were, you know, saying goodbye to him slowly but surely. I was really at peace knowing he's in a better place but I noticed, when I came back, so many people approached me and they were in so much pain just being reminded of their own loss, maybe they didn't have closure.
In general, I think learning to accept something moving on, letting go, is such a big part of living a happy and content life. I'm just thinking, my daughter is gonna go to college in two years and I know I am going to work over the next two years to be ready for that. I cannot be a basket case after she leaves. I just can't, you know?
Something happened to me when my son was born where I reframed, okay, I own this business or I'm growing this business and then in my head, he became the audience a little bit. Your kids are older and they've seen all the amazing things that you've done. Do you feel like that comes through? Are your kids aware of what you're doing and what you're up to?
I think they're aware, and their dad also runs his own business. It's very similar to how I grew up. Both my parents were entrepreneurs and I think, sometimes, as a kid you don't realize how unique it actually is. I remember when Tattly was featured on Good Morning America a few years back, I watched it together with my daughter. My daughter was the reason why I started the business. She inspired me to do it, and they said that on TV and then we both teared up watching this on national television and then she said, "Mom, never sell the business. I wanna run it one day." Granted, she was very small but that's the kind of stuff that sticks in your heart as a parent.
So, when I did tell her that I'm about to sell the business, I asked her, are you sad about it? And she's like a little bit, but I said it's really important to me that the legacy lives on and I know it's in good hands right now. And I said, how fun is it gonna be in 20 years, if the brand is really big and is growing and you can say my mom started that and I kinda helped her. And again, it's letting go, right? This is her first taste of having to learn to let go.
I just think it's really cool when you run your own businesses and you can share about what's happening with your kids. On a trip, there was a moment where we noticed someone's behavior, and I looked at my kids and I said this would be a data point that I would never hire this person. And they were like what? I consistently talk to my kids about how I think about hiring, or don't just do the bare minimum, show up and think with me. I really love that I'm able to give my kids a lens of lessons I've learned through running businesses. They love coming into my offices and I always tell them, don't you think this is the real normal deal because this is not normal. And I can't wait for them go to a really shitty internship at one point in cubicle land, no light, no nice people and come back and go wait a second, but isn't work fun?
I'm sure you get asked all the time, how do you get it all done? Does it feel different on the inside than people perceive from the outside?
I feel like I've chilled out massively. I got so much done when you and I were working together because I only had a certain amount of hours where my nanny was at home and my kids were small. Productivity ninja, but I also collapsed every night and I'm just not willing to work my body as hard anymore. There just has to be a bit more flow. There's a lot of prioritization that I am doing now I like where I'm really asking myself, do I need to go? Is this important? I don't think I'm the only one that is doing that. There is a lightness or a, I don't know, a sifting that's happening amongst my friends and peers as well.
Is there anything that makes you feel like you're done for the day? Do you actually just stick to the clock? Obviously, when you're at the end of your day, there's still a huge pile of of things for you to do.
When I say I end at 5:30, again, I'm not that strict. I have a bit of an ebb and flow. So I co-parent and when I don't have the kids, I am way more flexible with my day and oftentimes, I do have much longer days but I'm okay with that because then I compensate for when I have the kids and I work a little less. To me, it's down to a bit of an energy-gauging of where I'm at.
I don't know what I would do without TeuxDeux. It is my daily savior, it really is. And I have hacked my own way of using it where at the very top, I put in "Urgent" and I have the things that are urgent. They get the 🚨 emoji, those I have to get done every day. And then, below I have a category of next up, but the ones with the sirens, I cannot close my computer until they're done. Those have to be done. I really think, even as employers and you're an employer, we need to allow our team members to be more fluid in getting the work done when they feel like they're most productive. Forcing people into eight hours a day in certain hours, it's just not the way to go.
Let me segue with some TeuxDeux questions just to bring us home. My memory from back in the day was that you would go for the big pile of items and then the next few days, you don't really mess around with them too much.
I used TeuxDeux in my day to day, like during a conversation, you mentioned a book, I just throw it in TeuxDeux. I see an article, I know I wanna blog it, I put it in my TeuxDeux and I just write "blog" in front of it and then the link. Every day I need to do TeuxDeux hygiene which is basically cleaning it up. I have a "Blog" bucket in the Someday section but sometimes, I don't have the time to do my digital hygiene and then, if a few days accumulate, I have this really long today.
That's why I need the header sections, so I have to visually tell myself, Okay, everything above with the alarms, those are the things I have to get done. I feel like I'm a bit messy, probably, in how I use it but it just works for me because the most important part for me is that it is out of my head. I throw it into today, I know I will not forget it or miss it because it's in there and that is the thing that lets me sleep at night.
Do you use it in work? Would you have one for Tattly and one for CreativeMornings?
I just have Someday lists with CreativeMornings and also, I clearly mark what is what, like I use 🌈 emojis for CreativeMornings. I think it's because I started using Notion heavily which is so visual that the emojis really helped me separate the different tasks or types of tasks.
Are there any other Somedays that you think are unique or quirky, in terms of what might be there?
I keep a list of stuff I wanna blog which is just such an easy way to collect those things and then I have a list of places I want to travel to, you know, whenever I see someone I follow on Instagram and was like I wanna go there. And then, when vacation planning comes around I go through the list. It's just such a lightweight way. I love Notion, but Notion is so much heavier.
I have one that is titled "Introductions." When people have made introductions with me to someone, my pet peeve is to drop the ball on it and then I don't wanna make my friends look bad because they introduced me to someone. So every now and then, I look there and if a name doesn't ring a bell, it's like, oh my God, did I drop the ball on that one? And also for closing the loop. It's really nice to go back to the friend that introduced you and say Hey, by the way, such and such came out of this introduction, I just wanna thank you. That's one that I've cherished as well.
I'm just so grateful that you and your team are maintaining TeuxDeux the way you are. It's so funny how this app came out of a lunch conversation between the two of us and it's been how how long is it? Not 2000. It's 11 years and I don't know what I would do without it. I really don't.
You embody this thing where if you give in order to give, you get back even more. I remember that going back all the way to our early times as studio-mates back in the day, and just want to say thank you again for giving your time today. It's been really nice to just catch up for an hour and change. Thanks, Tina.
Let's do regular podcast interviews. If this gets us to chat for two hours, I'll hit subscribe, Cameron!