Interview with Tina Roth Eisenberg, Creator of Swissmiss

Apartment Therapy Design Evenings

We enjoyed another lively design evening here in NYC with our May guest, Tina Roth Eisenberg, Creator of Swissmiss! Read more about our evening below, and be sure to check out our two "How-To" presentations - Alvaro's Pendant Lamp and Maxwell's Clementine Candle.

Interview Transcript

Maxwell:
First, let me give a big shout out to ABC, as well as Bottari wines. Every month they change the wine offering, so if you like it this month, ask them about it.
Earlier we had two How-To presentations. They'll be up tomorrow at 3:30 and 4:00pm on the site.

Exciting news this month on Apartment Therapy: it's kitchen & bath month! All of our writers are putting together their dream kitchens and baths in an inspiration board and linking to all of the items. They'll be about 100 up by the time we're done, so check it out.

Also, this week we launched our new Classified system. We originally launched in 2004 - it was super basic. Now, it's a bit more robust. Krrb is the new company we're partnering with. It has beautiful pics and great two-way conversations with buyers & sellers. You can find items locally very easily, it's very cool.

We also launched our new video series. Mon/Wed/Fri we'll be putting these up. They're super-short, 1-3 minute presentations. We're finding people around the country to be featured. The fellow featured today is an actor and a contractor. While we love blogging, with video you really get a sense of the person. It's the "Video" category on the left nav bar.

So, I'm delighted to introduce Tina Roth Eisenberg this month. Tina Roth Eisenberg is a Swiss designer gone NYC and is often referred to as swissmiss, her popular design blog. Besides running swissmiss, she organizes a monthly lecture/breakfast series called CreativeMornings, manages a collaborative workspace in DUMBO, is the force behind the simple, browser-based to-do app called TeuxDeux, and just recently launched Tattly, a design temporary tattoo shop.
Welcome, Tina.

Tina:
Thanks for having me.

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Maxwell:
So I realize as we're getting started here that it's much more fun talking 1:1 after having had a long dinner at your place just last week. And of course, if any of you are wondering, we had fondue!

First off, I'd like to talk a bit about your training and how you ended up in NYC.

Tina:
Sure. Well I'm trained as a graphics designer, and in my last year of university, I had the opportunity to do a three-month internship in San Francisco. I was really excited to go, but what really got me about the states wasn't SF, but I actually spent three days in New York, and right away I felt like I was home. I completely fell in love with it and knew I had to live here.

Maxwell:
What made you feel so at home in New York? A lot of people don't feel that way when they first get here.

Tina:
It's true, and there was actually no reason why I would. I come from a small town of 3,000 people in Switzerland. This image you see up here is the view from my childhood home - green, rolling fields, and cows. I'm a country girl. But I talk fast, I walk fast - all very un-Swiss, but very much NYC.

So I arrived here on a Monday night, and I had one interview lined up. He already had a Swiss graphics designer, but after speaking for two minutes, we clicked, I got the job, and he told me to start right away. This was 1999 and it was still the boom. So the timing was perfect as well.

Maxwell:
Did your love affair with NYC end quickly.

Tina:
Not at all. After two weeks on the job he offered me a full-time position. I called my parents and told them my stay would be extended to at least a year. Well, it went beyond that a bit, but of course, the job was downtown, and I pretty much lost it on 9/11.

Maxwell:
Where were you living at the time?

Tina:
I had signed a lease four days before the towers fell. It was a one-bedroom in Brooklyn, and I could barely afford it as it is. Without a job I wasn't sure what I was going to do.

Maxwell:
So when I met you, you had your own design studio. It's hard to do that - did you decide to start that due to these circumstances?

Tina:
You know, a lot of us have plans. And we wait for the perfect time to do exactly what we want. I got my green card so I really had no excuse. A lot of women have a kid and that derails plans once again. But actually, it did the opposite for me. I started my studio soon after my daughter, my first child, was born.

Maxwell:
Wait, we skipped over the part where you met your husband. This is a great story!

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Tina:
Ahh, okay. My husband and I met in an elevator. He tall and handsome, so I noticed him right away. It was also raining that day, so he had an umbrella. I had to act fast, so I asked him if, by any chance, he was walking towards the A train. He was. And nine months later, we were engaged.

Maxwell:
But tell them what happened the day after?

Tina:
Well you know, that first email after you meet someone is so crucial. The subject line from his email was, "It's still raining...." And then the body of the email said, "do you want to share an umbrella again?".

Maxwell:
It's a great story. So, you have your apartment, you've got your business started. And of course, your first child. Things grew and shifted as you went along. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Tina:
I was lucky in that I worked with great people at the beginning, and I learned a lot. I was determined to learn as much as I could about the web - remember, this was late '99 when I was starting, so things were still developing. So, I had a little web experience when I got to NYC, and that really helped.

At first I worked with a firm that was pretty well known (up there with Razorfish and March First). Having that kind of client work really jump-started my career.

Maxwell:
When I first discovered the swissmiss blog, I was immediately drawn to the highly curated products and images. At the time, it was so much more visual than other sites. In your day job you focused on numbers and data flow, so this was really the opposite.

Tina:
Yes, this definitely was my outlet, a way for me to express my creative side.
Remember, there was no Tumblr at the time (2005) - if there was I probably would have done that. I really started the blog because I'm terrible with remembering names. I'm very organized, but not with names. So, I really used the blog as my own personal Wikipedia. And it just grew from there.

Maxwell:
When was it clear to you that you weren't the only one looking at the site?

Tina:
My friend told me to check my stats. And once you start doing that, it becomes very addictive.

Maxwell:
How did you come up with the name swissmiss?

Tina:
Everyone here called me swissmiss. It was a pretty easy decision.

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SLIDES

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This is an image of the Swiss mountains. I love these cows (they have very fluffy ears). My town had 3,000 people, so it was a very protected existence.

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This is my crazy Aunt. She was a fashion designer by trade.

My parents are entrepreneurs, but my Aunt was a designer. I saw her drawing once and asked what she was doing. She said, "working". And I realized, right then, that you can do draw and make money.

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This is our family at Halloween - we were the superman family. I have to give a shout-out to my husband, as I really wouldn't be where I am without him. I tell all my female friends who are single how important a loving and supportive spouse is.

Being a mom has been very influential for me. When I had my son, I took a one-year sabbatical. It's actually extended a bit as well, as I only do my own work now, which I really love.

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8 Things I Believe In (And I Want to Teach My Kids)

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1. Find what you love. It sounds easy, but it's actually really hard. I hope my kids see that I've done that and it helps them a bit to find their own path.

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2. Don't be a complainer; make things better, let it go, or take action to make it better.

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Tattly is one of these examples. My daughter brought stick-on tattoos home from a birthday party last year - I was inspired to create something better, and we launched Tattly on July 12. The second day after launch a very prestigious modern art store called for a catalog (which of course we didn't have, but we figured it out!).
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My Tattly team of five, whom I call the Swiss Army. They enjoy the startup atmosphere. We ship out of DUMBO.

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This is an image of the Tattly space. On the left is our "warehouse", on the right, our "fulfillment center". I just marketed the product on my blog. And of course, I wear the tattoos.

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Maxwell:
Where do the designs come from?

Tina:
I reached out to some well-known designers. I'd blogged about them and finally I had a reason to reach out and work with them. Each designer gets 30% of every sale.

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This is one of my favorite quotes.

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3. Back to the list. Number three is Trust Your Intuition. We've gotten away from that quite a bit in our world. Listening to your gut is really important.

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4. If an opportunity scares you, take it. This is a scary one and difficult for some people, but it really is important to how I live my life. I was invited to speak at a conference in Seattle with a design firm some time ago. I was totally intimidated - some folks that I really admire were going to speak, and I just wasn't sure I was up to the task. But I did it, and it ended up being a great learning experience.

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5. Find and connect with like-minded people. This is part of why I created our coworking space, as well as Creative Mornings, which I started in 2000. It started in my studio, and now we get 250-300 people at each monthly session. It's free, and breakfast is provided. You hear a talk and then you go to work. It's actually extended to over 25 cities around the world, which is pretty amazing and exciting for me.

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Maxwell:
Your Creative Mornings totally inspired me. In fact, it was because of them that I changed this event name to "Design Evenings" after attending one of your events.

Tina:
Oh, thank you! You know, it's really hard to plan things at night, and I'm a morning person. I thought, let's grab people on their way to work. It's also really nice to get to meet people in real life.

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This is an image of our coworking studio. I rented a space in DUMBO and rented out desks. We now have about 30 people. It's called "Studiomates" and it's a very fun and friendly atmosphere.
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This is an image from a birthday party for one of our coworkers. We all dressed up like him for the day - it really threw him off, in a good way!

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6. Collaborate. This are images of Teux Deux. In fact, this was my home page for a while. We ended up turning it into a product for all and it went crazy after our launch. We then did an iPhone app and it totally took off.
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7. Ignore Haters. When you expose yourself, especially in the blogosphere, it can be difficult. You really have to just trust yourself, and steer clear of people who are tearing things down.

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This little guy strutting was a video on my blog. He says "Haters Gonna Hate". I love it, and ended up making him into one of our tattoos.

Maxwell:

Does he say anything else?
Tina:
Nope, just that.

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8. Inspire Others. I feel we all need to do this with and for others. It's reciprocal all around.

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Q&A WITH THE AUDIENCE

Maxwell:
So, for the first time, we decided to solicit questions beforehand. Here's the first one, from Victoria:

At what point did you stop taking on client work and just focus on your own business?
My son is now two. I stopped taking clients on soon after he was born.

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Hi Tina. This is just a big thank you to you and all you do. When I need inspiration I do a visual search and your blog often comes up. It's amazing - so, thank you.
Thank YOU!

Maxwell:
This is a question from Norah:

Tina, your blog is super. How do you find the things that you talk about and review?
I get a lot of great submissions every day. My readers know me best and really get it. Then I have blogs that I follow. I also love Twitter. And of course, things I see and overhear in daily life.

Maxwell:
What is your gut reaction to things you "love"? How do you define that?

Tina:
Things that are beautiful, and well thought out. I blog and I feel I own it. I don't need "stuff", per se, in my life. Blogging makes me feel that I know, and own it.

Hi Tina. Is there anything you underestimated when you started? What's the secret sauce?
Whatever gets you excited to get out of bed. Don't worry about a business model, making money, etc. Again, going back to my 8 points, do what you love and the rest will follows.

So that was similar to my question. I love what you said about surrounding yourself with great collaborators. What happens when you have doubts?
I turn to those I trust, and then I just keep going. If you really believe in it and others don't object, all should be good.

Maxwell:
Here's another submitted question, from Katie:

At what point did you start monetizing your blog?
I'm very careful about selling out. I really believe that if you're doing what you were meant to do it will all fall into place. So, getting an office was the first step. I was afraid I couldn't afford it, and the day I had to decide I got an email from a prestigious ad network that was offering me the exact money I needed. Things have a way of working themselves out. I'm constantly approached to do stuff, butr I'm very careful with what I actually engage in.

Maxwell:
I remember you asked me about ads and how it all works. I was happy to share, and I find most folks in our industry are the same way.

Okay, here's another one from Katie:

What were the first few concepts and steps after you dreamed up Tattly?
I'm lucky in that I'm a graphics person. So, I designed the site, which looks very polished. We teamed up with a great vendor for the transactions, and we were off and running.

Maxwell:
And here's one from Kate:

Do you see a common theme in your designs, and what do you think they say about you?
I just wanted to raise the bar on temporary tattoos. We really put smiles on people's faces with this product. We need to lighten up, in general, and this product really let's you do that.

Maxwell:
Thanks so much for being with us tonight, Tina.

Tina:
Thanks, Maxwell. It was a pleasure.

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• Special thanks to Kayne Elisabeth Rourke for transcribing our Meetup!
• Special thanks to our volunteers, Georgie Hambright & Kortnee Mcclendon!
• Images: Apartment Therapy




Thanks to our host and sponsor, ABC Carpet & Home!

The evening's wines are graciously donated by Boutari Winery!


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