An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I wish I found a mentor to guide me. Sometimes it’s very hard to do it on my own. But I have found when I get stuck, I am happy to hire outside help.

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Tufaro Nolley.

Tiny Easel was developed by Jennifer Nolley, a mom of three with a master’s in interior design with a love for painting on her own and with her kids, looking for approachable art supplies and art activities for her kids. Why Tiny Easel? The name takes on several meanings…creating small, less-intimidating art, for kids of all skill levels, while achieving a small masterpiece with the hope of developing a love and appreciation for art and design!

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

Art has always been a part of my life. I grew up with dyslexia, school was always a challenge; my art classes and being creative were always such a comfort and a source of happiness. One of my earliest memories of painting with watercolors was with my mom and sisters, painting by the water on vacation. We would get up early to paint together. For me, art was such an important part of growing up.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite “Life Lesson Quote” would be from Oprah “Be still and the answers will come…” I think about this often when I struggle making decisions. In a household with three kids and two working parents, we’re in a state of constant motion, it’s loud, it’s chaotic and when faced with challenges, it isn’t intuitive to create a moment of inner calmness to make a decision. I have recently started to embrace this more.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Movies are a big part of our home. My husband and I both worked in the film industry and met on a movie. Wes Anderson films are my favorite. As for Wes’ style, although they are so design-heavy, there’s such a handmade and even child-like quality to the world in which they exist. You get the feeling that every detail is somehow sourced from something in his childhood. In film school, I visited Cinecitta, the famous Italian film studio. I had the opportunity to visit the Art Department for The Life Aquatic and meet the designer. This was a very important moment for me as it not only reinforced my love of film design and art direction, but it showed me that there is a world where one can be creative professionally.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

I spent a good couple of years stirring up various creative ideas with the hope of finding something that would bring me joy and fulfillment. It wasn’t until I had my 3rd kid, George, when a light bulb went off. As a mom who always enjoyed arts and crafts with my kids, it quickly became stressful leaving my kids to create independently while being with my newborn. Like a lot of popular products, mine was born out of my own genuine need for something that didn’t exist: a quality art experience with affordable supplies that are safe and re-usable; one that doesn’t require arms-length supervision. I immediately saw an opportunity to develop something fun and inspiring for my kids while always keeping parents in mind… leading to specialty art kits with original activities, washable, toxic-free supplies, a splat mat and spill-proof water cup.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

I knew what I was looking for and couldn’t find it available… so I need to make it myself. My kids are the best resources, along with all of the local museums, parks and children’s activities in Baltimore which inspired me to create the drawings for the watercolor books. We tested several supplies to find the perfect ones making sure that they could be fun for kids starting at the age of 3 and be stimulating enough for kids up to age 12. Using bright, vibrant watercolors, a variety of tools and simple techniques, using crayon resist, watercolor crayons, watercolor pencils, masking tape and more, kids can enjoy the process, at any skill level.

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

To keep my budget as low as possible, I tried to do everything myself until I couldn’t. One of the things I am very proud of is I got a registered Trademark for my name, Tiny Easel… without a lawyer! I did it myself, and you can too. I will say, my brother-in-law did encourage me to do that, and gave me a few pointers which gave me the confidence to go ahead on my own.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?

  1. Go with your gut. Sometimes I find myself making decisions when I feel rushed, or someone suggests something I should make that doesn’t feel right… those items usually don’t sell well.
  2. Always get a sample. Again, when I try to rush something and don’t pay attention to every detail, usually something isn’t quite right.
  3. To help with communication, always provide examples in writing and visuals/ sketches. I communicate with my manufacturers in China via email very early in the morning and very late at night, which can be tough when making design decisions. It always helps when I provide descriptions in writing and with an image or sketch to be on the same page.
  4. Research the right platform to use. I chose one that was user-friendly and easy for me to update. But I don’t think it is as good for customers… and doesn’t provide as many selling options. Because it’s hard to transition from platform to platform, make sure you research the ease of use for you as the founder, but also the ease of use for your customers.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I wish I found a mentor to guide me. Sometimes it’s very hard to do it on my own. But I have found when I get stuck, I am happy to hire outside help.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Figure out your brand and mission first. Then, write down your mission and keep coming back to it every day. Every time you are faced with a company decision, ask yourself “Does this choice align with my mission?” If the answer is “No” then you’re at risk of compromising your brand and short selling your followers. My mission is to make art fun for kids and easy for parents.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

With any creative idea, I personally think it is best to write down your idea, develop it as far as you can go until you can’t. Then, I think it’s good to hire the necessary help.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

I wish I knew the answer to this one. I have continued to work within my budget without any outside funding. That is what works for me, but to grow, I do believe at some point I will need to look for outside resources. And when that time comes, I will make sure to find partners who align with the goals of Tiny Easel.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

My hope is to provide an accessible art experience for kids, of all skill levels, so that they can enjoy creating without the pressure of a final product. I want kids to find joy and satisfaction in the process. I think creative kids will make the world a better place.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I really find it very helpful as a busy mom to find a creative space, whether it is to create a business or just to have some time to reflect. I also think within the mom community, it’s important to lift each other up. What I have loved about starting a small business is how supportive this mom and creative community has been in giving me the courage to keep going. My movement would be to create something and go for it. You will learn along the way.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

As a longtime fan of Shark Tank, I would be lying if I didn’t say it sparked something in me to create a product. I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Lori Greiner. As a successful woman entrepreneur, who started with one idea and turned it into a multi-million-dollar brand, I would love to get her thoughts on how to scale my business.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Making Something From Nothing: Jennifer Nolley Of Tiny Easel On How To Go From Idea To Launch was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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