Babs Szabo: Co-Founder of Emo Nite and Ride or Cry

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This week we spoke the swiss-army knife woman that is Babs Szabo. She’s had more jobs than we can count, and is the co-founder of not one, but two successful businesses. One is the powerhouse called Emo Nite, a live event that started in Los Angeles where Babs and the other two founders, T.J. and Morgan play music, people dance and sing-along, and are at times are joined by musicians of all sorts, including A-list performers like Demi Lovato, Post Malone, Noah Cyrus, and more. The other is the creative agency Ride or Cry that has done all sorts of innovative work for Universal, The Lumineers, and more. But enough from me—I’m sure you’re dying to hear how Babs has created all this opportunity for herself.  

What is your official job title?
My official job title is co-founder of Emo Nite and Ride or Cry.

What is the story of your career so far?
I've had a job ever since I was 16. My first job was at a pizza place called Tony Maroni's. While I was in community college, I worked at American Apparel, The Closet and Hardtail in visual merchandising, which is what I thought I would pursue as a career at the time. I also wrote for a couple of music blogs. I then moved to San Francisco to attend San Francisco State University for journalism and global peace and human rights studies. While there, I worked at Marc Jacobs as a sales associate but had to quit because they wouldn't let me work part time, and it was then that I got a job at Sony Music as a College Marketing Rep while working part time at Anthropologie and interning at Noise Pop.

Working at Sony Music meant being on the street team—I’d go to the shows, take photos, and write up a recap of how it went and how people responded. Through that, when I graduated, I got a job at CAA (Creative Artists Agency, one of the top talent agencies globally) as an assistant in Digital Strategy for about a year, then I moved over to Touring at CAA. I worked for younger music agents, and one of them was really heavily booking emo and pop punk stuff, so I got really into it. One of the tours I worked on was the Taking Back Sunday and The Used tour that they did together. That was the coolest thing ever. Even collecting ticket counts was so exciting.

I was there for about two years. I met T.J. (Petracca), who’s one of the other founders of Emo Nite and Ride or Cry, while I was at CAA. He was working at a company called Versus Digital doing social media digital strategy. I met him at a friend’s birthday and he said they were hiring. The same night that I met TJ, we sang Dashboard Confessional at karaoke together at this birthday party, and that sparked the idea for Emo Nite. I worked at Versus Digital for about a year. We did a bunch of really cool stuff there on social media for Coachella—we were the first company they ever brought in to actually run social media.

A few months into working at Versus we started Emo Nite. Morgan (Freed), who’s the third founder [of Emo Nite], worked in that same building, but not at the same company. We brought him in to start Emo Nite, which was supposed to be a one-time event at a bar, but four years later has turned into this crazy thing. A year into working at Versus we had to quit because we were spending so much time on Emo Nite. One time we had to leave [work] to go to KROQ (an LA radio station) to do an interview on Stryker. We quit our jobs on the same day, which was really scary, and we started Ride or Cry, a year into doing Emo Nite.

Emo Nite has been incredibly successful. Do you think it has revived emo culture?
I think it started off as tapping into the nostalgia of this music. When T.J. and I did Dashboard karaoke together, the next day we said, “There aren’t any bars in LA that play pop punk and emo.” That’s the kind of music we’d go home and listen to. In LA, it’s mostly EDM or hip hop or Top 40—all things I love—but we wanted to create a space where we could play the exact songs we’d play at home. The first event we did was at a dive bar called The Short Stop: it was a rainy Tuesday, but there was a line down the block. We didn’t do anything to promote it; we made a Facebook event. There were so many people out there that wanted to also get together and listen to this music.

We realized that yes, there’s a nostalgic element to what we do, but there were so many newer acts that were doing different things with this genre of music. I don’t know if you know Captain Cuts—they produce all the songs that are on the radio (I Got You, Shut Up and Dance, Tongue Tied) but they started mashing up pop-punk, hip-hop, and pop songs, and they made a mixtape they performed at Emo Nite. It was EDM, essentially, but pulling in these songs we grew up listening to. The SoundCloud emo rap culture is really thriving right now. There’s lil aaron, GOTHBOICLIQUE—those guys are doing really cool stuff. They’re sampling Panic (as in Panic!AtTheDisco, the popular band that actually started out in the emo music world) songs from their first album but rapping over it.

We’re trying to tap into different elements of what the genre has become or what it can be. I don’t want to say we’ve revived this culture because for us, especially, it never went away. But we’ve tapped into really interesting subgenres of this whole culture.

What’s one myth you’d like to debunk about emos?
The number one thing that isn’t true about emo people is that they’re sad. I realize we have a shirt that says “Sad as fuck,” and we’ve gotten a lot of hate on that because some say it’s glorifying depression or sadness. But then you look at our photos from Emo Nite and see someone in the crowd wearing a “Sad as fuck” shirt, smiling ear-to-ear. Emo music is more about owning your feelings and processing your emotions through this music and culture.

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What does your day-to-day work life look like?
It’s so, so all over the place. Last week (mid-February) I did an Emo Nite in Philly, so I flew out. We’re training local teams in different cities to run them so we don’t have to travel to all of them, so I went out to train our east coast rep, essentially. Tuesday we had our big LA event, our really big monthly one.

Even this week was super crazy because it was Pollstar (a conference about live entertainment created by the magazine of the same name), so yesterday I was on a panel with Kevin Lyman (owner of Kevin Lyman Group, his live event production company and brand strategy firm)—which is insane—about what the touring business has been like after Warped Tour (an annual rock festival started in 1995 that ended in 2018). I went to some Pollstar events. A lot of it is networking and meeting people who are in the same field that we are.

But normal weeks, which I feel are less frequent, I come to the office at 9:30 and I’m here ‘till 6. I spend most of my day emailing people. We design our merch, do inventory, book artists for different Emo Nites, talk to our agents about routing. On the Ride or Cry side of things, I’m overseeing 4 to 5 projects at a time, so coordinating with our social media coordinator, our graphic designers, our video guys, to make sure that these projects are managed efficiently.

In an interview you did for Nylon, you mentioned the problematic lyrics you’ve noticed in emo music regarding women. Do you think the trend persists today?
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any lyrical content that’s come out recently that’s as questionable as some of the songs from the past. I think that has changed. But maybe I don’t listen to a band that’s newer that does still write lyrics like that. But I think it’s less of a thing.

Why do you think there was this attitude towards women in emo lyrics?
I really do think it has a lot to do with the fact that a really, really large percentage of the musicians in this genre are men. It’s coming from that perspective. I think about this a lot. I don’t know if I am the right person to really dissect this because I’m not a man. I don’t know if those lyrics really spoke true to them—it must have if they put them out—at the time.

I think our society has evolved so much, especially through the #MeToo movement, and there’s a lot of educating out there to be done, to educate men on how to better express themselves and behave better. We’ve come a really long way. I almost wonder if they didn’t know better then, and now there’s a total shift in the mindset of men in society in general. There are quite a few emo or pop-punk bands with females in them. Within the music industry itself there are a ton of really cool women that I look up to and work with who are changing so many things.

Can you give an example of a change that might have impacted the industry?
At the end of last year Jenny [Reader] became the vice president of Fearless Records. It’s kind of sad that something like that stands out as being unusual, but when I saw that I was like, “Yes! That’s awesome!” She’s kicking ass. She worked really hard to get there. They’re letting females take on leadership roles that they’re way more than capable of doing.

When I attended Emo Nite I saw first-hand the incredibly friendly atmosphere there. How do you foster that?
That’s really our focus, to create a community that’s really accepting and is made up of people who are there for each other. We’ve seen people meet at Emo Nite and get engaged, we’ve seen groups of friends be made. They like being in line for hours because that’s the one day a month they get to hang out because they live in San Diego or Orange County or wherever. In the four years we’ve done Emo Nite, there’s been one fight. That’s crazy. I feel like sometimes I’ll go to random shows and there’s always aggressive people. Every Emo Nite, at least once, I hear people say, “Wow, everyone here is so nice.”

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As for Ride or Cry: what experience prepared you best to run a creative agency?
Working at CAA was pretty much a crash course in doing anything. When I left, I felt ready to take over the world because it was such a crazy job. I worked fourteen-hour days, and some days I couldn’t even get up from my desk because it was so busy. I learned a lot about organizational skills, which I think come in really handy, [like] labelling my inbox. It’s all color-coded. I’ve taught a lot of people in the office how to do it because it keeps everything so organized. Staying organized is one of the most important things when you’re running two businesses.

How did you decide to expand into the creative agency world from Emo Nite?
It was a combination of the fact that T.J., Morgan, and myself have worked in that area of the music industry for a few years now and seeing what we were able to do with Emo Nite in terms of branding and digital strategy. We figured we could apply that to other brands, bands, and companies, and do the same for them. We were really confident in that we had the skills to accomplish that, so we went for it. It was really scary. We had no idea if it was going to work out!

Digital strategy seems like a new field. How do you develop an expertise in this industry?
Social media is relatively new, if you think about it. It’s a lot of trial and error. The cool thing with Emo Nite is that we can do whatever we want. For a client, we have to keep in mind their personality, their music, and the message they want to put out there. But for Emo Nite we can be like, “We’re going to hire a plane to carry a banner that says ‘Every Nite is Emo Nite’ and fly it over Emo Nite.” It’s ours, and no one is there to tell us no. Because of that, we know what will work for other people if we tweak it a little bit.

Your client roster includes Paramount, BMW, and Climate Resolve. What draws these companies to you? Do you think that your ability to sense trends and know what’s happening right now factors into a company’s choice to hire you?
We’re now in the position where we’re able to take on clients that we genuinely know we’ll enjoy working [with]. It’s about meeting the people behind these brands or companies, vibing with them, and making sure they understand that we’re here to serve their best interest. A lot of younger people who work at these companies are trying to bring in companies like us to do things that are outside of the box. Those are the things that work now.

There’s so much going on, you’re constantly looking at your Instagram and being advertised a million things a day, so it has to stand out for anyone to latch on. These companies are seeing that. It’s a pretty slow process because sometimes we pitch ideas and it’s like, “This is never going to work” because they have to run it by ten other people, and by the time it gets to the top, that person is like, “I don’t even understand what this is.” A lot of it is trying to convince people to shift their mindset a little. It’s working, but it’ll take a second to fully be there.

How do you approach a new project? Do clients tell you the result they want? Do you vary your approach for every client or do you stay constant and that’s why people come to you?
It’s a mixture of all those things. Dillon Francis, for example, we knew before we worked with him with Ride or Cry. He has an emo personality called Preston, and he DJ-ed as Preston at Emo Nite. When he came in for us to pitch him to work with Ride or Cry, we’d been following him on social media for years, so we knew exactly who he was and what we could do for him. For that we talked with him, 24-7, directly to him. But we just worked on a big project [for Universal] for Kanye West, which I think Kanye will never even see. Then it’s a lot of working with the label and with people who know what’s best for Kanye. But we’d never even speak to the client.

When a client doesn’t love an idea you propose, did you have to learn how to not take that personally?
I used to take it really personally, but then I realized that the specific way I think isn’t going to work for everybody. That’s what I think is cool—having to think outside of the way you would normally think. Now I’m at the point where if a client says, “I don’t know if I like this,” I’ll explain why I think it’s cool. Sometimes that works and they’ll say, “Oh yeah!” and we’ll post it. Two years ago, I wouldn’t do that. And obviously, that’s with clients we’ve worked with for a while that trust us—I wouldn’t do it on month one.

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What’s a rule that you’ve broken and do you think it was worth it?
I feel like we’ve broken every rule! The number one rule we break all the time is how we book artists for Emo Nite. Having worked at an agency, I know there’s a formal process of reaching out to the agent, [talking] the manager, [getting] a fee estimate… Through Emo Nite, we’ve gotten artists like Post Malone by DM-ing them on Twitter, or Demi Lovato by talking to her on Instagram. We’re getting around the normal way of booking. Some agents end up being kind of pissed off but we know someone like Post Malone would want to come and do it for fun.

What’s something people entering the creative agency world should know?
When you’re working in a creative field it’s really, really easy to never clock out. Especially [with] social media, it’s not like every artist is going to post between 9 and 5. It’s pretty much never going to be the case. There are releases, and you have to post when it’s UK time… It’s really easy to work 24-7 and let it bleed into your personal life. Really set boundaries for yourself. Otherwise your work suffers and it’s not worth doing any of this stuff because you don’t let it sink in and see how cool it is.

What’s a challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
A challenge is explaining to people what we do. We did a tour last year with 3OH!3 and lil aaron—the whole concept of it was that we were throwing a house party. It was called the WANT House Party Tour. At all our Emo Nites, we invite people from the crowd up on stage so the mentality is very much “We’re all equal.” For this tour we wanted to do the same thing, but explaining that to the venues was insane because they’d say, “We don’t have any shows, ever, where people just come on stage.” We were on the phone with every single venue saying “Everyone is really nice. You can have a security guard to regulate how many people are up there at once.” A couple of venues just didn’t let us do it, but then the vibe is completely off. If people from the crowd aren’t up on stage, then it’s not even Emo Nite.

Looking back, how would you say you felt about your career trajectory before finding a home with Emo Nite and Ride or Cry?
When I worked at CAA, I was pretty miserable. It’s really funny because I got lunch with one of my old bosses last week, and he was talking about how he knew I would never end up staying there, but he said that I really did a good job at faking being happy to be there. Looking back, I’m so glad that I did it. At that time, I thought, “Wow, is this what life is like? Being in a job that you really don’t like and that’s it?” It wasn’t until after that that I realized that you can kind of do whatever you want as long as you realize that it’s really scary. But then, that’s kind of cool, and you’re doing something that’s meaningful to you. If it all falls apart tomorrow, I’m so proud of everything that I’ve already accomplished.

Okay, but what do you do? Please write your answer as if you’re explaining to your ten-year-old self.

Is it just me or was that last sentence incredibly inspiring? If you’re eager to attend an Emo Nite in LA I recommend it, or keep an eyes out for their upcoming 2019 tour. And like any insightful person, Babs has so much more sage advice to offer, so check back in next week for her How To!

Lori Evans Taylor: Screenwriter

We always hear the saying “don’t let your dreams be dreams”, but for most people their dreams don’t make it on the big screen. This week we interviewed Lori Evans Taylor, who has beat the odds as a screenwriter for thriller feature films. Read on to learn about the realities of writing all day, her new project with Ben Affleck, and the process of taking the reigns on a project that is close to her heart.

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What is your official title?
I am a screenwriter.

Can you tell us the story of your career thus far?
I’m kind of a “journey woman” in terms of my career. In college I was a theater major, so I’ve always been attracted to characters and stories. Cinema was really important to me growing up. I was the girl who would go to slumber parties with all of these movies, specifically the horror/thriller genre was something I gravitated towards. I went on to work in a video store and when I graduated, I ended up in Los Angeles. At first, I was on the actor path but I didn’t like the actor grind. I wasn’t feeling very fulfilled, so I started writing on the side to get my creative ya-ya’s out.

During that time I had day jobs that sent me down a route of producing for a while but I wanted to be in the narrative space and write features. I started to get some momentum on the TV side, but it was funny—I had this uncanny tendency to get pregnant every single time I gained momentum, which brought all of my hard work to a big stop. While I was pregnant the second time, I decided to invest my time into writing a feature called Bed Rest, which was a psychological thriller like Rosemary’s Baby with a Hitchcock vibe to it. My management team took it out as a spec.

What exactly does it mean to sell a spec?
Basically, when you have an idea for a movie, you write the script—and nobody’s paying you but it’s an idea you want to put on paper—and you try to sell it. In the 90’s there was a big spec boom. Studios and production companies would spend a lot of money on specs—hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars—but that money started to dry up in the 2000’s… It’s very hard to sell a spec these days.

What happened with Bed Rest?
When we took Bed Rest out— a psychological thriller with a great role for a female lead—it created a huge buzz and was picked up by MGM. That really broke me open as a writer in the horror/thriller space. I’ve been working consistently ever since.

How do scripts get picked up?
In the world of screenwriting—I’m going to speak mostly about features because I don’t work in TV as much—there are a couple of different ways to sell something. There’s the spec version, which we already talked about. Or, you can pitch ideas to studios or companies that have the money to back you and they’ll pay you to write it, ideally. If you have the rights to a book or an article, you can pitch the idea to turn that intellectual property into a movie.

Then there are open writing assignments, which is when studios, production companies, or financiers have a project and they’re looking for a writer. Usually your management team or agent will find out and put you up for jobs. If the producer or the execs think you’re a good fit, they’ll have you pitch how you want to do it.

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What does your daily life looks like?
Honestly, I’m usually in my home office staring at a blank page. My office is detached from the house, so I come out every morning around 8:45 am with my coffee, crack open my computer, and get working! Sometimes I’m taking meetings my management team or agent set up when they want to put me in a room with someone or pitch ideas. I may have specific meetings about a project, like getting notes on drafts.

Feature (full-length film) writers can write anywhere they want—in a Starbucks every day, or you can rent a cabin in Montana and write for three months. For TV writers it’s a little different because you’re working out of a writers’ room most of the time. That’s where you figure out the story for the season, the arcs, and the episodes. From there, you can sometimes go off and write your episodes on your own, or sometimes there’s a workspace in the office, but that depends on the show and the producer, as well as the deadline.

How do you stay productive when working in a home environment?
That’s the million dollar question, especially for women who are moms. I have two kids under the age of six, so balance is really important to me. The jobs I get are mostly ones where I can work from home [while] my kids are in school. That’s the time dedicated to being productive, so when my kids are home and it’s dinner and bath time, I can be involved with that. Once the kids go to sleep, I’m back in the office, especially if I have deadlines.

Do you struggle with writer’s block?
The times I get writer’s block tend to be when I’m in my office too much and I’m too isolated. In those moments, I try to get out of the house. Sometimes I go to a museum with friends because, ultimately, when you’re a writer, you’re writing about life and people. If you’re in your own little cave, you’re removed from all of that. Another thing is [that] my husband is also a screenwriter. We don’t work together, but if I’m having writer’s block, we’ll have a story session, which is where we have conversations about the storyline or a character I’m having difficulty with. 90% of the time, I walk away feeling inspired, re-energized, and ready to attack the writer’s block.

You’ve worked as a story producer on a few TV shows. Can you touch on the differences between that and writing?
I worked with a production company that produced shows for The Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and The History Channel. The shows I was working on were especially clip-based, meaning that we would look at what was happening in a clip, story-wise, get in touch with the people involved, and set up interviews. Story producing for me was all about developing a story based on a clip and the interviews. There was a creative aspect to the job as well as a physical production aspect like dealing with locations, the schedule, and the budget.

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Your most recent project, I Am Still Alive, is a novel adaptation. How does that compare to writing original content?
I personally love both. I Am Still Alive came about in a very interesting way. Back in the summer my agent said they represented the rights to a book that was coming out later in the summer called I Am Still Alive and thought it would be right up my alley. Even though young adult content isn’t usually my thing, I was totally blown away. The characters were rich and compelling, the story was taut, and I was literally ugly-crying on my floor the minute I finished reading it.

I called my agent and told them I needed to be involved in making this a movie. They got me in touch with the writer (Kate Alice Marshall) and I told her my vision. She’d done such an amazing job that I wanted to change very little, so it was an easy conversation. We started to look at potential partners and financiers. We got word that Ben Affleck’s company wanted to meet with us. It turned out that Ben loved the book as well and saw the story in the same way.  

I tried to not get my hopes up too much because sometimes people show interest and then nothing comes of it. A few hours later I got a call from Ben’s team and they told me he wanted to produce and star in the story. Everything changed. I pitched the idea to a bunch of production companies with Ben Affleck’s team and Universal ended up buying it, which is very exciting. It goes to show you that there’s never one true path to setting up a project.

Once a script you’ve written is sold, how much control do you have over the outcome?
Very little. A script is a writer’s baby until it’s sold. Features tend to be very director-based, so once the directors come on it’s really all about their vision. They have the right to build the vision they want. There certainly are writers who will be on set and part of the filming process, but it’s really the director’s baby at that point.

2018 brought women to the forefront in Hollywood between the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up. Any experiences  you’d like to share as a woman in Hollywood?
I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve always felt comfortable with the people I’ve worked with. I haven’t had one of those #MeToo moments that a lot of women in this industry have had. Being a female screenwriter, there are definitely times when I am the only woman in the room. It doesn’t bother me though: I represent a certain perspective and it’s important to fight for my point of view.

In terms of the role of women in Hollywood, when I got to Hollywood 20 years ago—there have always been women working in Hollywood—there were a lot more women in development, executive, or producer jobs. Sherry Lansing was studio chief at Paramount. You’d see women editors. Female editors are the unsung heroes in terms of women in this industry. I don’t think people realize how many female editors have cut famous movies—Jaws, Pulp Fiction, and E.T. were all cut by women.

Over the past 5-10 years, we’re starting to see women migrating into positions like director. We’re seeing more female cinematographers and writers. Women are moving into traditionally “male” genres—the horror/thriller space and the action space.

You’ve found your niche in horror/thrillers. Do screenwriters usually stick to one genre?
Especially when you’re trying to get into the industry, it’s important to find your brand. For anyone who’s looking to break into Hollywood—write. And keep writing. Try different genres, figure out what your voice is, what makes your voice different and exceptional.

When you’re starting out and trying to get an agent or a manager, if you give them three samples but they’re a romantic comedy, a horror movie, and then a 30-minute sitcom, they’re not going to know how to get you a job. When you come in with a body of work from the same genre, or maybe mostly horror but a little sci-fi, people understand you more easily. As you get further into your career, you can branch out. If you have the passion to write something totally different, write something. But if your work is all over the place, it can confuse people.

How are screenwriters compensated?
If I sell a project that I wrote, let’s take Bed Rest as an example, a studio will pay money to get control of the script for a certain amount of time, from months to years, so there’s that payment. For features you get paid depending on the job or the draft you’re doing. If I’m paid to write a first draft, the first half is usually paid in increments and the other half is paid once I deliver the script. In the contract there will probably be a rewrite or two, so you’d be paid for the rewrites. Those aren’t necessarily guaranteed, but if the studio wants to keep you writing for those next steps, they can exercise that.

If you’re a new writer and not in the union there’s a chance you’re paid peanuts, but if you’re a union member (Writers Guild of America or WGA) there are minimum rates. As you build your brand and people begin to know you, your quote goes up. All of this is negotiable. Once you get the job, your agents and your lawyers jump in and start negotiating with the studio or the production company. In TV you get a weekly rate, and depending upon your credit you would probably also get episode fees.

What’s the biggest challenge of being a screenwriter?
There are a lot of disappointments. You have to have long term goals. It’s not about writing one thing and hoping it’s a hit. You have to dedicate your life to learning the craft, building relationships, and building a body of work. There will be times when you get fired from jobs, when you get fired by your agent, your manager. But if you love it, keep after it. When I got dropped from my reps, I was crying and a total mess, but I channeled that into writing. Within a few months, I had a different script and a different agent. You’re going to get noticed, you just have to keep after it.

But now you’re here! My final question is: what’s the best part of your job?
Ever since I was a kid, I loved to daydream, imagine, make up stories, worlds, and characters. The fact that I can do that in my adult life and make a living—it’s the best job.

Okay, but what do you do? Please write your answer as if you’re explaining to your ten-year-old self.

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Thanks so much, Lori! We can’t wait to see I Am Still Alive come to life and all your future projects as well. Readers, after you’ve finished up the final edits on your first spec, come back next week to learn more tips from screenwriter extraordinaire Lori Evans Taylor.

Jami Curl: Queen of Candy

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Jami Curl is many things; author, mother, candy maker, business owner is just the shortlist. We wanted to interview her as we’re huge fans of her candy-making cookbook Candy is Magic, as well as the small batch candy company she owned in Portland named QUIN. During our interview she shared about how trademark battles can turn your whole world upside down (even if you’ve done everything to legally protect your brand!), and the responsibilities of leading a team. Check it out!

Hello hello! Can you tell me a bit about what you’re up to these days?
I do a variety of things! The first is that I’m teaching candy making classes. I just finished and it just went live – a candy making class through Craftsy [ed note: Now Bluprint] online, which was just purchased by NBCUniversal. My class was one of the first classes they did in a new way. It’s been fun.  There’s 6 lessons and I teach basically every kind of candy you’d ever want to make. We did a lot of interesting stuff with camera work and hilarious bits here and there – they built a set custom from candy, which was a beautiful set. So that is happening.

And then right now I’m writing a baking cookbook for Ten Speed Press which is coming out in the early spring of 2020. Which, when I say it, seems like a long time from now, but when I look at the work I have to do with it, is basically tomorrow-- it feels like. So that has been fun. I’m also currently teaching a series of classes at my library. Letter writing! One is a “How to Write Letters” class and the other is a series of classes where we’re trying really hard to form a pen pal club at the library, but I have started it under the guise of letter writing and what you can use to write letters on, things you can find, how to make a correspondence kit so you always have your letter writing materials with you, how to figure out who to write letters to these days because people don’t write letters anymore... so doing that.

And then I teach a couple of classes on innovation. I’ve done that for a couple of schools around Portland. Oh! And I also am a volunteer college essay mentor, so I go to high schools where juniors are writing applications and I help. And then the thing that I do to make money--because a lot of that stuff is volunteer or very little pay--is that I am currently the COO of an online music education company. And I am a Mom! So I do a lot of things, all at once.

I have always done multiple things at once because I have a lot of interests. And QUIN obviously has always been my first love. Prior to QUIN I owned a bakery, so I have always loved treats, making treats, and teaching people how to make treats. It was not until this year that QUIN was--we were--roughed up in a trademark dispute. Not really a dispute. There was another company that wanted the QUIN trademark. And after sort of a long--not a battle, but a long series of emails from lawyers, and this and that from lawyers, and bills from lawyers--we ended up essentially surrendering the QUIN trademark. The legal bills were so high and it got to be a very tiring fight, if that makes sense. Right now QUIN doesn’t exist as a candy company because we don’t own the name as it applies to candy anymore. Someone else took it, basically. I don’t know.  There’s a lot of mysteries in life, but that’s my big mystery in life right now-- what will happen next for the candy company formerly named QUIN.

I didn’t realize that someone else could swoop in like that!
Well, here’s the crazy thing – we did everything we needed to do to protect the name QUIN as it applies to the way we were using it. We had a trademark for over 5 years, put all the money and effort into doing that and then built a brand about that. I don’t usually do anything without making sure we can do it first. So, obviously, do what you’re supposed to do. We filed a trademark for the name, used an attorney to make sure that patent and trademark office looks at your application fairly and awards it. They don’t just give you a trademark because you’ve applied for it, they actually do research to make sure that what you’re trademarking, no one else has it trademarked, or that there would be no confusion. So this other company kind of presented it as confusion. Even though they don’t make candy. But it turns out they were pretty aggressively going after anyone with that name, even dog supplements.

It wasn’t that I thought “Oh, let’s name the company QUIN,” and I didn’t do anything to protect it. I did all the things you’re supposed to do, but it goes to show that even when you’re at that point and you feel protected, somebody who has the money and the energy to outlast you, can. We could’ve gone into an even longer legal battle and gone to court, but I didn’t start a candy company to spend 3 years in a battle with someone. And that’s kind of my basic philosophy of life, which is that I obviously want to make money so I can have a livelihood and support my kid and all that. But I also don’t really want to spend time doing something that makes me miserable or makes me doubt myself. And, in the end, when you are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop or a call from a lawyer, that’s how the last 18 months/2 years of QUIN was spent. It’s a crazy thing because it’s something that I loved.

It’s never an easy decision because we had a whole staff I had to consider. But it got to the point where it was too crazy to continue fighting for it. So now we’re at this pause and figuring out what to do next.

Wow – that is so frustrating! I am so sorry that happened to you!
If anything, it’s helpful as a story to tell people who are starting out, or have a small business, once you have that trademark in place and you’re using it, and you’re using it in the ways that you’re supposed to be using it, it’s interesting see that somebody who has more money than you can come along and make a play for it.

Do you think you would want to start QUIN 2.0 but with another name?
Yes. I have no plans to give up hope on it. That’s what I think has been the hardest for people to understand. This isn’t information that I have spread widely, didn’t give an explanation for what has happened to QUIN, most people don’t even know. I haven’t closed any doors or made any huge decisions. I have our recipes and the way that we did things still on my side so yes, no real decisions made and I’ve just been regrouping a little bit these last few months to figure out how I feel. I want to get to the point where it makes me happy again rather than being something that I am only worried about.

Well, since QUIN 2.0 is on the horizon and you are indeed a candy-making expert, let’s talk about that for a bit! Was there a seasonality to running Quin?
Yes. Any holiday that you can think of where candy is given or candy can be thought to be given, so Easter, Christmas, Mother’s Day, those types of holidays, we had definite upticks. And Valentine’s Day. The summer months are always difficult for two reasons. It’s a little bit slower and it’s so hot almost everywhere we ship candy. And that was always a worry, making candy in a place like Portland, where if the air conditioning in the room where we make the candy stops working, then what do we do with all of our inventory? All of it is so sensitive to heat. So, the seasonality of it is something you plan for. You look at the calendar every year and you can figure out production ahead so that you know at Christmastime you’re going to need XYZ, for seasonal products like an advent calendar.  We would start planning how we’d make enough candy to fill all orders for our own store and for shipping online for Christmas in July.

It was almost as if you never really knew what month it was because in the summer, it’s Christmas and at Christmas time it’s the summer. And then you have to try to figure out how to make the slower times as short as possible so that everybody who’s working is busy enough and so that you are not making too much candy. Because one of things about QUIN is that our candy is very fresh and we don’t sell anything that’s old. We’re not aiming for a long shelf life with any of it. During the times that are slow, you could say “Let’s just make a ton of candy right now and save it for the future XYZ holiday,” but we never liked to do that because it’s anti what the ethos of the company was.

Was that was one of the trickier things to figure out?
Production and numbers – figuring out too much or too little. And storage of candy was always sort of a stressful thing. The one thing I didn’t mention before is that the other side of it is, if you’re running with a lean staff so that you know during the slower times you don’t have to lay anyone off, then during the really busy times the employees who are making the candy are working really hard to get a lot done. It was always a little bit of stress to figure out exactly how. Thankfully, markets change, and from year to year things are different, which keeps it interesting. But that also means once you figure something out, you basically start re-figuring it out-- it never stays the same.

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Was everyone on your team full time?
Yeah, all the candy makers were full time. And people who cut and wrapped the candy were also all full time.

I was wondering if that was done by hand or if there was a cutting and wrapping machine!
We did invest in a machine that we bought from a company in New York that was vintage. Yeah, it didn’t put cut pieces in [wrappers], but you put cut pieces in it and it wrapped it all. There was an incident when we were moving from one factory space to another and the machine fell off the back of the moving truck...yeah.

How large was the entire QUIN team?
We had 16 people including someone who did customer service. And  including someone who worked at our retail store.

That’s a big team!
When I owned bakeries, my team was always over 30 people, so I was always relieved because it reduced the amount of time spent doing HR and things like that because it was less people. But throughout my career working with individuals, I’ve had highs and lows with being a manager, if that makes sense. At some points, I really, really enjoy it and then at other points it was something that I would look to another manager to do for me.

But at the end, the point of doing these types of businesses is that you have this whole team of people who are there, willingly helping you achieve this vision or this dream that you have. And for that reason alone, I always endeavor to treat the people who are working in the best possible ways in terms of how much money they are making. Then you know people are willingly helping you. Yes, they’re getting paid, but they still could go and choose to do whatever they wanted. But they’re there, with you, trying to see this thing through. And it’s the most humbling thing, to lead a team in that way.

Okay, but what do you do? Please write your answer as if you’re explaining to your ten-year-old self.

Thank you so much, Jami! It was such a pleasure getting to learn more about what you do. Readers, after running off to appease your sweet tooth, come back next week for a wise and thoughtful how-to from Jami that’s all about finding your magic.