Sometimes the process of elimination is what puts you on a path towards happiness in your career and discovering what it is that you really want to —and should — be doing. This was the case for Tara Mangini and Percy Bright of Jersey Ice Cream Co., who, despite their name, make work just as enjoyable as ice cream! It wasn’t until they started selling vintage pieces on Etsy when they realized that what they really wanted was to impact and craft homeowners’ entire spaces as a full-service, turn-key interior design duo.
As self-proclaimed “homeless home designers,” Percy and Tara relocate to renovate homes across the country, dropping everything to put their whole heart into each project they undertake. From start to finish, their clients hand over their keys and trust Percy and Tara to dream, design, build, furnish and style their home, from ripping down walls and getting messy to sourcing furniture at local flea markets wherever their jobs take them. Though they couldn’t be happier doing what they love, life and business weren’t always so seamless, and starting their company came with its fair share of headaches and lessons. Today, Tara is opening up about how they started, how they’ve grown, what they’ve learned along the way and what the future holds. –Sabrina
PS: Percy and Tara have some seriously impressive before and after transformations. Check them out!
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I don’t remember any real reasoning behind starting our own business except that we wanted to be doing this sort of work. In retrospect, it makes total sense because we’d both go nuts working in an office with a set schedule, but at the start I think a love for what we were doing, or hoped to be doing, is what got us headed in this direction.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
I wish I could say we had a sit-down, let’s-define-our-business moment, but the process was so much more organic than that. At first we thought we wanted to open a vintage store, so we started selling things on Etsy and at local flea markets. After a while of doing that, we were able to see what parts of that really got us excited and what parts we really hated, and decided to try to swing things towards design so that we had control over where these amazing vintage finds were going. Then we just went for it!
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
I’m not sure if anyone around us was exactly in a place to give business advice. What we heard most was probably “you guys are crazy, you guys are nuts, and when are you going to get a real job?!” The best advice I can give to anyone out there that’s thinking about taking the leap is to ignore the doubts floating around inside of you and listen to your own gut.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
I think the toughest thing for me was taking that final step and quitting the side job I had just in case things didn’t work out. I was waiting tables at the time, and even though it was only bringing in a few hundred dollars a week, it was a major financial and mental safety net I was clinging to. I had many panicked moments before and after quitting, and definitely tried more than once to convince Percy that I should get that job back, but he always convinced me that going for things with all we could was the way to go, and I’m glad to say he was right.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
That’s a big question! We’ve come so far but we are still constantly learning the ins and outs of running a business. A few big things come to mind. 1. Always over-estimate how long things will take, because things always take longer than you think. 2. Don’t sell yourself short. Ask for the money you deserve and don’t do work for free. 3. Be sure you really love what you’re doing because the lines between work and life really blur when you’re running your own business. The best thing about running your own business is that it’s your business, so if you’re unhappy, you can make a change and shift the train a different direction.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
We’ve definitely made mistakes along the way, but they don’t feel like failures, really, just things we could have done a little better or differently. One aspect we do sort of fail at is capitalizing on the power of social media. I am admittedly the least dedicated blogger of all time, and even just keeping up on Instagram is a challenge for us. Putting more time into all of those channels would definitely help boost awareness of who we are and what we do, but we have such a hard time finding the energy to do it!
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
Giving up the tiny pleasures of a “normal” life is definitely the biggest sacrifice we’ve made. At this point we’re always on the road and have no home base, and the lack of a space to keep your things and call your own is definitely tough. Harder still is not having the life aspect that naturally builds around a home — a yoga studio where people know your name, a grocery store that you love, friends nearby to call for dinner or a walk in the park. Not being able to meet up with your girlfriends on a random Tuesday to complain about work and laugh about boys — I miss that.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
I think the fact that we exist at all is pretty amazing, but I think our greatest success has been sending wishes for our dream job out into the world and then getting it. Our job back at Shipley Corner a few years ago really started the ball rolling. It was a bit of a wild leap into the unknown at the time, but thank god we took it.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
Eek. Honestly, I have no idea. Inspiration and advice can come from anywhere. So often the book that says DESIGN IDEAS on the cover is the last place you get them, so I’m guessing the same is true for a book that says THIS IS HOW YOU START A BUSINESS. Read what inspires you, go towards what challenges you.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
In my very humble opinion, the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business are:
… I’m really struggling with this answer. I got all ready with my 1,2,3, and then had no idea what to write! So i’m just going to sort of ramble here…
I think for most people the process of starting a business starts long before they decide to actually be a business. Ideally, it’s an evolution of what you’ve already been doing, and the big final step into business-hood feels more like an obvious next move, instead of a huge, scary leap into the dark.
Be prepared to fail. Be prepared to be wildly successful.