TAIT Design Co.’s Founder Dives into the Challenges of Starting a Business
As an entrepreneur, you’re in for a lot learning by doing. Turning to other business owners and learning about their experiences, though, can help you on your own journey. In this final part of a 4-part series, Matthew Tait, Founder of TAIT Design Co., reflects on the challenges he’s encountered, mistakes he’s made, and what’s in store for the future of TAIT Design Co.
How do you feel that the packaging/branding for TAIT is successful in communicating the values and mission of your brand?
Matt Tait: Our mission is to create products that emphasize the importance of participation and play, and our packaging reflects this in several ways. Most of our packaging is made of cardboard or kraft board, a material that has a democratic nature to it. It’s playful and everyone can relate to it, but you can dress it up or down design wise to fit the concept of a project. Our packaging tends to be interactive as well and is usually intended to play an integral component of the product. For example, our Turbo Flyer’s packaging is a carrying case for the product. When you open up the box, you see a body, wing, and tail for a plane, and the back of the packaging has hand screen printed instructions that teach you how to put it together. When you’re done playing with it for the day, you can disassemble your plane and put it right back in the case to keep it safe during transport and ready for your next flight. This is in direct contrast to other products that are contained in a plastic bag and immediately disposed of. When we design products, considering what people will do with the packaging is just important as any other component. Being ecologically conscious is embedded in our design process this way.
What was your biggest challenge in founding TAIT?
Matt Tait: The biggest challenge in the early days was managing the business while working full-time. Now, the biggest challenges all have to do with handling growth, thinking years out in terms of strategy and maintaining a singular vision for the company.
If you could go back and do anything differently in this process, what would you want to change?
Matt Tait: Running solely a design company versus running a design and manufacturing business (which we are currently) is significantly easier. If I had of anticipated what was going to happen when I started the business, I most likely would have created a product that could have been completely manufactured elsewhere, so that we could be just a design company. Handling the logistics of creating thousands of each product is very difficult, and if I had the ability to pick up the phone and order a thousands of our products and have them arrive at our fulfillment center, I would do it in a heartbeat and this would significantly change our business. This is something we are always working towards—being 100% on the prototyping, design, and marketing side of the business. I think we will get there over time. Besides this, I’d probably find a partner at the very beginning and save more money before leaving my day job.
Did you make any big mistakes during the first few years you were in business? If yes, can you share one or two?
Matt Tait: No huge mistakes come to mind, but I was definitely making things inefficiently in the beginning and I didn’t know how to communicate and negotiate as well as I do now with vendors. Overall, we now have very good relationships with everyone we work with, where both sides are happy.
But I don’t really regret anything because I just didn’t know at the time. Often progression in your business involves experimentation and sometimes different strategic paths don’t work out and you have to make the decision to change course. So, don’t be afraid to just say “this isn’t working anymore” and try something different.
What is your main advice to other entrepreneurs who would like to start their own company?
Matt Tait: You have to really love what you’re about to do, because it will become your entire life. I think a lot of people want to idolize entrepreneurs, and social media can paint a false narrative of them really living the life—“No boss!” “Make your own schedule!” “It must be cool to just get to make things all day!” But in reality, there is an intense amount of pressure and stress on anyone doing this, and it’s all the small things that make a business run efficiently that no one thinks about. You have to love what you do to get through this and maintain a vision to see it grow. I’m fortunate to love what I do, and that outweighs everything else. I honestly would have a very hard time going back to work for anyone else without the freedom to make my own decisions every day.
What’s in store for the future of TAIT?
Matt Tait: Short term: Two new products (one toy and one homeware) launching in mid-August and early September of 2017.
Long term: Having a product line of 15-20 products and supporting a staff of 10 or more individuals from our local community that handle the logistics, marketing, design, etc. of the company. We are also constantly working towards having the majority of our products manufactured at other facilities. We are currently sold at 200 stores, and we want to increase that 750-1000 within the next 3-5 years, as well as offer something unique through our website at taitdesignco.com to gain more direct sales. We sell to 13 different countries right now, but want to get sales reps or licensing deals in other continents to grow in other continents just like we are growing in North America. Additionally, we are contemplating creating a services side of the company to assist in product and packaging design consultation to small and large companies. We are often contacted to do this type of work but do not currently have the resources to take it on, I think this could be a significant stream of revenue over time.
What do you think has contributed to the success of your business?
Matt Tait: Our products often connect with people’s memories. Whenever someone picks up a Turbo Flyer for the first time, they almost always talk about how they had one of them as a kid, or their friend or family member did. This deep hitting feeling of nostalgia is something that we try to instill in every new product we make, as it really hits people’s heartstrings.
Besides this, definitely hard work, grit and determination. We also have been lucky enough to have been featured in different publications such as this one that helps get the word out about our mission and products.
Margaret is a freelance graphic designer and writer based in Los Angeles. She received her MFA in Graphic Design from the California Institute of the Arts. She writes for AIGA’s blog Eye on Design, and is currently designing futuristic things for USC’s World Building Media Lab.