Yee-ow! You just burned yourself for the THIRD time today while frothing up what must be the five billionth cappuccino you’ve made this week. Your feet ache. Your back throbs. And you’ve forgotten what it’s like to keep a manicure intact for more than a minute. Being a barista is not nearly as glamorous as you thought it’d be. But how else are you going to pay off those student loans until you get into grad school?
If you’re like Taya Koschnick, this scenario feels all too familiar. Taya worked as a barista to support herself after college, but eventually realized her jewelry-making hobby had the potential to turn into a bona fide business. She is now Owner/Designer at Tasi Designs, a Portland, Oregon-based jewelry company. We caught up with Taya to find out how she went from java to gemstones—and what advice she has for any other would-be entrepreneurs out there.
How would you describe your company, Tasi Designs?
Tasi jewelry blends oxidized silver and gold with gemstones, antique beads, and ancient components. Our prices range from $28 to $250. Over the last seven years, our client base has grown tremendously—we’re lucky to have a lot of loyal customers who collect our pieces.
Where did the idea for Tasi Designs come from and how did you go about creating this company?
After I graduated from college in 2005, I was working as a barista while I looked for jobs and considered applying to graduate schools. I watched a lot of my friends leave town because the job market was so tight in Portland, and I was starting to feel like I might never find a job that paid more than minimum wage. But I knew I wanted to stay in Portland.
My mother is a jeweler, so I grew up making jewelry in her studio. I had already been making and selling jewelry to friends and professors in college to help pay my last year of tuition, and one day I realized that I was making more money per hour selling little bits of jewelry here and there than I was as a barista.
I was scared of going into more debt, so I decided to put graduate school on hold while I tried to pay down some of my undergraduate student loans. In 2007 I officially formed Tasi Designs with my sister, but I don’t think either of us thought it would become a lasting, full-time job. By 2008, we were both able to quit our other part-time jobs and focus on Tasi full-time.
The business took on a life of its own and started growing every year—we were astounded by the steady growth. As I saw friends struggle with entry-level jobs, or go way into debt to go to graduate school, I realized how lucky I was to have a thriving business and a job that was both engaging and creative (not to mention how awesome it was to take days off in the summer to kayak, or a couple weeks off in the slow season to escape to Mexico in the winter).
Did you have any entrepreneurial experience before starting Tasi Designs? What do you think it takes to make it as an entrepreneur?
My mother is a jeweler and owns her own business, so I get a lot of inspiration and guidance from her. I also managed the student-run coffee shop in college, which ended up being a crash course in small business ownership. Being an entrepreneur is exciting and a bit scary—there’s always something new to learn, and my to-do lists seem endless. The yearly cycle can be intimidating too—I make almost a third of my income in the four weeks before Christmas, so it’s important to save money for the leaner months after the holidays.
You have to be motivated and creative most of the time, and it can be draining. There are plenty of days when I find myself yearning for a regular 9–5 job that I can leave behind when I get home. I end up answering emails and working on my website until 10 or 11 at night. As my business has grown I’ve realized how important it is to set schedules and limit work hours so I don’t get burned out. But I absolutely love being my own boss and feeling so invested in what I’m doing. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
What is a typical day like for you?
One of the things I enjoy most about my business is how different my days are depending on where I am in the season. Some weeks I end up working 60–80 hours, whereas during slow seasons I’ll only work 20 hours a week.
Most weeks I spend about 45% of my time on administrative tasks, 40% on production and inventory management, and only 15% on creating new designs and goal-setting.
What was your college major? How does it relate to your career path?
I was an English major in college with a focus on creative writing. While the things I studied in college don’t apply that often to what I do now, the general structure of college really helped me. In college you have to be organized, driven, and manage your time and energy. I still struggle to be better at all of those things, but college definitely helped lay the foundation for my self-reliance and motivation.
I also had a series of part-time jobs the whole time I was in college, so I got a lot of work experience and had to deal with trying to pay rent while trying to write my midterm papers.
Designing jewelry is a bit like writing a paper—the first draft is usually a disaster, but if you keep editing and tweaking it, you can come up with something really spectacular.
What are your favorite things about your job? Which aspects would you change if you could?
Owning a micro business like mine can get lonely—most days I’m the only one in the studio and there aren’t other people to bounce ideas off of. I try to make lots of coffee and lunch dates with other small business owners so we can support and offer advice to each other.
What advice would you give to college students interested in pursuing a career path similar to yours?
If you’re going to start your own business, you have to be prepared to struggle financially for the first three to five years. I found the time after graduation to be perfect—I didn’t have children or a mortgage payment to worry about, and I was pretty good at living cheaply.
I use the research and tech skills I learned in college every day—so if you have dreams of starting your own business, soak up as many skills as you can. I learned how to use Excel in a biology class—but now I use it to track my expenses. I picked up some Photoshop skills from an English class which I used to build my website. I used my research skills to find local grants and free business classes after I started my business.
People tell me all the time how they’ve always dreamed of starting a business. But I can tell you it sounds scarier than it is. Start small and give it a try. Track your expenses and sales, get advice from other small business owners. Starting a business is 1,000 doable tiny tasks, not one huge looming hurdle.
What’s your favorite item at Tasi Designs at the moment?
Designing jewelry seems like it requires a lot of creativity. How do you stay inspired and creative?
Creativity strikes me at weird times—in a dream or while I’m hiking or driving. I always carry a little notebook so I can sketch ideas down before I forget them. I also take pictures of all of my one-of-a-kind pieces, so if I’m feeling a lull in creativity, I can scroll through my old designs and sketches to find a tangent that hasn’t been fully explored yet.
Homework time! Taya mentions that many of the skills she learned in college have been really beneficial in her career as an entrepreneur. If you’re thinking of starting your own business, make sure that you’re comfortable managing your expenses, staying organized, and researching answers independently when you don’t know something.
And if you’re interested in pursuing a creative profession, think of ways you can cultivate your creativity. Taya suggests keeping a notebook where you can jot down ideas as they come to you. In a previous post, we talked about scheduling time into your calendar when you can be creative. Work on perfecting a system so that you always have ideas coming and you never get stuck.