Growing with Style

TINSEL's Insights on People Strategy

Anjali Oberoi | Every once in a while in the life of a consultant, comes a client that blurs the line between advisor and advisee because of the thoughtfulness, insight, and inspiration they bring to the table. TINSEL Experiential Design has been exactly that to Bernoulli Finance. 

TINSEL creates immersive brand experiences. If you have taken part in one of those, you know that "immersive" is anything but a euphemism. TINSEL crafts every event with the creativeness of an artist, the vision of a conductor, and the precision of a clock-maker. 

 TINSEL Experiential Design's co-founders, Adette Contreras, Liz Castelli, and Erica Taylor.

TINSEL Experiential Design's co-founders, Adette Contreras, Liz Castelli, and Erica Taylor.

To the consultant that I am, an equally striking quality of TINSEL is its almost cartoonish ability to take on the most challenging aspects of entrepreneurship. Much of it boils down to the complementarity of skills inside TINSEL's powerhouse troika - high-school friends Adette Contreras, Liz Castelli,  and Erica Taylor. In a recent interview with Quickbooks, the three co-founders defined themselves respectively as the why, the how, and the who of TINSEL. 

In what is likely to turn into the first of a series of pieces featuring TINSEL, today we explore the who, with Erica Taylor. Growing and expanding one's service offering while establishing core functions and building a strong business identity ties directly to having the right team building strategy. I asked Erica five questions to understand how TINSEL has navigated this oft-challenging area for entrepreneurs.

Anjali: TINSEL Experiential Design, formerly Tinsel & Twine, has been operating since 2010, growing through the years an impressive portfolio of clients and events. Could you take us through TINSEL's main transformations?

TINSEL: In the beginning our clients were firmly in the social sphere, almost exclusively weddings in and around New York City. Because Adette and I share backgrounds in advertising and marketing prior to launching TINSEL, there was a natural pivot point for us to approach brands  in our extended network.

While we still love working with our social clients to create stylish, stand-out celebrations for big life moments, partnering with our brand and corporate clients has allowed us to nurture relationships that result in ongoing events, campaigns, and programming. It is those clients that have allowed our business to scale and sustain itself on a more predictable calendar of projects. 

 New York's Saint John the Divine gets a makeover

New York's Saint John the Divine gets a makeover

Anjali: As you grew, I suppose that on several occasions you faced the question of whether you should hire full-time staff or work with external consultants. How did you approach that question, and what were the main factors you considered?

TINSEL: Through the various lifecycles of our business, we have always had to consider the most effective combination of full-time staff vs. sub-contractors and external consultants. In fact, this is a conversation we expect to have at every new growth stage. In making key staffing decisions there are three main points we always have to consider:

  • Seasonality: Events happen throughout the year, but Q3 & Q4 are historically our busiest times by far. That's when we know we will need all-hands-on-deck around the clock. For the rest of the year, we can often balance the workload with our core team supported by project-based leads and part-time specialists. 
  • Special Skills: As a creative service-based company, it is a challenge to predict what type of skills a given project will require -- floral, carpentry, rigging, vendor coordination, guest relations, talent management, animal handling. As such, we have cultivated a small but mighty core team to handle day-to-day work, while maintaining our army of freelance artists who come armed with a broad range of special skills. From a business standpoint, we apply the same model to our ecosystem of professional consultants who manage our accounting, bookkeeping, legal advisement, and financial modeling.
  • Systems & Processes: Spearheaded in large part by Liz, we have established systems, processes, and templates so that no matter who from our team is leading a project, clients can expect the same gold standard of efficiency and overall quality. These tools have been hugely helpful in granting our core team autonomy, but it does also mean that the on-boarding process for new hires requires a larger investment in time and oversight.

Anjali: You are very transparent about the fact that you work with a large network of partners. Your website mentions "a staff roster of over 90 event designers and producers". Has this strategy ever been a concern with your client base?

TINSEL: Our clients are most often comforted by our large roster of event specialists, understanding that we are able to "cast" the best, most appropriate talent from our creative community. It also helps us guarantee a fully staffed team, which is a real priority for larger events during peak season. Operating under this model is very much standard in the events industry, where companies need to be able to bring together different sets of skills depending on the needs of a given project.

Anjali: How about internally? Did your strategy - focused on operating with a small full-time staff and a large network of partners - ever present a challenge to cultivating your identity, or protecting your know-how? 

TINSEL: We are extremely intentional about how our brand and company culture are presented publicly through our body of work, social media voice, and marketing materials. In fact, our core values are boldly outlined on our website. Being explicit about how we define our culture has attracted a self-selecting group of applicants, whether full-time, part-time, freelance, or project-based. The people who see themselves reflected in our values know they belong as part of our tribe.

 Putting the experience in experiential

Putting the experience in experiential

Anjali: And looking forward, do you see yourself continuing to scale with the same model? Do you see a point where you might decide to shift strategies?

TINSEL: With the business as it exists, the current model seems to work as we need it to. Even as we grow and take on larger projects, the ratio of full-time team members to part-time and project-based team members will likely remain the same, in proportion to our revenue goals. We remain open to more significant shifts in the business model and will address staffing structures if and when those changes happen. Our ability to pivot and adjust quickly to changing business demands is what's made us so successful thus far. As the team at Bernoulli Finance can attest to, if there's one thing that TINSEL is good at, it's changing and adapting.