You don’t have to be an inventor to create a unique product. I’m not an inventor. I don’t enjoy the product development process. I have lots of ideas, but no knowledge of engineering or product design that can help me create something new. But that’s not the only way to innovate. With my current company, we are innovating on the size and design of temporary tattoos. The technology is the same that’s been used forever, albeit more premium. Yet we’re improving the aesthetics to fill a need in the market and create a whole new experience to temporary tattoos.
As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremy Rios.
Co-Founder of Tony Ray Tattoos, Jeremey Rios, studied entrepreneurship at Brigham Young University. He has a passion for building and executing brands from the idea stage to a fully running company. Tony Ray Tattoos is Rios’ sixth successful business and the first to make it to 1M dollars in revenue. Tony Ray Tattoos allowed Jeremy to combine his appreciation for tattoos and his love for his children. He realized there weren’t really cool temporary tattoos for kids out there. He was determined to revamp the cartoonish, cheap ones that he had grown up with. After partnering with his long-time friend, Ryan Rios, they brought to life bold, tattoo artist designed, full sleeve temporary youth tattoos. They discovered that there was a real bonding moment between sharing those moments with your children. Revealing the fresh ink and seeing them light up is the “why” behind Tony Ray Tattoos. Encouraging kids to express themselves fearlessly and giving parents/loved ones that moment of pride when they look at their giddy, tatted kid.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My journey to entrepreneurship started my first year at Brigham Young University (BYU). A friend of mine had been buying and selling textbooks, and helped me to do the same on my campus. It was a ton of work, and a lot went wrong, but I ended up falling in love with the idea of owning my own business. I haven’t looked back since! That textbook business generated around 80,000 dollars/year in revenue and helped pay my way through college.
Up to that point, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my career nor what major to study. After that pivotal experience, I switched to entrepreneurship and cranked out one company after another. I nurtured four more companies before eventually starting Tony Ray Tattoos. Each endeavor provided vast learning experiences that have helped me grow as a founder.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I wish there was a cooler “Aha Moment” to share, but the reality is that the idea just came to me! I couldn’t even tell you what day it was or what I was doing that sparked the concept. I loved using temporary tattoos as a kid, and have always appreciated permanent tattoos as an adult so that definitely played into it. I just remember thinking, “why aren’t there really dope temporary tattoos for kids? Everything is so cheap and plain… why isn’t anyone making full sleeves”?
I ended up jotting the idea down in my log where I write down any random business idea that pops into my mind. I have literally hundreds of ideas written in it. Most of them are garbage and will never even be attempted, but I find that as I write ideas down more ideas come. So I still make it a practice to write down any and every business idea I have.
A few months after I wrote the idea down I was talking with my life-long friend Ryan about college. He had just switched his major from Accounting to Entrepreneurship so I told him I had an idea if he was serious about starting a business. I knew very little about the tattoo industry at the time, so I thought bringing on my tattooed, ex-Navy friend would be a good idea. It turned out to be a very good idea! Ryan has taught me more about the tattoo community and culture than I could have ever learned on my own. We turned out to be good business partners, as well as good friends, which I believe is rare.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The reason I was looking for a new business to start is that my previous business had not been experiencing the growth I had hoped for. There have been multiple times in my entrepreneurial journey that I have wanted to quit because we weren’t making enough money to support my family. If it wasn’t for my wife’s support and encouragement, I would have quit a long time ago.
When we first launched Tony Ray, sales did not pop as we had hoped. Initial validation was so promising, but we were really let down when we first opened our virtual doors. This was at the beginning of 2020, I had sold my previous business and Tony Ray wasn’t getting the traction that I felt it needed to justify full-time commitment. So I actually did start applying for jobs. That was really hard. To feel like I failed at making it on my own and was going to work for the man.
I actually got accepted at a really good company, which was bitter-sweet, but ultimately more bitter than sweet because I knew it wasn’t what I really wanted to be doing with my career. Right before my start date, the company reached out to me letting me know they were going to delay my start date because of the pandemic. They eventually had to retract the offer altogether, but this was right at the time Tony Ray started gaining traction.
We had a massive influencer post about us and an ad that caught on and our sales shot up. So now I had justification to go full-time on this venture and am just so glad the timing all worked out so perfectly.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
We hit 1M dollars in revenue shortly after our one-year anniversary since our hard launch so this has definitely been my most successful company yet. I couldn’t be happier with the success we’ve had so far, and know this is only the beginning. It’s definitely been a rocky journey, but I’m glad I had the support from friends and family to get me through it. There are going to be plenty of more bumps in the road ahead, but I have more confidence that we can get through them with a level head.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think what makes us stand out is that we celebrate the unbreakable bond between parents and their kids. Parents use our products to create beautiful bonding moments. Kids light up when they put on a Tony Ray tattoo because they get to look just like mommy or just like daddy. Parents of course love it because their kids look rad. It’s really a special experience and means a lot to us and our customers.
I really struggled to bond with my kids emotionally during the infant stage. It took little moments like this as they got older for me to really develop the unbreakable bond that I now have with them. It feels really good to know that we’re creating moments of joy for thousands of families.
So many customers have commented and written in with stories of how stoked their kids were to put on their Tony Ray tattoos. They run around telling everyone, even strangers, about their tattoos. Tattooed parents have expressed that it helps their kids feel like “one of the pack”.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
So that massive influencer I mentioned previously who had posted about us and was a catalyst to get our initial traction. Well, we also learned that there is a ton of controversy surrounding that individual, and A LOT of people reached out to us about it. We had no idea at the time, and still don’t know how much of it is valid or not. We definitely learned to be more diligent in choosing who represents our products. I’m not sure if we would have changed things, but it would have been nice to know going into it.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Wow, that’s a tough question. I feel like there’s been a lot more advice that I wish I had followed than the advice I wish I hadn’t. I suppose one example is advice I took from a friend/mentor about something very specific related to our product. I won’t get into exactly what it was, but I felt differently about it than he did but I eventually ended up going with his advice. It ended up being the wrong choice, and I eventually went back to my original idea. What I learned and realized from the experience is to not listen when others are not experienced in your space. This person did not have kids and that was ultimately why his advice didn’t work out. I did, so I should have trusted my gut knowing that I had a lot more experience in that specific area.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
As an entrepreneur, you have to hustle hard. I’ve always had a strong work ethic that I attribute to how I was raised. Every Saturday was dedicated to yard work. I hated it as a kid but now see how much that helped me develop a strong work ethic. I was the only one of my siblings that had to work in high school and I think that also had a big impact on my work ethic.
Entrepreneurship is a grind. You have to be willing to put in long hours and show up day in day out. Without a strong work ethic, you’ll be hard-pressed to make it as an entrepreneur.
I think what detracts most people from entrepreneurship is the fear of failure. I’m currently working on my sixth business and most of the previous ones were failures. I say failures because they didn’t make it to market or didn’t make a lot of money. But in reality, none of them were failures because I learned so much from each of those experiences. But in most people’s eyes, they would be considered failures, and you have to be ok with that. You have to be ok with appearing to be the deranged kid with pipe dreams that won’t go get a real job to support his family. That takes a lot of courage.
I have a lot of friends that quit pursuing a major after they got rejected from it. I had a lot of peers in the entrepreneurship program at BYU that quit after their first attempt at starting their own business. Had I done that, I never would have been able to study entrepreneurship and I never would have gotten to the business I’m currently working on. I think consistency is one of the most underrated attributes needed for success. You may not be the best, smartest, strongest, whatever… but if you keep showing up, you will get where you want to be.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Understand going in that you’re going to make a ton of mistakes and have a ton of failures before you have success. Setting yourself up with the right expectations can make all the difference when the road gets rough. If you’re expecting a certain result, and miss over and over again that can be really tiring. I saw many colleagues burn out because product development was taking way longer than expected. So many people get super pumped at the beginning of a new venture then when things don’t go perfectly (which they never do) they burn out. You gotta be in it for the long haul and the love of entrepreneurship. Don’t fall in love with your idea, fall in love with the idea of being a successful entrepreneur.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Lack of focus and failure to validate your product. The first thing I tell anyone with a business idea is to go validate it. It could be a phenomenal idea, it could be garbage. You don’t know until you talk with potential customers and ideally “sell” your idea to the market. One way I validate ideas is by setting up a mock site with 3D renders or photoshopped images of the product as if it’s the real deal. Then I run ads to the site and see how many people click that “Buy Now” button. You can get a really good gauge on how successful your idea might be with the proper validation. In between my last business and my current business, I validated three other product ideas with the process I just mentioned and they all fell flat. I can’t even imagine how much time and money would have been wasted on those ideas had I not validated them properly.
Once your product is validated, you need to focus on the one thing that matters: Sales. So many people start focusing on other things like getting an office, business cards, fancy logos, and other things that make you “look” like you’re running a business. Don’t worry about that stuff, just focus on getting sales.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
For me, the stress of uncertainty. Not knowing which efforts will yield the best results. Trying to decide what to work on when is difficult. Eventually, you make a decision and start working on a project and have no idea if it will pay off in the end. That’s pretty nerve-racking.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- You don’t have to be an inventor to create a unique product. I’m not an inventor. I don’t enjoy the product development process. I have lots of ideas, but no knowledge of engineering or product design that can help me create something new. But that’s not the only way to innovate. With my current company, we are innovating on the size and design of temporary tattoos. The technology is the same that’s been used forever, albeit more premium. Yet we’re improving the aesthetics to fill a need in the market and create a whole new experience to temporary tattoos.
- The more time you spend on the idea, the easier it’ll be to market. There’s obviously a point of diminishing returns to this, and you don’t want to get caught in paralysis by analysis, but I tend to rush into things too quickly. You have to strike the right balance between coming up with an idea that is unique and innovative, and launching that idea before it’s “perfect”. With my other companies, I came up with an idea and immediately started working on them. Had I taken a bit more time to tweak and innovate them, I could have had much more successful products. But you also don’t want to get trapped in trying to figure everything out before you launch, so much so that you never get to market.
- Learn how to manage your stress. I’m still working on this one. Currently, I feel like it’s one of the most important things I can do to further my business. If stress cripples you, you lose time. If that happens enough, you lose your business. I recently watched Bob Iger’s Masterclass and read “The Ride of a Lifetime” and am in awe of how that man manages the incredibly stressful business situations he is placed in. I want to ask him the same way Tony Stark asked Bruce Banner “What’s your secret? Mellow jazz? Bongo drums? Huge bag of weed”? I find that meditating and staying true to my own personal beliefs and ideals helps me to stay more level-headed… but I still have a long way to go to get to Iger-status.
- Focus your efforts. With my previous business I was all over the place and never focused on one specific strategy or channel. It’s very tempting to want to be everywhere. There is so much opportunity out there that you just want to do it all. With a small team and scarce resources, you need to hyper-focus on one strategy at a time. It’s okay to throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, but once you find that strategy you need to double down and focus exclusively on that.
- Every customer matters. In my past, I was chasing the next big milestone. I wasn’t happy with 2 new customers today, because I wanted 200 new customers today. Now, I’ve learned to be grateful for and really take care of each new customer. One way we do this is by sending personalized videos to every customer we can to thank them for purchasing from us and joining the Tony Ray family. When you take care of what you have it tends to grow more than if you neglect it and only focus on getting more.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could start a movement I would empower the world to embrace a growth mindset.
How can our readers further follow you online?
They can follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremy-rios-12685a70/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!