Melissa Clayton is the founder and CEO of motherhood jewelry brand Tiny Tags. She is a former CPA who is passionate about entrepreneurship and motherhood and is committed to sharing the lessons she has learned along the way with other women.
As of 2022, Melissa has grown Tiny Tags to a multi-million dollar business without taking on any outside investment and manufacturing in the USA. A serial entrepreneur, Melissa is also the inventor of The Matte, as seen on ABC’s Shark Tank and Today Show’s “The Next Big Thing,” the foldable mat that lays over a sink, creating more counter space to use while getting ready.
We asked Melissa about scaling Tiny Tags from a side hustle and her advice for fellow female founders.
Q&A with Tiny Tags Founder Melissa Clayton
Q: Before Tiny Tags, you were a CPA in the corporate world. What motivated you to make the jump into starting a business?
A: I think I was born with the entrepreneurial bug so when I saw my friends’ reactions to the first “mommy’ necklace I made–I knew there was something special there. When I started Tiny Tags all of the orders were through emails and phone calls so I was able to connect and chat with other moms and I loved that.
Q: I’m sure your accounting skills have come in handy while growing Tiny Tags. What are the typical financial missteps startups take?
A: Absolutely accounting has helped me in the early years and still does. I think one of the biggest mistakes startups make is not pricing products correctly which usually means not charging enough. When I initially priced my product, I calculated the cost of goods in my pricing model but also included my time as well as all the other costs of running a business from IT to the cost of tax preparation.
Q: You’re passionate about being open about numbers. That can be scary for bootstrapped startups. Why is it important?
A: I am passionate about being open about numbers when someone is in a position of giving advice or being held out as an expert in a topic. It is critical to know both sides of the balance sheet to get a real picture of the health of a business. I have sat in plenty of events where an expert gives advice and shares their year-over-year growth but leaves out how they are funded or how much debt they have taken on.
I feel that if you are going to give advice you should be willing to be transparent with your numbers.
When I was asked to speak at the Female Founder Collective event about how to get to a million dollars in revenue I shared my numbers with the audience because I wanted to give the full picture. I think others are reluctant to share numbers because they want to appear bigger than they actually are and I understand that. I felt very vulnerable sharing my numbers but ultimately felt it was worth it.
Q: Was there a moment when you realized Tiny Tags was more than just a side hustle?
A: The moment my husband quit his job to join Tiny Tags was definitely when this business went from a side hustle to the real deal!
Q: Your community and culture at Tiny Tags are just as important as the products. How have you remained true to your values as a business?
A: Our community makes it really easy to stay true to who we are because they inspire us every day. One of our team members said last week ‘I am a better person from working at Tiny Tags’ and I think that really captures how special our culture and our community are.
Every day we receive either an email or DM, see a post or read a gift note that makes you pause to either reflect on how precious life is or how much we all need each other. I actually received a text message from a customer today (yes many have my cell number) who ordered a Tiny Tags with the date of her friend’s last chemo treatment and she wanted to make sure it arrived on the exact date. I pinch myself that people come to us to commemorate such incredible moments.
Q: Okay. We need to hear the Meryl Streep story.
A: I love this story because it is about hustling and not taking no for an answer. Meryl Streep was the keynote speaker at the MA Conference for Women and I was attending as well as had a table at the event. I found the person responsible for the speakers and told her I had the perfect speaker gift for Meryl Streep—I mean after all what do you give Meryl Streep? I made a stunning 14k gold circle pendant engraved with her four children’s names and just knew if she saw it that she would love it.
The day of the event I hunted down the right person and handed her the Tiny Tags box and made her promise to hand deliver it to Meryl Streep. I explained that I was a small business owner and that this meant everything to me- my hope was that she would feel the magnitude of what this could mean for us.
Two days later a customer tagged me on Instagram where Meryl was wearing her Tiny Tags.
She then proceeded to wear it for two major photo shoots. It was incredible and just a pivotal moment for the business.
Q: How did you know The Matte would be an ideal product to bring on Shark Tank?
A: I thought Lori Greiner, the shark who works with QVC would love The Matte because it solves a universal problem millions of women have every day–limited counter space.
Q: What’s the worst piece of business advice you’ve received?
A: The worst advice I received was that I should make baby jewelry. In the early years and even still today, people will make suggestions on products or markets we should go after, however, I always believed that to build a brand we needed to have a very specific audience in mind. One of my favorite books is Brand Warfare by David D’Alessandro and Michele Owens where they introduce the idea that if you try to be everything to everybody you are nobody. This really resonated with me which is why we are 100% focused on moms. Not only do I think it is good for building a brand, it is what is in my heart.
Q: What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
A: Know your why. As Simon Sinek talks about in his book Start with Why–knowing your why is extremely powerful especially if you are able to share it with your customers. Customers want to feel connected to a brand and sharing your why is one of the best ways to do this. I have shared that Tiny Tags has been a way for me to express my own feelings about my mother and connect with other women.
I grew up with my father and my mother often struggled to show up, not because she didn’t love me, but because she didn’t fully love herself and lacked a community. Much of what has propelled me in Tiny Tags is sharing stories of motherhood so that every mother feels supported, loved and not alone. I am so thankful for all the mothers willing to share their story with the hopes of helping and inspiring others. This is my “why” and while it is hard to share sometimes I know it is why we have the community we have at Tiny Tags.
Q: We obsessively discuss work/life balance in the entrepreneurship community. Do you think finding a balance is possible?
A: I do think balance is possible if you are able to focus on the journey and not look at starting a business as a means to an end.
Q: As a female founder, what advice would you give to other women looking to start a business?
A: Find a mentor who you trust and will give you honest feedback.