A serial entrepreneur and Tribble maker extraordinaire opens up about her businesses, and her process
The term “remote worker” encompasses a lot of people doing many different things. We’re employees, freelancers, entrepreneurs, or a combination of all three. In today’s post, we’re going behind the scenes with Molly Hutt, owner of Molly Bee Studio and the Tribble Orphanarium to see remote work in action.
MOLLY, YOU’RE A SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE DIFFERENT BUSINESSES YOU’VE RUN, BOTH NOW AND IN THE PAST?
It all started when I was a kid. I was pumping out craft items faster than my parents could find places to display them, so I started selling hand-stamped stationery door to door in my neighborhood. I was also a very serious purveyor of fine lemonade (none of that powdered nonsense).
I started my first real business in high school, dyeing yarn and selling it on Etsy. My shop was, embarrassingly, called Nerdclub2000, after the name of my Mathletes team. You can still see all my sales here — but be warned, it’s as dorky as it sounds. Things really blew up when I was mentioned on a knitting podcast with 60,000 listeners, but then I went off to college and discovered socializing, so that ended.
Currently I’m running an Etsy business called Adopt A Tribble (a.k.a. Terra Prime Tribble Orphanarium), where I make Star Trek fan stuff. This mostly consists of Tribbles from Star Trek the Original Series in the form of throw pillows and Christmas ornaments, but I’m also working on Tribble keychains and “Proudly Go” stickers. I’ve also been messing around with greeting cards and have some really goofy Valentine’s Day cards in the works. Every now and then I do a custom cosplay outfit for a fan.
Since I lost my day job, I’ve been preparing to launch a second brand, Molly Bee Studio, for my art and design work. I’m still figuring out exactly what the brand will look like, but for the moment I’m making hand-painted mugs and etched glassware from upcycled thrift store finds. I’ll probably add some stationery and printables, but the whole thing is still in its beginning stages.
WHAT DOES YOUR DAY TO DO LOOK LIKE? WHEN DO YOU WORK, AND WHEN DO YOU TURN OFF WORK?
I’m really bad at work/life balance. While I was working full-time at a non-profit, I’d often put in 35-hour weeks at the office and then another 20–40 hours at home making Tribbles. It was all production and advertising without any time to be creative. I’m probably working about as much now, but I hardly notice it because the creative parts don’t feel like work (and because I get to watch the Great British Bake Off while I’m filling orders).
My daily schedule varies, but I’m a major night owl, so I typically start work around 10 or 11am and spend a few hours filling orders, taking care of customer service, working on social media stuff, etc. I stop sometime between 4 and 6pm for dinner, social plans, etc., and then I pick up again around 9 or 10pm, which is when creative time starts. Lately I’ve been spending most of that time painting, learning Illustrator, and brainstorming potential new products.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA OF MAKING TRIBBLES?
My partner, Brent, is a musical theatre writer and a major Trekkie. We actually met because he was writing a Star Trek musical, so for his birthday/housewarming in April, I decided I wanted to make some Trekkie throw pillows for his couch. I figured that Tribbles are basically tiny pillows already, so I just ran with it.
At his housewarming/birthday party, a bunch of his friends noticed the Tribbles and, after giving them a thorough squish and cuddle, suggested that I make and sell them.
HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR COSTS DOWN?
Whenever possible, I use upcycled materials. Some of the stuffing in the Tribbles is made of fabric scraps from my studio and raw cotton insulation that I get from a neighbor. I get most of my mugs and glassware from Philly AIDS Thrift and all kinds of awesome supplies from Resource Exchange. Both are non-profits supporting great causes and keeping usable material out of landfills. The cost savings is just a perk!
Whenever possible, I buy my faux fur from local shops. I live right next to Philly’s Fabric Row (which is exactly what it sounds like), so I’ve had the opportunity to build relationships with the staff and owners. It’s always a pleasure to buy from people who have become my friends.
HOW DO YOU PRIMARILY REACH YOUR AUDIENCE?
I mainly reach my audience through Instagram. I’m on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, too, but those haven’t blown up in quite the same way. Instagram really lends itself to handmade businesses, since they’re often really visual. I’m also starting to look into craft fairs (for Molly Bee) and nerd conventions (for Adopt a Tribble) because I’d love to meet more of my customers face-to-face. This is partially because I’d like to get to know them and partially because people have a very hard time resisting Tribbles when they have a chance to give them a squish
IF YOU COULD GIVE A NEW ENTREPRENEUR ONE PIECE OF ADVICE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Excellent customer service is free. When you’re selling online, it’s easy to think of your customers as disembodied dollar signs, but it’s rewarding both personally and professionally to remember that they’re real live people.
I wasn’t expecting to build an entire social network around my Tribbles, but I get so much more from my followers than just sales; they were there to support me when I lost my job and when I was slowed down by migraines. They’re always excited to share in my personal and professional victories. Go the extra mile! Your customers will be thrilled, and you might even make some new friends in the process.
A big thank you to Molly for taking the time to chat with us. You can follow Molly here: Twitter and Instagram:@adoptatribble and @mollybeestudio
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TribbleOrphanarium/ and https://www.facebook.com/mollybeestudio/