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Meet Liz Curtis of Table + Teaspoon

Today we’d like to introduce you to Liz Curtis.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Liz. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’ve always been interested in creating beautiful things – luxe tablescapes, interior design, plush floral arrangements, but never had the creation of anything remotely culinary tempted me. Ten years ago, a dinner party at my house meant an impromptu potluck, where my erstwhile contribution was delivery pizza. Literally, Dominos.

Everything changed the summer I spent studying at home for the California Bar Exam in 2009. Going stir-crazy and craving comfort food, I turned on the Food Network and decided that it couldn’t possibly be that hard to roast a chicken (particularly given that the entire process looked like it took five minutes on TV). Though it took a bit more than five minutes to roast the chicken, the results were more than worth the effort. After this experience, the call of the kitchen sounded fiercely. I realized that my passion for aesthetic wonderment extended to the edible after all.

I started posting my creations on Facebook via my Blackberry (eek!), and similarly culinarily-challenged friends asked me to start a blog that made seemingly difficult recipes easy, which is how Table + Teaspoon was born. With a little encouragement from mentors and my loyal blog following, I decided to leave the security of my corporate litigation job in 2013, and turn Table + Teaspoon into a catering, events, and interior design firm. The idea was to get my hands dirty learning the industry, and then figure out how to scale it into something national.

Before leaving the law, I spent three years hosting meticulously-decorated multiple-course dinner parties for twelve friends every ten days in my studio apartment’s dining room, until I was confident that my skill-set was on a professional level. Lacking that option for interior design and event planning, I offered my services at cost or insanely reduced rates (think $1/hr) while I was learning the business. I didn’t rely solely on trial-and-error, I also leaned on my friends for guidance. You’ll be surprised by how many people will feel inspired by your passion and want to share their knowledge with you.

Chef friends, photographer friends, design friends, florist friends, startup friends, and accountant friends were all quick to respond to my 911 texts for help when I found myself lost in a completely new industry. Their tips were invaluable, and I undoubtedly wouldn’t be where I am today without their support.

The specific idea for how to go about scaling into a traditional startup hit me the summer of 2015 while picking up my zillionth order from an enormous (and very unglamorous) party rental warehouse in South San Francisco. I thought to myself, in a city where you can order literally anything on-demand – flowers, dresses, tuxes, meals, chefs, groceries, cocktails, servers, sommeliers – why can’t you similarly order your tablescape?

Pulling together everything you need to serve your meal can be more daunting than preparing the meal itself. So what if there was a website you could go to, put in your party date and the number of guests, choose from beautifully curated designs that include everything you need to set your table, get all of this on your doorstep with step-by-step instructions, and then box it back up and send it away when your party is over?

With this new idea in mind, I used my entire savings and a loan from my family to bootstrap the vision for a “rent the table” business model. This meant designing flatware and linens, forming relationships with glassware and China manufacturers, finding a suitable space to store, sanitize, and ship product, creating elegant boxes that would ship both ways without breakage, negotiating shipping rates, building partnerships, and relaunching the Table + Teaspoon site as an e-commerce platform with rental capabilities. The On-Demand and Sharing Economies are enormous and growing exponentially every day.

People want to entertain in their homes, but don’t know how or don’t have the bandwidth to anymore. Hiring an event planner every time you have people over, or curating and buying your own dishware is expensive and time-consuming. I knew that this was a space that needed disrupting, event rentals and event planners are a $10 billion industry collectively with no tech innovation whatsoever. The market is clearly ripe for the service Table + Teaspoon has to offer, and no one else is doing it on a nationwide level.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The most important thing that I’ve learned during this process is how important it is to remember why you started pursuing your passion in the first place. Here’s the thing about starting your own business: one moment you are successful, confident, and impenetrable – the next you’re struggling, confused, and afraid. Building something from the ground up isn’t sexy. It’s effectively the professional equivalent of bipolar disorder.

For those of you considering risking it all, here’s my advice. Decide what your passion is worth, write it down on a piece of paper and stick it in your wallet. Pull it out when you need a quick reminder that this is what makes you happy. Figure out a plan, dip into your savings or empty your 401k, tell people what you want to do and ask for help, make a website (Wix and Shopify are incredible), create a logo (Hipster Logo Generator is a free lifesaver), and shoot for the stars.

Worst case, you go back to your stable job with the knowledge that you didn’t hold yourself back from your dreams. Best case, Martha Stewart Empire!! Okay, maybe that’s just me – but you get the gist. 😉

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Bootstrapping the company for as long as I have has been challenging. It was important to me to prove the product conceptually by actually getting it out there to consumers. If there’s one thing I would change, it would be fundraising my seed round earlier on so that I could focus on growth more quickly in the process.

Pricing:

  • Table setting rentals are $24 per person

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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