After working with several experiential agencies, Chiara Adin struggled to find an agency that married the culture and high creative expectations of Mother with the extremely detailed production chops found at experiential agencies. Thus, Chiara founded NA Collective to create herself what she couldn’t find elsewhere.
Read more to learn about Chiara’s recipe of successful entrepreneurship and the challenges faced by her as an entrepreneur.
What did you eat for breakfast?
Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I would literally eat it for every meal if I could (and I often do!) Today was whole wheat toast with egg whites, tomatoes and avocado with a large coffee.
What’s your workout?
It usually depends what race or event I’m training for but throughout the week it usually rotates between running, swimming and cycling. I also usually work in some boxing or boot camp classes to shake it up a bit. Right now, I’m gearing up for a few stand-up paddle board endurance events and a marathon. Working out is how I start my day, it’s my “me” time when I can truly focus on myself with no interruptions. I often put my phone on airplane mode!
What picture is on your phone’s home screen? Share it with us.
It’s a photo from my latest vacation to Bonaire with my best friend. It’s an area where we hiked along the water. Water always makes me happy.
Tell us about your work. What inspired you to start your business? Where did you start and where are you now?
The crazy thing is, I actually went to school for what I do now. My degree is in Marketing with a Concentration in Advertising and Promotions. It all started my senior year of college, I was selected to be part of our school’s Ad Team which was participating in a National competition. I had been studying abroad in Barcelona and stayed through the summer so I hadn’t interned anywhere and realized I was pretty late to the game. My teacher introduced me to a post-graduation Ad Team member who was working full time for an Experiential Agency (now MKTG) and she agreed to give me a shot. Experiential wasn’t something we discussed in any of our classes so I was excited to dive right in. It instantly clicked, my logistical thinking (thanks Mom!) paired with my creativity were a perfect fit and I was constantly being challenged to come up with ideas but also to figure out how to bring those ideas to life. I built the entire experiential portion of our campaign and then presented it to an audience of 50+ marketers. It was an amazing learning experience and our team came in third. Since that day I’ve always felt really confident speaking to experiential ideas, activations, and logistics.
From there, my career progressed quickly. I was hired before graduation and lucky enough to work with an amazing team that ended up leaving to start the new experiential department at Mother New York a well-respected Creative Agency. After being with Mother for 5 years and then joining a few smaller experiential agencies afterward, I struggled to find an agency that married the culture and high creative expectations of Mother with the extremely detailed production chops you found at the experiential agencies. I was sharing an office with my now business partner and longtime Technical Director when it finally clicked, we should just create it ourselves. Thus, NA Collective was born and we built what we couldn’t find elsewhere, the perfect marriage of creative, production and technical experiential excellence.
What do you see for your future?
The hardest question of all! I have a lot of goals and ambitions but dissecting and prioritizing them is the challenge. I always want to do a million things! I see myself continuing to grow my business, pushing the limits of creative consumer engagements and eventually opening an office in another major city either nationally or internationally. My favorite events are the ones that are different and never been done before and they can happen anywhere at any time.
Personally, however, I see myself pushing my own limits, climbing mountains or tackling endurance challenges. My most immediate future includes stand up paddling the perimeter of Lake Tahoe and running the Antarctica Ice Marathon. I like to have a physical challenge to focus on as it keeps me grounded mentally and physically which is when I do my best work.
How large is your business? How many employees do you have?
We’re a boutique agency with 22 full time employees.
Tell us a success story about funding your business.
When we started the company, my partner and I put in equal amounts of startup capital, not a lot, but enough to get us through the first 3 months with the ability to pay our rent, pay our 2 employees, and create a website/print business cards and actually look legit. If we didn’t have any projects or clients after the first 3 months we need to re-assess our plans. Since those first three months, we’ve been consistently busy and growing. We’ve never needed to seek outside investment or funding.
What do you see as challenges for you and your business? What are some opportunities?
Overcoming challenges is generally the day to day for any business, whether it’s a client imposed challenge or an internal company related challenge. Our job as business owners is to address those challenges and essentially turn them into opportunities. Currently, my business is in a pivotal period; we’re now established within the industry, having been in business for 3+ years and growing from a small 4 person company to a 22 person company. With that growth comes a handful of challenges, trying to balance the growth with the right projects and team members, not over hiring or being under staffed, and, most importantly, having the right team for the projects we do take on. Our industry is predominantly project based so projecting can be difficult at times.
In addition, we’re starting to really look at who we are as an agency, what’s important to us, what type of projects we want to pursue and what we want people to know us for. We see this as an opportunity to streamline our communications, putting a strong stake in the ground to solidify the NA brand. We know the quality of our work, and our current clients do as well (many of which have been with us since day 1) but now we want the rest of the world to know. The future of marketing lives with experiential, intimate experiences where brands can engage their audience in more impactful and meaningful ways. That is the largest opportunity of all.
Tell us a story about a success in your business or a mistake you overcame?
Moving into our current office from our initial mini start-up office was one of my proudest moments as a business owner. I would consider our current office a major stepping stone in our business growth. It was a major accomplishment and the first visible and physical signs of our success an agency. We moved into our new 3,400 sq. ft. space 9 months after starting the company. We completely renovated and re-designed the office space to create a physical representation of the NA brand. We felt like we’d finally “made it”, becoming a legitimate contender within the experiential space. A little over a year ago, we further expanded by taking over a large portion of the floor above us and turning it into a Design Studio, where our Creative team works their magic.
What do you love about being an entrepreneur?
I love the freedom and how multifaceted my role is. I am no longer just a Producer; I am a leader, mentor, creative thinker, producer, athlete and more. I really enjoy managing and working with our team every day, coming up with new ideas and processes. And if there is something that isn’t working, I can work with my business partner and my team to change it.
What about your business matters most deeply to you? How does it engage your values?
My team matters the most to me. We work in a service based industry, and with any agency we’re only as good as the people we have working for us. Although I have high expectations for the execution of our events, and hold that extremely important, I believe it all starts with the culture, happiness and working relationship of the team. I want to make sure every member of the team is learning, growing, and on the career path they aspire to. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the mentors who have taught me and looked out for me over the years. Relationships are everything.
What would you say is your “entrepreneurial superpower?”
Relationships and reading people. I am really good at walking into a room, making people feel comfortable, and reading the situation.
Who is the entrepreneur you admire most right now? Why does s/he inspire you?
I really admire Blake Mycoskie, the Tom’s shoes founder. I was really drawn to TOMS when they first launched the company, the business model was the first of it’s kind, a sales approach heavy with philanthropy. I love my job, but when I’m not working on the agency I’m often fundraising for The Flatwater Foundation of which I sit on the Board of Directors. That cause is near and dear to my heart and the reason for a lot of my endurance races. Although TOMS is an entirely different cause, I am constantly impressed by their thinking and innovative ways of raising funds and product for children in need. When they launched their eyewear line, I may have been the first person to buy a pair! They’ve brought a lot of awareness to their cause and have given away thousands of shoes and eyeglasses to children in developing countries. They’ve done a great job of staying true to the TOMS brand and have been smart with the product additions they’ve added to their portfolio over the years (coffee, eyeglasses the local artisans shop etc.). If I wasn’t running NA, I’d be knocking down doors to try to work at TOMS.
What’s the best and the worst thing about being an entrepreneur, as a woman?
The best thing about being a female entrepreneur is how many doors it has opened up for me and how many other amazing women entrepreneur’s I’ve had the privilege to meet along the way. In the past 3+ years, I’ve been able to participate in networking events with like-minded individuals that inspire me to think differently, be stronger and are constantly teaching me new things. It’s been great to meet new friends outside of my current circle that have different perspectives and new thinking. Even though most are not in my industry, their thoughts, opinions, and experience are invaluable and have helped me grow both personally and professionally.
As silly as it sounds, I recently became single and it has made being a woman entrepreneur a bit more complicated than it was when I was in a 7 year long relationship. I constantly have to read situations closely when clients, partners and work colleagues ask to eat/drink outside of work hours. I’ve had dates ask me for a job, career advice, or to look at their portfolios. I’ve had men be intimidated my job and life decisions but I refuse to be anyone less that who am I. I’ve also had work colleagues who have tried to turn networking drinks into a date. I’m not married with kids and I’m not married to my job, but I do try to find that perfect work/life balance and always try to keep that line in the sand drawn.
Do you think male entrepreneurs are “different” from female entrepreneurs, and if so, how? If not, why not?
I personally don’t believe that they are, or more specifically that they shouldn’t be. Both my parents were entrepreneurs, with companies in different industries, so growing up I never really saw the difference between them. They would give each other advice based on their experiences and the conversation went both ways, sometimes my mom needed advice and sometimes it was my father. It never crossed my mind growing up that a female couldn’t do the same exact thing a male could. Even in my career, I’ve never felt that my sex affected my ability to grow within the work force or my industry. With that said, I am not naïve to certain industries and cities being more male dominated, my opinion is based solely on my own experience.
What the best advice you ever got, and from whom?
“If you follow your instincts and do what is best for you, it will always be better for everyone involved.” – my mom and the female entrepreneur who paved the way for me to be who I am today.
Check out NA Collective!