Women Entrepreneurs: Christin Mell of tello films
To honor the many women in the LGBT community who possess a fearless entrepreneurial spirit and keen business acumen in executing their ideas SheWired has launched a Women in Business series of interviews with female business owners from producers to restaurateurs to retail business owners.
For women looking for terrific lesbian-themed web series look no further than tellofilms.com, co-founded by Christin Mell and Nicole Valentine. Through their collective vision and ingenuity they’ve created a hub for exciting, engaging and funny original content for a monthly fee that amounts to less than the price of a fancy latte.
Mell, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of tello, has also executive produced tent pole tello projects including Cowgirl Up, McManusland, I Hate Tommy Finch and the upcoming series The Throwaways.
The Chicago-based company was co-founded over a deep-dish pizza because Mell and Valentine believed the world needed more quality lesbian content, according to Mell.
Mell, who lives and breathes tello when she’s not concentrating on her full-time job, spoke with SheWired about the nitty-gritty of launching her business.
Why were you inspired to launch your own business?
My co-founder Nicole Valentine and I felt that there wasn’t enough lesbian content out there and felt like the internet was the best way to start to help fix that.
What attracted you most to the business you’re in? Was it practicality, passion or a little of both?
I think it was a little of both. I have always loved the films/television industry and worked in that industry for a few years in Los Angeles. I love storytelling. We were passionate about filling the void of lesbian stories and the Internet seemed the most practical way of doing this.
Explain some of the challenges you faced in kick starting your business.
Nicole and I were very lucky when we first started because we had friends who had started a few businesses of their own. They were more than happy to help us conceptualized the business. The first challenge was that we didn’t know squat about building a website so our friends brought in someone who did and who could tell us where to go for help. Second we needed a little start up funding to pay for the building the site. We also really needed content for our site so we had to figure out how to get content.
How did you develop your business plan?
This was difficult because understanding the economics of this new medium were difficult. Most people, at the time we were getting into video websites, figured on making money by being bought out. That wasn’t a great assumption so I had to make an educated guess. I did do a business plan, as best I could. I got business plans from other people and read through them and found one I liked and use that as a template. I then vetted the business plan with my friends who gave great feedback.
Was it difficult coming up with start-up capital after you had the initial great idea for your business?
When I was just starting this process someone gave me great advice: don’t quit your day job until you are making money on your business. This was difficult to hear and even more difficult to do but it has been the reason why tellofilms.com still exists and can now do what we are currently doing. It wasn’t difficult getting a little angel investor funds. I was very lucky to have family and friends invest early so we could build the site and get some early original content. Because Nicole and I both still worked we didn’t need a salary. This meant that a little money went a long way. We didn’t get six figures in start- up capital but we didn’t need that either. We could use it all on the site, which was good because the ad revenue never really came.
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Before launching your company were you aware of the formalities of tax filing, employment taxes and withholding? If not, how did you become familiar with those aspects of ownership?
I knew a little bit because I was in independent producer in Los Angeles and saved receipts and did tax filings but I didn’t know a whole bunch about a schedule C tax filing. I had a good friend who was also my accountant and she walked me though things. It’s good to know folks who know these things and are willing to help. The internet was also a great resource.
Do you have lawyers, business advisors or a team to offer advice or guide you?
Yes! I had a lawyer at first helping me as well as an accountant who were both friends. I also had friends who started their own business who were willing to help me as well.
Explain some of the rewards and drawbacks - if any - to owning your own business as opposed to working for someone else.
I do both currently (own my own business and work for someone else) and always will. I realized that I don’t want tellofilms.com to be my only job and I’m really lucky to love what I do. If tello were my only job I think I would have to make decisions based on making money and not on what might be the best thing in the long run for tello. This also allows me to support more artists making lesbian stories.
The only problem is that I am always working on tello during my free time and so I’m always checking on the tech requests, checking e-mail and reading web statistics. I work on tello when I wake up in the morning and then when I come home at night. It is always something I look after.
Are there challenges that are specific to being a female business owner? Or do you think men who launch a business face equitable issues?
I haven’t come across any specific issues but I also feel like I’m on the fringe and kind of doing my own thing. I don’t really notice how other people are treated, as I’m too busy working on more content and making sure the site is running.
What sort of ingenuity has helped to keep your business thriving during trying economic times over the past few years?
My creative partners Jessica King and Julie Keck and I are always trying to find new ways to story tell on the web – partly to push our creative juices but also to find cheaper ways to produce content. We make an entire season for what it costs some web series to make one episode. We have to do this because we won’t go into debt making a movie. This is what has made us stay alive during the recession. That and I have a fulltime job.
What is the most rewarding aspect of owning your own business?
I can make all the decisions.
How do you see your business growing over the next five years?
We will continue to make quality content and collaborate with great artists.
When you take time away from work to splurge, how do you like to treat yourself?
Travel, but I still check e-mail (when traveling).
Do you have advice for new entrepreneurs? What are some tips or pitfalls to avoid?
Have another job that pays you until your business takes off. Surround yourself with friends who support you. Be okay with removing people who don’t support you and your business. Always reply to e-mails in a timely manner.
Check out tello films.