Episode 069 – Gabriel Ripley
Welcome to another episode of The HERO Show. I am your host Richard Matthews, (@AKATheAlchemist) and you are listening to episode #069 with Gabriel Ripley – Supporting Artists in Using Technology to Secure Careers & Propel Their Business.
Gabriel Ripley is a computer geek, progressive businessperson, event producer, business planner, & freelancer amplifying artists, studios, and companies that are leaving a positive impact
Gabe has been helping artists use technology to propel and secure their careers and business since the mid-nineties. After finding great success in promoting tattoo artists, Gabe’s first tattoo studio opened its doors in 2005, and grew to a multimillion dollar international tattoo company, before closing in 2018.
In 2007, Gabe started producing professional development events in unique locations, and now produces or co-produces a 4 day tattoo gathering, an art retreat, a 2 day conference, and numerous single day events. Event locations include resorts in Massachusetts, Colorado, New Mexico, Venice Italy, and Dublin Ireland among others. Gabe Ripley has presented at the Worldwide Tattoo Conference and taught a seminar “Building a GREAT tattoo business” at countless tattoo conventions and online.
Here’s just a taste of what we talked about today:
- Gabe, having the experience of both building up and then losing a great business, is in a unique position to do stress tests and help people. His goal is to be able to produce a healthy business. In the tattoo world or any kind of business world, it’s tough just to get a culture of healthy people who want to communicate and be best-in-class. That’s part of his skillset and part of how he helps people.
- Gabe talks about the challenges in marketing the tattoo industry and its artists in the face of negativity from a subset of our generation.
- Tattooing is an exceptionally intense art. One gets tattooed because there is something on the inside that they want to express on their skin.
- Gabe tries to answer the toughest question in this interview: What is his favorite tattoo?
- Gabe talks about his origins in the computer programming industry.
- One powerful mindset/tool that is essential to Gabe is constantly thinking about things in long distances both in time and space. To be in that sense of longevity and thinking about things on that scale. Then, trying to fit all the puzzle pieces backwards.
- “When you’re bringing people in, you have to vet ’em and you’re betting your millions of dollars on them. You actually have two million dollars and you’re putting that in their hands and asking them to hold that responsibility for you.”
- Gabe learned from his mentor that every entrepreneur must have a solid Business Emergency Plan.
How To Stay Connected With Gabriel Ripley?
Want to stay connected with Gabe? Please check out his social profiles below.
And with that… let’s get to listening to the episode…
– Heroes are an inspiring group of people. Every one of them, from the larger-than-life comic book heroes you see on the big silver screen to the everyday heroes that let us live the privileged lives we do. Every hero has a story to tell. The doctor saving lives at your local hospital. The war veteran down the street who risked his lives for our freedom. The police officers and firefighters who risk their safety to insure ours. Every hero is special and every story worth telling, but there is one class of heroes that I think is often ignored, the entrepreneur, the creator, the producer, the ones who look at the problems in this world and think to themselves, “You know what? “I can fix that, I can help people, and I can make a difference.” Then they go out and do exactly that, by creating a new product or introducing a new service. Some go on to change the world, others make a world of difference to their customers. Welcome to The HERO Show. Join us as we pull back the masks of the world’s finest HEROpreneurs and learn the secrets to their powers, their success, and their influence, so you can use those secrets to attract more sales, make more money, and experience more freedom in your business. I’m your host, Richard Matthews, and we are on in three, two, one. Hello and welcome back to The HERO Show. My name is Richard Matthews and I am live on the line today with Gabe Ripley. Gabe, are you there?
– Hey, how are you? Yes, absolutely, you’re loud and clear.
– Awesome, glad to have you here today. Let me do a quick intro for you. I got my notes over here on the side. You are a computer geek, progressive business person, event producer, business partner, freelance F flying artist, and several other things. One of the cool things I saw in your bio here is you ran a tattoo studio that you built all the way up to multiple millions of dollars that you just recently shut down, 2018.
– Well, yeah, that’s a rollercoaster of a ride of a story. Yeah, it was inadvertently shut down but–
– Inadvertently shut down?
– Yeah, I learned for years about how to grow a retail business or businesses, but then also, about the importance of having a solid foundation and just the importance of vetting people and a lot of things that people had told me how to do, making sure you… I actually have the good lawyer and accountant and that kind of stuff. That’s a bittersweet story. There was a lot of greats that came out of it. It came to a bitter end, but now, we are taking all of the lessons and putting them to use in different ways.
– So now you focus on a business called TattooNOW. Is that correct?
– Correct, yeah, and then it’s actually the foundation, off the mat, that came before the retail spaces where we use technology and proper business tools to help amplify positive artists, mostly, to TattooNOW, tattooers, and the tattoo studio owners, events, and it’s pretty fun. We’ve been using technology, well, since the mid ’90s, really, officially since 1999, and pretty much primarily in the tattoo world, although there’s other arts and crafts that definitely we’re working with, too.
– Then I also noticed that you teach and speak on running tattoo businesses, so you actually help others in that space to grow their businesses, as well.
– Yeah, actually, a lot of the what works is just sharing, and a lot of this actually comes as a direct influence from my wife. She’s an early-childhood educator, and the human brains are probably the most valuable resource, in a business sense, not in a cold sense, and the brains, when you’re developing them, have the best return, not just financially but effects-wise, the point being, through her influence, I realized that sharing what I’ve learned with other people, of course, was my responsibility, I suppose. I spent 10 years talking specifically about how to build up great businesses, and now, a lot of the lessons I teach are how to do that the proper way so that some of the things that I fucked up, other people don’t, because a lot of that stuff really does have to be put in the right order. Doing it out-of-order can mean all the difference.
– Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. The first question I have for you, basically, is “What is it that you’re known for now? “What’s your business like now? “What do people come to you for? “What’s your primary revenue drivers in your business now?”
– Well, it’s a couple different… Now I’m a freelancer, so I have, probably, about five to seven different clients and projects. I work for a couple different tattoo studios, again, having the experience of both building up and then losing a great business, puts me in a unique position to do a stress test and to help people, really, because the goal is to be able to produce a really healthy business, and inside of the tattoo world or any kind of business world, it’s tough just to get a culture of healthy people that want to communicate and be best-in-class, or if you don’t wanna be best-in-class, not that everyone has to be on the same page, so that’s part of my skillset and part of how I help people. I’m also an event producer. For years, I would and I do produce events where we create environments where professional development is generally the focus, so we’ll pick unique locations and have specific invite lists and try to curate live events that bring in anywhere between a couple hundred or a couple thousand people all on the same wavelength. So, I work with events and a couple, specifically. Then, I have a supply company or two that I work with, so that, again, I could take a peek at all the different pieces, parts, of a business, and then see what people need, see what ingredients they have, see what they wanna do. A lot of it’s defining mission and values, communication structures, and then marketing, of course, as one of the fun parts, especially with tattooers, to be able to tell their stories in honest ways through a variety of different mediums to attract like-minded people who wanna get tattooed by ’em, again, when those are positive tattooers that are part of a positive, life-changing story for people. I’m sorry, I’ll wrap this up, ’cause I know its a little long, but I’m doing a couple different things for a lot of people, but generally, the umbrella of it all is, tattooing marks people for life and if that’s done in a positive, mindful manner, that means that the person who’s getting tattooed is going to remember this experience in a positive manner for the rest of their life, and so, business-wise, it’s compounding effects. Every single day, for the rest of their life, all of the tattoo shop and tattoo artists and tattoo conventions, and in some ways, tattoo-supply companies, all of their clients are gonna remember that story, so when people are deliberate about making a positive experience, it’s a tremendous, positive effect. Every business is like, “We wanna make the world better “through better toilet paper,” or whatever, but tattooing actually does make people more-complete, better people, so what I like to do is help amplify the people that are in that space to have positive voices through using mostly business and philosophical, political ideas.
– I have an interesting follow-up question on that, ’cause you have a very positive outlook on the tattooing industry, and historically, that industry was one that was started as in the criminal underbelly kind of thing, and tattooing was illegal in a lot of states for a long time.
– The oldest people that are getting unfrozen from the tundras have had tattoos, often, so certainly, and I fall in the same , but you may have been quoting me on that. Sometimes those fall in the same thing, so recently, it’s been thugs and sailors, but everyone has been getting tattooed since we’ve been people.
– Since the earliest days, but in the US, it was illegal until just recently, in the last 30 or 40 years, right?
– Absolutely. In Connecticut, where I grew up, it was illegal for the first five or six years that I was getting tattooed. I lived up in Massachusetts, or it was the other way around. It was illegal up here in Massachusetts, so I was heading down to Connecticut to get tattooed. Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s a very self-empowering art, and it has been, again, as we were talking about, since the dawn of people, so either it was deliberate or… I think there’s a lot of things that are self-empowering, that the powers that be through the course of history have tried to suppress or had made illegal. I was recently over in eastern Europe, where it was illegal 15 years ago, I think, so it’s been closer. They were under Communist rule, so everything was much more closed. Again, it’s either deliberate or it just happened that using self-empowering art has been pushed to the outskirts, but it’s pretty amazing to think that through the pioneering works of amazing tattooers, bringing real artistic sensibilities into tattooing, now, in our modern sense in America and in other places… Yeah, I don’t know, it’s amazing.
– I’m curious, because you talked a little bit about marketing, is how do you market tattoo artists and the tattoo industry when you have a subset of our generation that still think of tattoos and tattooing in a negative, criminal sense, when I know the younger generations don’t have that ’cause it hasn’t been illegal for them, but I know, you have a mix there, and I know that’s gotta be a hard story to sell.
– I’ve never really been interested in trying to attract the masses or even large groups of people. Just in general, for me, the way I grew up, I never… Again, how old is it, being cool or being part of the big crowd isn’t necessarily something that I’ve never tried to gravitate towards. When I was getting into this, tattooing, again, it was somewhat counter-cultural.
– Yeah, antiestablishment, counter-culture, but again, just getting tattooed doesn’t necessarily make you rebellious anymore. Being rebellious is what makes rebellious. I suppose, nowadays, you get tattooed to be cool. It’s almost the same, like getting tattooed to be rebellious or getting tattooed to fit in. Mostly, I think you should get tattooed because something on the inside that you want to express on your outside, and you can’t not, so you have to find a great artist to be able to make you feel complete. Again, that’s a specific type of person to get that kind of tattoos. In the realm of tattoos, where I find myself isn’t necessarily in where everyone’s getting tattooed, but that’s always served me well, but as a business, you don’t have to work with everybody. You only have to work with your like-minded people. Life seems like trying to find eco-friendly tattoo supplies or something or ethical tattoo suppliers that are keeping the morals of tattooing still strong in their businesses. Those things do still matter. It’s easy to get cheaper at places, but again, if you’re trying to be positive and tattooing gives us enough business power so that we can actually choose where we’re spending our money with ethical suppliers or moral suppliers. A lot of the people that I listen to in the tattoo world really take that responsibility seriously, ’cause tattooing allows us such an amazing lifestyle that we really do wanna make sure that we’re using it to continuously be positive and again, to bring positive energy in the world and to live that is in alignment with the values.
– Real quick, before we get too far into your story, what’s your favorite tattoo so far you’ve got?
– Oh, the favorite tattoo that I have, the next one, right? I’ve got a great collection. If you go to the website, you’ll see the list of tattooers on there. Picking any one is pretty difficult. The one of my daughter isn’t quite finished. The lovebirds on my neck from my wife I can’t see every day, but I’ve got a lot of great work from a lot of great artists that I’ve appreciated, so that’s a tough question to answer.
– Hard question, yeah, I can imagine. One of the things that we talk about all the time on the show is your origin story. Every entrepreneur, every hero, has their origin story. It’s where you started to realize that you were different that maybe you could use your superpowers to help people. Where did you start to discover or develop the value that you can bring to this world and really get into the entrepreneur world?
– Well, I’ve always been a computer geek, so I don’t know how this, is it gonna go–
– Geek power, there you go.
– I was always a computer programmer from a very young age. I guess everyone’s on computers nowadays, but this would be, I was born in ’74 or so, early ’80s, I was programming when I was about eight or nine years old. Whenever I wanted to play a video game, I had to program it out in Basic, so computers we’re something that always I was able to dive into. It was an environment that behaves very similarly, even though the world is very crazy and chaotic, and the more chaotic at the time. The computer, you feed it in instructions, and it will do what you just told it to do. At the time, the instructions were 16 pages of Basic code, line by line, you have to get every single one right, and then you could play Pong. I didn’t have the recorder, so I had to retype it out every time, point being, as far as origin stories, for me, computers and programming, I started doing that from a very young age. So, I started feeling in my late teens, early 20s, I was freelancing, so I picked up a gig, but for about eight months, at a video-game company, where I really learned a lot, working in the real industry, but then I immediately went out to do freelance work. So, yes, mostly for me, what I realized is, I was able to do real high-value programming work and computer work for big corporations. I would hitchhike around or travel around to different freelance gigs, Honda, EPCOT Center, to throw around some of the big names, and when I would come back, I’d use those same skills to work with artists and musicians, tattooers. I wasn’t getting paid the same. Obviously, corporations have real dough, make a real programmer rates, but it was amazing to be able to produce the same amount of value, and in its own ways, even more value. People would pay me a lot of money to do computer work to sell cars, and we sell a lot of cars, but if we were now presenting bad-ass rock-and-roll bands or, in this case, tattooers, really, it was the convergence of a couple different interests and forces at work, but boom, all of a sudden, if I found myself, wait a minute. When we’re using computers to present and educate people about awesome tattoos, then they wanna get more tattoos. From the mid-90s, some of the people that I’m working with, they really did stick their neck out and pave ways to combat the negative stereotypes to remind the world or remind America, remind us that the respective communities, that this tattooing is art that again is primal and ancient. It really can be awesome and positive and produce great effects. In my late teens, early 20s, I realized that I could use computers, and I was able to speak computer very well. Most computer geeks can’t speak people-speech, and it’s arguable whether I can, I’m getting better at it, but at least, again, from there, I always paved my way helping tattooers and other types of artists, and other people who create value, a couple musicians, restaurants, various other places. Again, all the computer stuff in the world is great. I was the starch, but then you need to make sure that the whole other business engine is positive and healthy around it, because you can have a great promotion engine and you do a lot of great computer work, but if you’re pumping that energy and money into something that’s not healthy–
– If you market with holes in it, it just leaks.
– That’s the way to explode it.
– That’s basically the birth of TattooNOW, ’cause TattooNOW is a technology company that’s helping tattoo artists grow their business in a healthy way?
– Yeah, okay, we started programming websites for the tattooers in the ’90s and then, officially, I think it was 1999, it was just 20 years ago, and again, it’s a formulation of these businesses. It’s somewhat nebulous. We were doing websites and we had two or three clients, and then six to ten clients, but all of a sudden we found we’re getting a serious amount of traction using technology to help present tattoos to the public. Again, this is when people are first hopping online and it was pretty good computer geeks. We were able to attract a lot of the right people. From there, that was, like I said, nearly 20 years ago, so from there, I spent five or six years really building up the technology business, building up TattooNOW, and then, ultimately, we spent 10 years, 12 years using that technology on our own retail locations, and now, boomf, I’m back to using that technology and focusing on using that technology and the thoughts and that experience, specifically for other clients. For the time being, at least, it’s fun to be a little bit egoless. I don’t have my own tattoo shop and I don’t have my own real thing. I’m just working for other people on other people’s projects. Now, I guess, it’s pretty fun.
– It’s really cool, it’s a fun story to go all the way from learning to program at nine years old to getting into tattoo artistry and learning to use technology as a way to help tattoo artists. It’s a cool story to show that some of the things that you can blend your passions and turn ’em into a real business that’s helping people.
– Absolutely, but I would be remiss without… It’s great, and especially in the tattoo world and the art world, it’s amazing some of the opportunities that are afforded us, but it’s a rollercoaster ride, and as awesome as it sounds, it could be as crazy in its… Especially in tattooing, you have to truly love it. Again, tattooing is an exceptionally intense art. It’s Germanic in a very secular way. It’s an experience, again, that people take to their graves, so there’s more money in it, there’s more energy in it…
– My understanding is the actual work of tattooing can be grueling, where you spend 10, 12 hours just on one thing.
– With a person who’s in pain, especially if you’re talking about long sessions like that, and if you’re talking about master tattoo pieces, you can do ’em in three- to four-hour sessions, large pieces, there’s so many variables and that’s part of navigating the tattoo world is that there’s so many nuances, but the good news is, especially for people that treat it seriously, is you just learn those lessons on how to be positive and how to give back more than you take and how to think about, what your decisions are now can affect you both tomorrow and on your deathbed. There’s other decisions that you make that will affect you for long periods of time, of course, there are tons of them, but tattooing is one of the most intense ones, that you can decide today to get a tattoo, if you get a good one, it might take you a while to get the appointment, point being, is you can mark yourself today and it’s gonna affect you every single day for the rest of your life, and you need to really make sure that you’re patient, you’re doing your research, so that it becomes a positive experience. If it’s really easy, I guess it’s talk about it in a positive way, likewise it’s also really easy to fuck it up. If you rush into it without understanding it, you tend to make mistakes that are easy to make and very difficult to fix. Testing the waters here or there before you’re really ready, tattoos are gonna be there for the rest of your life, until you get it lasered enough so you can cover it up, or there are a couple other special circumstances, but there’s so many lessons that tattooing teaches us, and it’s so intense, and the business lessons are even more intense, so if you don’t understand tattooing, you’re just really trying to make money off of it, the real tattoo world will cut you right loose. It’s just as crazy and difficult to navigate as it is awesome and fun to talk about on camera.
– My next question for you has to do with your superpowers. One of the things we talk about frequently is, as an entrepreneur, we talk about the one thing, that the skill you have, what is it you do or build or offer this world that really helps solve problems for people, and to frame it in a way that’s like, what’s the one skill or superpower you have that you think energizes everything else that you do?
– I’ve always been a fan of science fiction, I suppose, so for me, thinking about things in long distances both long distances in time and space. Isaac Asimov is thinking about things thousands of generations from now when we’re exploring the stars. That sense of longevity and thinking about things in that scale, and then trying to fit all the puzzle pieces backwards, and it’s a business tool
– Yeah, like working backwards from the long-term vision.
– From the grandiose long-term vision. I just got that because I was reading science fiction and thinking about cool visions of the future world, or bad visions and dark visions of the future and trying not to do that, or trying not to encourage anyone who are thinking along those lines or whatnot, so I suppose from there, business-wise, I’ll be able to see an environment or a playing field, I suppose, and I really try to affect positive change with knowing that it’s the cast of characters, not anything that we’re doing, it’s helping funnel ideas and amplifying positive ideas for the right people who are positive and amplifying it is that it creates a real good positive effect, so I think, mostly being able to see that and then doing my best, and I’m imperfect at it, but the goal is for me to try to see the fantastic future that this cast of characters can all work towards and put it out there, see if it happens, and ultimately, at this point, I’m just here to help other people use tools to fulfill their visions and their futures, but I get to be picky about who I work with.
– It’s a rare skill, too, to be able to essentially see the future and then build the present to get there.
– Or see a future, not the future.
– See a possible future, yeah, that’s a good way to put it. See a possible future and put the building blocks in place now to go that direction.
– Sure, I’ve always been a Dungeons and Dragons player, I haven’t always been, but growing up there was a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, a lot of storytelling, and a lot of create of worlds and whatnot. I don’t play video games at all anymore. I’m gonna try to get out of the business and what I’m working on, but again, nature has its way of telling you what the future is actually going to bring.
– Yeah, yeah, sometimes you try really hard to make something happen and it’s just not gonna work, but it is amazing to me how much influence you have over your future by the decisions you make today, which is really cool. I wanna flip the coin on that. If your superpower is one side of the coin, the other side of the coin is your fatal flaw. It’s like Superman has his kryptonite or Batman’s not actually a superhero, he’s just super-dedicated, something that you have struggled with in your business that has either held you back or kept you from hitting things you wanna hit, what would you say that is, and more importantly, how have you dealt with that, for other businesses who might be listening to this so they can learn from your experience there?
– Yeah, learning how to communicate properly with people and leadership skills. Obviously, I lost a multi-million-dollar business. It grew out of health. I grew the business within the demand, and not necessarily within what was in my skillset to lead, so all of a sudden, when it started to get a little bit out of control, and success will mask inefficiencies or problems, so if we would lose clients, if there were 10 clients that wanted to be sitting in the chair, then all of a sudden, it’s a little bit easier to lose track of, “Wait a minute, we need to make sure “that we don’t have any unhappy clients,” but again, the problem is, nobody’s perfect, nothing’s perfect, but the point being is, maybe we’d lose an artist or two and then they would have legitimate issues, but all of a sudden, there’s five or six other tattooers that wanna fill that spot, so boomf, all of a sudden it would be a little bit easier maybe not to fix that problem, or we might not even know about the problem. There just might be issues. Somebody would leave, they wouldn’t necessarily communicate with us. I didn’t do exit interviews all the time. Point being is, I grew the business outside of my skill level of leadership. One of my weaknesses is, sometimes I laugh at, I can’t see the trees through the forest. I’m just too busy moving onto the next thing, and maybe a little bit too eager to give up responsibility for things that, I should be properly training people to handle the whatnot.
– A selfish follow-up question on that is, I’m in that space now, where my business is growing pretty quickly, and I’m trying to temper it so it doesn’t grow faster than I do, if that makes sense? What’s some of your advice to keep some of that from growing beyond your ability to manage it and lead it?
– I suppose that leads to some of the other themes that you talked about as proper mentorship or skillset, so I suppose for me, what I would advise people is, if you have something that’s going and growing, to have the ears and the advice of people that know how to deal with something or have dealt with something two or three times as big. Now, that might not necessarily always be accessible. You might not know people that are doing multi-millions and millions dollars or whatever, or lead teams of 150 to 300 people, whatever, so short of that, of directly taking your advice or hiring people that are skilled at leading teams larger than the team that you have. Again, envisioning the future and then making your bets on people that you’re bringing in now for the value that’s gonna be in the future, so what I would say to my clients now would be, “When you’re bringing people in, you have to vet ’em, “and you’re betting your millions of dollars on ’em.” You actually have two million dollars and you’re putting ’em in their hands and being like, “Hey, you wanna hold this responsibility for me? “
– That’s a good way to think about that.
– If you wanna be best-in-class, too, part of it is a wide variety of ways to do it. Not everyone has to take it that seriously. If you wanna take it that seriously, other people don’t, but you’re putting that risk in that person’s hands because 10 years from now, 15 years from now, when you are a multi-million-dollar business, now that person has that value in their hands and you might make compromise decisions or let things go right now, because, you know what? It’s a small business, it’s only three people. How much damage could one person do? It’s a little bit gossipy, whatever. How bad could that hurt? One of my issues, not seeing the trees and being able to communicate, not necessarily with people on a very human level, until it was too late. Plenty of weaknesses, I can’t just pick one.
– Learning to deal with those issues now and really understanding them, if you’re trying to build a big business, you need to build a big business foundation. You can’t build a big business on a small-business foundation.
– A seriously skilled lawyer and accounting from a place that knows your industry. In the tattoo world, it’s pretty difficult to find lawyers and accountants that really understand it thoroughly enough, but for every business, you need to make sure the your financial habits are proper. I grew up poor white trash. I don’t have saving habits, nevermind instilling them into my business, so I was growing something into millions of dollars of business and energy without having proper financial discipline to understand exactly how it’s all flowing. I hired people and I trusted ’em and it’s on me to make sure that it all works, but next time. What I advise people, you wanna make sure that you’re getting audited and you’re going to court before you do so, so you wanna find yourself a lawyers before you need ’em. You should be interviewing people, if you don’t have one, in the next six to eight weeks, because it might take one or two or three or four tries to find a lawyer that you trust, and you wanna probably pay a little bit of dough to have them push on your business as if somebody in real life is pushing on your business, and again, the same thing for your numbers. Get audited and pay somebody to audit you like the IRS would, and then, when you know that, “Boomf, okay, now I’m protected.” Those are some of the really fundamental steps, ’cause if you start really building something awesome and big on top of a foundation that doesn’t have that there, again, it’s amazing, losing something and everybody being like, “Oh, you got such great lawyers,” but, but, “Hell, yeah, I had the lawyers. “That’s actually why I just lost it.”
– That’s a real interesting way to think about it, too, because one of my mentors, actually, mentioned that you need to have, she called it, “emergency planning,” everything from, if you break your leg tomorrow, and you’re stuck in the hospital for a couple of weeks, what does your business do?
– Absolutely, it’s so much easier to save up three to six months of all expenses now, when it’s a one- to three- to five-person business, than it is when it’s a 30-person business. Again, you gotta get that in the formulas right in the very beginning, or as close to it as you can.
– Yeah, yeah, that’s one of the things I need to work on in my business, is to get all that stuff going and ready to take it on. I have the feeling that that’s one of the things that I have a bit of a fear of growth, and I think that’s probably the reason, or I need to have all these things in place so I can grow and feel like I can still manage it and take care of it.
– Yeah, again, growing something within the health of an organization, whatever it is, a business or any sort of community or culture, it’s tough. People are all just animals, and so it’s not even… I’m never passing judgment on anybody that didn’t work out with. Everyone has the right and should be playing with their own minds. For me, it’s, I wanna be able to communicate more and be clear in a manner that’s… And you know, if it’s Patrick Mahoney and all the five dysfunctions of a team, or Jim Collins, all of those folks, or Nancy Duarte, just being as clear communicators as you possibly can be, and like I said, the cast Had a vision, the sooner you can do that, and if you’re a small team, there’s so many times there I will be out talking to people and like, “Ah, you know, I don’t need to worry about that. “I’m not big yet.” to worry about it because you’re not big yet, you need to worry about it because you wanna set it up right, so as it grows, it’s growing right. If somebody is a gardener, you get it. If you just let things grow wild and without tending to it, it’s not as efficient or as precise as if you’re trimming the trees and improving things and being intentional about how things are growing.
– My next question for you has to do with your common enemy. The common enemy, I like to think about this in terms of your clients. In the TattooNOW business, your clients are other tattoo shops, so what’s one of the things that you regularly run into, like mindsets or just things that are going on that you have to overcome or help them overcome that you see all the time that you wish you could wave your magic wand and help every one of your tattoo studios and tattoo artist clients just get rid of that. What would that be?
– Some of these questions are a little bit tough. I’m also, like I said, I’m a computer nerd, so I have to be precise. Everyone is different. There’s commonalities, but everyone’s pretty different. It’s like lots of fractally kind of thing, so I can’t wave a magic wand and fix any tattooer’s or tattoo-business owner’s issues, those are all subtly different. That said, not a fear of business but, it’s also somewhat tough to… My thoughts on business are, if we could use these powers for good. It’s not like there’s a ton of examples of that out there in the world, there are. There are, obviously, as we know, business that do things in an ethical, moral ways. There’s the big corporations that are a big group of them. I’ve watched it, so for me, I know on a level, if I work with artists that have a great vision and they do quality work and they’re awesome people that show people an amazing experience, then amplifying that voice or that vision, it brings in more great tattoo people, or it brings in more clients, so it becomes a self-perpetuating mechanism, so it would be, not necessarily understanding that we could use business for the forces of good, and ultimately, it’s not that there are good people and there are bad people, bad people who use the forces of business to make money at the expense of people, and then good people can use business to help enable people to be the best that they can, using economic engines. That’s what I love to do, is help artists and tattooers learn these mechanisms and these tools so that they could fulfill what their mission is through the lens of their values, but again, you can’t just wave a magic wand and be like, “Hey, everybody, you could use business for good,” because it just doesn’t work like that.
– We wish we could, right?
– I suppose that’s where my… If I was to wave magic wands to wish for thing, I’d wish that ice cream was healthy, affordable, and readily accessible, but for business stuff, a lot of it’s you just got to. We follow and learn the hard way. People have to discover for themselves what makes them tick and how they could surround themselves with like-minded people to make that thing happen.
– Capitalism can help make ice cream readily accessible and affordable, but I don’t think it can make it healthy.
– Maybe science can, though, one day.
– Maybe we can figure out a way to make healthy ice cream.
– Could we use CRISPR or whatever, I guess?
– Or maybe they’ll just develop a second stomach that you can eat it and taste it but then it doesn’t go into your body and turn it into fat or something. It just gets taken out.
– It is pretty intense. I do listen to a fair amount of podcasts in science and sciency things, and it feels like the same kind of evolution, revolution, whatever, whatever we just are watching and we’re engaging with with technology, with biology, ’cause if they have the genetic codes mapped out and shit, and they’re using CRISPR to edit it, what happens another hundred years from now?
– I just got a whole bunch of help genetic testing done on finding out your propensities for everything down to like how your body responds to vitamin E from a genetic level. I got 60 pages back and it’s super-fascinating, and this is the kind of stuff that 10 years ago, it wasn’t even a thing.
– It’s crazy, it’s, absolutely. For all of us to just think about how the people that are hard at work now, they’re starting to learn the language, they’re starting to understand the tools to do it. At some point, biological computing, DNA printers, they put in all of the… It’s crazy, amazing stuff.
– Maybe we can make ourselves superheroes, like, tie them on a string. You can actually go into the superhero shop and they’ll tattoo your DNA the right way, and
– That’s the part that I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around. If you could edit it, I could understand how you would be able to do that, like in Siege or in small amounts of cells, but I don’t know if they could change my DNA or your DNA, or if we eat pills that change your DNA–
– I have no idea. That’s a really fascinating thought, but I don’t know the exact science, like your body replaces its cells all the time. Every three to four weeks, or something like that, you’re an entirely new person from a cellular level.
– Okay, you gotta be careful, though, throwing around statistics like that, ’cause somebody on the comments section is gonna be like–
– “No, it’s actually six months.” Whatever it is, there’s a number, I don’t know what it is, but–
– Maybe, but fair enough.
– Maybe there’s a way to just, I don’t know, to create that, but anyway, that’s a cool thought. My next question for you is your driving force. Just like Spiderman fights to save New York or Batman fights to save Gotham, or Google fights to index all the world’s information, what is it that you guys fight for at TattooNOW?
– Well, I suppose, it sounds cheesy, but using tattoos to help people become better people and make the world a better place. That’s the effect that we actually produce or help people produce or facilitate producing. It’s very self-reinforcing, and when people are facilitating bad tattoos, that should compounds poorly really quickly. It doesn’t work. After this long of helping people learn about getting tattoos, to not pass judgment when somebody wants to get small tattoos upside-down, that’s okay, because eventually, if you want, you might be open to getting the more… Elaborate tattoos are more advanced that choose… And ultimately, it might not be as adventuresome or rebellious just to get a tattoo anymore, now that it’s accepted. It’s still adventuresome to get a great tattoo from an awesome artist, but that is not necessarily the easiest to get to, to produce a masterpiece of artwork on your body. That stuff is still special. It is hard to get to. Did that answer the question?
– Yeah, yeah, I think it totally does. My next question for you is very practical. We call it the hero’s tool belt. Maybe you’ve got a big magical hammer like Thor, or maybe you’ve got a bulletproof vest like your neighborhood police officer, or maybe you guys just really like the way Evernote helps you manage your business with keeping track of your notes and written stuff. What’s one or two of the tools that you guys use on a regular basis to manage TattooNOW? Maybe it’s something you use to keep track of your clients or do your customer onboarding or take care of your accounting, just something that you couldn’t live without with TattooNOW.
– Well, I use two different suites, it’s not Google Docs, but it’s Google Docs, Google Sheets–
– Basically, they change the name every couple of years.
– So, I use G Suite and then I also use the Microsoft Suite. Basically, for me, I offer both of them to our clients as they’re coming in, which base your stuff, and it is amazing to me how much Google has in that G Suite. All the businesses keep of the documents on there. The AIs over at G Suite could just, if they just did a search for PNL on all the Google Sheets, they know the PNLs of everybody. We probably even sign off that they can use it. I’ll use Microsoft for some, but then, people like Googlize, but basically, I use ’em both. I have the bulk of my business planning is actually done in presentation software, so I have a version that’s in Keynote and a version that’s in PowerPoint. I think I prefer PowerPoint a little bit better, the way that it deals with linking, so, for instance, this presentation, I call it “A Living Business Plan.” It has all the different sections of a business plan. When you click through the links, then you go to those different sections, so, for instance, we can go to the management section and then, inside of there, we would have the organizational chart or the job descriptions, so if you click on the organizational chart, then we’re looking at the circles and the lines for meetings and for job descriptions. Now, I also have a version of that that’s in, I guess, the other, in G Suite, and then those links from there will go to maybe an Excel document or to a Google spreadsheet that could be a tool that’s used inside of that, so, for instance, if we were in the job description, there might be a link to a spreadsheet that is like the scoreboard. We call it the squad, the shit we care about. Whatever statistics–
– I like that, we care about the squa–
– Should we care? It can be whatever. One size doesn’t fit all. Some people might want to use a sports metaphor, some people use military metaphors, some people use Dungeons and Dragons metaphors, whatever, and then, that would be, like I said, go into a spreadsheet. Again, for me, I would look at number of customers, number of reviews, and the number of five-star reviews, that kind of thing.
– I got a curious question for you on that, ’cause you said you’ve been doing this since the mid-’80s, so you basically got to witness–
– Since the mid-’90s.
– Since the mid-’80s, I was programming.
– You were programming in the mid-’80s.
– Yeah, I was just a fucking kid.
– So, mid-’90s, you’ve gotten to see a lot of these tools and suites develop and grow. How do you feel about just where technology is for a business today versus where it was in the late ’90s, or being able to use software like Google Suite or the Microsoft Suite and stuff like that?
– It’s funny, and I haven’t thought about this tons, but I think about it a bit. There’s almost two different sets of software. There’s some that hasn’t really changed all that much, they’ve gotten a little bit better, and then, there’s things that keep fucking changing and evolving every three to five years. Photoshop, Premiere, I do a lot of multimedia work, that’s pretty much the same. The Premiere that I’m using now, I guess if I looked at the Premiere from 20 years ago, I’d be reminded how far it’s come, but the same skillset, and it feels very similar to me, I don’t feel like that’s advanced. Now, the G Suite, to be able to have all those tools at your fingertips for free? I mean, not for free, to give them access to using it for whatever evil purposes, I guess it’s evil, but they took that out of their motto, so it’s fair game. If you had “Don’t be evil” as your motto for however long, you take that out of your motto?
– You have to wonder what they’re doing.
– That’s fucked up.
– Just keep it. Please, just keep the “Don’t be evil.” “So this year at our meeting, we all voted, we took the decision unanimously, we’ve decided we’re gonna be evil now.”
– Well, with don’t wanna say that, though. We’ll just take it out. Then there’s Ense or Trello, now there’s almost too many. It’s difficult to
– Paradox and Choice, there’s so many options nowadays.
– People are still people and we’re changing a bit, we’re evolving a little bit, but ultimately, if you have a person that is motivated to use whatever management tool that’s outside things that they’re motivated to do, although the ease of use of that tool is necessary, yeah, but there’s a wide variety, so it’s pretty cool. Like I said, it’s funny now. I really wanna get into the Oculus stuff. I wanna get into that 3D. I need to get into the VR world. It feels like that has come a long way.
– Do you think that will have any impact on the tattoo world, in terms of maybe showing off art or showing off an artist’s field, beyond where photography goes now?
– Yeah, for sure, no question. Now, it’s not for everybody, not everyone wants to have a VR 3D glasses in their living room, but there’s artists that are getting in there. The ones right now, they are mapping, definitely, tattoos on 3D models, for sure, but in this case, it’s almost more useful, when you can sculpt something in virtual reality like clay, and then use your Photoshop to map surfaces, and then you can make it big or make it small. You can make some pretty amazing artwork as reference.
– Bring that into the real world.
– And then you bring that into your painting. You bring that in other things, but when you bring it into tattoos, pretty particularly.
– Do you know Android Jones? He’s a 3D computerer. He’s worth looking up, for people that are listening.
– Andrew Jones?
– Android Jones. It’s on the YouTubes and–
– Again, crazy visual stuff. He was talking about some of the VR stuff that he was doing recently, but there’s also tattooers that are using this. Darwin Enriquez is a tattooer in New York City.
– Who knew that tattooing is using advanced technology like the VR–
– A lot of them. I remember, 20 years ago, I was using Photoshop to put the picture of my back tattoo reference on my back. One of the things I love is that gap. There’s a ton of tattooers that take technology seriously. Russ Abbott’s another one. He has Tattoo Smart. He’s got a whole website dedicated to using computer tools. Guy Aitchison, he’s been written up in Apple’s, you know, Apple Magazine, and then Michele Wortman, it must have been over a decade now, for using all of the computer tools. You asked that question to a guy who’s been a computer geek in the tattoo world for over 20 years, so that you know.
– That’s a deep rabbit hole you could go into. My next question here is about your own personal heroes. Frodo had Gandalf, Luke had Obi Wan, Robert Kiyosaki had his rich dad. Who are some of your heroes? Were they real-life mentors, speakers or authors, peers who were just a couple years ahead of you, and how important have they been to your journey so far?
– Well, I suppose, there’s the sci-fi authors, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick. Isaac Asimov to think about the far future and the way humans think, the way robots think, but mostly the far future. Philip K. Dick was definitely about, what is a human being? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be a robot? For businessy kind of stuff? I don’t really have tons of mentors. I get influences from some of the media, from people that I read, but like I said earlier, Jim Collins. Nancy Duarte really helps me a ton with my presentation skills and my communication skills. For better or worse, I have often found myself… I get a ton of inspiration from my clients. I don’t necessarily have heroes, but I have a ton of influences from amazing tattooers, again, Guy I talked to earlier. There’s a lot of clients that I have in the tattoo world that are exceptionally talented and have really strong voices. They keep me in line. Everyone should sit in the fan, about saying, “I’m a proper, positive path.” They’re all my heroes. My wife is been exceptionally influential in my thoughts, about education, about helping people. I grew up white trash, and again, this is where I know heroes, my parents split up when I was young, walked out when I was young, so, no one thing or–
– You just have a conglomeration of influences that have really helped shape who you are.
– Absolutely. One of the projects that I’ve been working on or do is, I do produce events that are based on positive sharing of knowledge with artists. Generally, they’re out in the middle of hard-to-get-to places, ski resorts in the off-season or we did one in Venice, Italy, so assholes don’t like to take the pilgrimage to get out there in the middle of nowhere. I got a ton if influence from the people that come to those events. The teachers that come are always very inspirational, but even all of the attendees, they’re there and they’re all hard-working, the tattoo community at large and the education world, through my work, and music and arts, the arts world, then, the education world, teachers really do effectively… I’ve programmed computers, my wife and early childhood educators, they’re effectively helping program people. So are parents, of course.
– Programming the next generation.
– Yeah, and if you’re not doing it intentionally, then, again, it’s just like, if you don’t pay attention to parenting, then shit just gets wild and out of control. Most of wild and out of control, it might sound fun when you’re young, but wild and out of control is definitely not fun.
– My last question here for you is your guiding principles. I wanna bring it home a little bit. What are the top one or two principles or actions that you put into practice every day that you think contribute to the success and influence of your company, ones maybe you wish you had known when you started out on your hero’s journey?
– The vocabulary that I would use or borrow from other people would be the values. In this case, you said two, I’ll pick three. The forces that I try to home back in on, they’re in alignment with tattooing, like in light image, so it’s in light image, endurance, and evolution, maybe not necessarily in that order. Threes. I believe I’m always trying to make sure that I’m opening my mind up to hearing other types of thought. I don’t wanna close things out, although, I posit sometimes, I talk over people by accident, ’cause I think I know where people are gonna say, but point being, I do really want to hear and engage myself in as many types of thought as possible. I don’t wanna waste my time on shit that I’m not down with, but I don’t ever wanna close it out. I do wanna be sympathetic to everybody’s different points of view, so it’s like the Enlightenment. Evolution, I always gotta pay attention to some sort of quantifiables, and then I wanna change the way I’m doing things. I also wanna pay attention the way I’m doing things, the way I’m communicating, but then evolve that, so I always wanna do a little bit better, as you know, compounding effects. If you learn how to be a little bit better every day, and it’s a little bit better every day, then, years later, all of a sudden, you’re like, “Oh, shit!” You’ve become a better person, so evolving go backwards again. When you’re evolving it doesn’t necessarily always mean making progress. Sometimes you might evolve and go, “Oh, shit, that was not the right way to evolve.”
– We evolved a problem.
– Again, not doing the same things and then having different tools, because I’m constantly trying to immerse myself in new ideas so I can try to bring different tools to do things differently, and then, endurance. It takes long periods of discomfort to get to the pretty thing. I learned it through tattooing and programming. Again, I had to program through 18 pages of code line by code line, every single character exactly the same. Most people don’t have the patience to do that. In tattooing, most people don’t have the patience to sit to have long periods of pain so as to get to a pretty tattoo. Then in business, it’s awesome when we’re talking about traveling the world doing events in all sorts of great places, being around inspiring people, but sometimes it takes getting the fuck kicked out of you or doing an event and losing tens of thousands of dollars, but knowing that–
– Worth knowing that working 18 hours a day is to hit a goal.
– For me, again, going back to the mission, to the values, my mission is to help amplify positive artists to leave the world a better place. No shit, right? I do this through enlightenment, evolution, endurance. I’ve got some other core values, of course, but if I try to stay focused on that, then I’m gonna attract and work with people that are of similar ilk. It’s pretty amazing. I am thankful to the tattoo world for you taking the time and all this stuff that’s happening and working, ’cause–
– I like that thought, too. You said it was enlightenment, evolution, what was the last one?
– Endurance, yeah, it’s definitely a long play to get into the business game. It’s not a sprint, that’s for sure.
– There’s a million reasons not to do it.
– Yeah, a million reasons not to do it. That is absolutely true. I used to, when I was a younger businessperson, I used to think that anyone could do this gig, they could get in to be an entrepreneur, and I’ve since realized that is just not the case. Far more people probably choose not to be entrepreneurs.
– I’ve seen that effect, and that effect is bad when you’re hiring people. I’ve worked with a fair amount of world-class players and they know exactly what they did to get there, and I know exactly what I did to get here, and when we’re together, sometimes, we’ll like, “Everyone can do it. “We know exactly what to do,” but not everyone wants to do that shit or do it in the wrong way, ’cause they can’t do the same thing, but again, these things are common. Endurance is definitely one of those qualities that it feels like, if you’re not willing to suffer, then you ain’t gonna get very far. Now, on the other hand, you don’t wanna suffer for nothing.
– Reminds me of, my thinking on it now comes from Disney’s Ratatouille, where it’s like, I can’t remember that guy’s name, whoever the chef is, it’s like, “A great chef can come from anywhere.” It’s not that anyone can be a great chef, but that a great chef can come from anywhere. I feel the same thing is true about entrepreneurs, it’s not that anyone can be an entrepreneur, but a great entrepreneur can come from anywhere.
– It’s like that for all the different professions and guilds and everything. Ideally, a society is helping us educate ourselves, enlighten ourselves, and let us get to those different places where we can settle in appropriately.
– Yeah, it makes a lot of sense.
– For better or worse, you gotta fight for it.
– The last thing I have for you on this show is something I call, “The Hero’s Challenge.” It’s a simple challenge we do on every episode, and it’s basically this. Do you have someone in your life or in your network that you think has a cool, entrepreneurial story? Who are they, first names are fine, and why do you think they should come share their story on The HERO Show?
– Somebody that comes to mind would be Vincent the Butcher. I haven’t talked to him in a while, but, oh, I guess it’s not very PC, he’s not–
– That’s all right. We don’t care too much about PC.
– Okay, and maybe it is. He’s all about connecting with the foods. He’s got a great local butcher here. It’s in town. It’s definitely a bit of entrepreneurship is a battle, having a butcher in a local small town. He’s learned a lot of great lessons and he’s a great interview. He’s got some great stories.
– That’d be really cool.
– He definitely brings a lot of food into our town.
– Awesome, so we’ll definitely reach out to him and see if we can get him to come on the show. Last thing, thank you so much for coming on the show, Gabe. We really appreciate it. Where can people go to find you? That’s the first question, where can I go to find you. The second question that goes along with that is, who is your ideal client? If someone who’s listening to this and thinking to themselves, “I really should reach out to Gabe.” Who are those people?
– Well, the question is, gaberipley.com, or gaberipley on Instagram, although gaberipley.com is always gonna be up-to-date, Instagram, who knows? The other website is tattooNOW.com. My clients are generally craftspeople that are making things, mostly tattoos or painters, musicians, again restaurants, blacksmiths, somebody who’s making something of value with their hands and ingredients and is looking to expand themselves into, or maybe not expand themselves, but to define exactly what success is and how to make a healthy culture or business out of it. I definitely have a tendency to work with fringe arts. Tattooing was illegal, as we were talking about earlier, and now is not. Cannabis was illegal and is now legal. Some of those bridging the gaps of this authentic lawcraft, and being a bridge into the wider world while not losing your authenticity. Again, tattooing is such a sacred, in a secular way, sacred art, it’s really important that, when we engage in the business of tattooing, that we stay on the positive, shiny side of the ethics, and again, some of the same things with these other outlaw arts and crafts, whatever, but point being is, those would probably be my ideal clients. I do have some seminars online, a webinar, that, again, the language is somewhat tattoo-specific, but all of the tactics, all of the practices, all of the communication skills, all of the meeting notes, all that stuff, is pretty much applicable to any smaller or medium-sized, it’ll drive a multi-billion-dollar business, all this stuff that we have going on.
– Awesome, that’s really cool. So, if you’re listening to this show and you’re in one of those spaces where you’re making things with your hands and you want help, either defining that or growing that, take the time to reach out to Gabe. It was gaberipley.com where they can find you, right?
– Awesome. So thank you again so much for coming on this show, Gabe, really appreciate it. It’s been a fantastic having you here.
– Thank you for the time and the thoughtful questions. I appreciate all the listeners taking their time, too.
– Awesome, cool.
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