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Starting a photography business, competition, entrepreneurial loneliness, and the role of community

Natalie Franke is the Head of Community at HoneyBook and co-founder of the Rising Tide. Since the Rising Tide and HoneyBook joined forces in 2015, the community that Natalie built has grown to more than 75K small business owners who meet monthly around the world. In this episode we talk about the unexpected start to Natalie’s photography business, the loneliness creative entrepreneurs feel, the complicated reality of competition, and why community is such an important part of our lives.

Transcript and show notes can be found here



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Natalie Franke 0:00
I'm sitting there and I just remember this feeling and this thought and it just came barreling up through my mind and it was, I'm tired of feeling so alone. Like I'm tired of hustling and working and striving constantly and sitting here, literally and figuratively alone.

Jay Clouse 0:21
Welcome to Creative Elements, a show where we talk to your favorite creators and learn what it takes to make a living from your art and creativity. I'm your host Jay Clouse. Let's start the show.

Hello, my friend. Welcome to another episode of Creative Elements. Thanks for stopping by to spend some time with me here today. Who we surround ourselves with and makes a huge difference in the life we live in the people we become. There's a pretty famous quote from Jim Rohn, saying "you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with". Now, I don't know how you average a person. And I don't really know who Jim Rohn is. But there is something to the idea of your personality values and the way you spend your time being impacted by the people you spend the most time with. When I was working in my first startup back in 2014, I had just moved into a house with a bunch of strangers. Six other guys I barely even knew, but they were entrepreneurs, musicians, and generally ambitious people who wanted to make their own things. I've talked on this show before about those house shows that we put on, but living in that house for two years had a huge immediate impact on me and the person that I've become. It made me more ambitious. It made me more kind and compassionate, and it made me more deeply consider the people I surround myself with. That was the beginning of really understanding how much I value community. Community is an interesting concept. I think of community as a group of people you associate with and maybe even identify with. It's a group of people who look out for each other's interests help each other and hold each other up. There is no right size for a community. And different communities have different purposes and cultures. Some communities are online, some communities are offline. If you've spent any time looking at different subreddits, then you have at least an inherent understanding of community and how different they can feel. I'm super, super grateful for our unreal collective community. It's a tight knit group of creators that I've built over the last few years. And it is one of the most kind and generous groups of people that I've ever met. We're just over 100 members and if you want, you can join us at unreal collective.com. Today on the show, I'm joined by Natalie Franke, Natalie spent seven years going from freelance photographer to the owner of a photography business earning more than $250,000 per year. And in 2015, Natalie started the Rising Tide Society, a community for creatives with more than 75,000 thousand members and hundreds of monthly meetups all over the world. Rising Tide started just as a hashtag community over competition, but it took on a life of its own. It was so successful and important to Natalie that she started putting more time into Rising Tide than her photography business. And soon after that, Rising Tide was acquired by HoneyBook.

Natalie Franke 3:21
HoneyBook is a platform that enables you to have relationships with clients and manage the entire back end of your business. So everything in the client experience from first inquiry through contract invoicing, payments, communications, you know, all the way through the end of the experience so we kind of are your back end business solution that manages manages everything seamlessly.

Jay Clouse 3:47
That was Natalie you just heard from and she is now the head of community for HoneyBook, allowing her to build Rising Tide full time. In this episode, we talk about the unexpected start to Natalie's photography, business but loneliness creative entrepreneurs feel the complicated reality of competition and why community is such an important part of our lives. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this episode. As you listen. You can find me on Twitter or on Instagram @JayClouse, give me a follow Say hello. But without further ado, let's hear from now.

Natalie Franke 4:25
So I was 17. And in high school, and I had up until that point, had a lot of typical jobs. You know, I worked at a gym, I was a shampoo girl at a hair salon, and my mom actually got me a camera as a way to kind of cope with some mental health stuff that I have been walking through as a lot of angsty teenage girls probably do. And so she thought this would be an awesome creative outlet. But what she didn't realize is when she handed me that camera, she kind of headed me an entirely different outlook on life. Prior to that, you know, I was raised in a family full of science nerds, everything about my future was you're going to become a doctor or you're going to go into medicine in some way, shape, or form, maybe go into research. It was very quantitative, very analytical. And when I picked up that camera, I think something just clicked in my brain that had never clicked before. And it was this creative element and this creative side to me that, frankly, I just, I hadn't explored I didn't know I could explore and it set off this chain reaction of events and you know, I ended up quitting the part time jobs and photographing friends and having them you know, pay me 20 bucks to get a good picture back a day. That was like MySpace era Facebook wasn't even quite a thing yet. And so to help them get a good picture for their MySpace or for their senior portraits, and you know, I did that throughout my own senior year of high school and went to college and all four years at college just kept that photography business growing and you know, would dabble in different things and eventually settled on weddings and by my senior year of college I was photographing 25, almost 30 weddings a year. And so I basically made a decision at that point to really take this full time not go and pursue, you know, a corporate job. Turn that what it was once a hobby, once a creative passion into a full time profitable hustle and did that out of college and continued pursuing it from there.

Jay Clouse 6:25
I want to zoom in even further into that seven years of photography. So often, especially when we're young and in high school, and our parents say, hey, let's try this. Our first reaction is no thanks just for virtue of you telling me to do that. And also few high schoolers are thinking about making a business around anything. So how did you through that seven years start to look at this as something that okay, not only do I enjoy doing this, but I think I could actually do this professionally.

Natalie Franke 6:54
Look, the truth is that I needed the money. You know, I was raised by a single mom and having that part time job from the minute I could get a workers permit was my contribution to our family. And so having that opportunity to make money and do it while kind of building something on my own terms was so liberating. You know, it's almost that that freedom is if you've never experienced the freedom of waking up in the morning and saying, What do I want to do today? You know, it like I had it, if it had been from the time I was born, do this, do that go to school, you know, get this job do this thing. I was good at that. I was good at following the rules. So to step beyond the rules to start to break the rules in my mind, you know, to be able to create something of my own volition, which also meant failing and sometimes getting teased or you know, not knowing what I was doing and stepping into I like to think of it like I was a kid stepping into like an adult's environment and you know, wasn't taken seriously and was at a time even in the photography world where truly everyone on the leadership stage was a man. And I remember, especially in weddings, and I even had mentors that told me like women don't shoot weddings. It wasn't how this was 2007, 2008. And wasn't that long ago. But yet, you know, a lot has changed in the landscape. And we can talk more about like today, and what are what my community looks like today and how much that has shifted. But I think if we zoom in, you know, it wasn't so much of a oh, my dream is to become an entrepreneur, it was, I've got to make money. And I can either make money hustling hard for somebody else by their rules, or I can make money by building my own path. And even with the risk, even with the the potential failure of the public humiliation or whatever was to unfold from that. Just the sheer thought that I could do it if I if I wanted to, was enough to hook me in and enabled me to lean into that idea. And so I did.

Jay Clouse 8:50
Does your family of science nerds support you and encourage this or do they say, Oh, no, what have we done?

Natalie Franke 8:56
So at first, there was a lot of hesitation. At first, there was a lot of, you know, I think dismissal of this as just a hobby or a phase or a lack of understanding, I think about the shifting of our current economic situation and how the creative has become so valuable. And that's what I see today, which is if you have this ability to be creative, and you can think differently, and you can innovate, and you have this skill, this trade, it's incredibly valuable, you know, in in a world where human creativity is one of the last and most difficult things to automate, right like it's, it's a gold genius zone. And so I don't think they saw it the way I saw it once I started putting puzzle pieces together of, you know, I can pick up a camera and I can change the way people see themselves. I can document a moment that's going to outlive me. I like it was incredible. So they were very hesitant, but I think mine started to shift when I was in my junior year at Penn. I was studying psychology and neuroscience so I should say, you know, like I was still on the track. By my parents viewpoint of, you know, going and doing something in the sciences for my career and you know, was working really hard, studying really hard, but this business had started enabling me to actually pay my tuition without needing to put it into loans. So I shifted from putting everything in student loans too. I can actually make these tuition payments because I photographed two weddings last weekend, that alone I think, for my parents, they were like, Oh, you know, especially my mom who really has always been my biggest champion, you know, was just kind of like alright that like this is, this is a big deal. You're you're making a salary you're making you're making good money. I remember she said this to me. If this is what you want to do be the best version of you in doing this like be your best at this. My mom is very careful to never say be the best that was Oh, she always said Don't be the best. Be your best. To be your best version of you in this and for me, that really just pushed me I think to be like, okay, she sees that I can do this. She believes in me. And that was enough. That's what I needed.

Jay Clouse 11:08
What awesome awareness by your mom like, that small shift of be your best versus be the best is infinitely more attainable if not just for, you know how we think about ourselves. It's so much easier to believe that okay, I'm doing as well as I can do without having to compare ourselves to billions of people around us doing similar things.

Natalie Franke 11:29

Jay Clouse 11:30
Talk to me about starting to photograph weddings. Because to me, that seems like the most stressful freelance gig out there to capture this very important, non staged, I guess, this kind of staged but like, you can't staged those moments and you can't get another shot those moments. So what's that like?

Natalie Franke 11:46
It is an adrenaline rush on top of you know, I honestly, I here's what I connected to. If anyone's a sports fan who's listening to this, it's like choosing to be the goalie. Okay, like you could choose any position on the field, but you're choosing In the position where a ball is going to be flung at your head at about 1000 miles an hour. Like there's something a little off if you're choosing to shoot weddings, which I fully acknowledge and embrace I should say my sister is a goalie. She was a lacrosse goalie for a very, very long time. So I always used to make fun of her for that and I equate my own career path is very similar. She was actually being a freelancer or an entrepreneur is kind of like choosing to be the goalie period. Choosing to do something kind of nice and extreme, like weddings. Yes, it was an adrenaline rush. I absolutely loved the relational aspect getting to come into somebody's relationship and connect with them on that level. And I also think for me, personally, you know, my parents split up when I was really young, but my grandparents, my grandmother especially really raised me while my mom is going back to school and watching their marriage really inspired me to want that for myself, but also to just acknowledge it is such a beautiful thing. And and so I I absolutely loved the chance to get to document that moment. You know, I'd look through their wedding album and see pictures of them back in, you know, the 50s. And to see then to recognize that the photographs we're taking right now one day are going to be viewed by a grandchild looking in the 2000s. And wondering what it was like back then. And oh my gosh, what a different time in the world and to know that that your work is contributing to something that has that longevity, I think was really intriguing to me. And honestly, I also just love to go to dance party. And at the end of the night, it always It was like, You worked hard. And at the end of night, it always ended up with a dance party. And so you know, kind of a hard gig to beat.

Jay Clouse 13:34
okay to ask questions on wedding photography that I've always had. Did you ever miss the shot? And the couple actually notice?

Natalie Franke 13:42
Great questions. So yes, there are times where you miss the shot. I will say Catholic weddings are and I'm Catholic, so I can say this, y'all. They're the worst because the kiss does not happen when it's supposed to happen. So there's this. It's actually kind of well known in the photography, cinematography space. The kiss just happens like in the middle of the ceremony, it's actually a couple different faith based ceremonies are like that. But yes, what I will say is, having a second photographer is is key and you learn that very early on if you apprentice or as you're shooting, having two angles at all times, so that if one of you misses it, it's covered. So it was never actually missed in the larger scheme of things. But yes, absolutely. There were times where, you know, I'd be switching a lens and something but you know, it's just, it just happens.

Jay Clouse 14:27
I want to pause real quick and note that when you're talking about the photography, business, you say the business was growing, you're using the word business a lot. How much were you thinking about it then as a business versus a creative pursuit that was making you money?

Natalie Franke 14:40
It was a business at that point, you know, I, I was doing almost a quarter of a million in revenue. I had associates on my team that I was basically bringing to every wedding, you know, that were contracting, they shot their own weddings, but they would come in contact so it felt very much like a business. Actually, that's a whole that would be a whole nother podcasts for another day, but it had shifted in my head from this is my passion. This is the thing that I love to this is my means to make a living. And I still loved it. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I wouldn't change that for anything. But in my, in my internal narrative, there had already been a shift.

Jay Clouse 15:17
Well, let's double click on it just real quick. When and why did that shift and the sounds like you think that was kind of a net negative for your interest in photography.

Natalie Franke 15:26
Yeah, I think it shifted because I graduated from college, I had bills to pay I had student loans to pay and it became for me, my means to do that. So from a very just point A to point B mentality that's I think what sort of happened and it wasn't overnight, you know, it took the full seven years for it to kind of reach that point. And yes, I think it was a little bit of a net negative for my love of photography. Even now you know, I still photograph but there is an overall feeling something times of Oh, this is like work, you know, it's work. It's not for fun. And I think that I ultimately did that a little bit to myself through the burnout through working too hard and hustling way too much. And, you know, part of my own story over the last decade of building different businesses, this one being the biggest and the longest of them, is this slow stripping away and refinement of hustle mentality into sort of a redemptive experience of just really appreciating things for the fun of it, which I didn't really have in that season of life. You know, I didn't, at points didn't really have the luxury to have in that season of life. I had to pay my bills. And so this was my choice. My choice was to do it this way, rather than to go and work for somebody else. But yes, it was a slow sort of stripping away of that. Very, very idealistic vision of what it meant to be a creative into, okay, this is a business and I have to treat it like a business and build it like a business while also I think, realizing what aspects of it, I did really love and perhaps what really drew me to pursuing photography specifically. And I think part of that is this relational aspect that it's a it's a pursuit that gets me out with people because otherwise, I introvert and I hermit and I you know kind of burrow behind the computer which I've kind of alluded to already without that sort of being pushed being pushed into the community being pushed into engaging with others. And so a lot of learnings from from that.

Jay Clouse 17:33
I think it's a really common experience, a lot of people will have this more of realization than interest in making their creative work something that's going to support them and it starts to change the relationship to it. And if you don't kind of get out ahead of it and protect your own relationship to it and say, yes, this is earning me money and yes, this is making a living and I love that versus now I've created a job for myself. It can be kind of a damaging thing for this practice that you grew to love in the first place.

Natalie Franke 18:03
And what's been interesting is you know, as years have gone on, while photography for me, I think still very much feels like part of my job because even though I'm not shooting weddings, I still have to create content for different things that I'm working on and promote, you know, in market and things like that. So photography is kind of been a thread woven throughout, I have been able to pick up other creative pursuits that I now have guarded from enabling myself to go down the route of turning into a profit. So I doodle and I illustrate and I use that as a means to communicate rather than a means to generate a living. And I've guarded that and protected that, you know, I write, and 99% of what I write never gets seen by the public. It's just in my journal or in my notes or scratched on to a book that I'm reading. But I think as a lot of us do, we learn and we have a choice to either change the way that we were operating or remain in those patterns. And thankfully for other aspects of my creativity, I've been able to take that as a lesson and work to safeguard them now. You know, a decade in.

Jay Clouse 19:02
When we come back, Natalie and I talked about the moment she realized she just wasn't happy with their freelance photography business, and how that gave rise to the Rising Tide Society. right after this. Welcome back to Creative Elements. Natalie Franke, daughter to a family of science nerds found a passion for photography when she was in high school. And through college, she turned that passion into a profitable freelance business, one that was starting to pay her tuition. But as the business grew, her passion didn't quite grow with it.

Natalie Franke 19:36
It was a couple years after college and the business had grown, it had become really successful business and I was shooting, you know, 40 weddings a year and I had a sort of a team beneath me of different assistants and second photographers and had grown it quite, you know, reasonably. And there was a particular season that I remember it was kind of coming out of busy season. October of that year, I was up late editing not not an unusual circumstance. And you know all the light, I just remember all the light had kind of dimmed in the entire room because I had been sitting in my office since 8am, with a cup of coffee, and I was still sitting in the office at 8pm. And it is pitch black. And the only light is just coming from my laptop and Lightroom open on my screen. And I'm sitting there and I just remember this feeling and this thought, and it just came barreling up through my mind and it was, I'm tired of feeling so alone. Like I'm tired of hustling and working and striving constantly. And sitting here, literally and figuratively, alone. And from the outside looking in doesn't look like that. You know, I'm surrounded by likes and comments and chatter, and I get to be a part of the most important day of many people's lives. And yet, I come home and I still feel so alone. That moment was the moment that I started to shift out of full time photography into serving photographers and then expanding that to other creatives, other freelancers to try to solve that loneliness, that alienation, that feeling of isolation and a lack of belonging. And so what ended up happening is, you know, weeks kind of went by after that, and started to have these conversations, not just in my mind, but out loud. And then that evolved into becoming more comfortable communicating that loneliness communicating that feeling of alienation or not belonging, not fitting in, even though rationally maybe didn't make sense on the surface. And other creatives started to raise their hand and say, You know what, I actually feel the exact same way other freelancers would say, yeah, look, I feel like all I do is compete that we're just competing against each other. And that's great, but frankly, no one gets how hard this is. Nobody else understands what it's really like to build a business and to carry the weight of that responsibility on your shoulders and It evolved into let's just let's just get together for coffee. Let's sit down. What if we, you know, took an hour out of our day and sat down and just talked about it or talked about business and, you know, that kind of moment of let's take these conversations that we're feeling, let's put them out there into the world. And then let's do something about it a very slow process of solving a pain for ourselves, ended up evolving into a community called the Rising Tide Society. And again, it was coffee meetups in my hometown of Annapolis, but what ended up happening is that other creatives and other freelancers saw this unfolding and said, you know, and I want that whatever that is, those you know, people hanging out at a table in a coffee shop, chilling and truly looking out for each other. I need that I've been lacking that and, and so it was 2015. The summer that year, June 1, that we myself, my husband and two other photographers from my hometown, created a little website, put up an application link to start a meetup. Group and launch the Rising Tide.

Jay Clouse 23:02
Amazing. This is something you know, I wouldn't even consider myself or I wouldn't have considered myself a creative until fairly recently. Before that I much more identified with being an entrepreneur being in the startup space. And I think a few years before it really took hold in the creative world, people were just starting to talk about the psychological toll that entrepreneurs were paying. I remember that a piece in like, ink magazine or entrepreneur, called, I think, the psychological toll of entrepreneurship. Yep, I've read it. And when you have all this public facing beautiful work, you start putting it on social channels, you start getting people following you and liking your stuff and sending direct messages. And a lot of ways you have more inbound noise than ever before. And all you crave is to shut that off. And then suddenly you create isolation around yourself. So you've started these meetups. People are saying, Yeah, I don't want to feel like I'm just competing all the time with everyone around me. I want to have camaraderie and community around me is that feeling of ever present competition, real or perceived in your experience?

Natalie Franke 24:05
Hmm, such a good question. Well, look, I think it is I think competition is real period. Now I think the perception of it is the tricky part because each of our perceptions is different, right? We can all observe the same objective situation, and we can perceive it very differently. I'll give you an exact example. My husband and I used to have an Australian shepherd and she was the most rambunctious, tenacious dog I've ever had anyone who has an Aussie knows this. She every morning would jump into our bed minute she woke up didn't matter whether we were up kind of like having kids jump into our bed, lick our faces, give us tons of kisses, you know, snuggle with us and it was like the sweetest morning ritual. That was my perception of the morning ritual. If I wasn't an obsessive dog person, I could also take that exact same objective situation and perceive it a little differently. I could perceive it like a You know, an angry beast leaps into my bed slobbers all over my face dripping in saliva Yanks me from my perfect sleep, you see where I'm going with this, the perceptions of that situation can vary. So when it comes to competition, I think it's very similar in competition, you know, we can perceive it in our own world in a healthy way, competition can be very healthy, you know, it changes our neuro chemistry. It basically acts as like a performance enhancing drug. There have been research studies done on, you know, a person doing a task and then doing it in the observation of another person. And sometimes that actually can increase their ability to perform simply by having someone else in the arena with them. And so it can help us It can be very positive when we are in a healthy mental state. But that perception can shift when we're not in a healthy mental state and that perception of the competition can actually become for many of us on on one side of the spectrum very paralyzing, very fear inducing. You know, I can't I can't do anything because I'm not even in that person's League, like they're just so much better at this thing than I am. Why should I try to the opposite, which is sort of the obsession of the competition, which is everything is about beating them. Everything is about win at all costs, tear them down, do whatever it takes to climb on top of them to make myself higher. Those two kind of polar extremes are the very negative perceptions of competition. And I think, you know, in a space where you start to remove the physical interactions with people, you start to get into those places of isolation where we are, you know, being drawn further and further apart. I think that is the space where the perception of competition has an opportunity to route differently. And so, you know, inherently competition is not a bad thing. Competition is part of the reason that in the United States and Canada we have so many incredible, you know, technological advances and medical advances and even right now with the With the Coronavirus pandemic that's been unfolding over 2020, we are going to have certain treatments that will arise because there are companies that have competed for the last 10 years on different pharmaceuticals. And now they're all in a race to come up with a cure and with a with a therapeutic. And because of that competition there, there's so much value for humanity. So it's not a bad thing inherently. However, I think when it goes to the extreme of the negative, it can become a bad thing. And what I was experiencing when I was hearing from feedback from other freelancers, and you know, small business owners creatives that were monetizing their their passion, was that this new arena of the online landscape, especially, was exacerbating some of this because before you would compete with the other person that did what you did in your hometown, one person, you knew about that one person, and you had a little bit of a healthy rivalry. Now, you compete with hundreds of thousands of people that do what you do, do it differently, many do it better and you're being told to figure out what makes you different and, you know, really, really work in that space against and I'm putting this in quotations for the, for those of you listen to the podcast against those people. And I think that that it's simply, you know, for a lot of people that maybe wouldn't have had problems with competition or comparison before been exacerbated by this new landscape of understanding the vastness of the industries, understanding, you know, just how many people can do what you do, are doing what you do, and those insecurities just slowly but surely being brought to the surface and anything that maybe you hadn't wrestled with, or overcome in the past that's within you, which is so important, right? This is really an internal struggle, you know, just kind of comes rearing its ugly head when you're faced with those moments of insecurity and you're faced with with that constant competition.

Jay Clouse 28:50
So I totally agree with all of that. And I think this is exactly the gift that your mother gave you to say. be your best and not the best. People need that shift. Because they're looking at this vast landscape, and they're saying, How do I be the best across all of that? And it's the wrong question. And it's an impossible battle. So how did you begin to share that perspective? Through the Rising Tide? society? What were these meetups? Like? How did you start to shift that perspective for people?

Natalie Franke 29:17
It started by defining it in the form of a hashtag, but also a saying community over competition, identifying that competition would always be there. But we had a choice to keep it rightly ordered. We had an opportunity to put people before that competition. And by framing it in that way, it was it was something that the community really latched on to and really could grasp. You know, when we got together, we were a community. You know, we, yes, would compete when we went our separate ways. But in that moment, and when it came down to it, we were there for one another, people came first. And so that's really I think, you know, what we built the community on it was core value, and I'm a huge Simon Sinek fan and the concept of starting with why and building from that foundation of something greater than just whatever you're building was really sort of the the way we approached Rising Tide and it was okay. We're going to teach business, we're going to give access to business tools, education, free downloadable content, all of that. And the hope is that that convinces business owners to show up to the meetings, but when they get there, what we're really trying to do is build those relationships. And success for us doesn't necessarily even look like our community growing to be the biggest or the largest, or the most influential success looks like one business owner coming in, or one freelancer coming in meeting another freelancer or business owner. And that relationship forming and blossoming beyond the walls of Rising Tide, that we could build relationships within the framework of this community and serve as facilitators to the success of other people help to make connections. And so that's really what it evolved to be. And you know, it started with with our one meetup that grew to 12, 12 grew to 50, 50 grew to 100 right around that point. We ended up realizing that this couldn't be a side hustle any longer. And the shift for me came from, okay, I can't be photographing 40 weddings a year and working, you know, eight to six on the community. And at that time, we ended up coming across a startup in San Francisco called HoneyBook and basically going to their offices because they were helping us to host our first San Francisco meetup sitting down with the team and within a couple hours realizing Okay, we really should partner on this and ultimately that led to an acquisition.

Jay Clouse 31:34
After the break, Natalie talks about her decision to join HoneyBook. Welcome back to my conversation with Natalie Franke, the founder of Rising Tide, and now the head of community at HoneyBook. In just a short time, Natalie's Rising Tide went from one meetup to 12 meetups to 50 meetups and beyond 100 meetups and she was doing this on the side while still growing her photography business, but that was unsustainable. And Natalie saw a natural partnership with HoneyBook.

Natalie Franke 32:08
We joined the HoneyBook team and that had the opportunity to go full time in, in growing the community and have been growing it ever since HoneyBook at the time, you know, yeah, we were still pretty small and had a Tel Aviv team had a San Francisco team. And, you know, really scrappy, really, really scrappy when I came in, you know, the marketing team I think consisted of like two to three people. And it was true startup days. true true true startup days now yes, we are we are far more established still probably fall in the startup spectrum, but have grown a lot in that time. Now we have over 400 meetups, we have over 77,000 members. And you know the community has just become this living, breathing support system for so many of us and it's been incredible. To see it evolve over the last five years,

Jay Clouse 33:02
I'm gonna ask some more questions on community specifically. But first, because we're on the topic of HoneyBook, you were doing this job for business, it was at a quarter of a million dollars, you're building this community. And now you have the opportunity to not hand your baby off to somebody else, but work with somebody else and ostensibly shut down this working business. What was that decision? Like?

Natalie Franke 33:24
Oh, hard. The hardest part though, was the identity component. And what I mean by that is I had really worked to create an identity in being a photographer, you know, personal branding is a huge part of what I do and idea of being your best was really for me, communicating why I loved it and why it mattered and, and why it mattered to me. And so I'd worked so hard to build this identity in that pursuit and then to feel like okay, but who am I if not Natalie, the photographer. Who am I If not, you know, photographing weddings on Saturdays. And waking up on Sundays unable to move a muscle, like, Who is this person? And so I think setting down that identity component was really the hardest part of the decision. And even after joining HoneyBook, you know, with Rising Tide and staying on full time, it wasn't until, you know, maybe two years into that, that I fully had stopped photographing weddings, I still took some weddings, you know, in the early days. And it was hard. It was really, really hard. It's still at some times, you know, kind of crazy to realize, Oh, I'm not even now it's been it's been a long time. And even now I go, I don't have to go photograph a wedding on this perfectly beautiful may weekend, which was unheard of for a large portion of my life. But I also really love learning and I'm very curious. And so stepping into the tech space was something I never thought I would do ever in a million years. So it's kind of you know, you are in this evolutionary journey and you're setting aside. One thing to pick up something different and learning a lot along the way. So it was both sad in some respects and bittersweet in some respects. But also, because of taking that step, I've been able to make such a bigger impact. And I have been able to learn a lot and grow a lot and become a much better leader and a much better person through challenges that you're going to deal with stepping from one industry to another going through an acquisition, building a team, which, you know, looks very different when you're a manager than it does when you have contractors like it's just it's a different experience. It's so hard, but also I wouldn't have changed like looking back, I wouldn't have changed a single decision. I am so grateful for the way the path kind of, you know, unfolded and ultimately it's it's enabled us to take what was a dream and an idea and scale it into something that's been sustainable for five years.

Jay Clouse 35:49
What about the third path that I'm sure you considered which was stopping photography, continuing, doubling down on Rising Tide, but doing that independently for longer? How did you know that the time was right for an acquisition.

Natalie Franke 36:01
Yeah. So when we sat down and met with Oz, who's the CEO of HoneyBook and his wife, Na Ma, who is a co founder as well, we were having lunch. And you know, I think prior to that lunch, we all thought we would turn Rising Tide either into a nonprofit, which was one route that we had considered, I'd been on the board of a nonprofit. So I knew a little bit of how it worked, or turn it into a business, which all of us were business owners. So we all knew how to do that. And we were sitting down and having lunch. And there was just a moment where we started to talk about, you know, where we saw this industry going in the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years. And it was like we were finishing each other sentences. There was this moment where I recognized Okay, this company is trying to do the exact same thing that we are trying to do, but they're building technology to do it. They're trying to take the work off of the freelancers plate and enable them to go do that thing that they love. We're trying to reduce the pain they feel day to day by ensuring that they have support access to knowledge, access to resources. And on on the HoneyBook side, you know, they were going to try to build a community of their own they had been trying and ours had just kind of happened organically because we were from the community and it was very much in our, in our deep understanding of the pain and how to solve it. So it was just it was kind of an enlightening moment where I'm like, you know what, we are trying to solve the same problem. I really all of us really admired the culture of HoneyBook, like walking in it kind of, it's funny, it didn't really feel like a company. It's not like I even when I was going into the office every day, full time. We lived out in San Francisco for a while. It never felt like going to work. It always felt like building something alongside your friends. And I think that nuance of we can do this and we don't have to even build the community alone. We can build the community together and applying the same thing that inspired us to build it, too. Just kind of pushed us in the direction of, alright, let's do this thing. Let's do it together. And, you know, it was that combination, I think of knowing that we saw the same vision, we were trying to tackle it from different perspectives. And this understanding that we could do it side by side together and make it happen. And there was a lot of trust both ways. And in that in that acquisition, because it wasn't a formal acquisition, you know, Rising Tide wasn't a revenue generating machine that one company was trying to gobble up it was, if anything a debt, it was okay, well, you're not to pay these co founder salaries, who currently are volunteering to do this for free. And, you know, the community's not free to do anyone who's led community knows it might be free to be a part of maybe at first, but it is not free to run communities are actually quite expensive to run well, and so on there, and it was definitely not a traditional acquisition by any means. However, again, I think on their side, they really trusted that this was something that we believed in and we were willing to fight for and we cared about deeply. And what's been interesting is, you know, it's been almost five years of Rising Tide existing for over those years with HoneyBook. And now we've walked into a pandemic season and never in the four years that we've been doing this has this fight to save our community been any more prevalent and any more important. And, you know, it's been a gift to be able to literally stop everything that we've been doing to both, you know, lobby the government with a petition, we have 20,000 people out there signing this petition to help support the community in a season when their jobs have been shut off to working with lawyers to help people with contracts to navigate difficult pandemic related cancellations to communications experts to create resources like never before, has that original moment where we sat down at the lunch table and said, This group of people that are trying to turn their passion into a profit, they're brilliant, and they're incredible, but if they're going out alone, they're never ever going to be able to do this. And always that fulfills them because I had experienced what that looked like. And I knew that there was going to constantly be this hardship. If you're not at least having one person, you can talk to two people, you can talk to a community to come full circle and now be on the other end of that of having built the community and now needing it more than ever leaning into it more than ever making sure that every single person within Rising Tide within HoneyBook has that support system has access to knowledge and information as situations unfold.

Jay Clouse 40:29
So with the Rising Tide Society you guys started off with in person meetups, how do you think about digital versus in person community? And if I am feeling isolated out in a place where there's not a lot of people like me, you know, how do I find that community digitally and have that serve the role that and in person community might?

Natalie Franke 40:48
My thoughts on this have evolved so much in growing Rising Tide. Because when I first started, I had a very specific view of in person community is the only community and that is really What I set out to pursue, and then as things started to grow, actually very much so because of our community development manager, Kate Masters, I really had to check my perspective of the world and recognize that a lot of people can't get together in person. And there are so many reasons for this, socioeconomically health wise, geographically, it is a privilege to get together in person and motherhood has also made that very apparently clear to me now we're getting out of my house takes twice as long and access to childcare, again, a privilege that not a lot of people have access to. And so my perspective on this has really shifted so when it comes to in person and online, you know, I believe that we can truly make the most of whatever access we have to community if we are able and willing to do it. And within Rising Tide we I mentioned our meetups that we have We also have chapters that are exclusively online, you know, we have a creative and chronically ill group for creatives who have a chronic illness, who wants to meet with other creatives that share that experience. You know, we have a group for military creatives who move frequently and geography often, you know, doesn't last long for them if they're in one city this month, next month, they might be in an entirely different city trying to restart their business in that city. And so I think it really comes down to making those connections one by one just like you would in person if you were there together face to face, and not just relying on you know, these mass meetup formats and not just relying on the webinar style and not just relying on you know, tuning into a Facebook Live but actually going into the DMs is what I always say, and building that relationship very much the same way that you would if you were meeting face to face and I have learned through that process and through my own experience of doing that that online relationships can be incredibly powerful. And really and truly, and I don't mean to make light of it, but there's also that meme that says Like, no one's gonna cheer for you the way your internet best friend is going to cheer for you. Right. But it's true. I mean, I think that there's so much solidarity in this ability for us to leverage the tools that we have. And from a neuroscience perspective, I also whenever you can get a video component to it, the ability to read someone's facial expressions for those mirror neurons in your brain to fire which is sort of the catalyst for empathy, right? There's so much potential relationship building that can be done when you see each other's faces. But even if you can't do that, just taking it one to one, I think verses one to many is really, really that first step and that that integral component piece that makes it from a conversation to a connection.

Jay Clouse 43:43
So if you came across a photographer who's sitting in an office at 8pm, and all the lights are off, and the only light in the room is coming from Lightroom and they're saying I feel alone. What is the first step you would tell that person to take to fight that feeling?

Natalie Franke 44:00
To speak it out loud, speak it out loud and to speak to other people and to not be afraid of sharing that pain that you're feeling with somebody else, whether that's in person or online. For me, it's been the last five years of my life and a wild journey ever since. And I would do it all over again. And I would tell anyone listening to this, that regardless of what that pain is that you're feeling in your heart, don't go through it alone. know that there are other people that can come alongside you.

Jay Clouse 44:30
I cannot stress enough how powerful it can be to find community in your life and business and encourage you to seek that community out. If you can't find the community you're looking for around you or digitally. The great news is that you can create community, you can be the person who brings people together, just like Natalie when she started Rising Tide. Community is one of the strongest forces and help you grow as a person and as a creative. So one last time, I'll encourage you to find it or create it for yourself. If you want to join our unreal collective community for creators, you can visit unrealcollective.com there is no limit to how many communities you can be a part of. So don't feel like you need to choose one over another. If you want to learn more about Rising Tide, visit HoneyBook.com/risingtide. You can also find them on Instagram at Rising Tide Society. Or you can follow Natalie @NatalieFranke. Of course, links to that will be in the show notes. Thanks to Natalie for being on the show. Thank you to Emily Clouse for creating your artwork for this episode. Thanks to Brian Skeel for mixing the show and also creating our music. If you like this episode, you can tweet or message me @JayClouse and let me know and if you really want to say thank you, please leave a review on Apple podcasts. That means so much when I see those. Thank you for listening, and I'll talk to you next week.