The Value Of Vulnerability - Melissa Clayton - Leadership in Action- Episode #59

Leadership in Action

Mar 21 2023 • 29 mins

Today’s guest on Leadership In Action is an experienced founder with a demonstrated history of working in the luxury goods and jewelry industry. She’s been on Shark Tank, was recently recognized as a Entreprenista 100 award winner, and had her business listed on the INC 5000 list for 2022. Joining us today is CEO and Founder of Tiny Tags, Melissa Clayton! Host Mark Stiles sits down with Melissa to dive deep into the background of who she is, and what motivated her to start Tiny Tags. In this episode we’ll cover why you don’t need to work 100 hours a week, the importance of being vulnerable, and what it takes to get on Shark Tank.


  • To be an entrepreneur, you do not need to work 100 hours a week. While starting a business is hard work, it is important to make sure you are not overworking, and that you still have time for friends, family, and hobbies.
  • Tiny Tags was founded to provide mothers with personalized jewelry. Their lineup features pieces with your children's names, birthdate, and birth time on them. These allow you to keep the things that matter most to you close.
  • If you want to connect with your customers, you need to be vulnerable, regardless of your business. For a brand like Tiny Tags whose business is celebrating motherhood, an inauthentic approach would turn customers away.
  • While Melissa grew up in an entrepreneurial household, her main driver for Tiny Tags were the connections she made with other moms.
  • As an entrepreneur, it’s ok to be protective of your brand. While outside influences or potential investors may want you to pivot or expand services, it’s ok to stay true to where your business currently lies.
  • While keeping prices low to appeal to customers may be your initial strategy, you need to be conscious of the business’ needs as well. Your product may be incredibly affordable, but without enough profit to cover costs, you won't have a successful business.
  • When running a business, you need to factor in how certain business decisions will affect your time. While growing to the next level means more business and better profits, it also means more work and less time at home.


Quote of the Show

  • “I'm not trying to be authentic. I'm just being me.” - Melissa

Ways to Tune In:


Mark Stiles: Hey folks. Welcome back to Leadership In Action, your Boston Chapter of Entrepreneurs Organization podcast today's. We are very excited to have with us. She is an entrepreneur, inventor, and leader in the luxury goods and jewelry industry. She comes from an accounting background.

She's included on a list of Inc. 5,000 fastest growing companies this year. That's nationwide folks. She was a semi-finalist in the ERs and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2018. She is the founder of the, Matt has a patent and because of that was featured on NBC's Today Show and wait for it. Shark Tank in April of 2020.

She's the founder and c e o of Tiny Tags. You've probably heard of it. Meryl Streep wears it. Please welcome Melissa Clayton. Welcome to the show, Melissa.

Melissa Clayton: Thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

Mark Stiles: You ready to get right into it? Let's do it. All right. Like every episode, we start with the same question. What is a common misconception about leadership and or being an entrepreneur?


Melissa Clayton: for me, my experience is that the misconception is that you have to work a hundred hours a week being an entrepreneur. And I think for leadership that you can't be vulnerable. I think that has changed a lot. When I think of my days in corporate America, there was definitely like a wall between leadership, it felt, and the team, and I feel like that is no longer the case.

And that's definitely more my.


Mark Stiles: So on the Instagram where the in influencers are grind, grind, grind, you gotta work a hundred hours a week. You gotta go, go, go. That's not necessarily true all the time.

Melissa Clayton: For me, and I think that speaks a lot to my value system. I think if you were to do a deep dive into my childhood and my father being an entrepreneur and working insane amount of hours, and I knew that was not the journey that I wanted.

So for me, and like everything, there's a give and take and there's a trade off. And for me that was, I wasn't gonna work a hundred hours of work, work a hundred hours a week because my value, I think, My time is more precious to me than anything else.

Mark Stiles: I love that. I love that. Tell me, tell me more about vulnerability.

I'm very curious, your thoughts on vulnerability.

Melissa Clayton: I think, you know, I've heard it's called the New Superpower. Umm a big fan of Brene Brown and. For me being vulnerable, you know, and it's also speaks to the business that I am in. Our whole entire business of Tiny Tags is centered around celebrating children.

Uh, every woman's unique journey of motherhood. And if you are not vulnerable there, you're just not gonna connect with your audience. And so much for tiny tags for me. And I think what has led to our. is my own personal journey. Very much what Tiny Tags is is a lot of my own personal story. And I think what me sharing that has allowed me to connect with our community and they're, you know, the word authentic is thrown around so much.

Um, and I'm authentic without trying to be, I'm not trying to be authentic. I'm just being me. And I think that's, Yeah. So I think that has, um, allowed me to connect with our audience and our community on a much deeper level.

Mark Stiles: I love it. I'm not trying to be authentic. I am authentic. I'm being authentic. By being authentic.

I'm just being me, . I love it. I love it because it's, it's what people connect with. Tell us about Tiny Tags, because I'm not truly familiar with the concept and the mission and values and all of.

Melissa Clayton: Sure. I'll give you the quick version cuz I've been around for a while. Um, as, as you said, I used to be a cpa. I was, um, I loved business.

I love accounting. I did not like crunching numbers all day. And I never thought I'd be a stay at-home mom. Never thought I'd quit my job. I grew up with my father. It was like, you don't depend on anyone, you take care of yourself. Um, and then I had our fir first son and I decided to quit my. and kind of always never being someone that sits still.

I wanted, I had my son and I really just was like this new mom beaming with pride and joy and wanting something to celebrate him and let everyone know that I was this new mom. So I had seen some moms wearing necklaces with their kids' names on it, and I was like, I can make those. So this is over 16 years ago.

Um, Google was not what it was, and I basically came up with this. I found a handset, started making them my own, and very organically for like five years I was ma I started making jewelry and there's a backstory I'll tell you later, but, um, so I started doing that. Then we were living on the west coast at the time, we moved back east.

Um, and lucky for me, Rhode Island and um, Southern Massachusetts has huge history of jewelry making and we started to outsource all our jewelry manufacturing and around probably seven years ago, after a series of listening to different books and what have you, and reading different books, really decided to focus on just.

So tiny tags we make now, um, absolutely gorgeous, fine, personalized jewelry just for moms, really focusing on moms wearing their kids' names. We can do back en raving with their birthdays, their birth times, um, and really talking about the gift of a child, um, you know, I don't wanna, I can go on and on, but it's really, um, it's about motherhood, it's about children.

It's about remembering what matters in life and yeah. I, I believe that our community, you know, you hold your tiny tags when those days where you think, oh my gosh, all this noise matters in life. And it's this very centering piece. It's still is for me, after all these years of, um, of what matters in life.

Mark Stiles: Wow. . Okay, now I know what tag e tags is all about , and I'm fully in. I love it. I love the the visual of what holding, what really matters, right there it is. Yeah. When I'm anxious or I'm nervous or something is causing distress, or I think, how am I gonna get through this? Boom. I love that. I love it. So tell us about the journey.

How did you grow from, you know, this Google wasn't what it was. I mean, how did you start selling. .

Melissa Clayton: So really the first, you know, five years, six years, it was just sort of that very cliche like mom on the kitchen counter. Mm-hmm. . I was never someone that, um, you know, my, my me time when my kids were younger, when my husband came home from work is I wanted to work on the business.

Um, and I instant. What drew me to the business, not only did I think I grew up with this entrepreneurial bug for sure, was the connections I was making with moms. A lot of transactions were happening through email and phone in the beginning. And the first necklace I made, probably the first or second was for a mom that lost her child, and her name is Reggie.

Um, her son was Aiden and she impacted me and she still does. I'm still friends with her on Facebook. I got to meet her in person and. Her and I became, well, we were living on the West coast and her and I became like email buddies and she was sharing her grief with me. And no one, unless you've been through that, I think.

And I truly understand that sort of grief. Um, and that connection just made me, it, it tapped into something and it made me always on a different level. I. , um, appreciate my own child. Um, her son and my son Tyler, were the same age. So when I would talk my son in and I, I was always thinking of Aiden and, and Reggie that she didn't get this.

So it's was, it just impacted my whole, how I viewed motherhood every day with my kids when it's easy to be like, oh my gosh, the kids are, you know, doing this and. To always think of Reggie, like, you know what, she would do anything to pick up a sweatshirt. She do anything to deal with a screaming kid. Um, so that really impacted me and my journey and really what tiny tags became, um, because of that early interaction.

Mark Stiles: Wow. Wow. So the values, the missions are, are really, really, Wow. So where's Tiny tags now? Help us understand where you're at now and where you're going. Maybe the North Star.

Melissa Clayton: Yep. So we started, you know, I said the first, you know, five, six years, really small. Um, the last six, seven years we've had amazing growth.

And it's been, I mean, you know, my husband joined six years ago and that was a pivotal moment, um, where I really begged him. I said, quit your job. He was also in a cpa. And I said, I really feel like if you take all the operations and finance off often my plate and. Focus on sales and marketing. I can really make something of this, of this business.

Um, so where we are today, we are a team of eight. We're down by three people. Um, all our jewelry's made in Rhode Island in Massachusetts. So we have amazing business partners that, um, help us produce our jewelry and we sell online. And then we also sell in Nordstrom, we sell Pottery Barn. Um, I'm not allowed to say, but we have a huge, um, third party event happening on April 6th, um, that I think will really bring our business to whole, their level.

So it's this bespoke collection for major retailers. So we're really excited about that. Um, and we just wanna continue to grow. I feel like we can be a hundred million dollar business. I. You know, we've never taken outside money. It's not to say that I wouldn't, um, I think right now, when my kids were young, I want to control my time, but you know, they're in high school now.

I could see, um, you know, in the next few years wanting to take it to the next level cause I'll have more time. So.

Mark Stiles: Wow. Wow. I love that a hundred million. I love that goal. So I have to ask you, strictly curious, hope all of the listeners are equally. Shark Tank. Yeah. Give, give us the play by play. Like behind the scenes, everything.

Melissa Clayton: So the other part, I have this invention, so I'll give the quick backstory. I've always had a small bathroom, um, apartments in Boston, hair dryer. If you're a woman out there or if you're a man, have wa having watched your wife or girlfriend get ready hair dryer on the toilet bowl, makeup around the edges of the sink falls in the sink on the floor.

And I said, there has to be an easier way. And came up with the idea of something that would go over your sink to create a counter. Um, my husband and my father-in-law, who is a very handy, um, engineer type brain, they came up with this fold and we came up with this six panel contraption with this fold leather, and it basically folds, um, up to the size of an iPad, but when it unfolds, it lays over pretty much any sink.

Um, and we call it the mat, m a t t e. And I applied for Shark Tank, uh, 2016, made it to the second round. Didn't get it reapplied in 2019. We filmed in 2020 and aired last 2021. Um, and it was during Covid. I had a quarantine for nine days in Vegas, which for someone like me is. A huge deal breaker. Originally I was like, I can't do it.

Um, they said that, you know, it's really good combinations. So when filmed, obviously it was incredibly nerve wracking. We did a deal on tv. Um, it did not happen in real life. Um, interesting. So we did a deal with Lori on TV and then things did not pan out, um, after the show, um, ended. So, but it was amazing.

It was amazing. Really

Mark Stiles: interesting. So that air. in April of 2021. Yes. Yes. So we could probably search. Search that up folks. I can't wait to go back and watch that. So this is, this is not tiny tags. You didn't bring tiny tags to Shark Tank. You brought this invention, this separate, distinct invention. Yes.

Tell us about

Melissa Clayton: that. Yeah, I didn't, I I really, and they're, they're very adamant on the show that if you're gonna go on there, you really have to wanna make a deal. Yeah. And I feel like I'm just too protective of teddy tags. I know the first thing an investor would say is, you have to go after the bridal market.

You have to go after the dads. There's all these other markets you can get into. And Tony tags is just too, um, close to my heart right now. Um, and I wouldn't wanna share it with,

Mark Stiles: I love it. The riches, the riches are in the niches I've heard before, so yes, stay focused on that. Well, that's, that's really interesting.

Let's talk about you as a kid. You started to talk about your father. Your father worked a lot of hours. What was he doing?

Melissa Clayton: My dad had three, I think it is soft, uh, software companies growing up. Um, very successful entrepreneur and just passionate, beyond passionate. Um, my husband will always say, I've never met anyone like your dad,

Wow. So, um, and I, and I love it. I grew up stepping envelopes. I grew up going to the office cleaning. You know, you're not gonna pay for a janitor when you first start out. So my sister and I were the janitors. We stuffed the ve. We went to trade shows. So very much grew up, um, watching my husbands, my, my, excuse me, my dad grow his businesses.


Mark Stiles: so when and where

Melissa Clayton: was that? That was in Massachusetts and that was one in the eighties, I guess, you know, in the, in the time of like Wang, um, you know, deck all those old school computer companies. Um, my part of that era.

Mark Stiles: So early, early adopting software. Sales company. Yeah. Entrepreneur.

Melissa Clayton: Yep. Absolutely.

Mark Stiles: But worked a lot. You saw that and said, I need more balance than that.

Melissa Clayton: Yes. And I think, you know, I, my mom lived in New York, so I grew up with my dad, which I think is always unusual, especially in that time. Um, and I think when I became a mom, I, I never, was never someone that dreamt about being a mom, to be quite frank.

And I think that's probably a little bit, as my mother, my view of motherhood is probably pretty skewed. Then I had my son and I have an aunt that I've always looked up to, and she said to me, you either pay now or you pay later when it comes to kids, like if you're not there, um, you know, kids need a parent.

And I, it's kind of a little bit, and not that it has to be the mom, but, or the, or. It doesn't have to be the mom, but I do think kids need a parent to show up. And I think seeing, and my dad did his best, you know, but you know, when, when my son was born, my dad brought the computer into the hospital room and I'm like, okay, enough is enough

You know? And I just remember him calling my dad, are you coming home from work? And I mean, and listen, I understand he had to do that his entire life was banking on the business. Um, and I, you know, at the time he didn't have a choice, right? He was a single dad where I feel. My husband and I, you know, we felt like, you know, when I did, when he, when when I quit work, he worked, and then when I was like, okay, let me take a go at Tiny Tax, he quit his job.

So, you know, we, there's a little bit more balance in n now than there probably was back then that both people had the opportunity to make money. Um, so anyway, so yeah. Did I lose answer the question? So, yeah, you totally, you

Mark Stiles: totally, you totally did. And you know, it brings me to like a whole nother. Rabbit hole completely is, you know, you learn from people, you learn the good from people, but then you learn, you know, I don't really wanna do that.

Like, that didn't look fun. So, you know, I'm, I'm not looking to do that. So tell me about your husband joining. That's really exciting. Family Biz now.

Melissa Clayton: Yeah, it's been amazing. Um, you know, and I'm always really transparent also, it was really probably the biggest struggle in our marriage. We married 20, 21 years this May.

Um, and we're definitely best friends. It was always, I, I always felt like I was somebody when people said that marriages work. I was like, what are you talking about? This is like easy peasy. Um, and when we started to work together with Covid, It was like, okay, wow, this is a lot of time together. Um, but I'm really proud of us that we've really worked through those bumps and I feel like we're stronger on the other side and there's no one else I'd rather grow the business with because I trust him more than anyone.

Um, so he does the all operations finance, he's our C F O and we are. Truly probably perfect partners because I am shoot from the hip super doing 20 things at a time and he's very methodical, very thoughtful. So when I like, oh gosh, we gotta do this, and I kind of gravitate to the next shiny object, he's great at sort of pulling me back, making me think it through, making me take that pause.

So, um, so yeah, so it's been. ,

Mark Stiles: so you don't find a lot of accountant, sales and marketing, you know, combo. How did you find yourself studying accounting when you were a.

Melissa Clayton: Um, well I was a philosophy major undergrad. That might answer a lot. . Ok. Um, I loved religion. I went to UMass Amherst and my dad was like, they didn't have theology as a major.

My dad's like, well do philosophy. And I was like, okay. And I really did love philosophy. I loved like why are we here? All that stuff. I'm still love all that like karoli stuff. Um, and. So I, I was working, I graduated UMass during, during the recession, was working at a bank and my dad was like, okay, you gotta do something.

Went to Northeastern at night for business school and loved accounting cuz it was the language of business. So they had a great program where you basically got an MS in accounting in MBA in 18 months. And I did an internship at Coopers and Library, got a job offer and then I went to work for pwc. But you know, you do AU audit and tax.

Um, and that was pretty boring. And I said I knew I needed to break out. Um, so I was like, maybe I can sell financial software. That was my. Thought so then I worked at Oracle, um, and then I had Tyler, and then I quit . And then I sort of, you know, I think I always say I fell into the jury business, but now when I think of what it has meant to me, I don't think it was an accident, um, that someone that whose mother struggled to show up is now in the business of celebrating children, connecting with mothers.

I'm like, that's not a co. So,

Mark Stiles: no, and I've, I, I was watching that thread come together too, and it must really give you an amazing amount of purpose. Um, by the way, I may have been in one of those philosophy classes out in here. At the same time, , I, on the other hand, didn't really enjoy the philosophy class.

I was like taking it and wondering why am I here ? But now as I grow and become wiser, I mean, I read the stoics every. Right. So it's really, yeah, interesting how we can evolve. But you bring up such an interesting point of, of the trajectory in life, right? So where something takes you, and we find that a lot in conversations with folks, is, you know, there's a moment in time that was pivotal enough that I went the direction that I went.

And it sounds like having Tyler. was that moment in time, you know, you didn't see yourself necessarily as a stay-at-home mom. Maybe thinking, okay, what's the next move? Right? So I'm gonna stay home for X amount of weeks and then I'm gonna fill in the blank and then, yep. Boom.

Melissa Clayton: Yeah, I think, and I'm like, I can't cry.

Here is, um, You know, when the whole time I was pregnant with Tyler, I, and he was gonna go to daycare. And it's not to say that daycare is a bad choice or anything. Um, I never thought once about that I would fall in love with him. Like I never thought about loving him. I actually, like, I remember. Mike and I were married for two years.

I'm like, well, I guess we have kids now. That's what you do , because but I was never someone that wanted thought about being a mom. And I think probably it was a lot because of my own motherhood. My own mom is, I didn't, um, I didn't have, I didn't have a baby shower cuz I was like, I don't wanna celebrate this.

Like, this is just gonna be something that's gonna happen and I'm gonna move on. Um, and I think once I, when I did have Tyler and something kicked in, it was, um, , it made me understood my, it, it brought up so much because it made me think about my own mother and her struggles and it was like, wow. I know she loved me, but then for her not to show up, it's, you realize, and, and that's where, where, what county tags is today.

I learned my mother not showing up, had to do about her, not me. Um, and when you realize that moms have to love themselves first, then you could show up for your child. And that's where my mother's, um, her pain came from is never loving herself. And I see now her, her not showing. Was because she actually probably thought that was best for us.

She, they're better off with their dad because I'm not able to show up for them. Um, so anyway.

Mark Stiles: So this is that vulnerability thing you were talking about, . Yes. Yeah. But sometimes I,

Melissa Clayton: but I'm not a very good crier and talker, so I, I need to be able to not cry.

Mark Stiles: I knew this was gonna be a great episode, and thank you for that.

One of the things I've learned at. As a member of EO is vulnerability. I always struggled with vulnerability and it truly is the superpower. And you get into these forums, these groups within, within the chapter, and you know, it's, it's sacred, it's confidential, and you're talking with people who share. An understanding of what you're going through as a business owner, leader, entrepreneur, that sometimes we feel like we're on islands.

Yeah. And like, I am fish outta water. I don't even know who to talk to about this. And that's the beauty of, uh, eo. So how do we get you, how do we get you in? What's it gonna take? Let me see. What would, what would, uh, shark Tank say? Um, so funny. So that's interesting too about Shark Tank. You know, you think those deals are deals, but you know, it's, we're not signing contracts on tv.

Right. We got more negotiating to do probably. Right.

Melissa Clayton: Yeah. And I'll tell you one little tidbit that, and now it's been so long, no one's gonna come after me is, so that's a limitation. Is that, so Lori's, um, people called me, you know, we talked to them after the show aired, and then we, no one, we didn't, we sent them all the paperwork and then we didn't hear from anyone, and I think it was truly an error on their part.

Two days before the show airs, they call and they're like, Hey, we're not gonna do the dl, but by the way, you should raise your prices. I was like, I think I said on TV that it was 24 90. And he is like, you have no business at 24 99. You've gotta raise it at 34 99. I'm like, you want me to raise it $10? And he's like, yep, you'll be fine.

Some people complain, but who cares about them? You need to ra. And he was right. Um, so we did, we raised our prices to 34 99 the day before it aired, which was crazy for us. .

Mark Stiles: Huh? So you pitched it at 24 99 and then it aired and it was 34 99. The next,

Melissa Clayton: next day, 34 99. Yep. But he was right. We didn't have a business at 24 99, um, to build a profit.

Right. Yeah. We, the shipping costs, everything. He's like, you need to, you need to raise your prices. So we did. And I, we, and we never turned it. We never reduced them. We stayed at 34 99.

Mark Stiles: Would they have done the deal at 34 90? I don't know,

Melissa Clayton: you know, in their, in their, um, credit it, the mat is a product, not a business.

So I understood why they did, they walked away.

Mark Stiles: But an interesting product, like I see that as a amazing product. Right. I've, I know your visual was perfect. I've seen that. I've seen, yeah, the hair dryer and the makeup and the sink and the, where do I.

Melissa Clayton: Right. Um, in all honesty, I, because I, I try to do both at once and I can't, so yeah.

The, the, the mat truly is run by my 18 year old son. He sh it sell, we sell it on Amazon, we sell it on the website. Um, and I would love some crazy enthusiastic person to come along and be like, Hey, let me really work at this because it is an amazing product. I use mine every single day. Um, the people that get it, get it.

Um, and the people that you know, they use it every single day and it is ripe. I mean, last year we did 200 grand and we didn't do anything. It literally just sat on. And through the algorithm, um, that's my son's job. He sends it into Amazon and it ships and every now and then someone will TikTok it and will have crazy sales.

Um, but it's a shame that we're not doing more with it, to be honest.

Mark Stiles: what do you do outside of work and, and family and stuff? Like, what are your outside passion?

Melissa Clayton: I'm working on them. Um, I. I am trying to cook more and my, I have three boys in high school that all play sports, so I'm trying to make better meals for them. I feel like I have three years.

The new joke in the family is, I'm like, when you bring home your college friends and you're gonna say, oh, my mom makes. X, Y, and Z and I'm working on what that meal's gonna be. Uh, I mean, I cook every night, but it's like the chicken, the sausage is sort of boring. Um, but I play tennis. I've been trying, I do a lot of yoga.

Um, I was proud of myself. I went to yoga last night actually. So really working to stay physical. I know the, how important that is to feel good. And I like to read a li I I tried. We just went away on vacation and I'm in the bookstore at the, at the airport. I'm like, just buy, uh, uh, a fiction book. Don't buy a business book.

And I bought the business book, but that's okay. ,

Mark Stiles: but that excites you, right? So I I'm the same way my wife says the same thing. Can't you just check out and read non, you know, something that's. Business. Right? Something fiction. And I'm like, but I enjoy this. Like, I enjoy absorbing something new. Um, the Art of Impossible was the latest one.

I tend, I tend to listen. I'm an Audible guy, which is why I love podcast so much, but The Art of Impossible, I listened to you recently and it was, it was Mindblowing. Oh, really? Okay. Yeah. The Art of Impossible. So Melissa, most importantly, how can someone who wants to connect with you reach out and connect with.

Melissa Clayton: Uh, well, they can email me. I love sharing my emails, Melissa tiny Um, LinkedIn obviously. And then as far as Tiny tags, our website is tiny Um, and our Instagram is at Tiny Tags. My personal Instagram is at Melissa Clayton. I should know my own Instagram handle. , um, barely email is the best as well as, uh, LinkedIn.

Mark Stiles: Uh, Liam and the team at Ringmaster, we'll, we'll put those in the show notes for you all. So don't freak out if you're walking your dog or you're running or, or what have you. Um, you can punch right through on the, on the show notes. Melissa, thank you very much. Thank you for sharing sh being vulnerable and, and having an amazing conversation with me.

Melissa Clayton: Thank you. I certainly appreciate it, mark.

Mark Stiles: Well, folks, that's, that's, I hope you learned something. If you did. If you laughed, if you cried, share this with somebody. Let them know about Melissa and we'll see everybody next time. This has been another amazing episode of Leadership in Action, your Boston chapter of EOS podcast.

See you soon.