We are so excited to introduce you to these Brooklyn babes today! Meet Jess Peterson & Emily Collins, the ladypreneurs behind visual storytelling boutique Mighty Oak. We were introduced to the duo by fellow Ladypreneur We Love Erin Bagwell and simply had to share their story – we love what they do. You will too (and if you’re in NY, go see them!).
Name: Jess Peterson & Emily Collins
Age: 30 and 28
Current location: Brooklyn, NY
Where are you from?
Jess: I’m from a small town called Shelton, in Connecticut.
Emily: I’m from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn
Jess: BS in Music Business (Northeastern) and MA in Media Studies (The New School)
Emily: BFA in Animation at Rhode Island School of Design
Business & Formal Title: Mighty Oak
Jess: Founder & Creative Director
Emily: Animation & Film Director
Tell us about Mighty Oak.
Jess: Mighty Oak is a storytelling boutique specializing in stop motion videos, hand drawn illustrations, concise messaging, and workshops for female founders.
What is your company slogan/mission?
Emily: Our mission is to tell stories that can’t be told any other way. That goes for brands, films, and female founders alike.
What did you ladies do before launching Mighty Oak? At what point did you realize you wanted to be entrepreneurs instead?
Jess: My background is in music and digital media. I spent much of my early 20’s promoting bands, planning tours, writing reviews, and creating press kits. Emily came from an animation and education background, specializing in stop-motion animation, illustration, and documentary film.
We met at the Children’s Museum of the Arts in 2011. I managed communications and Emily led the media department. She had also founded GirlStories, a free program for tweens interested in visual storytelling. We often collaborated together to develop the museum’s voice, convey the mission, and share stories of the incredible artists that worked there.
I left CMA in 2014 to start Mighty Oak and HATCH, a meet-up group for creative female founders. After inviting Emily to speak about GirlStories at one of our HATCH events, we realized that we really missed collaborating together and sharing our different storytelling talents. After working together on a short promo for the Mighty Oak website, we decided to make it official.
I remember looking at Emily and saying “I think I want to tell stories with you.” Emily said “I think I want to tell stories with you too!” It was kinda like a wedding proposal. And so the Mighty Oak studio was born.
Whenever you decided that you were ready to take the leap, what were your next steps?
Emily: We took a trip up to Beacon, NY in early January 2015 to brainstorm. After looking at some artwork at Dia Beacon, we went to a cafe and unloaded all of our dreams and aspirations for what Mighty Oak could be onto paper. From there, we began honing our ideas and tackling all of the logistics one by one. We’ve spoken to tons of creatives who are already running successful small businesses and continue to seek advice from various mentors. Jess is the real business brains behind us. I am getting there, but I learn something new from her everyday!
How does your partnership work? Tell us how you guys work together (who takes care of what, how do your personalities compliment each other) and how a partnership differs from solopreneurship. What tips do you have to make a partnership work?
Emily Once our creative plans are in place, I work on fabrication, illustration, animation, shooting and editing. I take the brush to the canvas! Jess’s marketing, project management, and creative writing background set the stage for really productive creative work. She also always offers really helpful feedback. When I lose sense or sight of what is being worked on, whether it be conceptual or visual, having a partner to share something with is a game changer. I get “stuck” less often. We push each other forward and keep one another engaged and excited.
Jess: I agree with Em about our partnership being a game changer! My tips for making a partnership work are the same that I’d offer to someone in a new relationship: give each other the same trust, support, and respect you would want to receive. Sounds simple, but I’ve heard too many horror stories of partnerships falling apart because someone didn’t follow those rules.
What is the biggest thing you overcame launching Mighty Oak?
Jess: Actually, I had two major challenges to overcome. The first was accepting that I couldn’t do it all myself, and moreover, that I didn’t want to. Before partnering with Emily, I was building brands for female founders, determined to do all of the admin and design work myself. But I was burning myself out, and quite frankly, knew that I wanted a partner to help me take Mighty Oak to the next level. Collaboration with the right person has been key to moving us forward!
Another interesting challenge was realizing Mighty Oak’s brand position. I’ve been passionate about working with starting female founders, but realized that the customized services I was offering were often out of their price range. So I spent the end of 2014 reevaluating our position and figuring out ways that I could elevate the brand while still supporting the women I so admired. I read a book called “Make Your Mark: A Creative’s Guide to Building a Brand with Impact”, which talked a lot about finding a solution to your client’s challenges. That’s what gave us the idea to start our branded iphone video workshops for female founders.
I’ve found that this kind of positioning challenge is pretty common for start ups, and I think it’s really important for other aspiring entrepreneurs to know that you CAN and SHOULD evaluate your position, all the time.
Would you describe Mighty Oak as your “dream job”? Why or why not? What constitutes a dream job for you?
Emily: Yes. We get to tell and craft stories of all shapes and sizes. I think the only other thing I’d consider a dream job would be training seeing-eye dogs. That’s my plan for 30 years from now. I’d also love to tell the stories of those dogs though… so maybe it will never really change.
Any other projects/side hustles you’re working on? Tell us about them.
Jess: Of course! Who doesn’t have a few side hustles in NYC? Besides HATCH, I’m also in a dj duo with my husband called That Perfect Pair. Both projects allow me to connect with my other passions: planning events, curating music, and connecting amazing people.
Emily: Yes. I continue to lead and direct GirlStories at CMA. I’m also pursuing an MFA at Hunter College, focusing on documentary. I’ve been working on various short films involving animation including this one: Hansu Solo. I created this with another artist, Kaija Siirala.
Entrepreneurs live and breathe their businesses. How do you balance work and life? Do you think that’s even possible?
Emily: It’s tough. Jess and I both do so much! Currently, I spend all of my time creating work and teaching. My long time boyfriend, Ellis, runs a business (tri-lox) as well, so we are both so invested in entrepreneurship and understand what needs to happen to keep things moving. We usually take half-day breaks on Saturdays and make breakfast together. That’s something I look forward to every week.
Jess: Taking my weekends back has been, without a doubt, the best thing I’ve done to get some balance back into my life. I’ll work crazier hours during the week just to make sure I have my day off on Saturday. The other day, I spent 30 minutes in the grocery store — purusing fruit! It was marvelous!
What do your daily routines consist of?
Emily: Waking up, doing a quick workout, meeting Jess at the studio or home office, working on developing, animating, or shooting a given story, going to evening classes, reading, making a hearty vegetable dinner if time allows! Watching Broad City.
Jess: Pretty much the same thing as Emily. When you become business partners, you kinda become the same person!
You have to do it and you hate it – what are your least favorite tasks to do at Mighty Oak?
Jess: The Accounting — I like words, not numbers! Though I will say, owning your finances is pretty damn empowering.
You’re on the verge of a business-lady-breakdown. How do you unwind?
Emily: I take deep breaths, drink tea, pet my cat and/or call my friends. I always think “I should do yoga and meditate” but I don’t. I also often watch comedy. Some old Gilda Radner clips.
Jess: I go for a walk. That’s part of the reason I love Brooklyn so much — you go outside and see the old men playing cards at the Italian social club down the street, or listen to the ladies chatting together on the stoop next door, and you remember that life is not always about work. It’s like you can actually ‘walk your cares away’.
What did you think you’d be doing now at age 10?
Jess: I had my sights set on being a rapper, basketball player, or writer. Since I’m only 5’2 and my rap career never quite took off, I consider myself lucky to be writing stories and scripts for a living now.
Emily: My answer was always “Veterinarian. I’ll be an Artist and Softball player on the side.” After being introduced to biology in 7th grade, my gaze shifted very quickly to making art.
Tell us 3 of your cannot-live-without ladypreneur apps.
Top 5 favorite cities?
Jess: I feel like I have so much more exploring to do, but having lived in London for a while, it definitely tops the charts for me. Berlin, New Orleans, Reykjavik, and NYC (obviously) are also favorites thus far. I’m dying to visit Cracow someday — Poland’s art scene is supposed to be amazing!
Emily: I lived in Rome for a couple of years, so I have a very strong relationship with it and love it very much. I also love Prague, Mexico City, and Paris. My number one will always be NYC though, born and raised here, can’t shake it!
Red, White, Sparkling or stronger?
Jess: Red wine, Dark & Stormy’s and Whiskey Gingers are my go-to’s.
Emily: Red Wine and whiskey on the rox.
Tell us the best place to eat in Brooklyn. If it’s your kitchen, share your best recipe.
Jess: Vinegar Hill House is the coziest and most delicious restaurant in Brooklyn, hands down. I dream about their wild boar pork-chop on a regular basis.
Emily: I love Karczma in Greenpoint. Great borscht and salad plate. Ideal price range.
Words to live by:
Jess: “Fuck Up & Win”. Some people learn just from reading a book, but for most of us, we learn from experience. So try things once, fuck up, learn from it, and get it right next time.
Emily: “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” Humor is so critical to getting me through day to day, in both my professional and personal life. “I love to laugh!” as was stated by Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins.
Jess: Actually, I like Emily’s answer better.
In 3 years you’ll be:
Emily: Continuing to tell stories with Jess. I will also own one large dog and one small dog.
Jess: I will be playing with Emily’s dogs.
What advice would you give to budding ladypreneurs interested in film/videography?
Emily: Know your equipment and don’t be intimidated by it. I ask questions constantly. There will always be unknowns and unique issues that arise, so get comfortable asking other filmmakers for advice and do research. Lots of research!
Jess: Exactly what Emily said– ask questions! Find a filmmaker you admire and ask them out for coffee. Take a class, watch a tutorial, and learn how to maneuver your equipment. Don’t wait for anyone to do it for you. And lastly, take the time to listen — making films is about telling stories, and the best stories often come from listening for the details.