Being a Creative, Anti-Hustle, Burnout & The Best Cat

Puno Puno

September 6, 2019

Over a year ago now I was looking through different sites for some inspiration on how we should shape Kia Ora. I ended up trawling through Girlboss and stumbled upon their small-bizz starter kit videos. Puno was one of the teachers! After a year of following her vlogs on YouTube, I decided to reach out.

Puno is one of those people who leave a mark with her infectious personality. A proud slashie, she openly talks about her corporate burnout, successes, and failures while growing her multiple companies, her cat Muad'Dib and work-life balance.

To start off, can you describe what a slashie is, and the projects you’re currently involved in?

Oh yes, I can! A slashie are those multi-hyphenate slash multi-disciplinary slash “I do a lot of things” kind of people. 🙋🏻‍♀️ I’m definitely one of them. I think the internet and social media birthed slashies or maybe it was just character limits. Currently, I’m a Digital Entrepreneur / Vlogger / Cat Photographer.

My main focus right now is building out education products for ilovecreatives. I was self-taught and mentored by the internet, but heck, I wish there was a more straightforward path. Something that was fun, had a positive community and gamification. You know, the little things! So, that’s what we’re building.

I also do everything in my power to make my cat famous. She’s a gateway cat to loving cats. I used to hate cats, but it’s only because I never met the right cat.

Maud’Dib the cat in a series of cuteness overload photos.
Maud’Dib the cat in a series of cuteness overload photos.

You started off working for DDB and Activision on Call of Duty. How did you decide to shift into freelancing and creating your own businesses?

My first go at freelancing was in 2008 when I got laid off at DDB. The best part about getting laid off is that everyone instantly scatters to new agencies and I had a lot of opportunities. This is around the time UX / UI design started becoming a thing and apps were all the rage.

I ended up freelancing as a UX Designer for Call of Duty and the Executive Producer offered me a Director position. I have a love / hate relationship with that time. It was super tough emotionally and physically, but our team and vision were simpatico. After about three years I was burnt out to the point of no return and decided to leave.

It took me about three months and a 5-week trip to Thailand to get back to my base. When we came back, that’s when we decided on the business, a travel app… naturally, haha. I laugh because I think all UX Designers fantasise about travel apps after they get burnt out.  

Starting my own business wasn’t really for the ego, it was more to have control of how I live my life. We also knew that we didn’t want to work at the typical start-up pace so that meant we had to bootstrap (i.e. self-finance) our business. And thus began Phase 2 of my freelance journey.

The toughest part for me was figuring out the difference between worrying and working. It ended up just being more emotionally exhausting to worry and work. You definitely have to do the work, but worrying is something you can limit your time on. I’m not going to act like I never worry, but I definitely am self-aware when it happens and snap the heck out of it ASAP. Once I started getting in the habit of making decisions quickly and executing often, you really don’t have time to worry. Hakuna matata! It means “no worries”.

Puno, simply living her best life.
Puno, simply living her best life.

Tell us more about ilovecreatives. What was the inspiration behind that? How long did it take for you to build and launch?

When I quit my job, I kind of lost all my friends. Not that they weren’t my friends, but like… who am I gonna get lunch with? I did a couple of things out of my comfort zone during that time: (1) went to an adult camp where I met 100 other like-minded creative slashies and (2) met strangers on Instagram. At one point, I was getting coffee with a new person almost every week. Los Angeles is heavily populated!

Meeting a bunch of people made me feel like an operator at some point. Besides Facebook, there wasn’t really a great place to notify people about events, jobs, spaces, etc. That was happening in the creative world. I had this idea of creating a weekly newsletter, like a digital classified ads for creatives. I ended up building it on Squarespace and Mailchimp over a weekend and launched it right away.

Since we were already building another business, I didn’t have a lot of time for this one so I made sure that the price of the ads could pay for someone to run it without me. That was probably the best decision I ever made because it consistently went out every Wednesday since 2014.

What was the initial mission / vision for this and how did it change over time?

The initial vision was to have a place for creative people to reach other creative people. It also was a bit of a dumping ground for things that I thought would be helpful for creatives like my Do the Math spreadsheet to find your hourly rate.

The past two years, I realized that a lot of people who come to ilovecreatives are looking for something new, but not sure where to start. And that’s where the education component came in. Learning something new and on your own is tough cookies and we want to make that experience as positive and motivating as possible. We’re kind of your biggest cheerleader and we just want to help you be as creative as you want to be.

ilovecreatives was a side thing for a long time. In the first 6 months, we made $5K. Remember how I hired someone to do the newsletter? Welp, that was the perseverance. Our newsletter grew from there and then at one point I was like, “Oh snap, this is something”. Consistency is cool! 😋

When looking from the outside a lot of peoples’ lives seem full of amazing adventures, achievements and contributions, especially through online lens, which might make people feel like they are not doing enough, like they are not good enough. Do you have any personal experience with that feeling and what do you do to combat it?

I really don’t like thinking about that kind of stuff. It goes back to my worrying is not work philosophy. Anytime I felt that way, it was wrapped up with my impatience. Most of the time it’s because I think that I should have gotten somewhere sooner, but… what is that really based on? I mean, I’ve never started ilovecreatives before so how would I know how long it takes? And sure, things could happen faster, but hey… I’m not burnt out so I think this pace is just fine.


On that note, could you share some of the personal and professional challenges you have had that people might not easily see?

One of the biggest ones was being the face of the brand. I think there are probably few articles on the internet about People Map where I’m like, “Nahhhhh you don’t have to.” While I still believe that’s true, I think the real issue was that I wasn’t that brand. In the beginning, I didn’t really know who I was. Ilovecreatives is definitely more me and being the “face” of it was totally chill because I was like… yeah, that’s me.

What things or people have helped you to get where you are today?

Chelsea Matthews is probably one of the biggest influences in my life. She literally would pitch ideas and then I would do them and then… well, here I am. Also, Steven Male! Heh, no but really, he reached out and really helped me get to the next level in my business.

Do you have a clear course / mission in mind for what you want to do in life? What advice would you have for someone who is a bit lost? Do you ever feel lost yourself?

I’ve been trying to think big picture a lot this year, but I found that I really just need to slashie it up a bit more. I think everyone should go through a slashie phase when they’re feeling a bit lost. Take a class, collaborate with new people, create projects, and reach out to people you haven’t talked to in a few years. This year, I took an acting class, then a writing class, and now I’m taking stand-up. I’m not 100% sure where it’s going, but it’s fun and helping me see what I do and don’t want to do!  

Puno and Maud’Dib, looking fly with orange beanies and chill with their eyes closed.
Puno and Maud’Dib, looking fly with orange beanies and chill with their eyes closed.

You do so much quirky and fun stuff. There is an original Maud’dib song, some Star Trek battles, an epic Vlog and much more. Why is it important for you to spend time doing this?

Yeah! I guess so, huh? Everything you listed happened after I turned 30. Couple of things happened around that time: (1) I was going through a major Slashie phase (2) I stopped giving AF and (3) I was more practiced at executing quickly. I’ve always thought quirky / fun, but never really made the time to act on it. It really doesn’t take that long to do a lot of these things, but I never knew that before because I never started.

Also, I surround myself around people who naturally say, “Yeah, let’s do it!” vs. “Oh Puno, you’re so crazy!”

You can talk about how you learn by playing around and having fun. It would be awesome to share how these have helped you in your professional / personal life as well as I feel a lot of people think everything needs to be directly related to be useful.

Nice observation! I do learn by playing around. If I’m bored, I really won’t learn. Learning by being bored filters itself out naturally. I think that’s why I did so bad in college. 😬 I ended up teaching myself Photoshop when I was in college by creating personal projects like photoshopping lasers on my friend’s photos or I created a mashup video of Bambi to learn Final Cut Pro.

I always wished that my profs or teachers would have gone the extra step to make learning maximum fun. That was one of my motivations to create educational products for ilovecreatives. Anytime we teach, our goal is to create content that is actionable, contextual, and as fun as we can imagine. When we put that much effort into our courses, students feel inspired and motivated. Win WIN.

You have so many awesome tools on ilovecreatives? The Student Loan Calculator stands out. Why did you create this? Why is encouraging financial literacy important for you?

Most of the tools are a manifestation of my personal needs. For the Student Loan Calculator, I was trying to help out Shawn figure out how much total interest he was paying. I kept nagging him for his interest rates, but he didn’t know how to find that info. He ended up giving me his Nelnet login and I saw how confusing the dashboard was.

I created a spreadsheet that would help him see how much total interest he was paying ($31K for a $40K loan) and what happens if he paid off his student loans faster. It was really eye-opening for me to go through that process with him. When I graduated from college, I had $10K in credit card debt with 22% interest. Fortunately, my husband did the math for me and helped pay off my debt. I paid him back a year later and since then, have been super transparent about money. I know of some couples that never talk about their finances and that leaves zero opportunity to work through it together.

Overall, there’s a lot to learn about money and I definitely don’t know everything, but once you remove the shame and secrecy from it, it’s so much easier to talk about. At the end of the day, I just want people to feel comfortable about money.

What are some of the solid lessons you learned while running your companies and projects that might resonate with someone on their way of growing businesses or freelancing?

Embrace the spreadsheet! For creatives, I know that’s the last thing that you want to learn, but spreadsheets have helped answer a lot of the business questions. Sure, at some point, you can hire an accountant, but in the beginning, your business is usually not that complicated. Just learn the basics: sum, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. You can do a lot with just those formulas.

Note from Steven: There are two more amazing & free tools Puno has created, one is ‘Do The Math: Freelancers’ and the other is the ‘Grow Spreadsheet’. Definitely worth checking them out!

What is your opinion on personal brands? You have quite a strong presence online - what is its main goal?

I get asked this question a lot. It seems like it’s meticulously planned, but what you’re seeing is years of consistent experimentation. My main goal for my personal stuff is to just do what makes me happy. Haha, sometimes, that means not posting. I can assure you that.

Would you say you have a personal brand and if so - what is it about?

Yeah, I think so. A good friend of mine actually said that my color palette consists of color, but typically just one or two bold colors. I usually wear a hat because I hate doing my hair or have some bad dandruff (TMI?) and I like to wear sandals and socks. Basically a grandma. In terms of content, I try to be goofy and informative, like an educational cartoon show but IRL.

I feel like in 2019 if you haven’t used the word hustle to describe your life, you’re doing something wrong. Whether it’s the fact you hustle, or that you’re juggling a few side hustles, it feels like the world is catching Gary Vee-itus. I’ve heard recently that you’re starting to be anti hustle? Can you expand on this? What does work-life balance mean to you?

LOL, I’ve always been anti-hustle, but I never really took a stance on it until people started labelling me as that. Yes, I work hard, but my whole goal for doing what I do now is so that I can live the life that I want to. That means no burnout and no “it is what it is”. If it’s messing with my life, I’ll change it ASAP.

I don’t really know what work-life balance looks like, but I know what burn out feels like. All I care about is making sure that doesn’t happen ever again. If you pro-actively watch for it every day and not be loose with exceptions, then I think you’re achieving the same thing that work-life balance is supposed to achieve.

And finally, whose story would you want to read about on here?

GREAT question! I would love to read about Arlan Hamilton.

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