We had the good fortune of connecting with Celia Ma and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Celia, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
When I first started Paint the Town in 2016, and then reinvented the business to focus on virtual events in 2020, work life balance was a luxury I did not have. That may be a controversial statement, but I truly believe that as a founder in the “starting up” phase of a business, it’s a rare luxury to accomplish your goals on a 40-hour work week. So 90-hour weeks were common for myself and my co-founder, Phil, in the early days.
That being said, we quickly learned that trying to do everything ourselves was a fool’s errand and completely unsustainable. After pivoting our business in 2020 and solidifying new product offerings, we invested most of our energy in building scalable processes and infrastructure, and developing our rockstar team. With all that to lean on now, we can allow ourselves to breathe a bit more. These days, we try to remember that there will always be more work to do, but that our best work and happiness comes when we are living our lives with balance, mindfulness, and healthy personal and social connections.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
My husband and I founded Paint the Town in 2016 as a full-service event planning company focused on private “paint and sip” experiences. What sets us apart is our business model: we have no studios, no retail locations, and our business is completely “on-demand”: we bring the painting party to you!
It has been an amazing ride, but not without its challenges. When we first expanded beyond the SF Bay Area in 2017, we had to learn how to manage teams and logistics completely remotely (this was before Zoom was a household name). We had to learn how to develop strong relationships with our team and fully trust each other, since if things went wrong, we were hundreds of miles away.
But by far, the biggest challenge, and the one we are most proud of, was how we handled the coronavirus pandemic. After seeing the virus decimate our business overnight, we quickly pivoted to online events. This was a completely new experience to us, rife with complications in logistics, marketing, and product development, but by tackling it head-on, we were able to save our company and continue growing it even in the middle of a global pandemic. These days, we are so proud to say we’re serving not just Californians, but thousands of happy guests all over the world!
One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned along the way as entrepreneurs, is that you must care and connect deeply about what you are building. Given my artistic background, Paint the Town felt like a natural opportunity for us. However, when times got tough during the pandemic, it was our customers and our team members, that gave us the drive to keep pushing rather than giving up. If we didn’t appreciate those two things so deeply, we are not sure we would still be around today.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’m a bit old school with my San Diego recommendations, but these are timeless points of interest and would be great for any visitor, especially if they love good food!
First, I recommend hitting up the beaches. My favorite is La Jolla. La Jolla Cove of has 2 parts. There’s La Jolla the beach, where you can lay a towel out in the sand and relax, and then there’s La Jolla Cove, which is a beautiful grassy area with small cliffs and seals in the water. I suggest La Jolla Cove because you can have an awesome picnic on the grass, or sit at a bench and people-watch, or go down to the small sandy area and lay by the water. There are also tons of little cafes, bakeries, and boutiques nearby. For a nice dinner, eat at George’s At The Cove, which offers views of the ocean. Make reservations if you can!
For fantastic breakfast and brunch in the area, I suggest either:
– Richard Walker’s Pancake House: it has great breakfast favorites and heavenly pancakes
– Sugar & Scribe Bakery: a beautiful little bakery with lots of pastries and brunch goodies
For a romantic and intimate night excursion, I suggest driving to the top of Mount Soledad in La Jolla or walking along the beach after dark. Mount Soledad is absolutely BREATHTAKING and I never tire of it. You get a panoramic 360 degree view of San Diego, with the ocean on one side and the twinkling city lights on the other. It is a great place to bathe in the beauty of the city, ponder about life, and/or snuggle up with a loved one.
If you’re in the mood for a more casual and fun beach town, then Pacific Beach is the spot! Pacific Beach is a quirky beach town with ample opportunities for water sports, great Mexican food (especially Taco Tuesday deals), eclectic shops, and fun nightlife.
DOWNTOWN & NEARBY:
Balboa Park is green, sprawling, and filled with museums and family activities. It’s another great picnic area, with beautiful photo opportunities and fantastic people-watching. The Rueben H Fleet Science Museum is my favorite! You should also check out the botanical garden and Japanese garden. For a nicer sit-down lunch, go to Prado.
Since you’ll be in the downtown area, you should also check out Seaport Village, which is lively and beautiful. They have restaurants, fun little shops, street performers, many walking pathways along the water, an amazing view of downtown San Diego. I love winding down there towards the end of the day, watching the sunset, and seeing the city lights turn on at night.
Lastly, I highly recommend dinner in Little Italy. My favorite place is Ristorante Illando, which has amazing lobster ravioli and pasta bolognese, followed by dessert at Salt and Straw just a couple blocks away. Then, you should finish up the night at a bar in the Gaslamp District!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
While it may be cliche, I have to thank my parents more than anything, not just for working so hard to give me the opportunities to succeed, but for making me believe that I could. My parents are immigrants who, like so many others with the similar stories, came to America to give me a better life. They sacrificed for our family and were hard on me growing up, but it was all in the name of helping achieve my potential and pushing me to learn and grow from mistakes. My parents also managed to balance all this with love and support, and they instilled in my the courage to take risks for what I believe in. Words are not adequate for the gratitude, love, and respect I have for them!