#WFH Diaries: Coltrane Curtis and Lisa Chu of Team Epiphany

As confinement continues in most parts of the world, we're checking in with creative people to see how they're faring. Here's an update from Coltrane Curtis and Lisa Chu, husband-and-wife leaders of New York agency Team Epiphany.

Give us a one-line bio of yourselves.

We are best friends, business partners and the husband-and-wife duo who founded, and continue to manage and operate, Team Epiphany—a culture-first marketing agency with clients like Coca-Cola, HBO, Audi, Nike, Google, BET, Hendrick's Gin, Glenfiddich, Footlocker and many more.

Where are you living right now, and who's with you?

We have been Brooklyn (Dumbo) residents for the past four years, where we live with our two boys Ellington (8) and Count (1) and our 16-year-old puppy Iman.

What's your work situation like at the moment?

As self-funded, independent agency owners and employers of over 70 people, we are experiencing an unprecedented amount of stress and pressure. Prior to Covid-19, we never had any work-life separation in our professional careers; so this "always on" life is quite familiar to us. The major challenge that has developed is taking care of our families at the same time as running a business from home. Entertaining our 1-year-old by playing with his train sets while simultaneously conducting conference calls with our internal teams or clients is challenging to say the least.

(Lisa) The day starts with daily check-ins at 10 a.m. with senior management and group leads across accounts, strategy, experiential, creative, new business and social/digital. I run the day-to-day business and help oversee the production team, so my day is filled with HR needs, business financial forecasting and a plethora of business fires to extinguish.

(Coltrane) Our business functions as a fine ballet balance between the strategy, creative, new business and account teams, and I work intimately with those units daily. Days are long, but we love what we do, who we do it with, and who we do it for. Our team and clients are AMAZING people, and that helps fuel us during these difficult times.

Describe your socializing strategy.

We are very blessed that our company is quite literally a "family business," with major emphasis on family (and life-long friends). Lucky for us, connecting with them digitally is socially satisfying and uplifting. Another blessing is that we are quarantining with some of our best friends who happen to live in the same building as us, and together we have been "locked down" for 38 days and counting. We've been swapping dinner responsibilities, hosting movie nights, playing NBA 2K tournaments, hallway basketball, doing workouts and even weekend excursions to our "hidden place" in the woods at Bear Mountain. Keeping the kids active and social is of the utmost importance.

How are you dealing with childcare?

(Coltrane) Lisa and I don't have much family, at all. Lisa's relatives are in Asia, and my mom lives in Charlotte. So parenting has been left solely to us and our few friends who serve as family, and our "ayi" is more of a family member than a nanny. Quarantining has been a dedicated collaborative approach since March 13. Our nanny comes daily and is dedicated to the same safety precautions as us, which includes gloves, masks, social distancing, and no public transportation, as her husband drives her to and from work. We are all committed.

What are you reading?

(Lisa) I'm reading any and everything pertaining to government news and financial relief support for small businesses to help the agency and my friends who are also entrepreneurs and business owners.

(Coltrane) I'm reading articles from spirts/beer, television/film, fashion/style and technology-related industries.

What are you watching?

We're watching a lot of old NBA and college basketball games with our 8-year-old. Countless episodes of Bubble Guppies, Boss Baby and Sesame Street with our 1-year-old. And catching up on old episodes of HBO's Insecure, The Blacklist on Netflix and anything that comes on HGTV for the adults.

What are you listening to?

We're listening to Witcha Black Ads podcast (a podcast about marketing and advertising through a Black lens), iTunes Essentials from Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, '90s R&B, J DIlla and DJ Premier.

How are you staying fit?

(Lisa) I am running the Bridge early mornings, doing hallway calisthenics with Ellington and yoga with Team Epiphany's account director and resident yogie Sarah La Rosa via Instagram Live.

Have you taken up a hobby?

(Coltrane) If insomnia is a hobby, I am an expert. I am also an expert at getting my butt kicked in NBA 2K by my son.

(Lisa) I've been experimenting more in the kitchen, from baking banana bread to grilling porterhouses. Having the time to try new food recipes has been amazing. We're also doing more family activities like multi-thousand-piece puzzles!

Any tips for getting necessities?

We get to Whole Foods early in the morning to beat the rush. We're also supporting local butchers and local bodegas, who still happen to have cleaning products.

An awkward moment since all this started.

Conversations with our 8-year-old Ellington have let us know that we'll need to have the "REAL" birds and the bees conversation sooner rather than later. This kid is just way too advanced.

Best work email you got since all this started.

We've been blessed that some our clients have been very compassionate and sensitive to the situation we're facing as an independent agency and have offered to proactively compensate us for our services upfront. We also received the news that our vp strategy/best friend Jarrett Cobbs and his lovely wife gave birth to their first-born son, which has been a bright spot in these difficult and uncertain times.

An aha! moment since all this started. 

Our biggest aha! moment was how quickly and effectively the team came together and rallied to get work done under new and unprecedented circumstances. Millennials get a bad reputation; however, they've really stepped up to ensure nothing is falling through the cracks with frequent check-ins and Zoom conferences. It's really impressive.

What's your theory on how this is going to play out?

Professionally, people are going to become sharper, more diligent and more thankful for work opportunities. From a personal perspective, the family structure will become much more close-knit because of the additional time we're spending together during these difficult and trying times.  

See the full #WFH Diaries series here.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards and the founding editor of Muse by Clio.

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