By Michelle Ferguson

Steve Tannahillm, CEO and founder of Ottawa-based tattoo referral service Tattoo Hero.


There are two simple rules to follow when starting your own business: get a kick-ass idea and make sure that idea drives you to the bank.

That’s roughly the secret to Steve Tannahill’s success as the CEO and founder of an Ottawa-based tattoo referral service.

But it’s more complicated than that.

Winner of Startup Weekend Ottawa — a 54-hour entrepreneurship competition that is part of a worldwide grassroots movement — Tattoo Hero is a community-based website that acts as an information hub for tattoo aficionados. The website, which they are hoping to launch at the end of February, conglomerates some of Ottawa’s best tattoo artists, giving them a centralized space to show of their work while at the same time, providing advice to users about good tattooing practices.

“Tattoo Hero sort of branched from people asking me how to find a good tattoo artist,” said Tannahill.

With an armful (and leg full) of tattoos, the software developer — who studied small-business management at Algonquin in 2001 — was continuously approached about finding a good artist.

“So we wanted to find a solution for that problem where it’s a little more global than my opinion — it can be everyone’s opinion.”

Although most tattoo artists and studios have their own web pages, Tannahill wanted to offer users a streamlined procedure to find their next tattoo artist, so that they know their options and do not feel limited to the first shop found online.

Originally planned as a mapping tool that would provide a three-dimensional representation of a tattoo on different parts of the body, Tannahill decided that the less “develop-driven” community-based approach would have a wider variety of users.

Though having his own startup is “empowering,” Tannahill does admit that there are some hardships involved in entrepreneurship.

“It takes up ALL of your time,” he laughed.

“And since we are a startup we aren’t making any money right now. So I do still need to do my full-time job and then this on the side. So there’s a lot of sacrifice.”

“Hopefully someday it’ll make some money,” he added with a chuckle.

All jokes aside, Tattoo Hero has managed to come up with some creative marketing strategies to ensure the company can stay afloat, while providing what is essentially a free information service.

For a small fee, Tattoo Hero will offer online conferencing, where members can exchange pictures and information, as well as video chat with artists. This way they are ready to get inked as soon as they set foot in the shop.

The site will also provide a resource for shops to collect deposits online when customers reserve booking. Tannahill said the company plans to take a fee from that.

They will also sell tattoo related accessories like t-shirts and jewellery.

“That’s been our most difficult challenge,” said Tannahill. “We are satisfying a need, but one that we can’t charge for.”

To get the website up and running, as well as to trademark the Tattoo Hero logo and name, Tannahill has launched a campaign on — a crowdfunding platform. In exchange for donations Tattoo Hero will offer different perks, such as stickers, t-shirts and beta testing (which allows early access to the website).