You know you’ve made it when you can get nearly 150 people into a room at 8 a.m. to talk about relationships. Not that there was any question that Esther Perel, the internationally bestselling author and psychotherapist, could fill a room. Perel catapulted into the popular consciousness with her 2013 TED talk “The secret to desire in a long-term relationship,” and her groundbreaking podcast “Where Should We Begin?”, which pulls back the curtain on couples therapy sessions, has solidified her place as a trusted expert in relationship advice. She continues to top the iTunes podcast charts and New York Times bestseller list simultaneously.
In her talk Oct. 17 at WeWork White House (yes, the one at 8 a.m.), Perel addressed relationship questions from the audience and introduced her latest book, The State of Affairs, which tackles the taboo topic of infidelity.
So how did Perel build her brand to the powerhouse it is today? How does she communicate with her team? We found out her expertise doesn’t end with relationships.
What have been some of the challenges in going from being a therapist to a relationship advice brand?
The first challenge was the word “brand” itself. Becoming a brand was totally foreign to me, because I’d been a therapist for 34 years. I didn’t know how to do it without selling out.
“Becoming a brand was totally foreign to me. I didn’t know how to do it without selling out.”
Then, the question was, “How do I scale?” I always thought of therapy as happening in person with one individual or with a couple, not in the big scope. How do you go wide without compromising depth and complexity?
The third thing was that I had worked alone for 30 years. I never had a team. Therapist is a very lonely job, actually. You enter the lives of others, but the essence of the job is quite alone. Now I have a team of seven.
So how have you expanded your scope without feeling like you were selling out?
I continuously marry depth, creativity, and integrity. The best example of that has been the podcast. It’s doing something that was never done: taking therapy into the public square. The sessions are with couples who apply for the podcast and then we show the therapy work I actually do, and by that, we reach millions. Who would think, that with all the stigma therapy has, that people would respond in this way? It’s creativity, integrity, and scaling.
If someone reading this is thinking of starting their own company or brand, what advice would you give them?
My advice is that there is no way to avoid taking risks. It’s a leap of faith, an act of engagement with the unknown.
Surround yourself with all kinds of people. Don’t think you need to know what you don’t know. I called everybody. Shamelessly. I asked help from anyone who could help me with this and with that. People are happy to help, especially when they believe in what they do. Be generous and people will be generous with you.
“Surround yourself with all kinds of people. I called everybody. Shamelessly.”
Part of your business right now is consulting with companies. What do you do with them?
I’m a psychological consultant with a bunch of tech startups. It’s a population that doesn’t always know enough about relationships. Sixty-five percent of startups fail because of co-founder relationship conflicts, according to Harvard data.
How can co-founders avoid this?
The first thing is to make sure you give time to focus on your relationship. It’s a marriage. You’ll spend more time together than the partners you live with. It’s so tempting to plunge into the work. [Take time to ask] how are we doing, how do you think we are as a team, how do we complement each other? I’m with a business partner who is great at thinking about how to make the team feel valued. I have been self-employed, so my communications style isn’t always up to par. What is often one person’s strength is another person’s vulnerability.
We’ve [launched a book, a podcast, and workshops] in less than three years, and it’s because I teamed up with the perfect business partner, Lindsay Ratowsky. I’m very happy to tell people that I couldn’t have done anything without her. She co-founded the brand.
How can people balance work and personal relationships?
Personal life directly affects what goes on when you leave the house. My general idea is people all live in networks of relationships, and the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives. And yet we don’t attend to it. People go to the gym to take care of the body. I think it’s offensive that people don’t take care of the relationships in their lives the same way.