São Paulo siblings Bruno Haidar, Daniela Chohfi, and Fernanda Maluf worked for years at different multinational companies but always dreamed about running a business together, one with a positive impact on the world.
Then came a deep national recession where record high unemployment put inevitable strain on relationships and budgets. That inspired the trio to start OrienteMe, an app that connects users to therapists via an electronic device, in 2017. The on-demand function means that patients can more easily schedule their appointments around increasingly hectic work and social lives.
That’s important, they say, because the World Health Organization and the International Stress Management Association estimate that Brazil has 23 million people suffering from mental health issues.
According to Chohfi, who researched the subject for a year, there are four main barriers for Brazilians seeking therapy: cost, access, compatibility, and stigma.
OrienteMe addresses all four points. The cost is significantly lower than going to a professional’s office, and the on-demand function allows users to schedule appointments whenever they choose.
The apps algorithms match users with the most appropriate professionals, so they can avoid the stigma of asking friends or family for recommendations.
“About 77 percent of users of OrienteMe have never done therapy before in their lives,” says Chohfi. About 5,000 people used the app in its first four months, the majority of them women.
Clients fill out a brief form online, and the app matches them with a therapist that best fits their profile. The app has more than 30 professionals registered, including psychologists, psychoanalysts, and holistic therapists. All communication on the app is encrypted, guaranteeing total privacy.
The trio behind OrienteMe hopes that as the app grows in popularity, it may help change way the therapy is viewed in Brazil.
“Our work is to remove the stigma of therapy, that it should be seen as an act of courage, not weakness,” says Chohfi.
Making products people fall in love with isn’t always full of romance.
Sometimes a match that seems made in heaven can turn into a nightmare. Sometimes everything is smooth sailing—but there are still unexpected bumps in the road. And sometimes, well, you might need a divorce.
Professional heartbreak is real, and it can sting just as much—if not more—than the disintegration of your first great love affair. Creating consumer packaged goods is an especially fraught business: Your success is dependent on everyone else going gaga for your product. Make a hot item, and your company can experience rapid growth—meaning employees often become “absolutely married to their work,”says Josh Wand, founder and CEO of the recruiting firm ForceBrands, who moderated a panel on the subject at The We Company’s Chelsea HQ. But with marriage comes a little heartache and pain. Here’s how five top executives weathered their own storms on their way to success.
When saying ‘no’ leads to millions lost
“When I started with KIND 10 years ago, my hair wasn’t gray,” said John Leahy, president of nut-and-seed-snack business. Early on, a major KIND account asked if the company would make them a private-label bar. Leahy declined: KIND was intent on building consumer loyalty through its own name and logo. A year later, that account said they’d found someone else to make them a private-label bar—and they were dropping KIND from their roster. “Millions of dollars down the drain,” said Leahy. Five years later, another major account was seeking a private label. Again, KIND said no. Sure enough, that account launched their own private-label bar, and dropped some KIND products. Millions more, gone.
But Leahy was adamant that the company stay true to who they were, and the business still grew to 250,000 retail outlets from 25,000 in only eight years. Plus, the heartache healed: The first account eventually came back to KIND, and the second started reupping their orders. Long-term confidence is necessary, Leahy said: “Weather the storm, fight for what you believe in, and the love will come.”
There’s no such thing as too big to fail
Oatly originated at WeWork. Well, actually, the vegan, plant-based milk made of oats started in Sweden, but as general manager Mike Messersmith explained, their rapid U.S. climb began in 2017 with only three employees at WeWork 175 Varick St. Their vision was laser-sharp: Focus on local New York coffee shops and edge into the latté market.
But Messersmith particularly wanted to get his product into the Irving Farm coffee shop he walked by every morning on the Upper West Side. Victory came early—his sales team got Oatly into the store. “There was a swelling song in the air,” he said. But then: heartbreak. Oatly became such a hit that their supply ran low. “We were not as good at making oat milk as selling it,” he said. The heartbreaking moment came when Messersmith walked by Irving Farm one day and saw a sign on the door proclaiming: “Sorry, there is no oat milk today due to a national shortage.”
He had to reroute his morning walk because the sign made him so anxious—a symbol of his company’s “monumental failures.” But they made it through those growing pains, and Oatly was able to reup production. Now they’re opening a new factory, and Messersmith is thrilled: “I can take a more direct route to the 1 train again.”
Teammates aren’t always dream mates
Companies are rarely built by just one person. But building a team is its own challenge. When she joined the skin-care company Supergoop two-and-a-half years ago as president, Amanda Baldwin was tasked with undoing and redoing a team.
First, she learned to cultivate patience—it took a year to find her own direct reports. “The org chart is a living, breathing organism, especially in a young company,” she said.
It’s tough to find people who can jump into the deep end. “Résumés are not good indicators of whether people have the stomach for a startup,” she said. “Building a team is about matchmaking. There are no good people or bad people, there are just the right people for the right job.” When it is the right person, they soar, she said, and the benefits to your own work life can be tremendous.
Battling impostor syndrome—after you’ve made it
Elaine Kellman tastes the flavors. Literally. As head of flavors for Citromax, she creates new flavors for major food and beverage companies.
Fourteen years ago, after a long career working for other companies, Kellman became bored. “The worst thing to do to a flavor chemist is to take away creativity,” she said. So she struck out on her own. But she didn’t realize everything she would be giving up by leaving a corporate structure—no forecasting department, no logistics, no one to talk overhead.
Her first challenge came early, at an industry conference, surrounded by leaders in her male-dominated field. She fought impostor syndrome for days, trying to believe she belonged—until, ultimately, she realized she had just as much experience (if not more) than everyone else there.
“It’s beyond believing in yourself,” she said. “It’s about believing in the person everyone else believes you are.” She’s kept up her creativity by moving her office right next to her flavor lab.
Keep riding the wave wherever it takes you
Luan Pham was head of marketing at Condé Nast Media when opportunity came calling. He quit his job to work on—coffee creamer. But not just any coffee creamer: a nondairy version founded by world-renowned big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton.
Hamilton was looking for a burst of energy and focus for riding 100-foot waves. He began by mixing his own blend made of coconut milk. But when the company—and early employee Pham—tried to scale the product, challenges abounded. To make the vegan, dairy-free creamer shelf-stable for a year, they had to do extensive tests—and were still manufacturing it in small batches.
Despite a friends-and-family funding round, they were running out of money. At the last moment, they found a mass-manufacturer. Pham is now glad he indulged his entrepreneurial streak. “Follow your truth and what drives you,” he said. And anyone who doubted him? Now they’re eager to follow in his footsteps—especially because Laird Superfood just raised a funding round worth $32 million (including from WeWork).
When Lisa Ling was a little girl, she wanted to be Marcia Brady. Lisa and her younger sister, Laura, would pretend they were the Brady Bunch—Laura as Jan or Cindy, their grandmother as Alice. “The television was always on in my house,” the journalist and author told the audience of WeWork employees at the “Student for Life” panel discussion at the company’s recent Global Summit in Los Angeles. “It was my favorite babysitter. I had fantasies about being on TV.”
The fantasies that took root in childhood only grew she did. At 16, she landed a hosting gig at a local teen magazine show called Scratch. “Worst name ever,” Ling says with a laugh. At 18, she was hired as a reporter at Channel One News, broadcast in schools nationwide. While at Channel One, she covered drug wars in South America, globalization in China and India, and democracy in Iran.
No longer a little girl enthralled by the glamour of television, Lisa developed a love of reporting. “I wanted to communicate stories,” she says. Her inspiration? Connie Chung. “She was the only Asian person on a national stage, and to me, she symbolized all that is elegant and graceful on TV,” Ling says. “So I set out to have a career like Connie’s.”
While a student at the University of Southern California, she kept missing classes to go on assignments for Channel One. “I realized I was getting a better education doing what I was doing because I had a unique opportunity to be out in the world,” she says. “For a kid who didn’t have the resources to travel, this was the best education conceivable. I became a smarter person, but really, I became a better person.”
Ling recalls Channel One sending her to cover the civil war in Afghanistan, a country she couldn’t identify on the map, “and most adults couldn’t identify either.” She was just 21 years old, traveling with the Red Cross to Jalalabad. When they landed, they were immediately surrounded by young boys carrying weapons “that were quite literally larger than they were,” she recalls. When she asked how old they were, the local guide responded, “They do not know, but if you ask them how to operate an RPG or bazooka, they know.” This story had the most profound impact on Ling and her career. “That moment in Afghanistan, I realized this is what I should be doing.”
Ling’s career has taken her from Afghanistan to Iraq and even helped her diplomatically fight for her sister Laura’s safe return from the North Korean government. When asked about Laura and her colleague Euna Lee’s imprisonment in North Korea in 2009, she remembers the total fear her family felt—and the delicate way they needed to handle the request for the women’s release. “Never once did we make any accusations on what we believed,” she explains. “It was all about allowing the North Korean government to save face.”
Despite her success, Ling acknowledges there is “a tremendous amount of gender bias in the workplace. That is really undeniable.” While her show, This Is Life with Lisa Ling, has been on CNN for six seasons, she had to fight for it get renewed, and suspected it might have been because “maybe I’m not white and male enough.” Yet everything she’s been exposed to has compelled her to continue telling stories.
“There’s so much out there to acquaint oneself with,” says Ling, who sees herself as a student for life, seeking out new people and experiences every day. “I challenge myself to meet someone new every day and interact with someone entirely different,” she explains, encouraging others to do the same. “You’ll become more open-minded, smarter, and ultimately better.”
As the space between work and not-work becomes ever more blurred, questions about how to do this thing we plug away at for 30 or 40 or 70 hours a week become all the more expansive. In this column, we’ll delve into the novel dilemmas created by the new ways we work, as well as timeless questions over ethics, gender assumptions, and toxic work situations (and how to escape them). How we work is an important component of how we live—and we’re here to help you do better at both.
Q: I was advising a young founder (20-something) on how to best market his new app. We talked about how his target market probably spans generations. In referring to my peers (consumers over 50), he said, “Elderly people may not be as comfortable with technology.” Not only was I shocked, but I was also angry. Although some of my peers are challenged by technology, “elderly” implies frail, over-the-hill, and out-of-touch. I would never think to call his peers “kids.” How do you address ageism and stereotypes in the workplace without sounding like a cranky old crone?
As another person who is over 40, I find the fastest way to come off as a cranky old crone is to yell angrily at young people. They never take it the right way! Which is not to say that it’s not merited, sometimes.
I agree that “elderly” has some unfortunate negative connotations, perhaps because we live in such a youth-focused society that anything described as anything less than, well, young seems to carry with it the stench of mothballs. Is there even a clear, agreed-upon sense of what the word means? Merriam-Webster defines “elderly” as “rather old, especially: being past middle age” (which, what is that, even? 45? 55? 90?) and “old-fashioned” (fair, perhaps, but that could apply to any young-in-years hipster who insists on listening to vinyl on a vintage hi-fi and scoops up a portable typewriter at the local flea). The dictionary’s concluding attempt: “of, relating to, or characteristic of later life or elderly persons.” “Elderly” may be elderly, but what is elderly?
Personally, I like specifics, and feel that it’s never wrong to recommend speaking with accuracy: What’s the actual age being discussed? There is a huge difference between 45 and 90—generations, even. No group of people should be lumped together and assumed to be a certain way. We are all unique and weird and challenging and human—and for your founder’s purposes, we are all potential customers.
That’s where you make your point. Ask him what “elderly” means to him, and if, as a businessperson, there might be a better way to put it rather than discounting an ever-growing demographic of possible customers. You might say: ”‘Elderly’ doesn’t sit right with a lot of people who are 50 or over. I’d consider another way of describing this age group or groups that’s going to be much more helpful to your business. What age or ages are we really talking about? And why do you think that so many of them are bad at technology? Is there an opportunity for marketing your app?”
Ask him if he’s ever dealt with age discrimination, and how that felt. Making a joke in such moments also usually goes down better than rage: Tell him it’s quite funny that he sees your (and, yeah, make it personal! Personal is how we get our point across!) age group as elderly, because they’d see him as a kid—yet neither of those perceptions are correct, are they? Finally, you could note that he’s turned to you, who fits in the demographic he has broadly misconstrued, to instruct him. Clearly, his perceptions of the so-called elderly aren’t in keeping with what he actually knows to be true: that people at least twice the age of 25 can bring expertise, experience, and deep knowledge to a situation.
The way we start speaking differently about age is by speaking differently about age: not hiding it, but calmly and surely pointing out the problem when it comes up, regularly proving people who underestimate generations older than they are that they’re wrong, and continuing to have those real, honest, personal conversations as often as necessary while remaining professional about it. You can do this. You have the benefit of not only age but also wisdom. And keep in mind that everything, including the very app this founder hopes to sell, will someday age, wither on the vine, and die. If that makes you feel any better?
Q: I just moved to New York City from Texas and started working for my godfather’s company. They gave me the “good” cubicle right outside my boss’s office. After I was there for a week, my boss’s gopher handed me a candy bowl and informed me that the woman before me always had a bowl of candy, and I needed to uphold the tradition. So I did. The office goes through the bowl in a day or less. It’s starting to really add up financially. If the bowl is empty, my boss will knock on my desk and tell me the bowl needs to be filled … and he won’t give me my instructions for the day on what to do. If it’s full, he’ll stop and talk and tell me how much he likes the candy and then give me my instructions for the day. This small bowl has become a huge issue. Much of the office is on a Weight Watchers plan, and everyone participating comes to talk to me about the candy bowl and what it’s doing to their diet. This situation is distracting from my work and costing me too much money! What do I do?
You’ve heard of Sisyphus, perhaps? According to Greek legend, because of a variety of bad behaviors in life, he was condemned in Hades to eternally roll a heavy stone up a hill. It would, of course, roll down; he’d then have to push it back up again. This candy bowl is your Sisyphus moment. Luckily, you’re not in hell; it just feels like it. And it’s time to let the candy bowl roll down the hill.
Address it all calmly and clearly, in person, with your boss. “The candy bowl is distracting from my work and causing problems with coworkers who are on diets, and I’m spending too much time and money thinking about it. I am no longer going to manage a candy bowl.” Hold firm to that. If he protests, tell him simply that you will no longer be able to keep up with tradition in this case, for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. If he refuses to give you work because of it, spend that time looking for another job.
There’s another renegade move up your sleeve. Let the candy bowl “disappear” (i.e., sequester it away in your desk, or put it in the back of a kitchen cabinet, or hand it right back to the person who gave it to you). If someone asks where it’s gone, say, “I have no idea what happened to that” or “I’m not doing that anymore.” (It was never your business to have to deal with it in the first place!) This may seem cowardly or passive-aggressive, but let the candy bowl be someone else’s problem for a while. Shrug it off, do your job, and either start looking for a new job or stick around and avoid all candy bowls forevermore. Whatever you do, get out of Hades.
Q: Is it ever OK to trim your nails at work? Not at my desk, of course, but maybe a bathroom stall?
Nope, nope, nope. Don’t even try it—I can hear you click-click-clicking in my nightmares. Some things in life are meant to be done only at home, or in the nail salon.
Something messing with your flow? Unload your work problems here, and you’ll not only feel heard, but you’ll also get unbiased, real-world advice. (That’s something your work sibling/spouse just can’t offer.) Tell us everything: email@example.com.
Nicola Piercy may have co-founded a clothing label, but that doesn’t mean she has a particularly keen eye for fashion. “I don’t weigh in on the designs,” she says, “apart from me going, ‘Oh my God, really? That’s a horrible color!’” To which her business partner, Katie Lopes, usually responds, “Trust me. It’s cool.”
The two founded Stripe + Stare, a U.K.-based brand that sells striped designs like Bretons and knickers (aka underwear), in August 2017, with a £70,000 ($90,000) investment from one of Lopes’s fashion-industry contacts. (Lopes owned a designer boutique, Austique, for more than a decade.) “She’s the creative and sales, and I’m the so-called sensible person,” Piercy says. “I do all the finances, purchase orders, sales analysis, etc. It’s a good balance.”
Piercy had just left her job as managing director of a cooking school in London when Lopes approached her about starting the business. They’d collaborated a decade prior at Austique, where Piercy helped out with operations for a bit, so “it was a pretty easy decision,” she says. “We make a very good team.”
With their financing secured (“The investor had come to Lopes a couple years ago and said, ‘If you ever have a business idea, I’d be interested in backing you,’” Piercy explains), they hired design firms to create their logo and website. The goal was to launch their debut collection atSpirit of Christmas, one of the biggest Christmas shows in London, at the end of October 2017.
“It was total chaos,” Piercy says. But they got the collection done in time, and even managed to follow the show with two more.
It helped that Lopes had been working with a manufacturer in China since her Austique days, using modal, a sustainable fabric made from beechwood trees, to develop the perfect pair of buttery-soft knickers. “When she was running her shop, everyone said, ‘You’ve gotta get the brand Hanky Panky in,’” Piercy tells it, in reference to the lingerie line. “And then she was amazed at these women who came in and bought armfuls of them at £20 a pair.”
So Lopes set out to make her own knicker equivalent. Now her skivvies, which have been tweaked over the years, are the company’s best-selling items, available in more than 30 boutique locations across the UK, U.S., and Germany, and on Shopbop.
“The knickers are what everyone gets excited about at all the shows,” Piercy, a member at WeWork 184 Shepherd’s Bush Rd in London, says. “The moment anyone feels them it’s like, ‘Oh my god, this fabric is insane!’” This year, Piercy and Lopes started manufacturing all of their products, with the exception of cashmere sweaters, using modal. “It is the best fabric,” she says. “So why use anything else?
Below, Piercy shares the details of a recent workweek.
7 a.m. I get up to let out my 4-month-old puppy, Penfold (she’s named after the wine). Shower, change, have a cup of tea, and walk out the door.
7:45 a.m. Head to Ravenscourt Park to take Penfold for a walk. I usually listen to podcasts such asHolly & Co orBusiness of Fashion—I always learn something hearing other entrepreneurs’ stories.
8:45 a.m. Arrive at WeWork, grab a coffee and some breakfast (fruit and cereal), and head to my desk.
9-10 a.m. Catch up on email.
10 a.m. Call with Katie. Although we speak about 10 times a day, this is our “official” time to go over things. We talk about what happened last week, what’s happening this week, sales targets, financials, production, PR, and marketing.
11 a.m. Emails. We raised £130,000 before Christmas by going directly to happy customers.Now I’m able to email all the shareholders their share certificates.
We’re using the serviceSeedLegals for the process, which saved us thousands of pounds and the headache of dealing with lawyers. So many new platforms like Xero (accounting),Vend (point of sale), andShopify (e-commerce) make our lives easier.
12:30 p.m. Walk Penfold and grab some lunch from the salad bar downstairs.
1-2 p.m. Chase any of our unpaid accounts, reconcile money, pay bills. We have an accountant, but I do this day-to-day so I have a tight handle on everything at all times.
2-3 p.m. Go through all of our sales reports and learn that we’ve sold 13,000 pairs of knickers so far this year!
3 p.m. Penfold gets fidgety, so I decide to head home and carry on from there.
5 p.m. Katie arrives from Devon, where our head office and warehouse are based, and where she lives. She comes up to London every couple of weeks, and I go down every few months. The distance (a 4.5-hour drive) is not the most convenient, but cloud systems make it manageable—and everything is cheaper there.
5-10 p.m. We prepare for a big meeting we have tomorrow withSelfridges [a high-end UK department store]. Knickers and clothes are strewn all over the place as we try to assemble them into sensible piles. We need to be able to pull them out of the bag in order, labeled, and looking great at our meeting with the buyer.
In December, we sent some knickers to Selfridges creative director Alannah Weston, and her office called us immediately asking us to come and meet the buying team. We told them we wouldn’t have our collection for the year until the end of January, so we’ve been working hard on the sample collection for months. Fingers crossed!
8:45 a.m. After taking Penfold for a long walk, arrive back home and smarten myself up. Katie and I jump on the tube and head into town.
9:45 a.m. Arrive at Selfridges HQ ready to meet Rosie from the Body Studio team, which does lingerie, sleepwear, and more. To win Selfridges as a wholesale account would be a big deal. It would place us amongst the great brands.
10-11 a.m. Have a great meeting with Rosie. She loves everything and completely gets the brand. You need all your numbers at your fingertips in these meetings. The product makes up 50 percent of the pitch, and then the margin, terms of trade, promotional strategy, etc. make up the other 50 percent.
Promotion-strategy-wise, if I let Katie have her way, Gigi Hadid would front our next campaign. So I have to keep tight control [of the budget]. We need to spend on promotion without breaking the bank.
11:15 a.m.-12 p.m. Meet Alannah Weston’s executive assistant, Charlotte, who takes us on a tour of the beautiful offices.
12-3 p.m. After stopping by my house to pick up Penfold, I meet with Ruth at Indian Summer, a top independent store in London. She’s been buying from us since the beginning, so it’s more a lovely chat and a gossip over clothes and knickers. Great to be in these meetings—you get feedback and find out your bestsellers.
4-5 p.m. Head to The Cross in Notting Hill, to show them the new collection. It’s a London institution, so it’s a real badge of honor to be stocked here.
6 p.m. Get home exhausted but elated. It’s the first day we’ve shown the new collection, and it’s gone down really well. We’re on a high.
7 p.m. We’re both talked out so we go and see the movie The Favourite to spend a couple of hours not discussing work.
9 a.m. Get home after a yoga class, shower, and send a few emails before heading out the door.
9:30-11:30 a.m. Head into town to meet with the gynecological-cancer charity Lady Garden. We did abespoke box of knickers with them last year and donated £5 of every box to them. This meeting is to catch up on sales figures, discuss where we could sell the rest of the stock, and talk about doing a new box this year.
11:45 a.m. Grab a quick lunch with my cousin-in-law.
1-6 p.m. Walk Penfold in the park and then write our newsletters for the week, letting our followers know about new stock and promotions.
7:30 p.m. Host a friend for supper.
7:30 a.m. Penfold gets picked up for doggy day care and a run-around in the country.
8:45 a.m. Attend an event at Google’s offices titled “How Will Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Affect Retail Marketers?” It’s an amazing presentation from the team at Google and some other industry experts.
2 p.m. Meet Robin Howard, who has just come on board as our chairman. We met him through Julian Granville, the chairman of the catalog companyBoden. We initially went to Julian for investment, and he couldn’t invest because it would have been a conflict, but he offered to go to regular breakfasts with us and be our unofficial adviser. So when we needed a chairman, he suggested Robin, who was a huge success atBoden for 25 years.
So we met with Robin last year and just clicked. He’s going to invest, but he wanted to see how we work together first. He’s put loads of tasks together for us, like books to read. It’s fantastic to have someone so experienced help us step back and look at the bigger picture, strategy, and what is and isn’t working.
5 p.m. Meet withChloe Loves to Shop to discuss a Valentine’s Day promotion. It’s so important to work with influencers who enhance your brand. She has 60,000 followers who are incredibly engaged. When she first posted about us, our sales went berserk. We were on [a major influencer’s] Instagram Stories recently, with millions of followers, and we got barely anything from it. So you’ve got to find the people with the right engagement.
7.30 p.m. Walk to the local pub for supper with friends.
9 a.m. Head into WeWork with Penfold after a walk in the park.
9:30-10 a.m. Catch up with a merchandising agency that’s helping us with a new display concept. The idea is to create a beechwood tree where we can hang our knickers and packaging—that way people can instantly see the provenance of the fabric. It will be fantastic to take to events.
10 a.m. Receive an email from Selfridges saying they love our products and we should receive a purchase order next week!!! BEST NEWS EVER!!! They want to launch ASAP, so there is going to be a lot to plan, from a launch event to ensuring the product comes in on time.
11 a.m. Get a call from Katie, who is having a meltdown—our part-time warehouse manager is on holiday and Katie cannot cope with all the orders coming in from Instagram coverage we’ve gotten from Dolly Alderton. Exciting times, as we now need to consider hiring more staff, but taking steps like this is always scary—you’re committing to bigger monthly overheads.
12 p.m. I always use Friday afternoons as a tidy-up and planning day.
When you have your own business you have to be prepared to be involved in all areas of it. I’m also quite optimistic, and that always helps if you’re an entrepreneur. You can’t get down when something awful happens or things don’t go as expected. Just stay positive and passionate about what you do.