They had only 60 seconds. Eight men and women in Shanghai, San Francisco, Jerusalem, São Paulo, Nashville, London, and Berlin had just one minute each to state their case and persuade the judges of the WeWork Creator awards—a global competition for mission-driven entrepreneurs and nonprofits—to help fund their big idea.

Five finalists in the Business Venture category and three Nonprofit finalists moved on from those regional events to compete for over $1 million at the Global Finals, which will take place Wednesday, Jan. 9, in Los Angeles. Ashton Kutcher, Forerunner Ventures founder Kirsten Green, and entrepreneur and chairman of VaynerX Gary Vaynerchuk are among the judges.

Chloe Alpert began her pitch at the San Francisco regionals with a shocking statistic: The No. 1 cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. is medical debt. Alpert’s investment in this issue was personal because her grandmother had been diagnosed with brain cancer several years ago.

“My family had to decide whether to bankrupt the family by paying for a surgery that only might prolong her life,” she says.

(Above) Stephanie Benedetto, founder of Queen of Raw, celebrates her win at Creator Nashville. (Top) Chloe Alpert of Medinas Health pitches her business at Creator San Francisco.

Alpert soon discovered that there was slack in the medical system: Hospitals throw away some $765 billion in usable equipment and supplies each year. So she and her three co-founders built Medinas Health to provide a platform for big hospitals looking to get rid of older—but still functional—equipment like X-ray machines, which can be sold to smaller institutions. Now the company, competing in the Business Venture category, is hoping Creator will help it expand its pilot program to more hospitals and enable it to create partnerships with medical facilities in developing countries.

Stephanie Benedetto’s pitch at the Nashville regionals was equally personal. Benedetto comes from a long line of fashion entrepreneurs: Her grandfather, who emigrated to New York from Austria in 1896, was a master furrier, and her family has been in the garment industry for 100 years. So Benedetto has seen first-hand how much waste the industry produces by burning or throwing away excess fabric. Her company, Queen of Raw, does for fabric what Medinas Health does for hospital equipment: It creates a marketplace for companies that have been discarding fabric and other raw materials to instead sell them to smaller businesses.

Since winning in Nashville, the Business Venture finalist, which operates out of New York’s WeWork 349 5th Ave, has benefited from proximity to a startup community. “We have found partnerships and arrangements through these networks that I’d never thought of before,” says Benedetto—such as specialists who helped move the Queen of Raw platform onto the blockchain.

Raízs cofounder Tomás Abrahão (right) stands with the other finalists at Creator São Paulo.

Rachel Corson and Joycleyn Mate were motivated by a similar desire to solve a personal problem. The duo created Afrocenchix, the London Business Venture winner, with an eye toward bringing affordable, nontoxic hair care for black and mixed-race women to the UK. Their interest in the field is more than aesthetic: One of the chemicals typically found in the relaxers black women use on their hair has been linked to issues like fibroids, cancer, and respiratory problems. “It’s not just about products for us,” Corson says. “It’s about health, well-being, and creating a legacy for our community.”

Other regional champions are united by a connection to the land and a desire to help their fellow citizens. Yoni Yefet Reich and Hudi Weinberg’s nonprofit, Amutat Kaima—the Jerusalem Nonprofit winner—helps Israeli teenagers who have left the school system find meaning, confidence, and stable work through farming. They hire these teens to help run small farms—five so far, with four in Israel and one in Tanzania—that sell their produce through a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, model.

In São Paulo, Tomás Abrahão started Raízs, a platform that connects Brazilian consumers with organic farmers to make it easier for them to access local produce. Buying directly from farmers also means that they keep more of the purchase price. Abrahão was inspired to start Raízs, a Business Venture finalist, after teaching school in a favela, in a city he calls “disconnected.”

Angel House founder Wang Fang was the big winner at Creator Shanghai.

“What is the point of our society as a whole,” he asks, “if we don’t even look at each other?”

For some contestants, the WeWork Creator awards offered a critical avenue to connect with fellow entrepreneurs and potential investors. Ma Yiliang, whose fetal-health tracker Modoo took the top honor in the Business Venture category at the Shanghai regional finals, noted that hearing the judges talk about his company—just having them say its name—was one of the best parts of the whole event. “It’s a dream come true,” he says. Queen of Raw’s Benedetto appreciated the opportunity to get advice from the judges. “Ashton [Kutcher] gave me some great ideas for the future,” she says.

But the material benefits are nothing to sneeze at, either: Cemal Ezel, whose London Nonprofit winner Change Please provides job training, housing, and employment to people experiencing homelessness, was also a Creator global finalist in 2017. That win netted Change Please a year’s membership at London’s WeWork 15 Bishopgate, which allowed them to channel the money they would have paid in renting office space to helping another 13 people get off the streets and become gainfully employed.

That kind of cyclical thinking—creative uses of resources of all kinds—is what characterizes all of the global finalists, who recognize that the work they do is in service of and collaboration with something much larger than themselves.

Wang Fang, who won the Nonprofit competition in Shanghai, knows she owes much to her daughter, Li Junru. After all, it was Li whose cerebral palsy inspired Fang to start Angel House, a space where children with CP can receive what she describes as “medical care through acts of compassion and unity.”

“I see my daughter as a creator also,” she explains, “because without her, Angel House would not exist.”

Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work. That means we invest most of our time in work relationships: figuring out how to best communicate and collaborate, how to succeed, and how to recover from failure. Work With Me is a deep dive into those dynamics.

Like any successful marriage, a work-wife relationship has its ups and downs—but these women will tell you it’s the secret sauce that keeps their businesses running.

It all began on a group chat of sorority sisters at Syracuse University in 2015. Emma Diamond and Julie Kramer were undergrads in the same sorority house who shared an obsession with the Kardashian family.

Diamond and Kramer would chat all day long about the social-media comings, goings, and comments of Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, and the rest of the clan. Two years later, they decided to start an Instagram account together—the friendship equivalent of asking someone to go steady. The account, Comments by Celebs, curated the comments that celebrities left on other celebrities’ Instagram accounts.

When they began the project in April 2017 it was just a hobby, not even a side hustle. But it turns out Comments by Celebs was exactly what the internet and the entertainment press had been missing. Two years later that little hobby is now big business—with more than 1 million followers on Instagram and a wildly successful podcast, both of which earn revenue through brand partnerships.

These days Diamond and Kramer are co-founders, entrepreneurs—and work wives.

Yes, work wives. It’s a relatively new moniker for something women have been doing for as long as women have been doing work.

The definition of a “work wife,” according to Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur, the founders of e-commerce fashion site Of a Kind and the co-authors of Work Wife: The Power of Female Friendship to Drive Successful Businesses, is as follows: “A woman with whom you share a professional and personal bond. She’s someone you’re equally comfortable talking to about the challenges of a big work presentation and a struggle you’re dealing with at home—and she has your back on all fronts.”

Diamond and Kramer’s evolution from friends to work wives felt natural and necessary. Their friendship and their business (they work out of WeWork locations in New York) have become one and the same.

I know it sounds wildly inefficient, but we both kind of do everything. We are both just so involved in the creative process of each individual asset. Julie and I have very aligned senses of humor, so we’re always bouncing ideas off one other,” Diamond says. “We really are looking at the big picture, what’s best for the business and not what’s best individually.”

Comments by Celebs co-founders Emma Diamond (middle) and Julie Kramer (right). Photograph by Julia Hembree Smith.

It’s called a work wife and not a work bestie because marriage is a more apt comparison than friendship for the gravity of this kind of partnership. Marriage isn’t always fun and games and frozen margaritas after work, and a work wife is there to offer support and solace during the bad times as well as the good.

“Early on we had a lot of trouble raising money [for Of a Kind],” Cerulo says. “We had just been in Silicon Valley and it was torture, and we came back empty-handed. And I remember Claire turning to me and saying, ‘Do you want to quit?’ I didn’t. But if it had been me alone it would have been a lot harder to pick myself back up and keep going.”

Cerulo and Mazur also met in college and then founded a successful business together. The women were introduced at the University of Chicago by a mutual friend because they had something in common—they’d both dated basketball players. That flimsy excuse for a burgeoning friendship aside, the pair instantly hit it off. They were eight years into their friendship by the time they founded Of a Kind, with Cerulo handling content and Mazur the visual aspects of the business. By that point, the women had logged enough hours together to know exactly what they were getting into.

We’d always shared a similar work ethic, high standards, and ambition—we’d seen that in each other early on in our college days when we both assumed leadership positions in extracurricular activities that we took way too seriously. When we came up with the idea for Of a Kind it felt like a no-brainer to do it together,” Mazur says. “We each understood how the other thought about the types of challenges we’d be facing, and we were also comfortable enough with each other to be our passionate, emotional, vulnerable selves—all of which come out in full force when starting a business.”

As with an actual marriage, most work wives say that choosing a work wife is a process. Not every woman you meet will be your work wife, but like a marriage, when you know, you know.

(Above) Of a Kind co-founders Erica Cerulo (left) and Claire Mazur, and (top) Mazur (left) and Cerulo. Photograph by Tawni Bannister.

A few years back Doree Shafrir and Kate Spencer, writers in Los Angeles, began meeting up to share drafts of their work.

“I was self-conscious about my work, but Doree really created a space that was safe and warm. And her feedback and thoughts were invaluable,” Spencer recalls. Those meeting eventually grew into a partnership on the successful podcast Forever 35—currently on its 112th episode—about self-care, friendship, marriage, kids, fertility, and questionable beauty treatments.

Spencer says that she and Shafrir balance each other out. “Doree gets sh*t done! If I were going at this alone, I’d probably still be sitting in my living room, dreaming about making a podcast,” she says.

Shafrir may get stuff done, but Spencer is way more diplomatic. “She’s nicer than I am, so she handles anything where we need to be diplomatic and makes sure that I don’t say or do anything super jerky,” Shafrir says. “I’m more direct—some might say confrontational—so I handle most of the awkward conversations.”

Work wives often spend more time together than they do with their actual spouses. Joycelyn Mate and Rachael Corson, co-founders of U.K.-based natural-hair-care company Afrocenchix and members at WeWork 70 Wilson St in London, both got married after they started their company. “We noticed that our business partnership was the second most important human relationship in our lives so we take time to invest in working well together,” Mate says.

Mate and Corson met as students at the University of Birmingham and started researching their first products in 2009. By 2015 they began to sell their wares in retail shops and started winning awards, including, last year, a WeWork Creator Award. But none of that would have been possible if they weren’t completely committed to one another.

“Without a good relationship between us, our company doesn’t work and our team won’t work,” Mate says. “Afrocenchix is dependent upon us working well together so when there are glitches in our relationship, usually due to miscommunication, we take time to work on them. The company is beneficial to our relationship because it gives us a shared purpose.”

Afrocenchix co-founders Rachael Corson (left) and Joycelyn Mate. Photograph courtesy of Afrocenchix.

Like Afrocenchix, O.G. work wives Cerulo and Mazur have had the benefit of time to perfect their years-long partnership. “At various points while growing the business one of us always ends up thinking, ‘Wow, I never get to do any of the interesting projects, and I’m feeling bored and uninspired and a little like the sidekick,’” Cerulo says. “In the early years we both tended to bottle that up, but we learned over time that we had to bring it up if we wanted to fix things.”

It’s been nine years since the duo launched Of a Kind. These days, when asked about their proudest business accomplishment, they say, without any reservation, “It’s us.”

How to be a good Work Wife, from the authors of Work Wife

  • Make time for your friendship and your business partnership. “For the longest time Erica and I moved seamlessly between the two,” Mazur says. “Nine years in, it helps a lot to institutionalize these things. Now we have a weekly check-in for work. When we gift each other experiences for birthdays or holidays we have a chance to just be friends. It’s really helped to have a divide between those two.”
  • Learn to communicate early on. “Disagreements and points of contention do come up,” Cerulo says. “There’s often a tendency not to want to make something uncomfortable. But it’s important to learn to talk about those things early on so you cultivate those skills.”
  • Use your personal history to inform your professional presence. You know each other well—in multiple contexts—so use that to strengthen communication. “For example, if you’re having a disagreement on finances, think back to what you know about your work wife personally,” Mazur says. “Why does she feel a certain way about finances? Is there something in her past that informs that? Use what you know. The fact that you have a personal understanding of the woman you’re working with will only help your work relationship.”

Featured photograph by Deidre Schoo

In the early months of 1998, a group of musicians including Questlove, D’Angelo, and Common found themselves working out of Electric Lady Studios, a Greenwich Village studio at 52 West Eighth St. The historic studio was built by Jimi Hendrix in 1970 and has been used over the decades by artists like David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, and the Rolling Stones.

In addition to the history, musicians are enchanted by the freedom of movement encouraged within the studio’s walls. Recording booths were connected by a central lounge, creating a sense of community among artists who might otherwise be working solo; as a result, lots of Individual projects became collaborative ones as musicians passed from one recording space into another. Sessions like these in 1998 led shared samples and song fragments on now-classic albums like D’Angelo’s Voodoo and Common’s Like Water for Chocolate.

The construct of art in the popular imagination often involves a solitary genius plugging away at a piano or a typewriter or a blank canvas in a lonely garret, isolated from the rest of the world. But great works of art are rarely produced in a vacuum. From Electric Lady Studios to the vacation homes of 19th-century poets, from the lofts of 1960s pop-art celebrities to the writers’ rooms of 1990s television shows, the collaborative art space is one in which solo work reaches new heights and group projects demonstrate the power of artistic cross-pollination.

Increasingly, companies in creative industries are looking for spaces in which to facilitate that kind of dialogue. In September 2018, Imagine Entertainment set out to do just that when the production company launched its Imagine Impact program for television and film writers. Inspired by the speed at which Silicon Valley’s startup culture moves ideas forward, Imagine co-founders Brian Grazer and Ron Howard wanted to bring this streamlined creative process to the often-mysterious world of Hollywood screenwriting, giving writers time, mentorship, and space in which to push their pages toward the screen.

“There are a lot of entrepreneurs, like writers, who have great ideas, who have skills—but they don’t have access to people who have done it before, who are experts at navigating the system and giving good notes and creating a constant feedback loop,” says Imagine Impact program head Tyler Mitchell.

Collaborative close quarters have long served as incubators for great writing. In the summer of 1816, Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron convened in Switzerland for several months of rest and inspiration. The results became legend: Mary Shelley produced a fragment of what would become Frankenstein; Lord Byron and Percy Shelley began work on some of their most influential poems; and Byron’s physician and friend, Dr. John Polidori, wrote “Vampyre,” considered the first vampire story ever published.

(Above) Art students at work. (Top and left) Architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

In the 1960s and ’70s, Andy Warhol rented a series of spaces across Manhattan—the first cost just $100 a year—that became known as “The Factory.” Warhol’s famous screenprints were produced en masse by his assistants, who were in turn, cast in Warhol’s film and music projects. Anyone who passed through the Factory could find themselves suddenly part of a work of art. Collaboration was encouraged not just by proximity but by security: All participants, agreeing to share space in pursuit of higher artistic aims, were able to feel invested not only in their own projects but in those of their friends and associates.

In a more recent example of the power of creative collaboration, the writers’ room of David Chase’s groundbreaking HBO show The Sopranos helped launch the careers of Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner and Boardwalk Empire showrunner Terence Winter.

For Imagine Impact, getting writers into the room where it all happens is just the first step. In what might be described as an entertainment-industry boot camp, participants are paired with established screenwriters and showrunners and tasked with readying their work for representation by agents and, in some cases, deals with studios. The program’s headquarters, based out of WeWork’s Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, is a space where everyone can come together.

“In our design process we challenge ourselves to come up with the right mix of common space and individual space,” says WeWork director of interior design Lotte van Velzen, “like our prefab phone booths, meditation spaces, libraries, and writing rooms to get focused work done.”

It’s a design philosophy that draws on centuries of artistic and creative history. “Space that encourages stimulus and interaction is core to the communication process, while calm, stillness and lack of distraction provide members with the focus they need to develop ideas beyond the intangible,” says van Velzen. “Finding this balance is fundamental to the WeWork spatial experience, and we believe it creates not only better working environments but better work itself.”

It’s the “better work” part of the equation that excites the Imagine Impact team. “Writing can be a very lonely, isolated process,” says Mitchell. “We built a community for writers, so they felt like they have a place to go every day.” That pays dividends for everyone. “It’s a win for writers who want to break into the business, it’s a win for writers working in the industry who want to have a more collaborative process so that they can create their own stories better and faster, and it’s a win for the audience,” he says. “Everybody, in the end, just wants great movies and shows to watch.”

Photos courtesy of Alamy

Startup founders have infamously unpredictable daily schedules as they work to establish and grow their businesses. What does such an entrepreneur’s weekly, daily, or even hourly routine look like when sometimes there aren’t enough hours in a day? In The Startup Diaries, founders walk us through a week in their lives and show what it really takes to get a fledgling business off the ground.

December 2017 was a period of change for Rebecca Lima. First, she decided to shave her head. “For the longest time my hair was my security blanket,” she says. “Shaving it was kind of a release for me—from what other people thought of me, from what I thought about myself and what made me feel beautiful.”

Then she decided to jettison the startup she’d been working on for two years. It was an airport- navigation app called Ment, and she wasn’t happy with her work. “I was doing it to fulfill some selfish need of mine to be bigger than I was,” she says. “It was an ego trip, basically, and I realized that because I was doing it for myself and not to help other people, I had to put an end to it.” In January 2018, she sold her company assets, and in February, she incorporated The Lieu.

Her new idea was to provide women with a space (and tools) to freshen up so they didn’t have to schlep their beauty supplies around every day. “I shaved my head because I didn’t need any more distraction—I didn’t want to carry this straightener around anymore,” says Lima, a WeWork Labs member at WeWork 142 W 57th St in New York. “But shaving your head, that’s not a solution that’s scalable.” She wanted to pay forward her newfound freedom by creating what she calls a “24 Hour Fitness for beauty”—a pit stop for fixing your hair, applying lotion, changing clothes, or putting on spray deodorant.   

Rebecca Lima of The Lieu.

She started by hosting pop-ups at WeWork locations around the city, bringing lighted mirrors and curated beauty kits to conference rooms. “I got a lot of validation that women wanted this,” particularly in their workspaces, Lima says. “[The service] integrates so beautifully into the life of a corporate woman.” So she shifted her focus from launching a storefront to creating corporate subscription kits with hair, body, and feminine-care products for businesses.

Though opening storefront locations is still a long-term goal, Lima says the subscription model allows her to build a following. Right now, she’s working with a team of contractors to build smart beauty cabinets, which are set to that launch in July. “Think of them as big retail display cases curated with grooming and personal care products,” she says. The smart part: The cases will have QR codes and the products will have RFID tags. “This provides brands with a new distribution channel to connect with their consumers.”

Below, Lima shares a breakdown of a recent workweek.

Monday

8 a.m. Wake up in Florida. I was here for my best friend’s baby shower over the weekend, and I fly back to New York this afternoon. I enjoy the hotel pool for a few hours.

2 p.m. Take a branding call with my contract designer while I’m at the airport. We’re rethinking the logo, the feeling of it. Pink’s been done 50,000 times. We want a level of sophistication and playfulness.

4 p.m. Board flight.

6:30 p.m. Layover in Atlanta. I use the time to answer emails. Any free time is a time to answer email.

7:40 p.m. Off to NYC. I try to detach from the world on planes. Since it’s a short flight, I listen to music.

10 p.m. Land at LaGuardia and hop in an Uber home. Order Seamless (a burger from my favorite spot), unpack, and shower.

1 a.m. Bed. I have so many meetings tomorrow, but I’ll manage.  

Tuesday

7:30 a.m. Wake up. I used to start my morning—and end my day—on social media, but I’ve been detoxing from Instagram and Facebook for about a month- and- a- half. At first, it was super hard: I was too caught up in everyone’s lives, comparing my situation to what I saw depicted on IG, and it was really unhealthy. Forty-five minutes go by and you’re like, I just did nothing. All I’ve done is watch other people’s lives.

Now I don’t even open those apps. I wake up, spend some time meditating and praying, get out of bed, shower, and start my six-step skincare routine: cleanser, toner, elixir spray, hyaluronic acid, serums, and moisturizer. (It used to be 10, but I cut back on face masks and certain serums.)

9:30 a.m. Leave my apartment in Astoria, Queens. Today I have three separate investor meetings—we’re in our pre-seed round—so I spend the morning prepping for my first meeting at noon.

12 p.m. The first investor wasn’t the right fit for my company. The more meetings that I’ve taken, the more I can instantly tell if a person’s a good fit or not. Most of the time I’m talking to a white, older male—that’s just the reality of the situation. It’s another human, and they have predisposed thoughts and beliefs. And it’s not my job to persuadeconvince someone to do this if they’ve already been persuadedconvinced otherwise.

3 p.m. The next meeting went better. The conversation was more fluid and the investor understood the true vision and importance of the company. My business partner, Domonique Sims, came with me, too, and we feed off each other really well. She joined the company in November 2018 because I needed help with operations. We’re the only full-time employees, but we have eight contractors, including an industrial designer and a two-person manufacturing team.

4:45 p.m. Last meeting of the day. At this point, I’ve traversed the entire city. I’m tired, but this is what it takes. Fundraising is a two-way street—founders tend to forget that. You always feel like the investor has the upper hand. But you have to switch your mentality to think, This is the partner that’s going to be with me for the long haul of my company.

7 p.m. Dinner with a founder friend.

12 a.m. Go to bed exhausted after watching videos on YouTube. I don’t own a television—I haven’t had a TV in, like, three years —and I don’t have any streaming subscriptions. I do watch YouTube—I love educational videos and things that will make me learn more about life. I’ve been really into growth- hacking my life.  

Wednesday

6 a.m. Wake up earlier than usual for an 8 a.m. event.

8 a.m. Arrive at the Female Founders Day event hosted by the venture- capital firm Female Founders Fund for International Women’s Day. It is so cool to see such a diverse group of women connected by entrepreneurship networking under one roof.

11 a.m. Attend a panel with Glamsquad CEO Amy Schecter about building your brand for scale.

1:45 p.m. Attend panel featuring Rent the Runway co-founder Jenny Fleiss, Birchbox co-founder Katia Beauchamp, and Female Founders Fund partner Sutian Dong. I asked the question, “When fundraising, how do you initiate the close faster?” They suggested putting a few investors on the same timeline to incite a sense of urgency.

3 p.m. Leave the event because reality has hit: I’m flying to California on Friday—more investor meetings!—and I have no clean clothes. I go home to do laundry. I take work calls while folding. The glamorous life of a founder.

6:30 p.m. Dinner with a friend—she just got a new job at Spotify, and we’re celebrating.

“For the longest time my hair was my security blanket,” says Lima. “Shaving it was kind of a release for me.”

Thursday

7:30 a.m. Morning routine.

10 a.m. Meet with a lawyer at The Wing. She’s super cool—a mutual friend connected us—and really well-connected within the angel phase of fundraising. I already have a lawyer, so I was basically there to hear about what services she provides.

11 a.m. Run into a friend at The Wing and chat for an hour.

1:45 p.m. Call with another potential investor.

2:30 p.m. Salad from Sweetgreen, one of my favorite places.

3:30 p.m. Meet with a top-notch fund. My co-founder is supposed to join but she came down with a cold and can’t make it. The meeting goes well.

4:30 p.m. Crank out emails.

8 p.m. Attend an “interesting- persons dinner” hosted by a friend. There are eight of us. We introduce ourselves and talk about how we stay grounded—that’s the topic of the dinner. I talk about my social media cleanse and they’re like, WHAT? One of the guys connects me to two of his angel- investor friends, and I have meetings with them on the Friday after I return to California.

Friday

8 a.m. Wake up, pack, and hang out at home for a few hours before I head to Newark Aairport.

10 a.m. Answer emails and follow up with previous investors. I feel like these past few weeks got the best of me as I tried to close this round of funding. Going to California is a lot of energy—and money—and I don’t know what’s going to happen.

That’s the frustrating thing about being a founder. There’s a lot of risk, and it’s disheartening when you have a meeting and it doesn’t go as expected. Or I’ll walk out of a really good meeting and then get a bad email. Every single day it’s a battle to see how resilient you are.

2 p.m. Board my direct flight, pop in my headphones, and crank the tunes. Not even five minutes in, I’m passed out. I wake up and watch A Star Is Born and Green Book.

5 p.m. (PST) Land in L.A. and pick up my rental car. I’m staying with my friend in Long Beach.

6:30 p.m. Dinner and ice cream. We catch up and enjoy a lot of laughs.

11 p.m. Back at my friend’s house. I shower and go to bed. The time difference—and this week full of meetings—has finally caught up to me.

Photos by Katelyn Perry

Shortly after she turned 25, Julie Zhuo became a manager for the first time. This was at Facebook, where she started as the social-network’s very first intern 13 years ago, and where she still works, as vice president of design.

Zhuo admits that in her earliest days of leadership, she had no idea what she was doing. “When teams grow rapidly, there’s a lot of opportunities for leadership,” she says. “But it’s not usually the thing that [startups] are focused on because we’re figuring out what we can do to keep things running.”

As Zhuo grew as a manager, uncertainty followed. So she took matters into her own hands, recording her musings on her blog, The Year of the Looking Glass, which she began as an act of self-reflection. It struck a chord—week after week, her most popular articles were on the topic of being a first-time leader.

In her new book, The Making of a Manager, Zhuo crafted the field guide she wished she had had after that first promotion nearly a decade ago.

Initially, one of the managerial responsibilities Zhuo most struggled with was giving feedback—especially critical feedback, given that many of her new reports were once her direct peers. But constructive criticism, while challenging to give and receive, is a gift. Zhuo is so devoted to feedback, in fact, that a whole chapter of her book (Chapter 5: “The Art of Feedback”) is based on it.

At a recent event at WeWork 315 W 36th St in New York, Zhuo spoke about how employers can give more caring and productive feedback that leads to positive action. Below, Zhuo discusses four steps managers can take to maximize their critical feedback—even if it is really, really critical.

Julie Zhuo was prompted to write “The Making of a Manager” after becoming a first-time manager at 25 and feeling unconfident in her leadership skills.

Step 1: Establish a baseline of trust with your reports. Well before a situation arises, make it clear to your team that you’re their coach and their ally. In the first three months of your tenure, carve out standing one-on-one meeting time to get to probing questions like, What do you really care about? In three years, assume you had your dream job—what does it look like? What are the things you’re scared of or nervous about? By establishing an honest relationship right off the bat, you can set the tone for potentially more difficult conversations in the future.

“Sometimes it takes a little time to develop the trust,” Zhuo says. “But it starts by asking those questions to truly try to understand someone and have them understand you, too, because you’re not going to get that much honesty and vulnerability if they’re not getting any of that in return. It is a two-way street, and I think the first three months is really about building that relationship.”

In her current role (she leads the team responsible for the design of the Facebook app), Zhuo blocks out one day a week for one-on-one sit-downs. These discussions shouldn’t be viewed as meetings for managers to get status updates, she says, but rather focused on the report (who, by the way, should walk away from the conversation thinking it was a great use of their time).

Step 2: Remind yourself why this matters. “I’ve read thousands of reviews people have written about their managers over the years, and I can assure you that, by far, the No. 1 ask is, ‘I wish my manager would give me more feedback,’” says Zhuo. However, feedback only counts if it makes things better, so the onus is on you as a manager to develop a practice that’s going to benefit both of you.

“People don’t like to be surprised,” she says. “A lot of our doubt might come from that lack of alignment between how other people see us and how we want to be seen. Just knowing the truth is a lot more grounding than having someone wonder all the time.”

Outside of one-on-ones, commit to what Zhuo calls “task-specific feedback,” or objective comments meant to help people do specific activities better. Our behavior changes when someone acknowledges that we’re doing something well; psychologically, encouragement prompts us to stretch ourselves even more. Give task-specific feedback to all your reports, and give it often.

“I’ve read thousands of reviews people have written about their managers over the years, and I can assure you that, by far, the No. 1 ask is, ‘I wish my manager would give me more feedback,'” says Zhuo.

Step 3: Tell it straight. So the moment has come—it’s time for you to confront an issue with one of your reports. No matter the circumstance, avoid “compliment sandwiches,” or starting and ending your feedback with praise with the criticism wedged somewhere in the middle.

“Say the news as plainly as possible so there are no misinterpretations,” says Zhuo. “It’s just harder for someone to understand what the actual message is. If you want to tell someone something you know is going to be disappointing to them, just tell it directly to them. It is a sign of respect.”

Zhuo offers the following template: “When you <XYZ>, I felt <concerned/disappointed/upset> because <ABC>. I wanted to bring this up with you to understand your perspective and see what we can do work through it.” If you’ve done the first two steps, your reports will see you as their partner, not a bully. “It’s important for us to recognize why, sometimes, we should put ourselves in that uncomfortable position: It’s meant to help somebody else,” she says.

Step 4: Remain curious about the other perspective. To prevent your feedback from coming across as an accusation, engage in your report’s response and encourage a discussion. Zhuo says it’s always helpful to end your criticism with a check-in, like, “Does that resonate with you?” If your report says yes, that’s great—they’re acknowledging it, and you’re already on the same page. But if they say no, that’s OK, too, because you’re not delivering a verdict, rendering their points moot.

“Now they have a chance to tell you how they feel—why they have a different perspective or why you might be the one who’s misinterpreting right and wrong,” she says. Start with the phrase, “I want to understand your perspective and I want to see what we can do to work together,” and go from there. “You want them to know you’re doing this because you care about them.”

Illustration by Vladimir Obradovic/iStock; event photos by Lori Gutman