Annapurna Pictures wanted a scent that could evoke the movie’s exact time and place. And Johnson, who knows the history of Harlem and renowned residents like performer Josephine Baker and musician Duke Ellington, was the right person for the job.
Johnson began researching James Baldwin, the author of the 1974 novel that inspired the film. She discovered that at the time he wrote it, Baldwin was living in the south of France. Journalists who visited him there often wrote about his love for his garden.
“Of course, any good writer is going to tell you how it smells,” says Johnson, a member at WeWork 8 W 126th St. “So I found stories about the fragrances in his garden—orange blossom, wild lavender, and rosemary.”
All of which inspired her candle “Love,” which she says evokes Baldwin’s home in the village of St-Paul-de-Vence. Ranging from $14 to $60, the candles are available on her website.
“I’ve been obsessed with beautiful scents my entire life,” says Johnson. “I’ve been very inspired by places I’ve been and things I’ve smelled and tasted.”
Johnson began selling her candles in 2015, making them in the kitchen of her apartment in Harlem. Although she now has help making them, she remains hands-on, especially during peak periods. “Do I still pour and package when I need to? Sure.”
Since she started her company, Johnson has sold more than 20,000 candles inspired by the New York City neighborhood.
The first step, says Johnson, is always research into Harlem’s history. For her “Langston” candle inspired by writer Langston Hughes, an avid smoker, she wanted “something with tobacco notes.” Then she discovered that he had twice lived in Mexico, where he frequented small, dusky churches.
“He became a little obsessed with the incense burning in these churches,” says Johnson. “So I said, ‘Oh, I want incense notes in the candle.”
Johnson works with perfumers to come up with just the right scent. The entire process, she says, can take close to a year.
Johnson uses soy wax for her candles, which she buys in 50-pound boxes. After weighing the wax chips, she liquefies them on the stove.
Johnson lets the wax cool. She knows it’s ready, she says, by just by touching the pot. At this point, she can pour the fragrance oil.
Johnson stirs the oil into the wax for a solid minute and lets it sit until it’s ready to be poured—another temperature she knows by touch.
She places pre-tabbed wicks into candleholders and adheres the tab to the glass or metal, keeping the wick centered.
After she pours the candles, Johnson sets them aside to harden. Afterward, she trims the wick to size.
When they are ready to ship, Johnson affixes the label. The logo above the company name is a flame, but if you look closely another image appears.
“It’s actually a person holding their arms up, representing unity, community, and love,” says Johnson. “We wanted to embrace the past and the present, to celebrate old-school Harlem that is still here, to keep that alive.”
“When I told people I had a new book, they said, “Is it about cyber wars or foreign policy?” says Jared Cohen. It’s a natural assumption—Cohen, founder and CEO of Jigsaw (a technology incubator created by Google), worked in the office of Condoleeza Rice as one of the youngest foreign-policy planners in American history; served as chief adviser to Google’s Eric Schmidt; and is a New York Times bestselling author, having written two books on the intersection of technology and foreign policy.
His new book, as it turns out, is a little different. “It’s about dead presidents,” Cohen laughed at WeWork 500 7th Ave in New York. Cohen, along with MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan, was there to discuss Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America, a book he’s been waiting to write his whole life. As a child, Cohen was captivated by American history, and as an adult, his focus narrowed to the eight vice presidents who ascended to the top spot after assassinations and illnesses claimed the men elected to the job.
Far from being fated, according to Cohen, the rise of men like John Tyler (vice president to William Henry Harrison), Theodore Roosevelt (who became president after the assassination of William McKinley), and Harry Truman (successor to Franklin Delano Roosevelt) could have been cataclysmic for the nation, and it’s clear not all of the accidental presidents on Cohen’s list were cut out for the job. There was Andrew Johnson, whose biggest claim to fame as Abraham Lincoln’s second-in-command was getting so drunk at Lincoln’s second inaugural that, says Cohen, “he slobbered all over the ceremonial Bible,” or Chester A. Arthur, who spent more time redecorating the White House than he did governing.
Others, though, Cohen holds up as examples of leaders who triumphed over the odds and more than rose to meet the demands of their new positions. “In 82 days as vice president,” he says of Harry Truman, “he only meets FDR twice. Doesn’t get a single intelligence briefing, doesn’t meet a single world leader, isn’t briefed on the new patent project. He was an awestruck provincial politician from Missouri.” And yet with the help of key advisers who understood the importance of Truman’s success, he effectively ended World War II.
While the stakes of modern-day business might not be quite as high, Cohen does see a correlation between presidents like Harry Truman and contemporary CEOs. “The ones that succeeded were the ones who had a combination of two things happen. The advisers they inherited wanted them to be successful and worked with them to help make them successful. And two, they had the judgment to figure out where to listen to them and where not to listen to them.”
It’s this balance of strategy and vision that Cohen frames as universal. “In many respects, the story of accidental presidents, it’s like CEOs taking over for founders: finding that balance between leaving your own mark and continuing the legacy of your predecessor.”
It’s clear that for Cohen, what we can learn from the men who weren’t supposed to be president goes beyond shock at how many times we’ve come perilously close to political chaos, but that their stories offer a glimpse into what we might do if suddenly faced with daunting new responsibilities. “Every business leader should get a nice dose of history,” he says, “and I think biographies are good for the soul. If you can find time to go to the gym and meditate, you should find the time to read about Harry Truman.”
From established entrepreneurs to those just starting out in their career, everyone is familiar with the perils of being driven to distraction. Now that technology makes us more connected than ever, “the office” follows you wherever you go. These blurred boundaries may help us be more flexible than ever, but it can also lead to burnout.
For years, experts have recommended that it’s vital for today’s worker to find meaningful ways to detach and recharge. But what about when it’s time to plug back in? A study published in the Journal of Management found that “reattaching” to work might be just as important as detaching from the grind.
“Through reattachment, employees are able to activate work-related goals, which then further creates positive experiences which allow people to be more engaged at work,” writes study co-author Charlotte Fritz. “They’re more satisfied with work, more committed to work, enjoy work tasks more, perform better, and help out more with extra tasks.” Through the study, Fritz concluded that reattachment practices led to positive performance results for employees and the companies for which they worked.
So how do you put this into practice? Whether you spend most of your day at a desk or work on the go, we found several ways to get your head in the game and make this habit work for you.
Get motivated. Using the first part of your day to engage in a little strategic planning, like making a to-do list, is a perfect way to reattach. Try and focus on three realistic accomplishments you can finish by the end of the day that combine tasks that both need immediate attention and move projects forward.
“Getting to the end of the day having answered a thousand emails but not feeling like you have accomplished anything is the worst feeling,” says Courtney Brand, founder of career-support network The Lighthouse, a member at WeWork 368 9th Ave in New York. “As an entrepreneur, there are a million things I have to do, but setting my top three at the beginning of the day helps me feel successful and hyperfocused.”
Block also sets aside an hour at the beginning of each week to review short- and long-term plans and company feedback so she can feel equipped to work more strategically in the future. For Block, this time of reflection is an important component of “future-proofing” her career.
Engage your brain. Think of reattaching to work like stretching before a race–your mind is like a muscle, after all, and you wouldn’t sprint before you warm up. Tapping back into a different, but complementary mental activity is a good way to engage your brain before you begin work.
Podcasts that take a deep dive into the trends and news of your industry are a useful way to reattach (and make the most of that daily commute). You may want to try How I Built This, where NPR’s Guy Raz speaks with business leaders about how they built their career, or Cntl Alt Delete with Emma Gannon, which focuses on internet culture. If podcasts aren’t your thing, subscribe to trade journals or magazines in your field—either way, you’ll be staying up to date so you can be informed when tackling the projects on your plate. Bonus: You’ll become the go-to person in the office for industry news, which will undoubtedly come in handy at your next networking event.
Energize your body and mind. Who says self-care can’t be productive? While you’re probably used to cooking a comforting meal or tucking into a good book when it’s time to unwind, you can also dip into your grooming arsenal to help you reattach.
Janice Buu, founder of CBD-focused skin-care company Kana Skincare, takes an organic approach to getting her mind in the right place. Buu uses lavender essential oils at night to wind down, but during the day replaces perfume with a citrus-scented oil for an energizing aromatherapy effect. For Buu, who runs two companies and is always on the go, a five-minute stretching and meditation with CBD is the perfect way to switch gears and get ready for her next project. “If I wasn’t using CBD, I wouldn’t be able to handle work as well,” she says, noting that CBD can provide a sense of calm and focus.
Meditation can also be a powerful tool to help you reattach. Studies have shown benefits to include a sharper focus, more creative inspiration, and decreased stress—all powerful parts of a productive workday. If you’re not used to the practice yourself, download a guided meditation—look for one with the keywords “stress” or “productivity”—and zen out at your desk. If you’re in a rut, meditation can also be a great tool to help with problem-solving. Ten minutes before you begin your day or as part of your afternoon coffee break is not only energizing but could provide the creative breakthrough for which you’ve been waiting—and with your new practice of reattaching, that breakthrough could last all day.
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, Work Flow, we delve into the novel dilemmas created by the new ways we work, as well as timeless questions about 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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve been job-searching for a while. Typically, when I get an offer, I ask for a reasonable or even large sum for my salary—then the employer counters with radically less than that. At this point, I’m not really in the position to say no. Is there a way to say yes that might a) set up a path for better compensation, b) acknowledge that we both know I should get more, which might help if/when I either bounce for a better-paying job or inform them I’ve got a better offer in, like, a couple of months, and c) maintain my dignity?
Salary strategizing is worse than dating. Everyone’s keeping their cards close, trying to guess what the other person will say or do, and you’re supposed to somehow meet in the middle on the basis of being indirect. What a mess! But you’re doing things right here: Go in with a sense of what you think you deserve, whether that’s “reasonable” or “large.” Many of us have a hard time asking for something other than too little (I have made it a goal to always ask for a little more, just for practice, and I’ve found I get it more often than not). Don’t go in uninformed; do plenty of research, on the internet and among friends, into what the market rate is for compensation—and have a practiced speech making the case for why you deserve more than the average.
Also, spend some time thinking about what you really want with this job. It’s not wholly about money, generally, though, of course, work is always about money. Go beyond the realm of salary. There are ways to get “more” that don’t involve compensation: vacation days, work flexibility, office perks or benefits (phone credit? gym credit? educational subsidies?), or future opportunities to expand the role. You may be able to request a salary renegotiation after, say, six months, or bonuses for work well done (make sure this is quantitative, like selling 10,000 picnic tables in a year). The more strategic and thorough negotiation you are willing and able to do, the better sense the company has of how much you’re worth, because YOU know what you’re worth, and are willing to fight for it. A recent study found that almost 40 percent of people didn’t negotiate at all. You’re never going to get more money if you don’t ask for it.
As for bouncing for a better offer, your answer is in the question itself. That’s often the easiest and fastest way to get a company to up your initial salary, particularly if you’ve proven your worth in your time with them. If something better comes in, definitely bring it to the attention of your boss.
Dignity-wise, the best thing is to truly know thyself. If you feel in your gut a job is not going to be worth it, if you know you’re going to resent every single moment (and if you can afford to do so): Keep looking. According to the numbers, employment is up. Sure, a lot of that depends on your industry and your particular job needs—but you’re always worth more than what you do for a living, even when American society tries to make you feel differently.
In a culture that assigns social cachet to being “busy,” how do you avoid falling into the trap of chasing busyness as a badge of honor?
Sometimes I look at people around me who are accomplishing a lot, and I wonder how they possibly do it. So-and-so has written a third book before her second is even out? Does that successful person not sleep at all? Why is everyone else so good at what they do, and why I am achieving so little in comparison? I must be lazy, or bad, or bad and lazy.
It’s enough to make you waste an entire hour on Instagram, spiraling out as you view another’s portrayal of go-go-go success, feeling like crap all the while. But the thing is, we know very little about what others are truly giving up to get where they are, or how they’re doing it at all. We only know what they put forward for us to see, which is often a depiction of this “busyness” thing, whether it’s posting up a storm or being always available on Slack or constantly taking meetings or seemingly writing six books in the time it takes the rest of us to write one.
This is the trap: the perception, the presumption. Tune out the busyness. It doesn’t matter. Tune out the sense of competition around you, of life being a race that you can never give up or back down on, and for which you have to keep running faster. Stop trying to keep up, to seem like you’re keeping up, because it’s a losing game. Instead, go somewhere quiet, somewhere away from the busyness noise, and look at the thing you want to do, and start to tackle it bit by bit by bit. You’ll actually be busy, then, but it will be real, and when you’re done, you’ll feel great about it rather than spent and thwarted and confused about what your purpose was in the first place. Chase the thing, not the busyness.
Also, spend more time away from social media. You’ll find you don’t miss it, and your life is oddly fuller. You’ll spend less time being “busy” and more time being happy, and isn’t that the point, really?
My whole office is moving to a new building, and my friend has a plan to take over a spare empty desk with her plants. Our other co-worker is vehemently against it. What should my friend do? What kind of person hates plants?!
Alas, unless you have permission from the boss/human resources/Mother Earth herself, it’s poor form to co-opt another desk, no matter how nice one’s plants (or portraits of clowns, or Rubik’s Cube collection, or ant farm) might be. Plant-haters might be allergic, they might be jerks, they might have prasinophobia (fear of green!), they might just prefer the peace of an empty desk in the midst. Whatever it is, your friend should focus on her work and work on her green thumb at home, and you should do the same … but if you want to keep a plant or two at your own desks, so be it.
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.
“It was completely irrational and crazy, but I wanted to do something that I could be passionate about.” This is how entrepreneur Jurrien Swarts explains his decision to leave a lucrative job in finance to work full time on Stojo, a line of sustainable collapsible travel cups, in 2015.
He and some co-workers came up with the idea a few years earlier, but it wasn’t until 2014, when they had a prototype in hand, that they launched a Kickstarter campaign. “The prototype took us two years of working nights and weekends—we weren’t superserious at that point,” says Swarts, a member at WeWork Labs at WeWork 81 Prospect St in Brooklyn, New York.
When they raised $128,000 ($118,000 more than their goal!), Swarts got more serious. “It was another signal that there was pent-up demand for what we were trying to make,” he says. By the following summer, he pulled the ripcord and threw himself into Stojo full-time.
“It was a pretty wild ride,” he says of the first three years. “Hard, long hours. Stressful. I was one guy doing everything.” (His co-founders have equity in the business and weigh in on big decisions but don’t work on it full time.) “I had to build it from the ground up”—scouting manufacturers, securing a warehouse, building a website, setting up sales channels, raising more funds. “It took until spring 2018 before I finally knew it wasn’t going to fail.”
Stojo sold 70,000 cups in 2017 and nearly 1 million last year. (Products are available at Stojo.co and Amazon and via retailers like Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Macy’s, and Bloomingdale’s.) This year, he says he’s on track to sell more than 5 million, possibly double that. Swarts—who’s focused on expanding his line to include an 8-oz. cup, a 24-oz. cup, a collapsible salad bowl, and a water bottle—shares the details of a recent workweek.
5:30 a.m. Wake up. Was supposed to go to hot pilates, but I have a headache, so I take two ibuprofen and go back to sleep.
8 a.m. Wake up for real. Drink my alkalizing green juice, Yogi joint-relief tea, and black coffee. When I’m in the office or at home I use ceramic mugs. I only use Stojos when I’m traveling or going to the park on weekends.
8:45 a.m. Hop on my bike to make the 10-minute commute to my WeWork in Dumbo.
9 a.m. Grab second coffee. Start meeting. Teammates share whatever they want about their weekend. I read an inspirational quote by Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS: “Life is more fun when you stop caring what other people think.” We go through high-level priorities for the week.
10 a.m. Executive-coaching session with Amy Jin. We delve into relationship-building, personal and professional development goals, and actualization exercises, then set our curriculum for the next month.
1 p.m. Grab third coffee of the day. Interview potential operations hire. Went great. The candidate has an incredible pedigree, used to work at Warby Parker, and is aligned with the Stojo mission. Given our small but growing team (I’ll have nine full-timers by the time this runs), everyone needs to approve a hire.
3 p.m. Head to Mulberry & Vine for lunch. I eat the same vegetarian meal most days (raw spinach bowl with brown rice and baked sesame tofu).
3:15 p.m. Weekly marketing meeting with my CGO (chief growth officer), Megan Markey, who is responsible for all sales verticals and oversees marketing while we build out our marketing team.
4:30 p.m. Grab fourth coffee. Start cleaning the office in preparation for new graphic designer starting Wednesday. This is the first time we’ve attempted to clean since spring 2018. What a mess!
5:15 p.m.Catch up on emails, schedule investors meetings, reply to questions from our global VP of sales.
5:30 p.m. Finish cleaning the office. It feels great to have it behind us.
6:30 p.m. Meet with WeWork Labs manager to discuss investors and networking opportunities.
7:15 p.m. Hop on bike to ride home to Fort Greene.
7:30 p.m. Decompress and eat dinner.
8 p.m. Binge-watch season eight of Suits and eat half a bag of Garden of Eatin’ blue corn chips and some of my kids’ chocolate coins. Don’t judge.
11:30 p.m. Sleep.
6 a.m. Alarm goes off. Time to get ready for pilates class. Ugh. Snooze.
6:10 a.m. Second alarm goes off. Ugh. Snooze.
6:20 a.m. Third alarm goes off. Double ugh. But I can’t bail on class two days in a row. Get up.
6:45 a.m. Hop on bike for 2-mile ride to pilates studio in Williamsburg.
7 a.m. Inferno Hot Pilates at YO BK—all HIIT [high-intensity interval training] exercises, kicks my ass.
8:20 a.m. Respond to work texts and messages from one of our two factories in China.
8:30 a.m. Get ready for work, listen to WQXR classical radio 105.9, and review calendar, to-do lists, and emails.
9:10 a.m. Take B69 bus to work. Continue to text and email.
9:30 a.m. Grab coffee and say good morning to the team.
9:45 a.m. Chat with a WeWork Labs founder about testing their meditation product—a favor to a fellow entrepreneur—then start working on investor reports.
11:35 a.m. Depart office to attend to a personal matter. I have a 2-year-old and 4-year-old, and I’m going through a difficult situation at home. Life happens, even when you’re building a company, and I try to be a great dad.
2 p.m. Call with Lonely Whale, an organization dedicated to protecting our oceans, to discuss a possible partnership. We’re working on partnerships with Unicef, 1% for the Planet, and others. It’s part of our commitment to educate people on the impact of trash and end disposable culture while also reaching new audiences and getting our brand out there.
3-3:30 p.m. Email.
3:30-5 p.m. Meet with brand-strategy consultant. We want to take our brand to the next level, to have people think of us as a sustainability/lifestyle company that is more on par with an All Birds or an Away or a Warby Parker. We need our social media, our press releases, our website, and our listings on other company websites to be cohesive and unified.
5:15-8 p.m. Pick up kids. Cook, homework, shower, bedtime. I leave the office at 5:15 on the nights I have my kids, no matter what I’m doing. I shut off the phone and stay present. My life wouldn’t have as much meaning if it wasn’t for them.
5 a.m. Alarm goes off. Hit snooze.
5:09 a.m. Get up and make my usual—juice, tea, and coffee—then review calendar and reply to email.
5:40 a.m. Leave for yoga.
7:30a.m. Shower and leave for work.
8:10 a.m. Arrive to work; coffee No. 2.
9 a.m. Call with my top distributor. I can’t give too much detail, but I had to make a tough strategic decision, which I had to communicate with her while keeping her motivated. I do not like confrontation, but I am getting really good at it and advocating for the brand.
10 a.m. Work on investor reports. I’ve had “investor reports” on my to-do list for about a month. This is a classic example of me overthinking stuff and not getting it done in the two hours that I should because I’m a perfectionist.
11 a.m. Tour new office space. With our staff growing, we’re scoping out a 10-person office in the WeWork at Navy Yard.
12 p.m. Call with a corporate client about piloting a closed-loop system, which is a next iteration of Stojo that we’re exploring. How can we create reusable systems within corporations to give their dining services sustainable options? So we would deliver clean takeout containers, their staffs would use them and dispose of them, then we would recollect them, take them off site, clean them, and redeliver them. If we could show that system works, we’d want to scale it up.
1 p.m. Welcome lunch for our new graphic designer.
3 p.m. Call with potential ops hire.
4 p.m. Call with co-founder.
5:15-8 p.m. Pick up kids, shop for groceries, cook, shower, bedtime.
8:30 p.m. Clean kitchen.
9 p.m. Read Directorate S. I enjoy books about politics, history, philosophy, and religion.
10 p.m. Catch up with my cousin to make plans for the weekend. Since hiring my COO, Jake Kelsey—my first real employee—in April last year, I’ve been able to take my foot off the gas a little. I’m more relaxed, and I’m enjoying life more.
5:40 a.m. Wake up, check calendar, and review to-do list.
6 a.m. Drink mygreen juice, tea, and coffee.
6:30 a.m. Bike to pilates.
7:45 a.m. Walk kids to school.
10 a.m. Product development call with one of our factories.
11 a.m. Email.
12 p.m. Nap at home followed by lunch.
2 p.m. Call with a branding agency.
3 p.m. Meeting with another branding agency. We’ve talked to like seven or eight different agencies at this point, and we’re trying to figure out: What bells and whistles do we need? How much hand-holding is it going to take? How likely is it that we’re going to get an amazing product?
4 p.m. Call with one of Stojo’s investors to discuss product-development and plans for next year.
5 p.m. Internal meeting.
6:30 p.m. Bike home.
7 p.m. Clean kitchen.
8 p.m. Call with therapist.
9:30 p.m. Watch Game of Thrones series premiere. I’ve never watched it before, but people are like, “You look like that guy Tormund.” He’s got this big red beard and angular nose, and I do have to admit, I look a little bit like him. So I started watching the show because of that.
5:30 a.m. Wake up, turn off the alarm, and sleep in until 7.
7-8:45 a.m. Check emails, review calendar and to-do list, and leave for work.
9-10:30 a.m. Move stuff from office into storage to make room for new hires. The more I hire and train people, the more I can focus on being a CEO with a vision. It’s so nice to be in that phase because the artistic part, the strategy—that’s really what I enjoy.
12:30 p.m. Review proposed tooling changes with one of our factories.
1 p.m. Speak with attorneys about the cost of fixing an admin issue versus leaving it alone.
2 p.m. Contact investors re: stock split. This is an easy process, but I need to tie up the legal paperwork for each of our 12 investors
3-4:30 p.m. Call with yet another branding agency.
4:30 p.m. Go over workflow process with new graphic designer.
5 p.m. Meet with WeWork Labs manager. We discuss raising capital, potential investors, and just life in general. For me, one of the best parts of running a business is the social interactions I get to have with people who I get to know over a long period of time. I focus on how they are doing and feeling, and what’s going on for them in life. We’re all on this planet trying to make our way … may as well make it meaningful with the people you spend most of your waking hours with.
5:30 p.m. Call with the marketing head of a major company to discuss our marketing hire needs. This is another fact-gathering mission because when you’re a startup, every dollar you spend counts, and I don’t want to make a bad strategic decision.
7:30 p.m. Meet a friend for dinner and drinks. When I leave work, I can turn off. I’ve learned that to keep your sanity and your health, you need to set boundaries. This is a marathon, it’s not a sprint, and I’m not a 22-year-old college graduate or dropout—I’m a 40-something-year-old guy who worked his ass off for 15 years in finance. I’m obviously not afraid of hard work, but I don’t work like crazy. I don’t have ulcers. I sleep at night.