Entrepreneurs start companies because they see a way to fill a need in an industry. Aaron Hurst started his because he saw a way to help entrepreneurs.
Hurst—the co-founder and CEO of Imperative, the career-development platform, and founder of the Taproot Foundation, which helps nonprofits and social-change initiatives thrive—elaborated on these thoughts when he spoke about team-building during the “Team Awesome” session at WeWork’s Global Summit in Los Angeles in early January.
“There are three sources of fulfillment: relationships, impact, and growth,” Hurst says. “Freelancers struggle to find relationships with coworkers, and that’s why they work at WeWork. Impact is the perception that work matters to others beside ourselves. And if we stop growing, we start to atrophy.”
He explains that this sense of emptiness “is the main complaint from people in the workforce. What happens when someone who is unfulfilled at work goes home or back into society? It’s a ripple effect.”
Part of what brought us to this point, says Hurst, is that “a lot of the things we do to judge work are defined by this idea of engagement instead of this idea of fulfillment.” But, he argues, “there has never been a time when our society needs people who are awake and fulfilled more than right now.” To do that, we have to change our culture’s mind-set toward employment.
Gone are the days of the information economy that made employees the source of value creation, says Hurst. Rather than looking at people based on the skills we bring to the table—and judging whether an employer is getting the most value for each position—we’ve entered the fulfillment economy. Employers need to ensure their staff members are fulfilled. “People who are fulfilled are strong ambassadors for your organization,” he explains. “People who are unfulfilled are detractors, people who are actively talking badly about your organization. You need everyone to be an ambassador.”
That said, fulfillment shouldn’t just come with your benefits package. “Take ownership of your own fulfillment,” Hurst advises, suggesting we all focus on self-awareness, peer coaching, and job hacking—aka making changes in your job to be more successful. Just like measuring yourself in order to lose weight, Hurst says, “you need to look at what’s working and what’s not working to achieve this.”
Hurst encourages water-cooler talk. “When people actively engage their colleagues in conversations about their career, there’s a 66 percent likelihood of being fulfilled,” he says, citing a study that showed “people said that they’re more likely to learn from their peers than their managers.”
This means not only looking to who you or your company is promoting—for what it’s worth, Hurst reports that “the countries that have the highest percentage of fulfillment are the ones that have women in leadership”—but the diversity of people you interact with when you’re there.
In other words, he says, “look to your peers just like you’re a kid in high school,” and share notes so that everyone gets passing grades. He says “what we care about now is people’s purpose. That drives adaptability and that sense of fulfillment.”
For Hurst, fulfillment came once he discovered that he finds “pro bono work more rewarding than my paycheck job.” In order to both grow and make a greater impact, he started Taproot with the mission of recruiting business professionals to help nonprofit organizations access marketing, tech, finance, human resources, and other services they normally can’t afford.
“It’s not enough just to volunteer. Most nonprofits have more volunteers than they know what to do with,” Hurst says. “What they needed help with is the core infrastructure of their business.”
In business and volunteer work, the best way to help is to listen to what others need.
It can feel hard to muster Earth Day cheer when the news is often bleak. Climate-change-driven extreme weather is starting to feel like the new normal at the same time global governments are retreating from significant coordinated action.
So how do We Work’s most sustainably-minded innovators manage to keep a bright outlook? They’re inspired by the changes they see happening at the frontlines of battles against climate change, ubiquitous waste, and fossil-fuel consumption. We spoke to members from four organizations—Global Green, Karma, Stojo, and Ubuntu—who collectively work in five countries about the most potentially world-changing ideas in sustainability in 2019.
Organization: Global Green
Mission: Advance solutions to climate change by building sustainable, resilient communities
Names:William Bridge, COO, and Emma Nault, head of strategic partnership and development
Location: WeWork 520 Broadway in Santa Monica, California, and funding projects around California, New Orleans, New York City and more
The next big thing? DIY green infrastructure
Why is this so important? According to Bridge, Global Green’s priorities for action in the many underserved communities in which it operates stem from a core belief: “We need to start taking initiative ourselves and not wait around for government,” he says. That means helping communities most susceptible to the effects of climate change prepare, whether fighting flooding in New Orleans by teaching people how to build a rain garden, or fire prevention in Southern California for families rebuilding after devastating blazes. “Current climate action at the national level is quite ineffective given our political situation,” says Nault.
What does that mean? Swarts’s brand of collapsible coffee cups has successfully capitalized on people’s desire not to waste a cup every time they order coffee—in just five years, the company has sold 1 million of them. But Swarts says coffee cups are just the beginning.“We think of our product as a gateway product to sustainability,” he says. “Once your eyes have been opened to the disposable-cup problem, over time it changes your overall behavior. It changes the way you relate to all single-use plastics.”
What he wants to see happen next: Swarts dreams of the day when cities integrate models for closed-loop systems around waste into their planning. “You could have a deposit system and collection system in infrastructure” similar to a bike-share program, he says. “It would take a combination of using app technology, scanners, barcodes, [and] payment systems to incentivize people to do the right thing to not create more trash.”
Mission: Fight global food waste.
Name: Elsa Bernadotte, co-founder and COO
Location: Based in Stockholm, and operating all over Sweden and in Paris and London, from where Bernadotte works at WeWork 41 Corsham St
Next big thing: Extremeyouth activism
How it’s playing out: “Right now, young generations are engaging to raise sustainability as a more important topic and actually express their views on what we need to do to solve the major global issues,” says Bernadotte. She points to the example of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish 16-year-old whose school strikes to protest climate change attracted more than 1 million students worldwide this March (and are scheduled to happen again May 24). “She has taken the lead in that sense, and there will be more after her,” adds Bernadotte.
How does that impact Karma’s work? Karma makes an app that helps restaurants and grocery stores reduce food waste by letting them sell it at half-price at the end of the day. She regards the youthful energy around sustainability as a signpost that her business is focused on the next generation of consumers. “They will be the future of customers,” she says.
Organization: Ubuntu Power
Mission: Provide power, internet, and other infrastructure to off-the-grid communities in sub-Saharan Africa
The next big thing? Following the lead of developing markets for energy solutions
How does that work, exactly? “There’s a general trend toward more renewable sources of energy and decentralizing that away from central coal, power stations, fracking, and all the fossil fuels—breaking [the system] up into hyperlocalized generation units,” explains Herrada. But as climate change forces economies in the developed world to reckon with the fragility of their power grids in the face of extreme events like hurricanes and persistent flooding, models like Ubuntu’s are becoming increasingly relevant in places like North America and Australia. “The greater innovation and rate of development is being done in the frontier markets in contexts that have been considered poorer,” he says. “And then those innovations are fed back into developed markets.” He compares the process to mobile payments, which took off in Africa and China well before in the U.S. or Europe.
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.
Think about how much food you’ve unintentionally let go to waste in your refrigerator on your best week. Now imagine how much more must go to waste in the hands of a restaurant or grocery store on any given day. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, roughly one-third of the food produced for human consumption worldwide gets lost or wasted—that’s 1.3 billion metric tons.
Karma, an app launched in Sweden in 2016, is working to change that.
Its four co-founders initially launched the company as a sort of crowdsourced Groupon, where users uploaded photos of discount offers and earned “Karma points” (more discounts) in return. “We failed 100 percent in our first eight months,” co-founder and COO Elsa Bernadotte says.
But the flop prompted the partners to assess what about their platform was working: They noticed how eager users were to access discounted food—and that led them to research the food industry. “We learned that discounted food exists because if it’s not sold, it’s going to become food waste,” Bernadotte, a WeWork Labs member at WeWork 41 Corsham St in London, says. “And we realized that food waste is a massive environmental problem.”
Within three weeks, they retooled their platform to connect users with discounted surplus food from participating restaurants, cafes, and grocery stores—and convinced their initial investors to stay on board. “The response [from users and the food industry] was crazy,” Bernadotte says. “I was blown away.” Today, Karma works with 2,000 retailers, has half a million users (a number they expect to double by the end of the year), and reports “rescuing” 295 tons of food to date.
Below, Bernodette, who relocated to London to launch Karma’s UK market earlier this year (next up: Paris), shares a diary of a recent workweek.
6 a.m. Wake up confused about where I am, then remember I moved Airbnbs yesterday. I move around a lot. My motto is to be where I’m needed the most, and right now we’re very much focused on growing the business here in the U.K.
6:15 a.m. Out the door and to the gym. I’ve got a challenge going with a friend back home in Stockholm to work out three times a week, so I send her a text to brag that I made it. Loser buys dinner, and I’m super-competitive.
7:30 a.m. Back home and jump into the shower.
7:45 a.m. Daily 15-minute “micro” update call with the management team. We set the call just before working day in Sweden at 8:45 a.m., which means the U.K. office joins the call at 7:45 a.m. This almost always means I’m on the call while in the shower. I also fry a couple of eggs and put on my makeup before the call is even up. Sometimes it works, but this time I burn the eggs. Eat them anyway.
8:15 a.m. Out the door for an early start at WeWork. Make a coffee as the rest of the U.K. team filters in. There are 13 of us in the U.K. and about 40 in Sweden.
9 a.m. Join the Monday morning all-hands briefing on video chat (we’ve got a TV set up in our office).
10 a.m. Prep deck for a big retailer we’re trying to get on board.
12 p.m. Stop for lunch. Open the Karma app and pick out some sushi to rescue from one of our best-selling retailers in Shoreditch, only a 10-minute walk from our Old St office.
1 p.m. Head down. Back to work on deck and other tasks.
5:30 p.m. Gather the team to celebrate progress with drinks and cake. If we’re going to have radical candor, it’s also so important to make sure we have fun. We do one or two team trips every year with that in mind. Just a couple weeks ago we went skiing together in the north of Sweden.
7 p.m. Meet a friend for dinner. We go to Cay Tre for some amazing pho and catch up about life.
9 p.m. Back home. Try to unwind, watch Netflix, and switch off, but end up catching up with emails and Slack messages instead.
12 a.m. Fall asleep with my laptop open. Oops.
7 a.m. Wake up later than usual—it’s a no-gym day. Take my time and get on with my usual shower-management-call-eggs-and-makeup routine.
8:30 a.m. Get to the office and put out some fires before my day properly starts.
9 a.m. Coffee. Essential.
10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday is the day when I have most of my staff one-on-ones, so I’m usually chatting back-to-back with my direct reports. We practice radical candor at Karma, so I’m having what I like to call “positive arguments” with some recent hires. I actually love it when the team has strong opinions and we disagree—it helps us grow faster.
My parents used radical candor with me early on, and I found it very painful, but also very helpful. It made me less uncomfortable with being quite blunt and direct about things, and it builds a lot of trust, which ultimately creates the most meaningful relationships.
7 p.m. Thinking about dinner. Decide to order a pizza at home.
8 p.m. Dig into pizza while catching up with the computer-science course I’m doing part-time at Harvard. Sounds fancy, but I’m just trying to speak the same language as the tech leads at Karma.
11 p.m. Get into bed to read. I’m usually juggling several business books at once, but I’m trying to read more fiction to switch off more.
7 a.m. Wake up and do my usual routine.
8:30 a.m. Breakfast meeting with the ex-founder of Hello Fresh, a recipe-box service, to learn about how they conquered the U.K. market. Part of my job is to meet a lot of people who can add different perspectives and values to the table. You never know what insights someone might have until you talk to them—in this case, I learned a ton.
11 a.m.-3 p.m. Back in the office. This week we’re setting our OKRs (objectives and key results) for the quarter, and it’s taking a lot of time to align everyone across the company as we’re onboarding a new tool. OKR drafting always takes time away from the day-to-day work of the team, but it’s for the greater good of the company and essential to goal-setting for each team member—or Karmeleon, as we say internally.
5 p.m. Why am I already hungry for dinner? Grab a decaf coffee outside the office to get some air.
6 p.m. Is it dinnertime yet?
7 p.m. Grab dinner from Tesco (a U.K. grocery store) and make a halloumi salad. Then devour some Ben & Jerry’s. Life is about balance, right?
8 p.m.-10 p.m. Catch up on work. I spent last week in Dubai with my fiancé, so I’m feeling behind.
11 p.m. Meditate for 15 minutes with the Calm app. Tell myself I’ll meditate more often because I feel so great afterward, but I never manage to make it a habit. Get an early night.
6 a.m. Wake up and hit the gym. I didn’t sleep well, so I’m a bit slower today.
8 a.m. Take a call with one of our investors. We have a close relationship—they’ve been behind us as we’ve grown internationally over the past two years.
8:30 a.m. Head to WeWork. Obligatory coffee.
9 a.m. Work as usual. Things are busy—everyone’s playing catchup on the time they lost on OKRs yesterday.
12 p.m. LUNCH! Stop by Pret for a salad. I’m trying to eat more vegetables.
12:30 p.m. Back to work. Big sales meetings happening this afternoon.
4 p.m. Sales meeting. It’s a huge success and could be totally game-changing for us. Can’t reveal any more than that, but I’m so excited that I can’t concentrate for the rest of the day.
5:30 p.m. Finally get my focus back and am deep into a spreadsheet tracking U.K. costs to date. Is it sad that I love a good spreadsheet? Because I totally do.
6:30 p.m. Dinner with the U.K. team. I’ve invited them over to my humble abode (the Airbnb flavor of the month) to host a “Working With” workshop, where everyone gets to discuss how they prefer to work. I love doing these sessions—there’s massive learning potential.
6 a.m. Wake up and hit the gym. Ping my friend that I’m two sessions ahead of her and it’s Friday… I’m loving this competition.
7 a.m. Back home for the usual shower-management-call-eggs-and-makeup routine.
8 a.m. Pack for Berlin. Surreal and dream-come-true moment: We’ve been invited by the Obama Foundation to meet former President Barack Obama for a roundtable discussion with other “future leaders” in Europe. Fingers crossed we get to work with them more.
10 a.m. I hate packing—it always takes longer than I expect.
10:15 a.m. Head to WeWork for a half-day before my flight. I’ll not see the U.K. team for a week while I’m away so I’ve put some meetings on my calendar to catch up with everyone.
12:30 p.m. Starving. In Sweden, lunch is usually no later than 12 p.m., but in London, everyone waits until 1. Rescue some Turkish food for lunch from the Karma app.
1 p.m. Back to work before leaving for the airport.
6 p.m. Fly to Berlin.
10 p.m. Get to my hotel for the next two nights. Room service. Crash. I love routines, so the traveling lifestyle doesn’t fit perfectly with my personality. But on the other hand, I believe in our mission, and right now there are a lot of things that need to be done. That challenge I love.
The role of executive assistant has been horrifyingly characterized in dozens of books and movies. Who can forget the terror Andy Sachs suffered at the hands of her impossible-to-please boss, Miranda Priestly, in The Devil Wears Prada?
But there’s more to the role than pop culture lets on. At “The Power Job,” a recent panel hosted by Conductor, speakers Katrina Conte, executive assistant to the CFO, The We Company; Morgan Sandoval, executive assistant to the COO of Firstmark Capital; Alexis Soper, chief of staff, Luntz Global Partners; and Melissa Crespo, executive assistant to the CEO of Conductor, discussed what being an EA really entails in the modern workplace, and how to succeed.
“I started at Time Inc. when I was 18. I was part of the secretarial pool, and every day was like secretary roulette—you never knew which man you were going to work for that day,” said Katrina Conte, recalling the start of her career more than 35 years ago. These days, Conte works directly for one person, and during her six years at WeWork, learning every aspect of her boss’s role has allowed her to excel in her own right.
The thing is, an EA job isn’t just an entry-level position anymore. In fact, the longer you’re in this high-pressure spot, the more valuable you are. As a virtual extension of the executive you support, you give her more hours in the day and twice as much brain power to complete tasks. The panelists agreed it can take a good six months to start really becoming adept at anticipating your boss’s every move.
“There is a lot of power in this role,” Conte told the audience. “Be wise with it.” With access to the people at the very top, there are plenty of opportunities to learn, make connections—and even get your own ideas and opinions heard.
The speakers shared the most important qualities of a power EA.
Hyperorganization. Details matter. “Never assume, and always confirm,” said Luntz’s Alexis Soper, who has been in her role for 13 years. She recalled one instance when she realized her boss, who was traveling through Asia, was without a visa for China. After a momentary panic and some quick research, she discovered that travelers going through China to another country can enter without a visa for 144 hours. Crisis averted—and lesson learned.
Ability to solve problems. Even the best executives are only human. When mistakes happen—files are lost, meeting rooms are incorrect—the panelists agreed it’s best to acknowledge it and be prepared with at least one solution. In the long run, being able to think on your feet is what really matters.
A thick skin. You know how you’re more honest and argumentative with your closest friends and family—emotionally or sometimes simply geographically—than with acquaintances? Prepare for a little of that from your boss. Throughout her career, Soper has reminded herself, “I’m the closest person to him, so he’s taking it out on me.” Unless it feels abusive, don’t take it personally. And if you do feel like you’re being mistreated, move on. “Don’t stick around with someone who doesn’t value you,” Sandoval said.
An acute sense of timing. This is another skill that improves the longer you work with someone. For example, consider the best time deliver certain news; if they’re running for a train, maybe it can wait. “Pay attention to their mind-set,” said Firstmark’s Sandoval. “I am very deliberate with my approach.” Also, learn how your boss likes to receive info: If she understands things better when they’re presented visually, don’t waste time typing up a summary that won’t hold her attention.
A love of the job. Being an executive assistant can be a fulfilling lifelong career, not just a stepping stone to somewhere else. “Get up every day and be proud of what you do,” said Conte of The We Company. “We face a different challenge every day: One day we’re their therapist, sometimes we’re a seamstress—at other times, even the dentist.”
A desire to learn. Yes, there are schedules to maintain and errands to run, but in between those moments, the executive assistant role is like a crash-course MBA. You have access to every department of an organization. The more you recognize how everyone works and what you can do to fill in the gaps, the better the company will run as a whole. And if you ultimately decide that you’re not a career executive assistant you’ll be better poised to reach for a role that is.
“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.”