When Matt Letten was a senior in college, he had just lost 100 pounds. He’d been exercising, eating healthy, and working to build a sense of confidence and purpose that he felt he never had. One afternoon, he met with his mentor.
“This guy was always someone I could run anything by,” says Matt. “We were sitting there discussing how I had just gone through this physical transformation. My mentor said jokingly, ‘You could be the next Richard Simmons.’”
Today, that’s not far off. Matt joined forces with his younger brother, Phil, to found Vegan Bros. Their goal? To be “the Tony Robbins of veganism.”
The WeWork Custom House members publish funny, profanity-laden blog posts and videos, and they run a weight loss and fitness-coaching program.
Vegan Bros is the perfect marriage of each brother’s background. After college, Matt opened several gyms. Phil worked for animal rights organizations and had been vegan since he was 20. Phil started working out at Matt’s gym, and Matt adopted Phil’s diet and passion for animal welfare.
They realized they were on to something.
“It was May 2014,” Matt recalls. “We were sitting in a park in Seattle, talking and brainstorming. We were sipping on whisky, which we use as creativity juice on occasion. We were high on life. We had just thrown a sold-out party on the roof of my gym the night before, and we donated all the money to our favorite animal charities. Phil made a joke like, ‘Why don’t we do something online?’ We made eye contact. We got serious.’”
On their website, the Letten brothers’ objective is to be welcoming, teaching the benefits of a vegan lifestyle while also showing interested non-vegans that there isn’t just one way to be a “Vegan Bro.”
“We like to be as inclusive as possible,” says Phil. “Being vegan isn’t an all-or-nothing thing. You can be vegan one day or one meal a week. Before I was completely vegan, I said, ‘I am going to be vegan, except for cheese pizza.’”
This approach has earned them lots of fans (nearly 33,000 on Facebook, to be precise). But it has also ruffled some feathers—no pun intended—in the vegan community.
“This is a hiccup that we expected,” says Phil. “There is this small and very vocal segment of the vegan community that despises us. People who aren’t vegan yet are more accepting of what we do.”
The Vegan Bros are about to reach an even bigger audience, as they’ve just inked a book deal with Penguin Random House.
“The book is essentially our manifesto,” says Matt. “We’re putting our flag in the sand. In the past, veganism was seen as a weird, feminine lifestyle practiced by self-indulgent, politically-correct hippies. We’re bros: we preach veganism for ‘normal motherfuckers.’ We aim to be helpful, but also to make you laugh.”
The brothers are busy, but they’re loving it.
“When you’re doing something you’re truly passionate about,” says Matt, “There’s no distinction between work and fun. Sometimes I’ll be working on my computer, and I’ll look, and it’s 10 o’clock at night. Or we’ll go to a bar, but talk about our web analytics the whole time.”
In the past, drinking “creativity juice” has served them well. So, cheers, Bros.
For many people, Thanksgiving was never about the bird. It’s the side dishes—stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams—that make the meal. For some, they are the meal.
We asked several WeWork members who know a thing or two about food to share their favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes. Take our word for it: They taste as good as they look.
Roasted Carrots with Lemon-Tahini Sauce
Carrots often arrive at the dinner table with a thick glaze of honey or brown sugar. Goni Light, cofounder of the gourmet tahini companySoCo, was looking for something a little lighter. He likes this simple recipe for providing a “nutty twist” for the holiday. The member at New York’s WeWork 115 Broadway says she garnishes the dish with chopped pistachios.
What you need:
1 bunch carrots 2 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 cup SoCo tahini 1 lemon or 3 tablespoons lemon juice 2 cloves minced garlic or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 1/2 cup water as needed 1/4 cup chopped parsley Sea salt
How to make it:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 2. Wash carrots and dry completely, Trim the tops of the carrots, leaving some at the top for aesthetics. 3. Toss carrots with olive oil and sea salt. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast the carrots for 20 to 25 minutes, flipping halfway through until tender but still crisp. 4. Whisk together tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and oil in a bowl. Add up to 1/4 cup of water to thin out the sauce to your desired consistency.
5. Drizzle the lemon-tahini sauce over the carrots. Top with chopped fresh parsley.
Makes six servings.
Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Mashed Potatoes
Everyone needs a great mashed potato recipe, and Michael Freidson ofEat This, Not That! says that this one is his favorite. It’s creamy and rich, but made with 2 percent milk to keep it healthy. A potato ricer helps create smooth, fluffy mashed potatoes, but a potato masher or “even a few active forks” will work in a pinch. To make it even more special, the member at New York’s WeWork 85 Broad St says to add artichoke hearts, lemon zest, and grated Parmesan cheese.
What you need:
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered 1 cup 2 percent milk Roasted garlic 2 tablespoons butter Salt and black pepper to taste Minced rosemary (or chopped fresh chives)
How to Make It:
1. Fill a large saucepan with water and add the potatoes. Season with a few pinches of salt and bring to a boil. Cook for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are just tender. Drain.
2. While the potatoes boil, combine the milk and garlic in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Use a fork or a potato masher to mash the garlic into the milk. Keep warm until the potatoes are cooked.
3. Mash the potatoes. Add butter and continue mashing. Next stir in the milk, one large spoonful at a time, using a wooden spoon to help whip the liquid into the potatoes (this will create a smoother, more stable emulsion).
4. Season with salt and black pepper and stir in any herbs you may be using.
Makes six servings.
Braised Lettuce Hearts
Chloë Stewart ofNibs, Etc.—a London-based entrepreneur whose company makes granola and crackers out of juice pulp that would otherwise go to waste—recently found herself with six spare heads of lettuce. Rather than watching it wilt in the back of the fridge, the WeWork 15 Bishopsgate member created this recipe that could take the place on your holiday table usually occupied by Brussels sprouts or green bean casserole. If you don’t have za’atar, Stewart says just about any combination of spices will work—Try dried rosemary, thyme, and oregano or turmeric, cumin, ginger, and shredded coconut.
What you need:
6 lettuce hearts 2 teaspoons salted butter 2 bay leaves 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper 2 tablespoons hazelnuts 2 teaspoon za’atar (Middle Eastern spice mix) 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
How to make it:
1. Preheat your oven to 420 degrees. Place the hazelnuts onto a baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes.
2. Combine toasted hazelnuts and za’atar and pulse in a small hand blender.
3. Slice your lettuce hearts in half, keeping enough of the root so that that the hearts don’t fall apart. Rinse and place cut side up on baking sheet.
4. Pour enough water onto the sheet to just cover the base. Dot the hearts with the salted butter, adding 2 thumbnail-sized dollops to the water base as well. Season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and braise for 15 to 20 minutes until softened and just starting to brown all over.
5. Remove from the oven, switch on the broiler, and top your lettuce hearts with the hazelnut and za’atar mix, then grated cheese. Pop back under the broiler for 5 to 10 minutes until the edges are starting to char and the Parmesan has melted.
6. Serve right away.
Makes 5 to 7 servings
Sriracha Sweet Potato Cornbread
When cornbread makes an appearance on the Thanksgiving table, it’s often as the base for stuffing. This recipe, from Oscar Mendoza ofFollow Your Heart, lets it shine on its own. It has a little extra kick, and a pleasing golden color, thanks to a bit of sriracha. The hot sauce is in the Vegenaise, one of the vegan-friendly sauces, dips, and dressings offered by Mendoza’s company.
What you need:
2 cups medium-grind cornmeal 1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour 1/2 cup sugar 1 tablespoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup mashed sweet potatoes (canned or homemade) 3/4 cup non-dairy milk 1/2 cup Sriracha Vegenaise
How to make it:
1. Preheat oven to 375 °F and spray a cast-iron skillet (at least 10” wide) with cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal, gluten-free flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the mashed sweet potatoes, non-dairy milk, and Sriracha Vegenaise until well-combined.
3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir just until all dry ingredients are incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared cast-iron skillet and use a spatula to flatten and smooth.
4. Bake until golden brown (about 35 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in skillet at least 15 minutes before serving.
Makes 20 servings
Mixed Berry Cream Cheese Bread Pudding
Saudamani Gray is the head pastry chef atTiny Cakes, a Philadelphia bakery specializing in all-natural cakes and deserts. One of her favorite treats for the holidays is this decadent cream cheese bread pudding, topped with your favorite berries. (The WeWork member’s recipe calls for strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries, but Gray says you can throw in some raspberries as well.)
What you need:
12 fresh croissants 2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese (room temperature) 2 cups heavy whipping cream (light whipping cream is also good) 4 cups of whole milk (room temperature) 6 eggs (room temperature) 2 cups sugar 1/2 cup brown sugar 3 teaspoon vanilla 4 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon nutmeg 1 package strawberries 1 package blackberries 1 package blueberries
How to make it:
1. In a mixing bowl, cream together cream cheese and sugar. Add heavy cream, milk, vanilla, eggs, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
2. In a greased baking dish, add bite-size cubes of croissants and berries. Mix carefully without breaking the berries. Pour cream cheese mixture over croissants and berries, mixing until the bread is coated. Let stand for at least an hour, or even overnight for maximum flavor.
3. Sprinkle a light coating of brown sugar on top. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes in an oven preheated to 325 degrees.
Tim Kilcoyne never sees most of the people for whom he cooks every day. The thousands of meals that are prepared and packed under his watchful eye are delivered to shelters for people displaced by the wildfires that have devastated California.
But he knows first-hand what it’s like to be in their position. Last December, he was one of more than 100,000 people forced to evacuate to a nearby shelter when a wildfire swept through Ventura County, just west of Los Angeles. While waiting 10 days until he could return home, Kilcoyne, the owner of Scratch Sandwich Counter, was eager to find a way to put his skills to good use.
He connected withWorld Central Kitchen, an organization that travels the globe to provide hot meals to people in emergency situations. Soon he was cooking meals in a borrowed commercial kitchen for his neighbors, who had also been evacuated, and the first responders who had arrived from across the country to battle the blaze.
Over the past year he’s taken time off from his sandwich shop to work with the organization, leading teams of volunteers after Hurricane Florence destroyed parts of Florida and the Carolinas, and after the Kilauea volcano leveled entire neighborhoods in Hawaii. Now he’s back on his home turf of California, where wildfires are once again roaring through his county.
“In each location, it has been tough dealing with the devastation,” says Kilcoyne. He was on a break from where he and a regular team of about a dozen people were dishing out meals at Casa Pacifica Centers for Children and Families, a treatment center for at-risk children a few miles from the fires. “But it has been amazing to see the communities come together.”
World Central Kitchen, which is based atWeWork Universal North in Washington, D.C., has fewer than 10 full-time staffers, but it’s been able to serve more than 4.8 million meals since it was founded by renowned chef José Andrés in 2010. Last year, after Hurricane Maria left most of Puerto Rico without water or electricity, the organization had teams on the ground that provided 3 million meals to suddenly homeless citizens. In California, where wildfires are burning across the state, it’s serving thousands of meals a day.
Jeanette Morelan, World Central Kitchen’s communications and marketing manager, says that many of the organization’s volunteers start out as people in need. “We meet people in these disaster situations and they become part of our family,” she says.
Fighting disasters on several fronts
In California, the extent of the wildfires is astounding. In Butte County, less than 100 miles north of Sacramento, the Camp Fire has burned 140,000 acres, taking with it over 10,000 structures, including almost the entire town of Paradise. It’s the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in California history, with 73 people dead and almost 700 missing.
The Woolsey and Hill Fires in Los Angeles and Ventura counties have altogether burned more than 100,000 acres, destroying nearly 500 structures, with tens of thousands more in danger.
To make meals for the hundreds of families displaced by the fires, World Central Kitchen partners with local catering companies and other businesses with commercial food-preparation facilities. It also works with local governments, police forces, and fire departments to identify people in need. Many evacuees have gone for weeks without a hot meal.
The menu depends on the location but leans toward hearty dishes like macaroni and cheese. “It’s a bit of everything,” Morelan says. “It’s the community’s idea of comfort food.”
World Central Kitchen often works with other relief organizations, including the American Red Cross, to feed people at shelters. The Red Cross has more than 500 people responding to the crisis in California, supporting evacuation centers and setting up shelters. In addition to providing places to stay, it offers medical care and mental health counseling to help people get on the path to recovery.
One test facing the Red Cross is finding enough volunteers to work in high-need areas, especially during the holiday season. “It’s incredibly challenging, particularly in a community that is so hard-hit, to manage to find the workforce to then provide that response,” says Hilary Palotay, a senior associate at the Red Cross. She works from an office atWeWork 1601 Vine St in Hollywood.
Palotay points out that the Red Cross isn’t on the ground in only California. Major relief efforts are still underway in the Carolinas, where Hurricane Florence came ashore in September, and in the Florida Panhandle, where Hurricane Michael made landfall in October. Many people volunteering in these areas have lost their homes as well.
“The hurricane-affected regions have developed a sort of resiliency through a cyclical hurricane season happening every year,” says Palotay. “That’s their community, and I just see people stand up left and right.”
Help comes from far away
Not all the organizations responding to these hard-hit areas are based in the U.S.IsraAID, an Israeli nonprofit started in 2001, deploys volunteers around the world. It’s working in North Carolina, Florida, and Texas.
“A lot of people see disasters happen and think there’s no way to make a change or help people,” says Niv Rabino, head of mission for IsraAID.
After wildfires roared through California’s Sonoma County last fall, IsraAID—which has an office atWeWork Galleria Office Tower I in Houston—set up shop in a local synagogue. The organization offered mental health programs, including one to help young people deal with trauma and loss in their lives.
Nechama, a nonprofit guided by the Jewish principle of tikkun olam, or acts of loving kindness, is at work on several fronts, including doing hurricane relief in South Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico. Volunteers are also working in flood-ravaged areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Another team will soon deploy to California.
David Kaplan, the group’s executive director, says that although Nechama is a faith-based organization, a majority of its staff and volunteers are not Jewish.
“We have church groups, we have nonreligious volunteers, we get groups from mosques,” says Kaplan, based atWeWork The National in Chicago. “They all come together to work with us because we all have a shared belief that we have a responsibility to help our neighbors, to bring healing to the world, to comfort those who are in mourning.”
Much of Kaplan’s team focuses on “muck and gut” jobs—emptying outhouses that have been damaged by wind and rain. Other are repairing and rebuilding homes to make them safe, dry, and “shelterable.”
When he was supervising his team in Texas, Kaplan met a couple in their 60s who survived Hurricane Harvey by sitting on top of their bed with their dogs, hoping the flood waters wouldn’t rise above their heads. The water had come in through one side of their house and broken through the other. “Basically there was a river moving through their home,” he says.
A year later, their house was still in shambles. But Nachama was able to make it habitable again by rebuilding it in a matter of days. “You could just see the burden lifting from their shoulders,” Kaplan says. “You could see how happy they were from just this simple act of support.”
The feeling of a job well done is what makes it worth it for Kaplan and his team. “When you’re physically working on someone’s home and they’ve lost everything and they’ve lost hope, you can bring them home, you can bring them comfort, you can bring them that healing that is needed,” he says. “Your passion comes out really quickly. You don’t do this work and put up with all the uncomfortableness that comes with it if you’re not passionate about the work that you’re doing.”
Once you have a great idea you think can change the world, one of the most important next steps is securing funding. While there might not be one formula for finding financing for your business, those who have done it say there are ways to increase your chances. The top winners at WeWork’s Creator Awards Berlin 2018—both of which are focused on solving intractable problems—share their tips for landing funding for a purpose-driven idea.
Look for grants in the beginning
“People working in the social impact realm are usually willing to reduce their profits in order to make an impact,” said Lucas Paes de Melo, founder and CEO of Amparo, which makes affordable prosthetic devices accessible around the world. The company took home the grand prize in the Business Venture category at Creator Awards Berlin. “Investors don’t necessarily want to see that.”
At the Creator Awards Berlin, part of a global competition sponsored by Wework, Amparo won €318,000 (about $362,000). Paes de Melo says the funding will help Amparo “get closer to our vision of building our clinics and increasing access to prosthetics in every corner of the planet.”
When you’re in the early stages of your business plan, the Berlin-based entrepreneur highly recommends looking for grant funding to create a proof of concept and build a track record.
“There are a lot of governmental institutions and organizations, like the European Union, for instance, as well as different kinds of foundations offering grants,”” he says. “Even some banks give out grants.” Amparo received early funding from government grants and a business development bank, among other sources, which supported the company’s mission and helped it scale.
Be clear about your vision and purpose
Whether it’s writing grant applications or speaking to potential investors, it’s crucial to clearly communicate the problem you’re tackling and how your company is the best solution.
“Think about why your project is an interesting prospect for the person you’re talking to,” says Felix Hallwachs, managing director at the Berlin-based Little Sun Foundation, the winner in the Nonprofit category. Completely financed by grants and donations, Little Sun Foundation provides solar-powered lamps to areas with little or no electricity. “You have to inspire people to believe in your model, your idea, and your thinking.”
Founded by internationally renowned artist Olafur Eliasson, Little Sun took home €60,000 ($68,000) in funding at the Creator Awards Berlin.
Halliwachs advises to be aware of the kind of language you’re using when pitching your idea to potential funders. Remember that many of them won’t be well-versed in your industry. Avoid jargon. Use easy-to-understand language. And most important of all, tell a compelling story.
The Amparo team faced challenges early on because the prosthetics industry uses an array of technical terms. “Frame the problem so people understand what you’re doing,” Pais de Melo says. “Make sure to communicate the benefits of your solution and why it’s better than what’s already out there.”
Have your numbers ready
Perhaps the best way to impress potential backers is by showing metrics that demonstrate the impact your company is making. Regardless of the industry, investors love numbers that justify why they should put money into the cause.
“Make sure to be specific when outlining how your startup will use the investment to fuel growth,” says Pais de Melo. “Even if you have a beautiful product that’s solving a big problem, you have to convince investors with numbers on why they should give you money, what the gains would be, and exactly how you’ll use the funding.”
At the Creator Awards Berlin, Pais de Melo had the number of people his startup had already helped at his fingertips. It’s one of the reasons his company impressed the judges and went home with the evening’s top prize.
Last week, a historic number of women were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. But it’s not those headline-making victories—like that of Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress—that Erin Vilardi, the founder and CEO of VoteRunLead, a nonprofit that trains women to run for office, is most proud of. It’s the smaller campaigns that brought change on a local level.
“There were these stories about women ousting people who were highly discriminatory, and it’s so inspiring,” she says. One such story happened in-house: VoteRunLead’s national training director, Faith Winter, is a Colorado state representative-elect who ran against her alleged harasser––who himself faced accusations from 11 other women. “She ended up running for his seat [in the Colorado state legislature] and replaced him,” says Vilardi.
That’s exactly the kind of movement Vilardi hoped VoteRunLead would spark. Her history with the organization goes back to 2004 when she helped found it as part of The White House Project, which worked to increase female representation in institutions, businesses, and government. When that shuttered in 2014, Vilardi turned VoteRunLead into a standalone organization. Since then, she’s helped more than 33,000 women run for office and is planning to train another 30,000 women by 2020.
Unlike other organizations that help raise money for or mobilize volunteers around candidates, VoteRunLead is all about providing the how to women who want to run. Via a training methodology called Run As You Are, the group teaches women the hard skills around campaigning, fundraising, and building a team. “We believe that women have the skills and talents already to run––we just help transfer them into the political realm,” Vilardi says. “They’re learning how to craft a narrative, how to deal with sexism and harassment, and all these practical actions that speed up your political literacy.”
Part of that training is one- and three-day in-person training sessions at WeWork locations across the country (Vilardi and her staff of six are based in WeWork Harlem); since the 2016 election, Vote Run Lead has been active in 25 cities. The organization plans to expand to 14 WeWork cities next year.
In 2018, 80 percent of VoteRunLead alumni advanced in the primaries, and 50 percent went on to win. On Nov. 12, Vilardi celebrated those wins at VoteRunLead’s Women & Power 2018 conference at WeWork Times Square in New York. “We really see this as just the beginning of women claiming their roles in government,” she says.
Women from all over the country attended what Vilardi deemed “Radical Conversations With Barrier-Breaking Women,” including New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, whose name has been floated as a possible 2020 presidential candidate; one of Glamour’s College Women of the Year, who is planning a campaign for school board; and Lauren Underwood, the 32-year-old congresswoman-elect from Illinois and the youngest African-American woman to serve in Congress (and the first VoteRunLead alumna to be elected to Congress).
Underwood and Ilhan Omar both attended VoteRunLead trainings. Ilhan did so beginning in 2014 and became a certified VoteRunLead trainer, then won her seat in the state before running for Congress. Underwood attended the Minneapolis training in 2017; during her campaign, her staff viewed VoteRunLead video resources.
As high-profile as the congressional campaigns of those women were, VoteRunLead also helped train Gerri Cannon, one of three transgender elected state representatives; Kim Norton, the first female mayor of Rochester, Minnesota; and Brenda Lopez, the first Latina elected to the Georgia State Assembly. “We really specialize in local and state offices,” says Vilardi. “And we’re nonpartisan—we’re not going to turn a woman away who wants to get a political education.”
In fact, the organization is turning its focus to local elections, like the 19,000 school-board seats that are up in 2019, and building their state-representative benches. “There are only so many hundreds of federal seats,” says Vilardi. “But there are 519,682 other seats across the country.”
For now, VoteRunLead is riding the wave of positivity that came from the recent elections. “I really think people felt really positive about seeing these local wins for women, that it wasn’t just this national handful of women,” says Vilardi. “There’s a wave of diverse women underneath them coming up and running locally. Everyone keeps calling it an ocean, an ocean of women that’s ready to keep going and keep running.”