Some people demand signed non-disclosure agreements before they will tell you their idea. I’m not one of them any more and here’s why.

“Hi! I’ve got an idea that I want to talk to you about, but first I need you to sign this non-disclosure agreement.”

I’ve had a few conversations that started this way. Most of them, embarrassingly, as the person uttering those words.

If you’re not familiar, the principle of asking for a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA, before speaking to someone, is an attempt to get some security around the ownership of ideas being discussed between two or more people (and the organisations they work for).

In essence, you’re asking someone not to take your idea and do something with it, or even to talk about your idea to anyone else, and that’s never sat very well with me. When I meet someone opening with this line, I usually respond with “sorry—I don’t sign non-disclosure agreements.” Partly out of principle. Partly to send a message. Here’s why:

Ideas are not a limited resource

Ideas are a dime-a-dozen, and really, given how hard it is to take an idea and turn it into something, a product, a business, a project, the likelihood that someone is going to think “gosh, what a great idea, I’ll steal that” and turn it into something successful is vanishingly small.

By putting secrecy around your idea, you run the risk of sounding like an ideas guy, or worse, a no-idea guy. Ideas guys (I am guilty of self-describing as such in the past) assume that because they’re good at riffing on things and coming up with good suggestions that their ideas are of high value. And no-idea guys are people who have a predisposition for thinking they can come up with few ideas, and that this current idea is their one big idea of their life.

The thing is, idea-having isn’t a limited resource. Everyone’s coming up with new ideas all the time, but because of the nature of time and work, only some ideas can ever be turned into a reality. The hard bit is deciding what to work on, and what not to work on.

Will it really protect your intellectual property?

Many would advise you to get some legal protection around your idea somehow before launching a business. That could be a patent, an exclusive contract to supply something in a particular market, ensuring you retain copyright over certain components, amongst other things. Raising investment for something where you’ve not covered the basics could prove pretty difficult.

I work on the web, though, and most of what I do relies on free, open-source, patent-free software, so it’s about finding the right parts to protect. Twitter’s approach sticks out as an example of a company doing things in a new way—they patent defensively with their Innovator’s Patent Agreement.

If there’s a part of your idea that’s patentable, sure, patent it if you want to do that, but you don’t need to lock down all conversations about your thing just because a component is novel — it’s counter-intuitive.

And furthermore, if you think I’m the kind of person who might take your idea and register something as a result of a conversation, why are you even speaking to me about it?

Pop your invention bubble

Given that there are a great many people coming up with ideas for things all the time, there’s a tiny chance that something you come up with is globally unique. To declare that you’re in that tiny bracket of utterly novel invention could be a sign that you’re probably in an invention bubble, and have an inability to consider that others have had a similar idea to yours.

It’s a solipsistic point of view, when in reality you’re only a few months or years ahead of many people who will soon discover similar things. You might even find that you’re behind in your thinking, but you haven’t done enough research to find out!

Don’t make life complicated

If I were to attempt to keep track of a number of non-disclosure agreements it would make it really hard to remember which ideas I am allowed to know about, and which ones I’m not. Which ones are expired? Which ideas are now public anyway?

“Oh, I have a friend who… Oh sorry, I’m not allowed to talk about it.”

I really don’t want to have that internal thought process when I’m in a conversation because it’s bound to make me err on the side of not talking about interesting things as much. It decelerates serendipity.

Optimise for serendipity

The opportunity to excite people about your idea using your and their networks is very valuable. By locking down the person you’re speaking to about your idea to deliberately not sharing, you’re going after the opposite of serendipity. There’s a word for that? — ?zemblanity.

When you’re speaking to someone, you’re not just connected to them, you’re connected to their network. By disabling their ability to make as-yet-unknown introductions, comments at networking events, to speak about your idea over dinner, you’re saying that the only value you place on that person is them, and not their network. That’s a mistake, because for any idea to work, you need a little luck.

Optimise for serendipity—enable the people you know to get excited about your idea and to connect you with others who can help.

There’s a down side to stealth

Non-disclosure-by-default introduces the risk that your company culture could be poisoned by secrecy at an early stage. I distinctly remember moments in a previous “stealth startup” company where I and those around me were so tied down with non-disclosure that we didn’t tell our own families what we were working on.

The effect of this after we launched was that nobody was sure when or if they were allowed to talk about what we were working on. As we all know, regularly communicating about what your company is working on is a big part of a good marketing plan.

Stealth can be poison to company culture. Through secrecy, you accidentally push your company into a closed, rather than open, mode. And that can be hard to cure.

Are you really going to sue me?

Let’s assume for argument’s sake that you do have something amazing and original. And I sign your piece of paper. And something weird happens and it ends up with you suing me as a result.

Seriously, are you going to spend those ultra-limited seed funds on litigation? If not, why make me sign it?

You can’t steal execution

If making a business was as simple as stealing an idea, we’d have lots of examples to point toward of people taking an idea from a conversation, ripping it off wholesale and turning it into a successful business.

There is the occasional horror story—the guy who pitched his idea on the “Dragon’s Den” TV show, didn’t get investment and someone watching the show thought “that’s a good idea”. But that’s an outlier.

Many of the big success stories you see started with an interesting approach in a “me too” area, and they differentiated by executing better than their competitors. You should focus on the execution of your plan and let the copyists copy if they want to try.

How about taking an unusual angle with your next idea?

In thinking about this post, I’ve realised I have a few unusual approaches to the NDA, and revealing ideas. Perhaps have a try…

Friend + NDA = FrieNDA

This is an alternative to the NDA. You don’t write anything down, you just say “I’m not making this public at the moment, but you can talk to your network about it.”

I’ve done this a few times, and it seems to do much of what an NDA does, but it feels more sane, less legal, and as Fred Wilson said, “you’re far better off working with somebody of high ethics with no NDA than somebody of low ethics with a signed NDA.”

The PDA—Please Disclose Agreement

When you next start a conversation about something, start or end by explicitly saying something along the lines of “I’m doing this idea in the open. If you like it, please pass it on, or let me know who I should talk to”.

Head-in-sand research

When I come up with a new idea, I often delay doing market research on it, focus on thinking it through without external influence, under the assumption that it is very, very likely that a similar or overlapping version of it exists out there. It can be pretty demoralising at an early stage, get excited, google it and discover someone having a go at a relatively similar incarnation of your idea.

The thing is, the execution on an idea will always be different, depending on who takes it on, so hearing that someone has had a punt at a similar idea to you is not a problem. In fact, that kind of market validation could actually prove helpful in validating that it’s a potential business idea. All good ideas have competitors around nuance. “And anyway, screw those guys, they’re doing it wrong.

Alternate your idea-openness

Idea-having isn’t a depleting resource. There’ll always be another idea. Unless you think this is the only one you’ll have, which is a worry in itself, and another article.

You could, as I have, alternate between a number of different modes in relation to your ideas. For instance:

  • Please disclose—immediately tweet the idea you just had, then publish a hack after one day of work, then follow through, probably with an open source or creative commons licence thrown in for good measure. On Thursday we did this and put out four things in a day, including Shhare.io and Rumbleroll.com.
  • FrieNDA—tweet “hey guys, looking for some folks to try out a hack I’m working on”, share it with immediate friends but ask them not to talk about it just yet, put up a landing page, slowly develop the idea. We’re doing this with Wrangler.
  • Hack-and-think—do a little bit of “hey guys!” but spend most of your time collecting great people around your idea, fulfilling regulatory restrictions and developing a product that is secure before you launch to market. We’re doing this with Savemates.

Open by default

Some modes seem to work better for some ideas over others. In general, I am open by default, and only if there’s a very good reason to not talk about what I’m up to would I keep it quiet.

Given the enormous amount of personal sacrifice, risk, hard work, stress and conviction it takes to make something successful in this world, I am confident in my general approach to meetings:

You might try to steal my idea, but you can’t steal my passion, so I’ll assume you’re here to help.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Medium by Stef Lewandowski, the Founder of Makeshift, a London startup that makes tools for startups.

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.

Illustrations by Alana Peters / The We Company

 

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: creator@wework.com.

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.

Illustrations by Alana Peters / The We Company

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.”

“It was completely irrational and crazy, but I wanted to do something that I could be passionate about,” says Stojo co-founder Jurrien Swarts.

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.

Monday

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.

8:15 a.m. Turn on WQXR classical radio 105.9. Check emails, review calendar, and prep for Monday morning team meeting.

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.

Tuesday

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.

11:15 a.m. Inspect trade-show booth we used in 2018 to make sure it’s structurally sound for the April Speciality Coffee Expo in Boston.

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.

Swarts, a WeWork Labs member in Brooklyn, left his job in finance in 2015 to work full time on Stojo, a line of sustainable collapsible travel cups.

Wednesday

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.

7:30 a.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.

Thursday

5:40 a.m. Wake up, check calendar, and review to-do list.

6 a.m. Drink my green 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.

Friday

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.

Photographs by Liz Devine

About eight years ago, Wen-Jay Ying was playing in bands in New York’s underground music scene. It was a backstage conversation at a Flaming Lips show with lead singer Wayne Coyne that altered her life’s direction; Coyne counseled that sometimes the biggest impact one can have is by supporting the local community.

That advice resonated. After reading an article about how the decline of supermarkets in New York City has forced many people to rely on bodega foods, Ying pivoted to work with food nonprofits, community-supported agriculture (CSA), and farm stands before launching her own business, Local Roots NYC, an alternative CSA model catering to lower-income New Yorkers.    

Elana Karp’s heartstrings similarly led her into a food career. As an elementary school teacher, Karp became interested in the impact food had on her students’ energy and mood. She started teaching them about healthy eating and where their food comes from. That passion spurred her on to culinary school, and her current role as culinary co-founder and head chef at meal-kit service Plated, where she now teaches people how to cook and lead healthier lives.

Even Top Chef’s Gail Simmons, who joined Ying and Karp at Made by We in New York for a recent panel discussion on food entrepreneurship, found her path by taste, parlaying her love of food into a career. Writing about food brought her to culinary school to study on a deeper level. After many years at Food & Wine, she struck out on her own; a freeform life as a cookbook author, television personality, and full-fledged personal brand followed.

If the paths of these women food entrepreneurs don’t sound one-size-fits-all, that’s because they aren’t. So how can aspiring entrepreneurs interested in emulating their success find their way?

(From left) Wen-Jay Ying, Elana Karp, Gail Simmons, and moderator Daniela Galarza discussing launching a career in food.

Plan ahead, but not too far ahead. Simmons advises versatility and making smaller, more attainable goals. When she made the jump from full-time employee at Food & Wine to working for herself, she had no designs to become a TV personality. But when the Top Chef opportunity came along, she embraced it. If you look too far ahead, she said, something else will inevitably come along and redirect your well-made plans anyway.

Karp emphasized the importance of predicting problems—something you can’t do too far in advance—for near-future needs. When it comes to scaling, she says it’s essential to anticipate needs and fill them before they’re urgent. As an entrepreneur, she’s had to learn foresight. “If I want to get from A to B, I need someone to take this off my plate so I can focus on getting there,” she says.

You don’t have to be just one thing, and you probably shouldn’t. While Simmons is best known for Top Chef, filming each season only takes up about six weeks of the year; she keeps many other plates spinning so that if one falls, she doesn’t find herself without work.

“You can plan all you want,” she says, “but we won’t know what the next piece of new technology or the next platform or the next thing is. If you are an entrepreneur and have a little bit of pivot-ability, that makes you nimble and able to pivot wherever the world takes you. And that’s what I love about what I do, because I don’t have to just be one thing.”

(From left) Karp, Simmons, Ying, and Galarza posing together after their panel conversation.

Ying is also a wearer of many hats. Her daily tasks often include managing Local Roots’ social media, running operations, and taste-testing, as well as tackling emails and support requests. “We are a really small team,” she says, “so we all eventually do everything.”

Ying attributes her pivot-ability to her beginnings in the underground-music scene, but it’s a skill every successful entrepreneur should have. When you’re just starting out, you might not have the funding to hire an office manager, social-media manager, and bookkeeper, as well as a CEO; you may have to be all those things.

Learn how to metabolize harsh feedback. It’s challenging not to take negative feedback personally, but it’s something Karp often experiences at Plated. She finds it easy to focus on one negative comment about a recipe, despite ratings showing that thousands of other people tried and liked the same dish.

“In terms of recipe feedback that I get all the time, I hear one person say, ‘This was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever eaten,’ but when I look at the ratings and I see the thousands of other people that tried it and liked it, it proves that even though that’s the one comment I remember, it’s not actually the truth,” she says.

Her advice: “Anchor yourself in data.” Feelings can be blinding, but when it comes to business, you typically have hard numbers and facts to rely on, like Karp does whenever she’s confronted with a recipe-hater. One squash-casserole detractor does not cancel out thousands of five-star reviewers.

Photographs by Liz Devine; header photograph by iStock