I’m no Bill Gates or Richard Branson, but I still manage to get everything done (usually within a reasonable amount of time) and still have time to play hard, too. That being said, between organizing a charity fundraiser, managing my client load, training for a half marathon, editing my book, and completing my research, sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed.
I’m probably not the only one who feels like this when there’s a lot going on.
Instead of freaking out, which is usually my first inclination, I do the following to keep my day on track and my mind ready for what’s next.
1. Weekly to-do lists
There’s something so gratifying about crossing something off when it’s done. The great feeling of striking through an item with a pen is often incentive enough to get something completed. Making a list may seem tedious. Plus if your list is long, looking at everything can make your head swim. That’s why I make a list of everything I need to do during the week and break it down into . . .
2. Daily intentions
This may sound a little new age-y. Sorry. I started out separating my weekly “to-do’s” from my internal daily intentions, which were much more about personality traits I’d like to change (talk less, listen more, be genuine, act more sane, etc.). However, there’s something cathartic about writing things down, and I’ve already gone on and on about how nice it is to cross things out. Therefore, I changed things up a bit and began to combine my weekly to-do list and daily intentions. My intentions are not only tasks from my weekly list that I want to finish in the next 24 hours, but a few more personal objectives, such as running five miles or calling my mother. I always add a little too much to my daily intentions list, but that’s okay, because I can always carry over an item or three to the next day.
3. Keep my email inboxes clean
It sounds insane, but when my email inbox is out of control, my mental state follows suit. This is probably psychosomatic, but often times I get so stressed out that I should probably coin a new phrase: A well-kept inbox is a sane mind. My email accounts are divided between incoming clients, volunteer, research, and personal matters, and I leave emails that include outstanding items or “to-do’s” in my inboxes. Therefore, I set a goal to never let more than 50 emails accumulate in each inbox. This keeps me current on most projects and keeps my inboxes in check simultaneously.
4. Don’t stick to a pattern
This is probably where I differ most from all the productivity gurus out there. When I read lists about the top characteristics of successful and productive people, I feel like keeping a schedule or sticking to a pattern is always on the top of the list. Personally, I think routine breeds laxity. If I know where I’m going to be tomorrow and the next day and the next, I get lazy. To me, with such a routine there’s no point in doing anything to innovate or expedite. So I work hard, and I like to change things up to see what works and what doesn’t. This leads to a very busy, versatile schedule and lifestyle. I like that because it keeps me efficient organized.
5. Exercise is critical
Not sure about you, but when I’m busy with work and social events, the first thing I axe is exercise. My daily fitness regime goes out the window the minute I decide to sleep in an extra 30 minutes or work through my lunch break so I can grab drinks with friends at 7. However, just like list making, exercise keeps me sane. Since exercise has become so critical to keeping me balanced and calm even in the most stressful of situations, I’ve started to make time for it even if it means working late, losing sleep, or skipping out on social events.
6. Everything is a learning experience
I find that many entrepreneurs, including myself, are perfectionists, which can lead to very rigid ways of thinking. I hate being challenged almost as much as I hate being proven wrong or not being in control of a situation. Find something about my work product or idea you don’t like? Put me in a situation I know I won’t be able to control? It used to be that I’d get extremely defensive and anxious. But you know what? I learn something new every day because I’m open to the opportunity. If you keep your mind open, some of the stuff you’ll pick up is really amazing. And some of it can be rubbish, but it is up to you to distinguish between the two.
Now I’m interested . . . what keeps you productive?
“Women hold up half the sky” has been a common saying in China for the past 50 years, but for most of that time it hasn’t been the reality in business. But China is changing fast, and in the past decade women have been holding up their half — and often much more — in big cities like Shenzhen and Shanghai.
Women own 30.9 percent of all businesses in China, according to the most recent Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs. That puts it on par with neighboring Singapore (29.2 percent) and well ahead of Japan (17.6 percent).
China also happens to be the only country where women outnumber men atWeWork. More than 51 percent of WeWork China’s members are women, compared with an average of 47 percent worldwide.
What makes all these numbers even more striking is the fact that in China, women make up only 45 percent of the total population.
What’s fueling the momentum? A mix of enthusiastic government support, robust startup communities, strong growth in small- and medium-sized businesses, access to educational opportunities, and the rapid growth of companies like WeWork that provide affordable office space has ushered in rapid advancements over the past decade.
“China is totally different from what people imagined five or 10 years ago,” says Anna Wong, co-founder of Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide, a Hong Kong-based organization that recently expanded to Shenzhen and Shanghai. “It’s evolving rapidly. Offices use facial recognition software for security and coffee shops accept WeChat pay. Society is changing, too. Female founders are very well-respected in China.”
An entrepreneurial era
Changes to women’s status in China started with the 1954 constitution, which granted women “equal rights with men in all areas of political, economic, cultural, social, and domestic life.” In the decades that followed, government reforms began to protect and empower women with national education requirements and anti-discrimination laws, including the Women’s Work Protection Regulations in 1988, Women’s Rights Protection Law in 1992, and the Labor Law in 1994.
By the 1980s and 1990s, more social programs — like the Association of Women Entrepreneurs in China, the All-China Women’s Federation, the Women’s Successful Career Program, and the Tianjin Women Entrepreneurs Centre — were born. Such programs offer a mix of career services, including subsidies for professional training, preferential tax treatment, loan programs, and mentoring.
As far as the most recent push to encourage entrepreneurship, most experts point to the country’s flagging economic growth. In a 2014 speech, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for “mass entrepreneurship and innovation” through more financial incentives for those starting businesses and stronger intellectual protections for innovators.
“In the past few years, the local governments have been competing with each other to build science parks and startup hubs, [enact] lower taxes, or even grant loans to attract people to start the businesses,” says Wong. “Government bodies encourage female leadership and entrepreneurship, so they can contribute to the GDP.”
Wong says that several smaller cities tried to convince her to relocate her business with promises of economic incentives.
“We were offered office space, loans, apartments for staff, and tax breaks in several cities just so we’d register the company there,” says Wong. “These governments are always looking for good companies that contribute to and diversify their GDP.”
Cities like Beijing and Shanghai often aim to attract big tech companies, but also hope to boostcultural and creative capital by providing favorable tax policies for small businesses in creative industries — think film, design, animation, publishing, and more.
These incentives, combined with China’s development of the private sector, an influx of foreign capital over the past two decades, and higher levels of education across the nation, have created a framework where women founders can thrive alongside men.
Starting up in Shanghai
When China native Wen Yao relocated from Chicago to Shanghai earlier this year, she wasn’t sure what to expect. A WeWork Creator Awards finalist in Detroit, the serial entrepreneur has already started two businesses in Chicago and is now leading her third:Powwful, a female sportswear brand that aims to empower women of all shapes and sizes.
“When we expanded Powwful into China, we realized that we couldn’t just copy and paste what we were doing in Chicago,” says Yao, who worked as a marketing professional before starting her first business. “Everything works so differently in China — the social media platforms are different, the customer preferences are different, the behaviors are different….”
But despite the learning curve, the Taiwan-born Yao has found herself at home in a like-minded community where women are highly regarded. “Out of all the cities in China, I feel like Shanghai is one of the best in terms of gender equality,” says Yao. “Our sportswear business is really about female empowerment, but what’s interesting is that when I met the China WeWork manager, he mentioned that women have higher status in Shanghai than in the U.S.”
Lucia Shen, founder of popular millennial-focused video site called DiX (loosely translated to “In the Moment”), agrees. “Every single city in China has its own unique culture, and you really can’t generalize,” says Shen. “But in Shanghai, specifically, women enjoy equal if not higher social status. We don’t really distinguish between female and male entrepreneurs. You’re just an entrepreneur.”
China’s own Silicon Valley
Maureen Mou, who runs luxury online fashion site Xiu.com, says it’s never been a better time to be doing business in China, particularly in the southeastern city of Shenzhen. WeWork will open its first location there later this year.
Today, Shenzhen is often compared to Silicon Valley, due to its emergence as a global tech and hardware manufacturing hub. With more liberal policies than the rest of China, Shenzhen has seen explosive economic growth, enjoying a year-over-year GDP growth rate of 9.1 percent from 2016 to 2017.
“We often benefit from experimental policies and there are countless opportunities coming to you,” says Mou. “But you have to be ready to the embrace changes. If you are slow to adapt or to adjust to policy shifts, your business will be pushed out of the market because it’s so competitive.”
In China today, no matter where an entrepreneur settles in China, the possibility of starting a new business is at her fingertips.
“By using ecommerce platforms [like WeChat or Weidian], anyone can be an entrepreneur,” says Yao. “There are so many platforms in China. I think that provides a lot of opportunities for women to start their own businesses. There’s very little overhead and a low barrier to entry, so you see women really thriving in mobile e-commerce.”
Current government incentives for creative professionals have made video, blogging, and media a promising space. Many women have been able to create businesses in these fields.
“You have access to all the conveniences that you’d have in any metropolitan area, as well as tax breaks, incubators, and affordable ways to test out your idea or minimal viable products,” says Shen, whose video site has 700,000 followers. “You bootstrap here and test out ideas pretty easily.”
Shen says companies like WeWork have also made things easier for women entrepreneurs.
“You know, 15 years ago, if you wanted to have an office, you had to rent an entire office or just work from home,” says Shen. “There is no such things as a garage in Shanghai, so you’d be in your living room with a small team and all your equipment. So I think having a place like WeWork has made the barrier to entry lower.”
There are still many obstacles facing women in China’s entrepreneurial framework, from social expectations to get married and start a family to securing investments from venture capital firms. Last year, for example, a high-profile investor in China stated that he doesn’t invest in female entrepreneurs. Yao says this perspective is not the norm.
“A a woman founder in China, you’re not going to be an outlier,” says Yao. “Maybe a few years ago it would have been harder. But with the sheer number of women starting companies in China, it’s now normal and expected — and that has improved the big picture.”
Stacy Spikes believes that successful entrepreneurs don’t understand the word “no.”
“I think the people in this room have a part of their brain where they don’t quite hear the word ‘no’ properly,” said Spikes, speaking to a room packed with people eager to hear how he had cofounded the movie subscription service Moviepass. “You have to have that. There are some people in the world that hear the word ‘no’ and they go, ‘OK.’ And that’s it for them.”
Spikes believes that every time an investor says “no” to a pitch, they’re only refining what it will take to get a “yes.”
“Eventually, what they’ve done is that they’ve sharpened your pitch so incredibly that there’s nothing being thrown at you that will stump you,” says Spikes, a longtime member at WeWork Soho West. He recently spoke at a WeWork Labs event that drew more than 70 guests to WeWork Dumbo Heights.
Spikes has heard “no” plenty of times. When he was fired from a film production company in 1997, he rented a small cubicle at the Tribeca Film Center. There he came up with the idea for Urbanworld, which in the past two decades has become the world’s largest film festival for minority filmmakers, actors, writers, and directors. The five-day event takes place in late September in New York City.
In 2011, Spikes and business partner Hamet Watt founded MoviePass, which allows subscribers to see a movie a day for a monthly fee of $9.95. Spikes says they first hit upon the idea for Moviepass in 2005, and despite being told “no” for six years, he and Watt refused to throw in the towel.
Spikes says their inspiration came from art-house theaters in New York City that let customers see an unlimited number of movies for a flat fee. They racked up roughly 23,000 subscribers under their original business model, which charged an average of $35 a month. This helped them raise almost $14 million from early investors like AOL Ventures and William Morris Entertainment.
Then MoviePass caught the eye of Helios & Matheson Analytics, a data analytics company that bought the business in 2017. Spikes stayed on to chair the board of directors until early this year, leaving before the stock took a hit in the media and saw its stock price plummet.
Spikes currently working on a new venture, though the 50-year-old entrepreneur has remained tight-lipped about what it will be.
Have the perfect data
Spikes describes MoviePass as a data-driven company that collects information on individual subscribers, like what movies they are watching and where they are located. He believes that the most important thing for a company’s success is having accurate data and has made a point to remember this every step of the way.
“The truth is, if your data is off, you’re just believing your own hype and you’re lying to yourself,” Spikes says. He adds that he’ll often share his data with people outside the industry, just to make sure that the numbers are persuasive
His advice to entrepreneurs starting their own company echoes this, urging people to make sure their numbers are accurate and run their presentations by several people before going too far.
“Those things are critical because if you’re not all buttoned up, you’ll pay a price for that,” he says. “And sometimes you can’t walk back in those doors several times.”
“I can’t go in the mirror before I walk into that conference room going, ‘OK, you’re black, but you can do it!’” he says. “I have to walk in going, ‘I got a great idea that you should fund.’”
He urges entrepreneurs to continually “ram the gates.”
“You might be that person who gets through the gates,” he says, “and then people are going to look at you and say ‘Well, if Stacy got through, maybe I can get through.’”
Use the right resources
Spikes looks to resources like DocSend, a content tracking solution, to help him get a read on people he’s trying to pitch. By allowing him to see how long investors spend on each slide in his initial pitch deck, DocSend gives Spikes some foreshadowing into what potential clients are thinking.
“It’s a great tool to help me in the [fundraising] process because you don’t want people who are going to waste your time,” he says.
He also advises entrepreneurs to figure out a schedule that promotes productivity. Spikes keeps himself moving forward by breaking up his week. He does certain things on certain days — Mondays are dedicated to tasks and projects, while Thursdays are for finance.
“This makes it easier because there are certain things that you don’t want to do,” Spikes says, “so you’re not stuck doing those things for your whole week.”
Spikes considers himself a voracious reader of biographies, a genre he sees as a handbook of sorts. He likens reading a biography to “an executive coming and sitting with you, telling you exactly how to do things.”
At the end of the day, Spikes stresses that an entrepreneur’s best resource is themself.
“Be smart,” he says. “Find your way into the door and into the conversation. Play the part like you’re there to win. I have a blazer in the drawer because you gotta be ready to roll. You have to think on your feet and use whatever you got to get through the wall.”
When Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata reflects on his more than decade of playing professional soccer, he says that the trophies and titles have been gratifying. But it’s the sport’s potential to change the world that compels him the most.
“Thanks to a career in football, I’ve been able to travel to many parts of the world, and what I’ve come to find is that this sport really brings people together and has a profound impact on the next generation of boys and girls,” said the Spanish player, speaking to a crowd of soccer fans at Colombia’s WeWork Usaquén.
He realized that soccer could help transform lives at the local level by funding initiatives to battle intractable problems like gender inequality and youth unemployment.
“We started Common Goal for our love of football and as a way to make an impact, a movement we started some 10 months ago,” said Mata.
“At Common Goal, we use football to improve the lives of young boys and girls, and that’s why why are here with WeWork,” said Mata. “We share the same mission of bringing people together. We are thrilled to partner with a company like WeWork to help support us and our mission.”
After joining a panel discussion at WeWork Usaquén, Mata settled in to watch Spain take on Iran in a match during the World Cup. Members there said watching Mata cheer as his Spanish teammates won the match was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
This was one of dozens of viewing parties held at WeWork locations around the world as the month-long World Cup competition unfolded. In Berlin, Common Ground co-founder Thomas Preiss spoke before 150 people gathered to take in the Germany vs. South Korea match on June 14. Half a world away, members at WeWork Seoul cheered their team to victory.
As England powered its way to the semifinals, members in London gathered for a series of events leading off with a June 18 panel discussion led by WeWork member Akin Solanke-Caulker, head of the sports talent agency the Athletic Network. Before watching the match at WeWork Old Street, Solanke-Caulker regaled the crowd with tales of negotiating deals with some of the biggest names in soccer, rugby, and track and field.
On July 10, the day France took on Belgium in the semifinals, Miami’s WeWork Security Building hosted a viewing party featuring WeWork member Soccer Shape, a fitness plan started by members of the Miami Football Club that incorporates drills and exercises used by top teams. Members got to kick a ball around before settling in to watch the big game.
When Larry Irvin and Kristyna Jones met at Mardi Gras in 2011, they immediately connected through their shared love of hip-hop and rap. Then the conversation got more personal: Jones gave Irvin her perspective of working in community development in New Orleans both before and after Hurricane Katrina, and Irvin shared his story of growing up as a black man in New Orleans with questions of self-identity.
“Young black men are perpetually trying to figure out who they are supposed to be, because the representations both in our neighborhoods and schools are, a lot of the time, negative,” Irvin says, citing high rates of incarceration and unemployment.
Irvin and Jones came up with a potential solution: getting more black men into the classroom.
“There’s a particular demographic, even within the demographic of black men, who aren’t attached to their academic experience,” says Irvin, 36. “College is something they’re told to do, but not with any purpose behind it.”
Together, Irvin and Jones founded Brothers Empowered to Teach, a nonprofit that urges people of color – particularly black men – to explore careers in education. It seeks to generate a network of teachers who serve as role models for the next generation.
Starting with just seven fellows in 2014, the organization has since grown to have over 40 participants between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. It has partnered with over 10 schools across New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and four graduates of the program teach in New Orleans public schools.
Irvin himself is a former substitute teacher, a job he held while coaching high school football. He discovered that he had a special connection with many of the kids.
“Having grown up in some of those same neighborhoods that they did, there was a cultural connection,” says Irvin. “It started to seem like I was meant to do this work.”
The organization offers two programs for future educators: a one-year program tailored toward college graduates and those changing careers, and a three-year fellowship geared toward current college students. The organization’s teachers get together on Saturdays for professional and personal development workshops.
“We have intimate conversations about things like redefining what masculinity looks like, around male-female gender relationships, and around sexual orientation,” says Irvin. “We’re trying to create a better version of the individual, which in turn turns them into a great educator.”
Brothers Empowered to Teach got a big boost last year at WeWork’s Austin Creator Awards. When it was announced that the organization had won $130,000, Irvin was greeted with a standing ovation from the crowd of more than 2,750 people.
A WeWork member, Irvin uses the company’s spaces when he travels, especially to cities like Austin and Washington, D.C.
While Brothers Empowered to Teach has so far worked with only male teachers, the organization recently opened up 30 percent of its seats to women of color.
“It is really beautiful to see our fellows attached to something, approaching education with fervor and excitement,” Irvin says. “We’re trying to change the narrative and reignite a lost reverence for the education profession.”