Startup founders have infamously unpredictable daily schedules as they work to establish and grow their businesses. What does such an entrepreneur’s weekly, daily, or even hourly routine look like when sometimes there aren’t enough hours in a day? In The Startup Diaries, founders walk us through a week in their lives and show what it really takes to get a fledgling business off the ground.
“It was completely irrational and crazy, but I wanted to do something that I could be passionate about.” This is how entrepreneur Jurrien Swarts explains his decision to leave a lucrative job in finance to work full time on Stojo, a line of sustainable collapsible travel cups, in 2015.
He and some co-workers came up with the idea a few years earlier, but it wasn’t until 2014, when they had a prototype in hand, that they launched a Kickstarter campaign. “The prototype took us two years of working nights and weekends—we weren’t superserious at that point,” says Swarts, a member at WeWork Labs at WeWork 81 Prospect St in Brooklyn, New York.
When they raised $128,000 ($118,000 more than their goal!), Swarts got more serious. “It was another signal that there was pent-up demand for what we were trying to make,” he says. By the following summer, he pulled the ripcord and threw himself into Stojo full-time.
“It was a pretty wild ride,” he says of the first three years. “Hard, long hours. Stressful. I was one guy doing everything.” (His co-founders have equity in the business and weigh in on big decisions but don’t work on it full time.) “I had to build it from the ground up”—scouting manufacturers, securing a warehouse, building a website, setting up sales channels, raising more funds. “It took until spring 2018 before I finally knew it wasn’t going to fail.”
Stojo sold 70,000 cups in 2017 and nearly 1 million last year. (Products are available at Stojo.co and Amazon and via retailers like Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Macy’s, and Bloomingdale’s.) This year, he says he’s on track to sell more than 5 million, possibly double that. Swarts—who’s focused on expanding his line to include an 8-oz. cup, a 24-oz. cup, a collapsible salad bowl, and a water bottle—shares the details of a recent workweek.
5:30 a.m. Wake up. Was supposed to go to hot pilates, but I have a headache, so I take two ibuprofen and go back to sleep.
8 a.m. Wake up for real. Drink my alkalizing green juice, Yogi joint-relief tea, and black coffee. When I’m in the office or at home I use ceramic mugs. I only use Stojos when I’m traveling or going to the park on weekends.
8:15 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.
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.
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.
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.
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