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.
Let’s say you’re feeling stressed at work. Weeks go by, then months, and now your productivity starts to decrease. Eventually, you’re so burned-out that you leave the company. It’s an all-too-common scenario, and one that Madeleine Evans aims to prevent.
“Work stress, burnout, and low motivation are probably the big issues impacting humans in the workplace today,” she says. “These have huge implications for both personal and psychological well-being.” They also have huge implications for the health of a business (unhappy employees are less innovative, among other things). “[Well-being] is not in the benefits bucket,” she says. “It’s core [and] strategic.”
Last year, Evans launched Levell, a platform where employees can track their stress, motivation, energy, and mood; report on any blockers, such as ineffective company policies or interpersonal issues; and offer ideas for improvement. Data remains leadership, but management can monitor aggregate findings on the organization dashboard to gain insights and address issues that are bringing down well-being.
Evans came up with the idea while at Zinc, an incubator that develops mission-led businesses with a focus on social sciences. “I decided to focus on workplace-related mental-health issues,” she says. That’s in part because, while collecting data on chronic stress, exhaustion, and burnout, “I recognized a lot of those symptoms in my own life, and I hadn’t really been aware of it before. That was kind of a shock for me.” (She’d previously worked for a private equity firm.)
Since completing the incubator program, Evans, a WeWork Labs member at WeWork 70 Wilson St in London, has launched pilot programs with two companies. “In the first phase of the business, it’s just about understanding: Does the process work?” she says. “Is there a demand for it? What features are people interacting with?”
Currently, she’s in talks to work with three bigger companies comprised of 5,000, 10,000, and more than 100,000 employees, respectively (vs. the current 25 and 100). “It’s important to work with a couple of big-name, larger companies, both to understand the different context and to get the credibility that comes with them,” Evans says. Here’s how a recent week unfolded for her.
6:30 a.m. Get up, check my calendar, and realize the WiFi is out. Go to Violet bakery nearby and sign on to theirs from outside.
8 a.m. Violet opens and I grab a flat white.
8:45 a.m. Return home then start my commute to Manchester, where I’m running a workshop for one of my two pilot clients, Mortimer Spinks.
9:30 a.m. Hop on the train and prepare for the workshop.
12:15 p.m. Arrive at the Mortimer Spinks office.
12:45 p.m. Kick off the workshop. We look at the aggregated data on the platform and discuss: How do you reflect on this information? What do you think you can do next? The goal is brainstorming solutions to improve collective well-being.
2:30 p.m. Workshop wraps. Each participant walks away with a set of goals. The tools from the workshop are ones that, ultimately, we could facilitate on the platform itself, by funneling people to one-on-one coaching, perhaps via video or chat.
2:45 p.m. Commute back to London.
5:45 p.m. Arrive at the gym.
6:30 p.m. Start my walk home and call my academic adviser, Dr. Julia Moeller from the University of Leipzig. We met online after I found a paper she had published on burnout. We have fortnightly calls for 30 minutes.
7:30 p.m. Eat leftovers from an engagement party I hosted for a friend on Saturday.
8:30 p.m. Email, read, and generally organize things around the house.
11 p.m. Get ready for bed.
7 a.m. Wake up.
7:30 a.m. Get ready. I have a straightforward uniform: jeans, a simple shirt, and my Allbirds. This means less time spent thinking about what I’m going to wear.
8 a.m. Head to WeWork. I walk most mornings. It takes about 40 minutes, and I usually pick up a pain au chocolat from a bakery on the way—a ritual that sets the day off right.
8:30 a.m. Send Slack messages along the way to a user at Babylon Health, our other client. I’m running a small test where I offer personalized coaching on Slack. Each morning I send personal check-in questions, to help the users keep in touch with what drives their well-being.
9:00 a.m. Arrive at WeWork and grab a flat white from the Volcano coffee bar.
9:30 a.m. Check my emails, Slack, and Whatsapps for 20 minutes.
9:50 a.m. Yesterday was an offsite day, so I take today as my “Monday” and plan my week using Trello.
10:30 a.m. Attend a WeWork Labs workshop on handling objections from target clients: Acknowledge but don’t agree, then move forward into collaborative problem-solving, as if you were on the client’s side. Which, of course, you are! I’m energized by this. Objections are solvable!
12:30 p.m. Grab lunch from the fridge.
1:00 p.m. Take a call for a freelance consulting gig.
2 p.m. Respond to email and Slack.
2:30 p.m. Prep for a meeting with a potential partner, Nancy, the founder of Umbrella Analytics, a diversity and inclusion data company. We met at the Telegraph’s Diversity and Inclusion Conference in March, and immediately clicked.
2:50 p.m. Grab an Americano, stretch, and let my mind wander.
3:30 p.m. Nancy arrives. I suggest we share a bit about our products. I’m almost immediately at the whiteboard. I find it puts everyone in a more collaborative position and lets us demonstrate business interconnections in a more intuitive way.
6:30 p.m. Wrap up at the office. I’ve been invited to join a network for entrepreneurs called ICE. Tonight we have our first “CUBE,” a peer-mastermind session.
7:15 p.m. Arrive at the host’s flat. We’re five men and one woman, all between pre-seed and seed stage. It’s an incredibly rare chance to be completely honest and open with fellow entrepreneurs for four hours in a well-structured format where no advice is given—but all relevant experiences are shared.
11:30 p.m. Walk home feeling deeply satisfied but also completely exhausted. Call my mom in California, where I’m from. I moved to London 10 years ago to study at the London School of Economics and Public Political Science. When I got to Europe, it made a lot of sense to me. I loved the diversity of languages, the richness of the culture.
12:00 a.m. Arrive home and get ready for bed.
12:30 a.m. Check Twitter, which I shouldn’t be doing this late. Set my alarm and put the phone down.
7 a.m. Get up. I have to wait for a dry-cleaning delivery, so I’m WFH.
8:30 a.m. On a call with my contact at Babylon Health. We’re currently working with only a small sample of their GPs, and we discuss rolling out to the rest of the group.
9:30 a.m. Check emails, Slack, and Whatsapps for 20 minutes. Now that I’m recording my days, I realize how ridiculous it is that I spend so much time checking these.
12:30 p.m. Have lunch and take calls for my contract work as a corporate innovation consultant. It’s how I make money, plus I get to learn more about the challenges employees face.
3:15 p.m. Run to the gym.
5:45 p.m. Back home. Shower and change for the evening, then respond to email for 20 minutes.
7:15 p.m. Head to London Bridge to meet my boyfriend, Mike. We go to Rabot 1745 for dessert and a drink, then head back to his apartment.
7:15 a.m. We wake up and eat peanut butter on bagels.
8:50 a.m. Arrive at WeWork and prep for a brand session I have with Justin, a WeWork mentor from Google. I’ve noticed that startups introduce themselves in different ways: “We’re disrupting X,” “We’re building the best Y,” “We are Uber for Z.” Does Justin have advice on how to present Levell as a business at this stage?
11:30 a.m. Meet with Justin. His answer: Introduce what your product does in simplest terms, so people can immediately and clearly envision it. I come up with, “We’re an app that lets you share how you’re feeling with your company.”
12:20 p.m. Head to a Labs–sponsored lunch up the street.
2 p.m. Check email and Slack, and work on my freelance consulting gig.
6:15 p.m. Meet Mike for a drink at Artigiano’s and chat about the day.
7:45 p.m. Leave for Soho House, where I’m meeting two friends for a girls’ dinner.
11 p.m. Spend the night at Mike’s.
7:30 a.m. Wake up. It’s Easter weekend, so I’ll treat this like a half workday. I sporadically answer email, but don’t do any heads-down work or take business calls.
8:15 a.m. Walk to Gail’s for coffee and breakfast with Mike.
9:30 a.m. He heads off and I spend some time journaling, which I do at least once a week.
11 a.m. Leave for the gym. My friend Timothy messages me that he’s going down to Brighton beach. It’s beautiful out, so I want to be in the sun.
2 p.m. Take a quick shower after my workout, then head to meet Timothy. I read World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech on the train ride down.
3:35 p.m. Meet Timothy at a pub by the pier.
4 p.m. We pass a tarot card reader. I’m a sucker for tarot cards, so I decide to get a reading. I know it doesn’t mean anything, but I look at it as a way to think laterally about my life: You listen to someone tell you a story, and decide what to take from it.
5 p.m. Pop into Leonidas and pick up a chocolate bunny for Mike.
7:30 p.m. Commute back home.
9:30 p.m. Text a few friends to make plans for Saturday and Sunday.
10 p.m. Shower.
10:30 p.m. Settle on my couch with tea to finish journaling. I started journaling about four or five years ago. At the time, work was just this absolute onslaught—I had a bajillion projects, everyone wanted something, I was constantly interrupted. I’d get to the end of the week and just need to take a couple of hours to process, and clear up space for thinking and planning.
Since then, I’ve made huge changes to my work life, with tremendous well-being and productivity benefits. That said, I’ve learned through my research that well-being is a lifelong journey. I will always need to take action to rebalance in response to changes in my environment. I may be more in control of the work I do now, which was a big part of the problem—but I still need that time to regenerate and recharge.
New ideas are the key to business growth. The mindset and strategies to generate them can be learned.