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.
Think about how much food you’ve unintentionally let go to waste in your refrigerator on your best week. Now imagine how much more must go to waste in the hands of a restaurant or grocery store on any given day. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, roughly one-third of the food produced for human consumption worldwide gets lost or wasted—that’s 1.3 billion metric tons.
Karma, an app launched in Sweden in 2016, is working to change that.
Its four co-founders initially launched the company as a sort of crowdsourced Groupon, where users uploaded photos of discount offers and earned “Karma points” (more discounts) in return. “We failed 100 percent in our first eight months,” co-founder and COO Elsa Bernadotte says.
But the flop prompted the partners to assess what about their platform was working: They noticed how eager users were to access discounted food—and that led them to research the food industry. “We learned that discounted food exists because if it’s not sold, it’s going to become food waste,” Bernadotte, a WeWork Labs member at WeWork 41 Corsham St in London, says. “And we realized that food waste is a massive environmental problem.”
Within three weeks, they retooled their platform to connect users with discounted surplus food from participating restaurants, cafes, and grocery stores—and convinced their initial investors to stay on board. “The response [from users and the food industry] was crazy,” Bernadotte says. “I was blown away.” Today, Karma works with 2,000 retailers, has half a million users (a number they expect to double by the end of the year), and reports “rescuing” 295 tons of food to date.
Below, Bernadette, who relocated to London to launch Karma’s UK market earlier this year (next up: Paris), shares a diary of a recent workweek.
6 a.m. Wake up confused about where I am, then remember I moved Airbnbs yesterday. I move around a lot. My motto is to be where I’m needed the most, and right now we’re very much focused on growing the business here in the U.K.
6:15 a.m. Out the door and to the gym. I’ve got a challenge going with a friend back home in Stockholm to work out three times a week, so I send her a text to brag that I made it. Loser buys dinner, and I’m super-competitive.
7:30 a.m. Back home and jump into the shower.
7:45 a.m. Daily 15-minute “micro” update call with the management team. We set the call just before working day in Sweden at 8:45 a.m., which means the U.K. office joins the call at 7:45 a.m. This almost always means I’m on the call while in the shower. I also fry a couple of eggs and put on my makeup before the call is even up. Sometimes it works, but this time I burn the eggs. Eat them anyway.
8:15 a.m. Out the door for an early start at WeWork. Make a coffee as the rest of the U.K. team filters in. There are 13 of us in the U.K. and about 40 in Sweden.
9 a.m. Join the Monday morning all-hands briefing on video chat (we’ve got a TV set up in our office).
10 a.m. Prep deck for a big retailer we’re trying to get on board.
12 p.m. Stop for lunch. Open the Karma app and pick out some sushi to rescue from one of our best-selling retailers in Shoreditch, only a 10-minute walk from our Old St office.
1 p.m. Head down. Back to work on deck and other tasks.
5:30 p.m. Gather the team to celebrate progress with drinks and cake. If we’re going to have radical candor, it’s also so important to make sure we have fun. We do one or two team trips every year with that in mind. Just a couple weeks ago we went skiing together in the north of Sweden.
7 p.m. Meet a friend for dinner. We go to Cay Tre for some amazing pho and catch up about life.
9 p.m. Back home. Try to unwind, watch Netflix, and switch off, but end up catching up with emails and Slack messages instead.
12 a.m. Fall asleep with my laptop open. Oops.
7 a.m. Wake up later than usual—it’s a no-gym day. Take my time and get on with my usual shower-management-call-eggs-and-makeup routine.
8:30 a.m. Get to the office and put out some fires before my day properly starts.
9 a.m. Coffee. Essential.
10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday is the day when I have most of my staff one-on-ones, so I’m usually chatting back-to-back with my direct reports. We practice radical candor at Karma, so I’m having what I like to call “positive arguments” with some recent hires. I actually love it when the team has strong opinions and we disagree—it helps us grow faster.
My parents used radical candor with me early on, and I found it very painful, but also very helpful. It made me less uncomfortable with being quite blunt and direct about things, and it builds a lot of trust, which ultimately creates the most meaningful relationships.
7 p.m. Thinking about dinner. Decide to order a pizza at home.
8 p.m. Dig into pizza while catching up with the computer-science course I’m doing part-time at Harvard. Sounds fancy, but I’m just trying to speak the same language as the tech leads at Karma.
11 p.m. Get into bed to read. I’m usually juggling several business books at once, but I’m trying to read more fiction to switch off more.
7 a.m. Wake up and do my usual routine.
8:30 a.m. Breakfast meeting with the ex-founder of Hello Fresh, a recipe-box service, to learn about how they conquered the U.K. market. Part of my job is to meet a lot of people who can add different perspectives and values to the table. You never know what insights someone might have until you talk to them—in this case, I learned a ton.
11 a.m.-3 p.m. Back in the office. This week we’re setting our OKRs (objectives and key results) for the quarter, and it’s taking a lot of time to align everyone across the company as we’re onboarding a new tool. OKR drafting always takes time away from the day-to-day work of the team, but it’s for the greater good of the company and essential to goal-setting for each team member—or Karmeleon, as we say internally.
5 p.m. Why am I already hungry for dinner? Grab a decaf coffee outside the office to get some air.
6 p.m. Is it dinnertime yet?
7 p.m. Grab dinner from Tesco (a U.K. grocery store) and make a halloumi salad. Then devour some Ben & Jerry’s. Life is about balance, right?
8 p.m.-10 p.m. Catch up on work. I spent last week in Dubai with my fiancé, so I’m feeling behind.
11 p.m. Meditate for 15 minutes with the Calm app. Tell myself I’ll meditate more often because I feel so great afterward, but I never manage to make it a habit. Get an early night.
6 a.m. Wake up and hit the gym. I didn’t sleep well, so I’m a bit slower today.
7 a.m. Shower-management-call-eggs-and-makeup routine.
8 a.m. Take a call with one of our investors. We have a close relationship—they’ve been behind us as we’ve grown internationally over the past two years.
8:30 a.m. Head to WeWork. Obligatory coffee.
9 a.m. Work as usual. Things are busy—everyone’s playing catchup on the time they lost on OKRs yesterday.
12 p.m. LUNCH! Stop by Pret for a salad. I’m trying to eat more vegetables.
12:30 p.m. Back to work. Big sales meetings happening this afternoon.
4 p.m. Sales meeting. It’s a huge success and could be totally game-changing for us. Can’t reveal any more than that, but I’m so excited that I can’t concentrate for the rest of the day.
5:30 p.m. Finally get my focus back and am deep into a spreadsheet tracking U.K. costs to date. Is it sad that I love a good spreadsheet? Because I totally do.
6:30 p.m. Dinner with the U.K. team. I’ve invited them over to my humble abode (the Airbnb flavor of the month) to host a “Working With” workshop, where everyone gets to discuss how they prefer to work. I love doing these sessions—there’s massive learning potential.
6 a.m. Wake up and hit the gym. Ping my friend that I’m two sessions ahead of her and it’s Friday… I’m loving this competition.
7 a.m. Back home for the usual shower-management-call-eggs-and-makeup routine.
8 a.m. Pack for Berlin. Surreal and dream-come-true moment: We’ve been invited by the Obama Foundation to meet former President Barack Obama for a roundtable discussion with other “future leaders” in Europe. Fingers crossed we get to work with them more.
10 a.m. I hate packing—it always takes longer than I expect.
10:15 a.m. Head to WeWork for a half-day before my flight. I’ll not see the U.K. team for a week while I’m away so I’ve put some meetings on my calendar to catch up with everyone.
12:30 p.m. Starving. In Sweden, lunch is usually no later than 12 p.m., but in London, everyone waits until 1. Rescue some Turkish food for lunch from the Karma app.
1 p.m. Back to work before leaving for the airport.
6 p.m. Fly to Berlin.
10 p.m. Get to my hotel for the next two nights. Room service. Crash. I love routines, so the traveling lifestyle doesn’t fit perfectly with my personality. But on the other hand, I believe in our mission, and right now there are a lot of things that need to be done. That challenge I love.
Growing from a few to a few hundred employees takes strategy and the right space.