Editor’s Note: Entrepreneur’s “20 Questions” series features both established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs and asks them a number of questions about what makes them tick, their everyday success strategies and advice for aspiring founders.
In the intense world of Silicon Valley, your stock rise and falls by the state of your startup. And for those founders who don’t make it their number one focus, they are often judged harshly.
That is something Randi Zuckerberg learned first hand, first as the head of marketing at Facebook during the social media giant’s early years, and then as the CEO and founder of her own marketing firm, Zuckerberg Media.
“What is life without being a three dimensional person? It’s so boring,” she says of the people who believe a startup should be the only thing on your plate. “How can you tell someone to put away the things they are passionate about?”
She is also a lifelong student of technology and explores how it has impacted our lives through her 5-year-old online community, which is also called Dot Complicated. And in 2014, she achieved her childhood dream of making her Broadway debut.
We caught up with Zuckerberg and asked her 20 Questions to see what makes her tick.
1. How do you start your day?
I start my day with a little bit of a cheesy mantra that I’ve been using for about 10 years. It says, “work, sleep, fitness, family, friends -- pick three.” There is a lot of pressure, especially on women, to do everything well, every single day. I like to give myself permission to do three things really well each day, and it can be a different three tomorrow, as long as it all balances out in the long run.
2. How do you end your day?
In my ideal mind, I want to do something relaxing, like meditation or yoga. In reality, I’m in bed on social media, on my laptop and on my phone all at the same time. That’s an area of my life that I’m actively trying to work towards. I know that sleep and relaxation is so important, but I would consider myself a work in progress when it comes to the end of the day habits.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
Me, Myself and Us by Dr. Brian Little. I struggled for a long time because I’m really an introvert, but I have to act extrovertedly, because I’m giving speeches or meeting with entrepreneurs. I felt very alone in the world and then Dr. Little came out with this book about being pseudo extrovert, and it was all about introverts that have to pretend to be extroverts for their business lives.
It totally changed my life and opened up a whole world of thinking for me. The book said if you go out there and have to act extraverted, don’t forget you’re an introvert at the core, which means you’re going to need to build in downtime to your schedule, otherwise you're going to burn out. We don’t run on the same kind of social energy that extroverts do. So I know that if I have a day where I am on camera or giving a talk, I’ll actually build “do not schedule” blocks of time into my calendar. That’s not something I would have done before his book, but it’s something that’s really effective in my business and personal life
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. It’s an awesome book. She’s an incredible woman and I think that we can all get out of our comfort zone a little more.
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
I like to carve out blocks of time that I’m going to be unplugged, which is sometimes frustrating to the rest of my team. But I find that it’s hard to do creative, thoughtful tasks when you are interrupted by emails and text messages. I like to carve out two to three hours, where I do a deep dive into writing a piece or working on a speech. That is the most effective hours of my entire day.
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
For a while, I wanted to be a mermaid, but apparently that was not a tangible goal. I really wanted to sing on Broadway. That was my big goal my entire life. I eventually gave it up to go into something reasonable, like technology and entrepreneurship.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
I learned about how to treat people, but I also learned that is is better to give people feedback in the moment. Early in my career, I had these bosses that would check in with me every six months -- and tell me for last six months that I’ve been doing x, y and z and that’s not good. I’d sit there thinking, “Why didn't you tell me six months ago, so that I wasn’t just making the same mistakes?” That impacted my own management style, because I always want to give feedback in the moment.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
I’m so lucky to have a great mentor in Kathleen Kennedy, who is the president of LucasFilm. She’s given me great advice on what happens when you’re the only woman in the room, and how to find mentorship and peer guidance around you even if you have to look in other industries.
We’ve definitely spoken about the fact that sometimes your best mentors are right around you, and you don’t even know. A lot of times we look for someone high above us to be a mentor, but often peer-mentor groups are actually going to be the most effective and helpful.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
About a year ago, I traveled to Kuwait. I spoke at one of the first women in business conferences they had in the entire country. It really opened my eyes and challenged my viewpoint. I met some wonderful entrepreneurs that I’m still in touch with on social media. I feel really grateful for that opportunity, and it made me realize that I need to take more trips like that to get out of my own bubble and to expand my view of entrepreneurship in different regions in the world.
10. What inspires you?
Definitely art, theater, culture. Anytime that I want to feel inspired I go to the theater. I spent so much time in my life building platforms, and it’s easy for techies to forget that platforms are nothing without art to go on them.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
A snow-shoveling subscription service when I was in middle school. I grew up in New York, and I was making a little bit of pocket money shoveling our own walkway. I then thought, what if I went door to door and say, here’s my price for today, or you could pre-order for the entire season. If it snows a lot you’ll get a good deal, but it if it doesn’t, that’s the risk you take. I had a few houses our block that took me up on it, mostly because the cute neighborhood kid had an idea, but now I see all the subscription services out there, and I think I was a little ahead of my time.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
My dad is a semi-professional bridge player, and from a very young age, I used to be an assistant at the bridge club. It was fun, except it gets really stressful during certain times of the match when everyone needs to say their scores at the same time and pretty much every person raises their hand and calls for the caddy, and you have to run like a frantic animal collecting scores. Very early on it taught me about time management, how to deal with difficult and impatient people and how to pace myself and enjoy the downtime between the craziness..
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
Someone once told me, when we were talking about how easy it is to Google yourself and go on social media and see what they are saying about you, they said to me, “you know what Randi, you’re never as good as they say you are, and you’re never as bad as they say you are. You can’t let it get to your head or your heart.”
14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
Someone once told me to be less interesting. I think they meant it in a constructive way, because in Silicon Valley there is a culture that you have to be 24/7 invested in your startup, otherwise you’re not taken seriously. It’s a very “all in” culture, especially if you’re a woman. People already expect you to be distracted by your family, so you need to go even more down that road to show you’re all in.
I always loved theater and art, so I got some advice to be less interesting, because they felt like people might think I was distracted if they knew I also had an interest in theater. It took me a few years to realize that was probably the worst piece of advice I had ever been given.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
I swear by Evernote and note-taking apps. I’m constantly writing notes to myself and sharing them with my team and my husband. With email I respond either instantly or never. If I’m sitting there I can respond right away, but if I walk away, I get buried by a hundred more emails that come in. I wouldn’t be able to function without it.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
It’s old school, but I set a lot of alarms during the day, like for when when I want to be done with something. Sometimes I follow them, sometimes I don’t, but it does bring mindfulness into my day.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
To me, it’s a long-term goal. A lot of people put pressure on themselves to make it a short-term, everyday goal. I like to give myself permission to be lopsided on a given day.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
I have two toddlers, and I’m on the road over 100 days a year for work. It’s really easy to put yourself last. I found that I was always thinking about work and then rushing to be home for my family. So self care was at the bottom of my priority list. If you don’t carve out time for yourself, you’re not going to be good to anyone else in your life.
Now I block out those do not schedule chunks. I’m the only one that is going to create those boundaries for myself and my time, not anyone else. I would definitely encourage more entrepreneurs to not feel bad or guilty about doing things like that.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
I just try to force myself to sit and write -- even if what I write is nonsense, and I end up throwing it out. Creativity and writing is a muscle, and you need to discipline yourself to actually sit and write ideally at the same time every day to get used to it. Before you know it, if you keep going, you’re going to write something. I was able to write my whole business book in less than a month, because I decided that I was going to write four to six hours every day.
20. What are you learning now?
For me, I even see social media and technology as constant education. The tech is changing so quickly for someone like me. If I didn’t constantly work to keep educating myself, I wouldn't even be hired as a junior social-media manager today. I’m constantly in a state learning, researching what’s going on, what the innovations are, what the social media platforms are doing. There is not day that goes by that I don’t try to educate myself in tech.