20 Questions

This Successful Entrepreneur Shares Why You Should Do The Thing You Dread Most First Thing Every Day

S'well founder and CEO Sarah Kauss says it frees you up to address more creative priorities.
This Successful Entrepreneur Shares Why You Should Do The Thing You Dread Most First Thing Every Day
Image credit: Courtesy of Sarah Kauss
Entrepreneur Staff
Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.
9 min read

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 2007, Sarah Kauss took a trip with her family to Peru and the Amazonian rainforest. She was struck by the incredible beauty of the place and the wildlife, but there was one image that stuck with her long after she returned: the countless plastic bottles marring the landscape.

She attributes this adventure as the moment where the seed was planted for her company, S’well. “It really burned a memory into my heart of the impact that we were having on the environment,” Kauss told Entrepreneur. 

In 2010, the former tax consultant and real-estate developer launched S’well, with the intent to combine her passions for fashion, philanthropy and the environment. And she has done just that. Today, S’well employes 108 people and has made over 200 designs, as well as three additional bottle forms under the brand’s auspices --  S'ip by S'well and S'well Traveler and Tumbler. In 2016, S’well became a $100 million company.

We caught up with Kauss to ask her 20 Questions and find out what makes her tick.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Related: This Successful Entrepreneur Shares The Trick That Helps Her Tell The Difference Between Being Productive and Being Busy

1. How do you start your day?
I start my day with a strong cup of coffee and my email. It's my routine, because I am not a morning person and can't survive without coffee. And the email,  I want to know what I am missing, what I need to address. I don't answer everything immediately; I just scroll through quickly to see if any of my priorities have changed from the time I have gone to bed.

2. How do you end your day?
I have a couple of things I try to do to wind down. I love to look at Instagram and see the happy pictures of our our S'well customers. I try to stay away from email at the end of the day and try to close my brain off a little bit. If I'm lucky, I'm having a glass of wine.

3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
The Netflix Culture deck. It really changed the culture at S'well. I've used it over the last couple of years and now that we have a senior management team, we've used it a number of times for management meetings. The deck has changed my mind on thinking about people and how culture evolves as organizations grow and change.

4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It's something that's helped me learn how to form healthy habits and remind myself to get back on track.

5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
I try to do the most important thing or the thing that I most dreading first thing in the morning and get it over with.

I look at my calendar and think about what is that thing that's going to drive the business. What is that thing that I need to do that's going to have the impact on the bottom line or have the impact on the day and just do it.

Related: The Founder of Bumble Reveals How the 'Question of Nine' Can Help You Stay Focused

6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was small I wanted to be a teacher, but then towards the end of second grade I decided I already learned everything, so I probably should be a professor instead.

7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
I learned the importance of being kind to everyone regardless of their status within the organization. I think it's part of the reason I really think about the culture of S'well and making sure to have a personal relationship with everyone.  I think it's important for the culture of the organization just to be a nice person and CEO.

8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
My mom and dad were both entrepreneurs, and they both worked hard but were fabulous parents. They taught me to treat their teams like family, to be tough minded but also warmhearted.

9. What’s a trip that changed you?
I went to Peru but after that we went to the rain forest in the Amazon. We were in this absolutely beautiful environment, and as far as you can see, there were plastic water bottles floating.

10. What inspires you?
I love to see our customers happy faces. I like to keep them surprised and delighted with each new collection.

Related: Use This Founder's Top Tip To Make Your Meetings Work For You

11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
When we were little, my brother and I were in the bracelet business. We made a little bit of pocket money making these things. We even taught my dad how to make them and help us out with them after school. We were we were mini entrepreneurs.

12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
My parents were both entrepreneurs, and when I was in high school, I scooped ice cream at my mom's ice cream shop. After a long day of scooping ice cream, I would drive home with my dad, and we would talk about business and life.

I learned a lot from those conversations. A lot of how I run my business, think about my team and the culture comes from some of those those conversations.

13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
Pattie Sellers from Fortune, a number of years ago she gave this interesting talk at the Most Powerful Women conference. It was for entrepreneurs and [building a career] in an unpredictable world. She said careers aren't like ladders anymore; they're more like jungle gym. It spoke to me, because my journey hasn't been linear at all.

14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
One of my co-workers at Ernst & Young talked me into this class that would make me a better presenter, a better public speaker. It turned out it was an improv class, and I am terrible at improv. Not only did it not help me be a better public speaker, but it was a six-week class, and I hated every moment of it. I just made a fool of myself.

15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
I keep a daily journal, and I try to write a few sentences a day. It helps show me the progress that I'm making every day, even if I don’t feel like I'm making progress at the time.

 

Related: This Introvert Founder Swears by This Management Tip

16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
I would says email on a plane. I really try to keep my email as my to-do list. I try for inbox zero, but I can't get there. But on plane I can attack things in order and get to the bottom. So I travel every week, and I'm super productive.

17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
I've sort of given up on the idea of balance. The balance part is really tipped more for work. For me, it's making sure that those who are most important to me understand that this is just what I'm doing right now. I invite them into the ups and downs and the joys and the struggles that are my days as an entrepreneur.

18. How do you prevent burnout?
I haven't taken a true vacation in a long time, but I'm counting daydreaming as a mini vacation. I booked a vacation almost a year ago just so I can look forward to it. So, when I'm struggling, busy and working on the weekend, I can close my eyes for a second and I can envision myself in the Swiss Alps. I think having something to look forward to for me is my mental release.

19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
I find that it's best for me to put it down and walk away from it. If I can physically get up and walk away, I’ll walk around the block, call my best friend and talk about something non-related just to let my brain rest. Or I will do something that's more creative -- window shop or look at my Twitter -- or do something that's completely different. I find that the more that I struggle to be creative, I'm not creative.

20. What are you learning now?
What I'm spending my time on right now is culture and learning how to be a great company as we grow and evolve. We grew really quickly, and it's been fun, but I don't want to lose the heart as we get processes and structure. I want to make sure that as a team we don't lose the magic.

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