Project Grow

This Successful Entrepreneur Shares How to Find Opportunity Where It Seemingly Doesn't Exist

Brandless co-founder and CEO Tina Sharkey says you should always jump headfirst into challenges.
This Successful Entrepreneur Shares How to Find Opportunity Where It Seemingly Doesn't Exist
Image credit: Courtesy of of Tina Sharkey
Entrepreneur Staff
Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.
8 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.

If you go to Brandless.com, you’ll find a variety of products -- foods, health and beauty aids, household items that are all non-GMO, organic, non-toxic and sustainable. And while you might think that high quality means high cost, think again. Every item on the recently launched ecommerce platform retails for just $3.

“I wanted to build a community of people that had a shared belief system;  we were building not just a product, brand, company or even a new category. But we are really unlocking a movement that is driven by a collectively held belief that everyone deserves better,” Brandless CEO and co-founder Tina Sharkey told Entrepreneur. “And better doesn't need to cost more.

And Sharkey and Brandless co-founder Ido Leffler’s movement is catching on in a big way. The venture officially launched in July 11, and in the first week the site was live, the company was shipping orders to 48 states. In its second month of business repeat orders hit double digits. To date, the San Francisco-based company has raised $50 million.

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

1. How do you start your day?
Making breakfast for my kids. It grounds me in what my real priorities are in life: my family and kids. It is an opportunity for me to connect to them, which actually helps me when they go off to their day and I go off to my day; I shift my focus into the company. It enables me to feel like I've connected to them.

Also [my routine] is a way for me express my creativity, because I like to cook. I like to make new things for them and it’s part of my own joy of having a creative morning.

2. How do you end your day?
Walking my dog. I'm away from the screens, and I'm just breathing in the beautiful air of my village, where I live in Mill Valley, California. It helps me connect with nature and it also helps me unwind and move.

Often during the day, I'm sitting in meetings or driving, and so it gets me to do some movement before I go to sleep.

Also, it helps me re-center myself in that I'm focused on caring for Tessa, our Tibetan terrier, as opposed to all the other things that are going on during the day and all the people I need to get back to and all the things that I'm trying to do. It refocuses me back to my center.

3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Living in San Francisco and growing up in New York the people I am exposed to in these communities tend to have a certain type of mindset. Hillbilly Elegy was inspiring to me because it opened my eyes to a community that I'm not in touch with, but that I care about in my desire to serve all people. It gave me much more of a empathetic view.

4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
The Torah. It may be thousands of years old, but the wisdom, practicality and the deep insights on the importance of community makes it the best life manual out there.

5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
When I’m trying to work on something and need to keep focused, I wear noise-cancelling headphones. In an interactive situation, I ask questions to stay engaged and present.

Related: This Entrepreneur Shares The Lesson Every Founder Must Learn to Be a Powerful Leader

6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
A CEO. I wanted to be one, because I loved everything about creating and starting businesses. My mom was a president and CEO and my dad ran his company. I always had those role models around me, so I always thought that was what I wanted to do.

7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
When making a team or company decision that may be inspired by my point of view, I want to make sure that whoever is taking the baton owns that decision and doesn’t invoke my name as the reason for that. Take ownership of the decision and not just say that it’s because of what your boss wants. Take opportunity to debate if you don’t agree.

8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
My papa Dave. He always told me that everything is a learning opportunity -- so much so I should considering paying for the privilege of having it. I approach work experiences as privileged opportunities to learn.

9. What’s a trip that changed you?
My WE Charity trip to Africa with my son Charlie. We helped build a school in Kenya and met extraordinary students and community leaders. They had very little, but had such zest for life, gratitude for education and desire to create a better future for themselves and their families. We both really admired their entrepreneurial solutions to their journey out of poverty.

10. What inspires you?
Nature. I live right by a redwood forest, and I’m inspired by trees, the power of nature and the reminder that we are just a small speck of sand in the larger universe. It puts everything in perspective.

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

11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
When I was a kid, I saw these cool tie-dye beaded shirts in a  boutique that were really expensive. I went to craft stores for supplies, made my own version and sold them to friends and neighbors.

12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
As a kid, we sold Passover candy through our temple and got prizes based on how much you sold. I worked hard to sell and also recruited family members and friends with large networks to sell on my behalf. Basically I created a salesforce to scale my audience and sales so I could win prizes.

13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
Bill Clinton said that one should always take feedback seriously but not personally. High-performing teams need to be constantly learning and constantly coaching.

You look at the best athletes in the world -- every single one of them has multiple coaches because it's all about improving your performance. They're never satisfied with their performance because they are always looking to improve. The truth is the most high-performing people are the ones that are constantly trying to improve. So, you have to be able to have that feedback cycle. It has to be blameless, and you have to depersonalize it. If you take it personally, then you can't even have a conversation.

14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
Don’t volunteer for anything. That advice is antithetical to everything I believe in. When there's an opportunity, put yourself in the middle of it, figure it out and figure out how you can make a difference. That's where all my opportunities come from in life. You have to invent it every day, and you have to see opportunity where it doesn't exist.

15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Collaborative editing is incredibly efficient. I use Google Docs for this all the time.

Related: Want to Build a Billion-Dollar Business? Here Are 2 Simple Ideas That Helped These Two Skincare Heavyweights.

16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things?
Siri. I use it for dictation, and it helps me capture thoughts and send emails or text messages.

17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
Balance is bunk. I believe in work-life integration. Think about what’s most important to you and make room for it all over time. You can have it all, you just can’t have it all at the same time. I believe we have to be kinder to ourselves and not think balance comes in a day.

18. How do you prevent burnout?
Sleep. Water. Exercise. Repeat. And never stop moving. Moving is really important; it's where I do my best thinking.

19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
I get out and get aerobic, with a really great playlist. When I get moving and get into the music, it helps me access a part of my creative brain that I can’t when I’m in task mode.

20. What are you learning now?
As I meet more and more awesome strangers, I’m learning that despite how different our belief systems may be, we all just want the best for ourselves and our families. It inspires me to continue this journey to democratize and scale access to good.

My Queue

There are no Videos in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any video to save to your queue.

There are no Articles in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any article to save to your queue.

There are no Podcasts in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any podcast episode to save to your queue.

You're not following any authors.

Click the Follow button on any author page to keep up with the latest content from your favorite authors.

The Young Founder of This Celebrity-Loved Activewear Company Shares Why You Should Always Trust Your Instincts