How the Entrepreneurs Behind Text-Based Wellness Brand Shine Find the Biggest Opportunity in Everything They Do
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
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.
Naomi Hirabayashi and Marah Lidey shared a realization: so much in the wellness space was incredibly expensive and not something people could incorporate into their own lives. But then, they had a thought: Why not just encourage people to invest in their well-being by reminding them with something they already had on them?
That's the basis of Shine, a platform that sends subscribers uplifting text messages that include resources to motivate them to make the most of their day. Today, Shine has more than 2 million users in 189 countries, and the company recently closed a $5 million Series A funding round.
Hirabayashi and Lidey met while they were working at the nonprofit organization Do Something. Hirabayashi, 34, was the company’s chief marketing officer, and Lidey, 28, was the director of mobile product and messaging.
At first, they beta tested their idea with 70 people. The positive feedback inspired them to take the entrepreneurial leap. They quit their jobs, and in April of 2016, the friends and first-time founders launched the company.
We chatted with Lidey and Hirabayashi to ask them 20 questions and find out what makes them tick.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
1. How do you start your day?
Lidey: I always start my day with coffee and my favorite podcasts, which range from entertainment and culture to entrepreneurship, to get me in the frame of mind for the day. I'm also reading my Shine of the day and getting a sense of what I want to get out of the day and to set my intentions.
2. How do you end your day?
Hirabayashi: In an ideal world, I like to drink tea with honey, read a little bit before I go to bed to decompress and write out my most important things I want to get to in the morning. While that doesn't always happen, [I try to] do whatever I actually have time for, catching up with my partner and having a little bit of me-time before I settle in for the night.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind, and why?
Hirabayashi: Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. The book is all about trusting your gut and the power of intuition. That is something as co-founders and leaders of Shine that has been an important lesson: remembering to truly trust our guts with decisions we make, the people that we work with and the team that we hire. Your gut is one of the most powerful tools you have, so use it.
4. What’s a book you always recommend, and why?
Lidey: I always recommend the book Influence, by Robert Cialdini. It was recommended to me by a former boss. It gives you a sense of how people work. He studied a lot of different cultures and focuses on how do you motivate people, what inspires people and what ultimately gets people to go one way or the other
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
Lidey: Every meeting we start, every initiative we think about, the assumption is that we're always going to be running out of time. So if the assumption is that you have limited time and you're always going to run out of it, we always make sure that we're starting with the BPO: "What is the biggest possible opportunity?" That means, what is the thing that is going to move the needle most for the company?
6. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Hirabayashi: I wanted to work with great white sharks. I've always loved sharks. I love the ocean, and I'm fascinated by the power of the ocean. Somewhere in the preservation and research on great white sharks was something I thought that would just be so incredibly cool.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
Hirabayashi: One of the things that I learned is actually something that Susan Cain talks a lot about in the book Quiet. It's this idea that so much of these old versions of leadership are built around having a team that's intrinsically motivated. If you have a team that's intrinsically motivated, collaboration and trust over fear or rigidity is much more powerful. It's something as leaders that we are incredibly mindful of, and knowing that everyone that works on our team is coming to work every morning with a deep sense of purpose and mission around what we do. Fear is not the right motivator. It is about being partners in building a business and a company that you believe in.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
Lidey: The most influential people [in our careers] were the ones that saw us [clearly] when we didn't always see ourselves. For me Naomi's been the most influential person because I've now gotten to work with her for seven years and I've just gotten a great sense of myself and who I want to be. I also have an inspirational peer that I can look up to and learn from them. We see each other as the people that have affected our work style the most.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
Hirabayashi: We both had an opportunity to take a month off and volunteer anywhere in the world at our old job. It was something that for both of us was incredibly powerful in terms of being pushed out of our comfort zone, experiencing other cultures and getting purposeful solo time. I went and lived with the Samburu Tribe in Kenya doing volunteer work with this organization called the Thorn Tree Project. The Samburu people have a beautiful culture and it was a fantastic experience.
Lidey: I was in Barcelona and had an incredible opportunity to work with a group of youth leaders in the community on the [youth] unemployment crisis. I also joined an improv group when I was there. The big takeaway for both of us was it is important to get some solid time outside of our comfort zones and contemplate who were are in a completely new setting.
10. What inspires you?
Hirabayashi: What inspires us is the next generation. We are both big sisters and thinking about what [our sisters'] world is going to look like, what issues they're facing and asking how can we as co-founders, as leaders, as women, use our time on Earth and our talents to help shape the world to become better for them.
11. What was your first business idea, and what did you do with it?
Lidey: Growing up, [I know] we didn't always see ourselves as entrepreneurs. But we tended to be the people that were starting identity-based communities or communities of service that were focused on connecting people around a common belief.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
Lidey: Naomi and I both worked in the service industry as waitresses. Those are hands down the most useful jobs that you could have in your life because you're getting a sense of how to work with different types of people. You are serving people, which is a very humbling experience. You see how others react to that. And most importantly, you have to do a little bit of everything. So there's no feeling of, "Hey, this isn't my job," or "I don't do that." That was a valuable lesson for both of us.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
Hirabayashi: The best piece of advice I got was actually from Marah. Collect as much information as you can as founders about leadership best practices. But ultimately, the best thing you can do for yourself is filter that through what feels most natural to you. Finding your own style in leadership is the most important thing especially when you're trying to do things in a different way for a different type of company that's never been built before.
14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
Lidey: The worst advice we got was the idea that entrepreneurs don't stress and that if we outwardly express what's going on with us or we're vulnerable about the things that we struggle with, that would portray us as bad leaders. We've now learned so much about our own leadership style and really embraced the idea of compassionate and transparent leadership. We use good judgment in what's best to share with the team and with each other. But we very much are of a belief that it's important to embrace and show the highs and lows in this world.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Hirabayashi: We're obsessed with the concept of act over react. What that looks like is, when you get up in the morning, what so many people often do is just jump into their email. As a result, how they're starting their day is often just a response to other people's needs. What we do is we focus on the three most important tasks we want to get through during the day. That way every day we're leading with what we want to get done versus just responding to the stuff that can pop up and distract from the highest-impact thing.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
Lidey: I find myself instead of reading the news on social media or interacting with others, I actually go there for inspirational content. It's a big part of [how I recover from stress], just making sure that I make time for the memes. There can be so much joy that comes through it.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
Hirabayashi: Work-life balance is a moving target, and it's something that can be really hard to understand because it assumes that your personal life is an antidote to how you are spending your time at work. We go for a feeling of alignment. How can I feel aligned with my values by how I'm spending my day at work, spending my time in my personal space and investing in relationships that matter?
18. How do you prevent burnout?
Hirabayashi: We understand and recognize that there's a need for a recovery period, working in a high pressure, fast-paced startup environment. There's no way to sustain yourself, your team and momentum without taking a purposeful recovery period. That might be Self-Care Saturday, which is something that Lidey and I practice. We just take a day to spend time with our partners, get brunch, bike around Brooklyn, whatever it may be -- but try to stay offline. And we take recovery periods after aggressive product launches. As a well-being company, we believe in the long haul. So how are you optimizing yourself and your team to sustain over time to avoid that kind of heavy burnout?
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
Lidey: It's something called the 1, 2, 3 strategy. The first thing we do is something we have to do and the hardest thing. Secondly, we do something we want to do, so that is an intermediate reward. Third, we do something for someone else. Getting outside of your own head allows you to just be more productive because you're not obsessing doing the thing right. It motivates you to do something good for someone else.
20. What are you learning now? Why is that important?
Hirabayashi: We're in this exciting stage of the company. We just closed our Series A. We're in this critical growth stage for Shine. There is this energy when you're in the early stages, of "be lean, be scrappy," which is what we've always done because our background is from the nonprofit world. What we're trying to figure out is how do we continually stay lean to be capital-efficient and also make purposeful and meaningful investments in the company that help take things to the next level. That balance is something that has been helpful for us to experience, two years in and something that we're figuring out what that looks like day to day from an investment standpoint.