How Entrepreneurs at 10 Cool Startups Spend Their Lunch Hour
As an entrepreneur, your daily schedule is likely jam-packed with meetings, phone calls and other tasks necessary to keep your business on track. Maximizing productivity is a must, but working straight through your lunch break and eating a chocolate bar “al desko” may not be the answer.
Whether it’s critical team building over organic fare, a heart-pumping workout or just some quiet time alone, a mid-day break can refuel and refocus you and your team. We consulted 10 hip, young entrepreneurs from around the country about their lunch hour ritual and how it helps them rev up for the rest of the day.
1. Bradford Shellhammer
Co-founder of New York-based Fab.com, a nine million-member e-commerce site focused on everyday design. To date, the startup has raised $156 million in venture funding.
Lunch break: There's not much slowing down when Shellhammer eats lunch. “I'd be lying if I said I relax during lunch. It's the height of the day here and the end of the day in our Berlin office, so I'm usually in a meeting with the team chowing down or having a more leisurely lunch with a client,” he says.
The staff works hard at Fab, and that generally means that once they’re in the office, they’re there to stay for the day. The company caters lunch from local restaurants, but Shellhammer’s favorite is healthy vegetarian fare from MAOZ “But I won't lie, sometimes I crave a cheeseburger,” he says.
Why it’s important: Fab was formed over a dinner table, and Shellhammer says he works best when he’s eating. “Food is also social to me, so I'd never want to check out and eat alone,” he says. “Alone time for me happens at the gym, which also definitely helps with productivity.”
Challenge of sticking to it: Shellhammer finds it difficult to take time out of his busy schedule to enjoy a more leisurely lunch, especially with the catering service so convenient. “I guess I never stop eating -- or working -- throughout the day,” he says.
2. Jed Simon
Founder of Beverly Hills, Calif,-based FastPay, a finance platform that provides lines of credit to growing digital businesses. To date, the company has secured $25 million in venture funding.
Lunch break: Most days, the FastPay team orders food in and uses the time for internal meetings or weekly Lunch ‘n Learns presentations by outside experts. If prospective clients or investors are in town, Simon takes them to the Thompson Beverly Hills hotel rooftop for lunch. “They have great food, a decent view of the Hollywood sign and great energy with a positive vibe,” he says.
Once a week, Simon swims laps for 45 minutes during his lunch break at the Culver City Municipal Plunge. “It’s a terrific outdoor Olympic pool, and there’s an herb garden alongside it, so there’s aromatherapy in the mix as well,” he says.
Why it’s important: Long lunch breaks diminish productivity, Simon says. In addition to simply being away from the office, he feels that lunch can disrupt the continuity of thought and focus. That’s why he buys his team lunch most days in the office. “An additional benefit is that while eating, we have the chance to share interesting insights from customer trends we see in the market,” he says.
Simon considers his swimming break the perfect combination of exercise and meditation. “It calms my mind and gives me space to think,” he says. “I often find answers to problems and come up with new ideas for FastPay and our customers. When I get back to the office, I’m always much more productive the rest of the day.”
Challenge of sticking to it: There’s almost always a looming deadline, and it’s fairly easy to blow off team lunches or his weekly swim, Simon says. But he thinks spending time with his team is critical and the mental and physical benefits of swimming are irrefutable. “I believe that maintaining a balanced schedule, with time set aside for lunch, is an important aspect of leadership,” he says.
3. Ryan Scott
Founder of Los Angeles-based Causecast, a platform that helps businesses to integrate philanthropic efforts into corporate practices.
Lunch break: Days at Causecast are always busy, so Scott uses his lunch break for crucial quiet time to think. He likes to order sole, vegetables, rice and a Diet Coke from La Dijonaise in Culver City for about $15 and eat outside. He brainstorms topics to write about, prepares for conference speeches about corporate volunteering, and handles basic management details.
Why it’s important: Time to himself allows Scott to take a step back, process the morning and gear up for the afternoon. “My lunch breaks generally result in the creative association necessary to make sense of the day so far,” he says. “This generates a lot of ideas and tasks that I enter into my task list on my phone.”
Challenge of sticking to it: If he forgets to schedule a break into his day, he rarely takes one. “If I don't take a regular lunch break, I’ll find myself suddenly starving, which results in an overpowering craving for fast food, which I then go eat and end up feeling sluggish the rest of the afternoon,” he says. “I won't get to take a good mental break and I'll be less productive. The lesson here is don't delay mealtime.”
4. Lisa Falzone
Founder of San Francisco-based Revel Systems, a recently launched iPad point-of-sale system that already has more than 400 clients including national chains like Little Caesar’s Pizza, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen.
Lunch break: Falzone tends to look up from her work and realize it’s already dinnertime. But she does try to use time in the middle of the day to check in on her local partners. “We have so many amazing restaurant clients right around the corner here in the SoMa district of San Francisco, so I like to pop in whenever I can,” she says.
Why it’s important: “Some people like to totally ‘turn off’ for lunch, but I never like to waste time,” Falzone says. “Even though I may not be technically working, I’m still talking to co-workers, brainstorming or checking in on clients.”
Challenge of sticking to it: She says it can definitely be tough to take a break some days. “That’s the thing about being an entrepreneur, you have to be flexible and face each day as it comes to you," she says. "But you can’t neglect yourself and your well being, or the well being of your company.”
5. Amber Case
Lunch break: Half the time, Case goes out for lunch with her team. The rest of the time, they eat takeout around the office Lego counter while building things. Because the Geoloqi office is located in the middle of downtown Portland, it's only a short walk to dozens of food carts and some of Case’s favorite spots like the Veggie Grill, Cafe Yumm, Luc Lac (“An incredible Vietnamese place that gets super packed during lunch”) and Bangkok Thai Palace. Most of her lunch options range between $4 and $8, she says.
Why it’s important: “Legos are a great relief from the theoretical world of computers. It feels great to do something tangible with one's hands, and it's a great way to collaborate with others, too,” Case says. “When everyone is doing something with their hands, different kinds of discussions emerge than when a bunch of people are in a room together with laptops and phones distracting them. Eating while standing at a counter also feels better than sitting down, especially when all of us sit down most of the day.”
Challenge of sticking to it: A demanding schedule sometimes makes it difficult for Case to take a mid-day break. “The team will grab lunch for me if I'm too busy, and we do the same for each other,” she says. “In either case, we still make sure to stretch our legs.”
6. Jim Moran
Co-founder of New York City-based Yipit, a daily deal site filter and aggregator. To date, the startup has raised $7.55 million in venture funding.
Lunch break: Most days, Moran eats lunch with his team at Yipit headquarters at a large picnic table with a gingham tablecloth, green "grass" carpeting and white cloud sails overhead.
On Thursdays, the company participates in team lunches where everyone is randomly split up into smaller groups and heads somewhere in the city to eat. Each team decides its restaurant choice through an elaborate system of suggestions, vetoes and countdown times called The Lunch Game. “Today I won the lunch game, and my group ate at Shake Shack,” Moran says (see photo).
Every Friday, the company treats the team to what it calls an Awesome Lunch. It’s catered at the office by a top-notch NYC restaurant, like Peter Luger's in Brooklyn, Sao Mai in the East Village, Mexicue on Seventh Avenue, or Wild Ginger vegan in Little Italy.
Why it’s important: The Yipit office is full of games and activities that help employees take breaks throughout the day, but Moran says lunch is vital because everyone takes it at the same time. “Lunch is a great way to get your mind off work and get to know some other folks at the company,” he says. “Eating together once a day is how we stay connected as we grow.”
Challenge of sticking to it: Yipit's focus on team lunches basically rules out lunch meetings with clients, which can be tough. “But, we're a product and engineering culture versus a sales-driven one,” Moran says. “Plus, there's rarely something we can’t schedule at another part of the day.”
7. Leah Busque
Co-founder of San Francisco-based TaskRabbit, a startup that offers task and errand services from vetted personal assistants. To date, the company has raised $37.3 million in venture funding.
Lunch break: Every day at noon at TaskRabbit headquarters in the SoMa district of San Francisco, the team eats lunch together in the spacious back area of the office. The staff’s full of foodies, so one day they might hit up a local food truck for a bao steamed bun, and the next day they may find Korean barbecue down the street. “Even though everyone may go somewhere different to grab their food, we all meet back at the office to eat together, which is what makes it fun,” Busque says.
Then, every couple of weeks, one team member hosts a lunch and learn (aka “Learnch”) to share key findings, talk about a personal or professional skill or delve into an interesting issue.
Why it’s important: Busque says eating with her staff boosts her productivity and mood. “It's so nice to get a chance to sit down with team members in every department and catch up,” she says. “Sometimes, we spend the time talking about our weekend plans. Other times, organically, we get into discussions about the TaskRabbit marketplace, what seems to be working well, and what could use a change. It's amazing how inspired and energized we feel at the end of these discussions.”
Challenge of sticking to it: Busque’s schedule sometimes doesn't allow her to eat lunch with the team. “I try my best to keep the lunch hour open as often as possible, and I really look forward to the days that I can,” she says.
8. Jeff Fluhr
Co-founder of San Francisco-based ticket site StubHub, which he sold to eBay in 2007, and co-founder of Spreecast, a social video platform that allows users to broadcast together, creating shared experiences.
Lunch break: Each day Fluhr eats a catered lunch with his team at the SpreeCast offices. They work with a third-party service that manages the logistics of the food delivery, but Fluhr’s favorite lunch is Chicago-style pizza from Patxi’s Pizza. “The sauce is just delicious,” he says.
Why it’s important: Having lunch as a group strengthens the bonds between team members, Fluhr says. “We’re able to get to know each other better because we often talk about our personal lives. It’s also a great time to discuss issues that we’re facing as a company.”
Challenge of sticking to it: Fluhr finds it tough to have lunch with the team every day because he’ll occasionally have important phone calls or meetings during the noon to 2 p.m. window.
9. Adam Neumann
Co-founder of New York City-based WeWork, co-working spaces in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco, that provide a support community for early stage tech startups.
Lunch break: Neumann says most days are extremely busy, and it's a “grab something to eat, while doing something else” situation. But once in a while, he finds time to venture out to have lunch with co-workers, business associates or his family. His favorite local eatery is 12 Chairs, an Israeli restaurant in the Soho West neighborhood. He usually orders a salad for about $15. He’ll also often hit up Organic Avenue for a fresh-made juice.
Why it’s important: Taking a well-spent, mid-day break increases his overall productivity and health, Neumann says.
Challenge of sticking to it: “Every day is a busy day and I have to choose how and with whom I spend time,” he says. “It is tough to always take a lunch break.”
10. Ben Huh
Owner of Seattle-based Cheezburger Network, the company behind popular websites like I Can Haz Cheezburger, a blog dedicated to pictures of cats and other animals with humorous captions (an Internet meme known as LOLcats.) To date, the company has raised $32 million in venture funding.
Lunch break: Huh typically catches up on emails during the lunch hour while walking on his treadmill desk. But once in a while, he and a member of his executive team will get out of the office and walk a few blocks to a row of restaurants in their neighborhood of Queen Anne in Seattle.
Why it’s important: Fitness is significant to Huh. He tries to walk at least 10,000 steps each day, and tracks his progress with a FitBit pedometer. He says staying active greatly increases his productivity throughout the day.
Challenge of sticking to it: “I find a constant pressure to always keep up with email and communication,” Huh says. “That’s why more often than not I’m stuck in the office, using lunchtime as a catch up hour. It’s a terrible habit.”