Daring to try and forging your own path are just two of the themes that can be found in Amanda Hesser’s story. She co-founded Food52, the award-winning recipe exchange community and culinary e-commerce site. In a recent Office Hours episode, Hesser spoke with host Suneel Gupta about her experience building two different startups from the ground up and how grit helped her do it. In a bonus Q&A, she discussed her workspace, her routine and how backing whether big or small adds up over time.
Workspace & Routine
If you’ve spent more time than usual at home this year…
Do you have a workspace or office at home? Tell us about it. Did you have this space before the pandemic?
Amanda: I’m on my second workspace since the pandemic. For the first 6 months, I was working at our kitchen table, which sounds charming, given that I run a cooking-and-home business. I’ve worked in a newsroom, so I’m easy-going when it comes to noise and movement. But having people rummage around the ice container, running the microwave, and clanking plates wasn’t that conducive to video conferencing. I’m now in a corner of our living room.
I like an organized and minimal, yet home-like, workspace. For me, visual clutter equals mental clutter.
What bad work habits (if any) are you guilty of & how have you overcome them?
Checking the New York Times homepage between meetings. I love news, and I’m prey to this kind of distraction. I started planning tasks for my between-meeting time, so that I could be more productive, and this naturally reduced my headline scouring.
Do you consider yourself more of an introvert or extrovert, and how does that affect the way you work?
Amanda: There’s an expectation that CEOs should be extroverts, because they do a lot of public-facing work, as well as team communication. As a high-functioning introvert, I’m determined to prove that this expectation has little substance. Over time, I’ve been able to reduce my public speaking and increase my written communication, where I’m more comfortable. This has resulted in me communicating more often and more clearly with our team. And I’m also reorganizing my time so that I have more non-meeting time, which is when I’m most productive and can recuperate from the extrovert moments, which drain me.
Time & Organization
How do you approach time management for a workday? Is it one solid block of time that’s over at 6 p.m.? Or is a workday a few blocks of scheduled tasks with personal time interspersed?
Amanda: I like to have blocks of meetings and blocks of heads down time, so that my “transition time” between modes is minimized, and I feel pulled in fewer directions.
What are three things you do to gear up for your workday?
1. I pick out my outfit the night before, so I don’t have to think about it in the morning.
2. I’m a paper list person. I have a master list that I’m always working from, but I like to start the day by identifying the handful of things that must get done that day.
3. Make a good cup of coffee.
Can you name a few ways that you keep yourself organized during the day—an app, a planner, a physical to-do list?
Amanda: My assistant types out my schedule with all supplemental info and links so I can go into meetings feeling prepared about the topic and attendees, and I keep a physical to-do list.
How do (or don’t) you separate business tasks from personal ones?
Amanda: I don’t create a lot of separation between them because my personal life and work life are tightly woven together.
As you reflect on this past year and beyond, does someone stick out who always had your back? What kind of support did they offer?
Amanda: My husband. He encouraged me to leave the great job that I had in order to strike out on my own. Knowing that he was willing to bet on me gave me the confidence I needed to get going.
How important has backing been to the success of your business?
Amanda: Support is essential. I’ve found that you can get vital backing from a lot of different sources -- it can be micro and macro -- and you need it to keep going. There are countless people who gave me their time and tolerated my sometimes-dumb questions, as I was figuring things out. There are team members who showed up and put a ton of blood, sweat, and tears into the company. There are customers who gave us a second chance when we screwed up. All of this support matters and it really adds up over time.
Just For Fun: Out of Office
We business professionals devote much of our lives to our careers. But what we do with our time off from work can tell us a lot about who we are as people. Please tell us…
In your spare time, do you prefer winding down – meditation and movie nights – or gearing up, e.g., rock climbing, traveling, etc.?
Amanda: My husband and I love to travel, so we’re always planning trips. The planning itself relaxes me, because it gives me clear moments to look forward to. We’ve done everything, from road trips to resorts, but I especially enjoy our trips that involve hiking, skiing, and sports of any kind.
What does an ideal vacation look like to you? What activities are you most likely to engage in?
Amanda: I love going to places I’ve never been, and places that are wildly different from my life in NYC. A few years ago, we went to Indonesia. We visited temples, hiked through jungles, spent time in an orangutan sanctuary, snorkeled, played pool, walked through food markets, got massages, listened to the muezzins’ call to prayer in the early morning hours, and hung out by a pool. That was an ideal vacation.
What’s one thing you’ve done in your time off that has stuck with you as a defining moment for you?
Amanda: I took my kids skiing for the first time when they were nine. I learned to ski when I was five and I was an avid skier until I started working. I pretty much stopped for 20-plus years, because I was busy working all the time. My kids and I had incredible fun skiing, and it struck me that there were a lot of things in my life that I find joyful that I’d been putting off, not only for myself but for my kids, and time was ticking. Now, we ski every year.
What’s one place – a country, vacation spot, landmark, etc. – that’s high on your bucket list?
Amanda: Easter Island.
This interview is part of Office Hours, a series that connects you with entrepreneurs and experts and tips for running and growing a business right now. Find other can’t-miss conversations by visiting our Events page.