Practical Matters is a series of conversations with founders and senior executives at companies we know and love. Every month, we'll interview fellow entrepreneurs and their teams and ask them about their experience starting and running their respective companies. The idea is to ask them things we want to know and could learn from.
For more reading, check out our conversation with Gillian Morris, CEO of Hitlist, on working remotely, building a startup, and traveling the world.
Today, we're talking to Jessica Banks, RockPaperRobot CEO and founder.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your story?
I thought I was going to fly the space shuttle until I realized I was both too eccentric and too short so I went into entertainment thinking that I would write comedy instead until I realized I wasn't funny enough so then figured I might be able to go into space as a mission specialist as opposed to the pilot which led me to MIT for grad school in robotics until the 24th grade when I realized I wanted to make kinetic furniture full-time. I have a bunch of degrees and none of them matter. I also have no adenoids and that doesn't seem to matter either.
What finally tipped the scale that you started your own company?
I think it was more of an asymptotic approach than a tipping point. Over the years I have become less and less employable: I have lots of ideas that I want to (and can) execute on; I am not good at modulating my efforts; I don't like to ask for permission when I want to pursue a thought; I want to be able to see my family as often as possible. The bigger question for me is: what would get me to stop my own company?
What’s the favorite day you’ve had at RockPaperRobot?
Great question. I don't have a favorite at the moment, but mostly because my memory is shot. However, there were a couple of weeks in October when I was bedridden and couldn't come to work. Nothing stopped. Somewhere in between pain med dosings, I realized I had built something and that the people on my team were doing more than working on my dream - they were having it themselves. Then I passed out.
What's one mistake you've made more than once?
Twice I hired people for high level positions and didn't require them to be in the office every day. That seemed all culture-y and laissez faire at the time, but it doesn't work for either the stage we are in or the personality I have. I won't do it again until either of those things change.
What do you spend the most time doing on a day to day basis?
Trying to set up company-wide systems and delegation processes that will relieve me from doing all the crap I do on a day to day basis.
What do you spend the most time doing that you did not anticipate?
I didn't anticipate most of this. Most of the time I have the feeling that I know exactly what I have to get done, even though I have no idea what I am doing. The other day I called up New York State Insurance Fund and made a case that charging a $600 fee for early policy cancellation (because I switched to Justworks) was counter to the very business ethos they purported to uphold. These things come out of my mouth awash in incredulity. (And yes, they cancelled the cancellation fee.)
What let's you sleep well at night? (vs. the common what keeps you up at night)
What does success look like for your company within the next year?
I go to sleep without taking Ambien.
If you could meet any other entrepreneur, who would it be and why?
The funny thing about being an entrepreneur is that it feels like we can meet any other entrepreneur we want. Some of my closest/best friends have amazing companies and I am proud to be privy to their experiences and growth (I would probably want to meet Ayah Bdeir of littleBits if she wasn't my best friend). Though, I guess I might want to meet a guru. Like someone with devotees and temples. That kind of branding and targeting is no joke. I would ask her if she thought she was an entrepreneur.
What daily habit do you believe has the largest positive impact on your life?
Sometimes when I am lying in bed I look at pictures of people from third world countries or NASA images of the universe with swaths of uncaring stars. This habit may be contributing to my lack of sleep so I am not claiming it has the largest positive impact on my life...but it's a great way to gain perspective and remember that all of my first world, earth world, miseries are symptoms of opportunity, just meaningless human ceremonies derived from billions of mutations, unless, of course, I choose them to be otherwise (i.e., miseries) and therefore should just snap out of any self-immolating state I may be experiencing.
Also I have found if I hold a pencil horizontally in my mouth it makes my face go into a kind of smile configuration which induces the release of dopamine. I do this on conference calls and in meetings when I get bored. It will work for you too. We are all just silly meat robots. Thank goodness.
Photo credit to James Bareham.
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This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.