By Richard Feloni,
Each morning, small business owners awake with a fresh determination to continue growing their companies, developing their employees, and keeping their customers happy.
This unique intimacy with both staff and clients requires a high level of effective time management that starts as soon as they get out of bed.
We spoke with 15 successful entrepreneurs who have developed morning routines that clear their minds, energize their bodies, and prepare them for the day ahead.
Jeffrey Zurofsky, CEO and co-founder of ‘wichcraft, Riverpark, and Riverpark Farm, is ‘an animal’ about his rituals.
Zurofsky is a co-founder of the gourmet sandwich chain ‘wichcraft, which started in New York City in 2003 and grew to 15 locations spread over New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. He and his two business partners, Tom Colicchio and Sisha Ortuzar, also opened the restaurant Riverpark and its accompanying urban farm.
Zurofsky is so passionate about his morning ritual that he prepares the night before, when he writes out his to-do list and organizes emails. Before he goes to sleep sometime between midnight and 2 a.m., he eats two scoops of almond butter because he says it helps build energy for the following morning.
After he wakes up at 5:30 a.m. (he makes up for the limited sleep with a nap later in the day), he walks his dog and does some kind of exercise, whether it’s running, a workout, or squash. He follows it up with some meditation, and then he’s ready for an intense meal. “I have an enormous breakfast: 1,000 calories, 30 grams of protein,” he says. “It changes cuisines, but it’s always eggs, a cup of legumes, veggies, and typically some meats–whether it’s chicken breast or leftover something.” He washes it all down with a glass of green juice with ginger.
Jeffrey ‘jeffstaple’ Ng, founder and owner of Staple Design, starts his day with a Japanese pour-over coffee.
Ng, who goes by jeffstaple, started his cutting edge design brand in New York City with a single T-shirt back in 1997. Staple Design has worked with international clients such as Nike, HBO, Puma, and Uniqlo, and his signature pigeon logo has made Staple Clothing an instantly recognizable brand in streetwear.
Ng brings the same energy to his mornings as he does to his business. He wakes at 8 every day and scans his phone for urgent emails or messages while still in bed. And rather than settling for a cup of Folgers, he hand grinds quality coffee beans and then does a Japanese pour-over, a style of drip brewing that takes five to 10 minutes for a single cup.
In the shower, he uses AquaNotes, a waterproof notepad, to jot down ideas as his mind wanders. Three times a week, he’ll work out with his personal trainer after coffee.
And of course, his outfit is a top priority, which he said he starts from the bottom up: “I get dressed by choosing my footwear first, then build my outfit based on which shoes I’m going to be wearing. Luckily, my wardrobe is mostly clothing I’ve designed…so it’s pretty straightforward.”
Jamie Walker, co-founder and CEO of Fit Approach and SweatGuru, starts her day with a ‘good sweat session.
Walker and her cousin Alyse Mason-Brill started Fit Approach in 2010 as a San Francisco-based fitness “boot camp” that has grown to a network of over 4,000 “ambassadors” throughout the country. The two then launched SweatGuru last year as a tool to set up workouts with friends and colleagues. Walker says that over 1,500 businesses are using SweatGuru’s services.
Taking a dose of her own medicine, Walker gets up at 5:30 a.m. each morning to get in a “good sweat session,” which can mean running, working out, or yoga. It helps her begin her day “on a refreshed and calm note,” and making exercise her first priority ensures that it doesn’t fall off the to-do list later, “since things tend to come up throughout the day when you own two businesses.”
Dave Gilboa, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker, gets going by riding his bike to work.
Gilboa founded the innovative eyewear company Warby Parker with Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt, and Jeffrey Raider back in 2010. Since that time, the brand has sold over half a million frames, a healthy number for an online startup competing against the near-monopolistic Luxottica prescription eyewear corporation.
Gilboa’s not really a morning person, but he thinks he’s found a solution: “I’m usually a little groggy in the morning, but I find that anytime I exercise to get the blood flowing, I have more energy throughout the day. So I’ve been riding my bike to work, even in the winter.” He usually makes it to the office by 8 a.m., with his brain “woken up” by the bike ride.
Geoff McQueen, CEO of AffinityLive, holds stand-up meetings each morning in the office.
AffinityLive is a growing small business in Silicon Valley that creates business automation software. It doubled its business last year and the team made significant software upgrades.
McQueen hates meetings that serve only as status updates, because he finds that they waste time and lower efficiency. But he also knows the importance of checking in with his team. His solution is a stand-up meeting to start each day.
“We all gather in the middle of our office and stand while bringing up any urgent updates that need to be discussed,” McQueen says. “Standing enforces a sense of urgency, so these meetings are quick and efficient, and I’m still able to get a sense of exactly what’s going on with my business.”
Elle Kaplan, founding partner and CEO of LexION Capital Management, draws inspirations from watching the sun rise over New York.
Kaplan started LexION in 2010, making it one of the few American asset management firms owned by a woman. Within her first month, she achieved $1 million in assets, due to the network she established at firms she had previously worked for.
Kaplan wakes up some time before dawn to make coffee and give her dog Magic a bone. She then gets to reading the news and sifting through emails.
“Although I have technically begun working, the dog at my feet and the rising orange sun evoke a time before the work day begins,” she says. “I look out over the park at Lincoln Center and see New York waking up, the energy invigorating me, too, and I get excited for the day. And I am ready to work.”
Dave Shula, president of Shula’s Steak House, starts each day with a full-blown ‘Iron Man’ workout.
A former professional football coach and player, Shula left the NFL in 1996 to join his family’s restaurant business, which he helped expand internationally.
While he may no longer be on the gridiron on Sundays, Shula has not given up his intense training. Every day, he wakes up between 5 and 6 a.m. and does a 60 to 90 minute workout that is a combination of swimming, cycling, running, and/or lifting. He follows this up with a big breakfast of eggs, yogurt, granola, an English muffin, and fresh fruit, washed down with a glass of V8 Fusion juice.
Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures, does yoga to focus his mind.
Poon Tip started G Adventures from his Toronto apartment back in 1990, and today it is a global tourism enterprise. His new book “Looptail” chronicles the way he created an “adventure tourism” industry and developed a work culture that has won his company several Best Workplace Awards.
Poon Tip says most of his employees think he never sleeps, but he tries to go to bed at 1 a.m. and wake up at 8 a.m. He’s constantly adjusting his schedule to meet responsibilities to markets from a time zone that could be anywhere in the world. He would not be able to handle this workload if he didn’t take some time to collect himself each morning.
“Business moves at the speed of light right now, but at some point every day it is important to step off the machine and find your purpose and refocus your motivation,” he says. “I have become a big fan of yoga, and to be honest I don’t think I could do what I do right now without it.”
Dan Tully, executive VP and partial-owner of Conduit Systems, dedicates the start of his morning to his son and to walking his dogs.
Conduit Systems is an information technologies firm based in Rhode Island that’s had a large presence in Boston for the past 30 years.
Tully gets up every weekday morning before dawn to drive his son to high school, which is a bit of a drive.
“This gives me a good 45 minutes of one-on-one time with him and an opportunity to enjoy a Starbucks coffee and an egg-white sandwich on the way home,” he says.
After the ride, it’s time to walk his two Irish Terriers on the beach for a few miles. This extensive period without work clears his head and prepares him for the day: “By the time I get in front of my computer, I’ve already been up a few hours and am ready to go.”
Mark Stevens, CEO of MSCO, goes on a hike with his Golden Retriever.
Stevens uses the morning to gather ideas to share with his team later in the day, and the best way for him to kick this off is by walking–and chatting–with his dog.
His morning ritual gives him an opportunity to think. His regimen is to “get out of bed rain or shine and hike with my Golden Retriever, Sky. We talk. I think.”
Stevens continues brainstorming through 50 laps in the pool, and he does some work on strategic projects before having breakfast.
Donna David, president of Donna David Company, determines three specific things she would like to accomplish that day.
David took her executive experience from Burberry and Saks Fifth Avenue and applied it to her own professional organizing business, which helps clients around New York and New Jersey de-clutter their homes, move, and clear out estates.
She gets up at 5 a.m. each morning with the sound and smell of coffee brewing as her alarm clock, and gets to answering emails and reading the news on her iPad.
“Then my favorite part of the morning is setting aside 15 minutes to organize my thoughts,” she says. “I always ask myself what are the three new things I would like to accomplish today–meet a new connection, download a new app to help streamline my current workflow, percolate ideas on improving current business plan, etc.”
Marc Spector, owner of the Spector Group, writes dozens of emails before most people wake up.
The Spector Group is a New York-based architecture and design firm that has won over 100 awards from the American Institute of Architects over the past 40 years.
Spector gets up each morning at 4:30 a.m., at which point he says his “brain activates” and he gets to checking emails. He said that by 5:15, he has already written 25 to 50 emails to his staff and clients.
As soon as that’s done, it’s time to do 45 minutes of weight training, followed by 45 minutes of cardio on a stationary bike. After a protein-based breakfast and a shower, he’s out the door by 7:20 a.m. to drive his daughter to school.
Andrew Yang, founder and CEO of Venture for America, tries to fit in some quality time with his 15-month-old son.
Venture for America provides fellowships to high-achieving college graduates to work with startups in some of the country’s poorest cities, like Detroit and Baltimore. Yang passionately believes that more talented young people need to create and help grow small businesses rather than entering finance or law, which he outlines in his new book, “Smart People Should Build Things.”
Yang wakes up around 7 each morning and loves to start his day with some exercise; although his morning routine has recently been at the discretion of his 15-month-old son. But that’s not a bad thing, he says: “I still try to sneak away to exercise periodically, but now, if I have a half hour to spend with my son in the morning, then that’s a good use of time, because he might be asleep by the time I get home.”
Peter Tourian, founder of SYNERGY HomeCare and Araya Clean, eats the same big breakfast every morning.
Before becoming an entrepreneur, Tourian served as a deputy in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, and that’s where he developed an appreciation for a strict morning regimen. Every day he gets up at 5:30 a.m. and spends 30 minutes checking his email and industry news before a 30-minute workout. Then he very specifically has two cups of tea, each loaded with 60 mg of caffeine, three tablespoons of sugar, one spoon of honey, and some lemon juice–the intense sugar rush is to help with his exercise recovery.
After a shower, he’s ready for his daily breakfast of three or four eggs, two chocolate chip pancakes, three strips of bacon, and a couple of glasses of orange juice.
Patricia Vaccarino, owner of Xanthus Communications and PR For People, takes morning ballet classes to stay fit.
She wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and after some strong tea and breakfast gets to work, getting the bulk of her writing done by 9 a.m. Then sometime after 9:30 she heads to an exercise class–four days a week it’s ballet, and two days a week it’s Pilates. She’ll sometimes opt for a jog and upper-body workout if she has an early meeting.
“My physical regimen keeps me healthy, strong, and very focused,” Vaccarino says. She also writes about the benefits of dance on her blog.