On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.
When Shan-Lyn Ma was growing up, she had a poster of Kylie Minogue on her bedroom wall. Pretty typical for a young girl growing up in Australia right? What wasn’t typical was the poster right next to Kylie’s — it was one of Jerry Yang, one of the co-founders of Yahoo.
“I wanted to be like Jerry Yang, the founder of Yahoo,” the founder & CEO of Zola told Entrepreneur. “I wanted to be the founder of a company that shaped the world and had a big impact. Just the fact that he came up with the idea to catalog the worldwide web and give everyone access to the internet in a way that was fun and irreverent was something that moved me.”
Ma credits Yang as her inspiration for moving to Silicon Valley and studying at business school. In 2005, she started an internship at her dream company, Yahoo, where she worked in the product marketing department. She stayed there for a few years before moving onto Gilt Groupe, where she met her future co-founder Nobu Nakaguchi.
In 2013, the pair quit their jobs and launched Zola, a company on a mission to reinvent the wedding planning and registry experience.
“The idea for Zola specifically was born out of my own personal need,” she recalled in an interview with Refinery29. “In 2013, all of my friends were getting married at exactly the same time, so I basically spent every weekend as a wedding guest.”
“As I was evaluating different business ideas with my co-founder, Nobu, reinventing the wedding registry was one that really resonated with both of us, and we knew we were the exact right people to do it. We used our experience building online products that customers love to build the best ever wedding registry.”
A few years after launching, Zola received $100 million in funding which has enabled Ma and Nakaguchi to significantly scale the company’s operations. Zola now has a team of close to 300 employees and opened their first brick-and-mortar location in New York’s Flatiron District.
When Nobu and I were dreaming up Zola, we spent 24/7 working together in my tiny Manhattan living room to get our business off the ground. So working hard isn’t the only thing you need to do, but it’s absolutely a minimum requirement.The CEO Of Zola, Shan-Lyn Ma, Wants Women To Think Bigger | Refinery29
Shan-Lyn Ma’s daily routine: self-care, journaling & meditation
On a typical day, Zola’s CEO is up at 7am and the first thing she does is take her dog out for a walk. After that, she’ll spend five minutes on writing in her journal then 10 minutes for meditation. The journaling habit was something she started after a bad car accident in 2016.
“I was going through a challenging recovery and I found that doing the five-minute journal during that time was really helpful,” she told The Cut.
After her morning routine, Ma heads off to work. She enjoys listening to podcasts to and from work, her top three to are Recode, The Twenty Minute VC and The Splendid Table with Francis Lam, who Ma says has a “soothing voice.”
Once at work, Ma’s schedule is packed with meetings with various team members, including her Chief of Staff, the product lead for Zola Weddings, and people from the growth, finance, marketing and merchandising departments. Up until 2014-2015, every team function at Zola was reporting to Ma; something that wasn’t sustainable so she hired a president for the company.
“She took half the functions off my plate,” Ma explained. “I now manage the external-facing departments like marketing and product, while she handles accounting, HR and legal. I can now focus on the things I can be best at leading, and let go of what I’m not best at.”
As busy as her days can be, Ma will always make time to catch up with Nakaguchi if they’re both in the office that day.
“Every day that Nobu and I are both in the office, we take a coffee break together,” she said. “Our schedules are jam packed, but we make it a priority to spend time together. We always go to Blue Stone Lane in the Financial District, which is my favourite because it’s Australian. Often we talk about work or a new idea for the business, but sometimes we just talk about his kids or my new apartment.”
After spending some in the afternoon to catch up on emails, Ma will usually leave work at around 6pm. Since her accident, Ma has been committed to including self-care rituals in her daily routine. This includes logging from work at a specific time each evening to walk her dog, and also going to SoulCycle and Pilates a few times a week.
For her evening routine, she’ll write in her Five Minute Journal again, then use an aromatherapy sleep aid that has lavender, chamomile and vetivert before lights out at 11pm.
I wish somebody had told me that it’s normal to feel like an imposter CEO. My own self-doubt creeps in occasionally — hello, I’ve never run a business worth hundreds of millions of dollars before — but most founders are new to the game they’ve signed up for, and the reality is that no one has the right answers. We’re all figuring it out as we go. There’s comfort in that.Present Perfect | Estée Lauder
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