Derek Flanzraich is an entrepreneur on a mission to make everyone a “greatist,” someone who simply makes better choices for their fitness, health, and happiness. He is the founder & ceo of Greatist, a social health & fitness startup working to make healthy living cool. Greatist is currently the fastest-growing site in the space, with over 3 million unique visitors per month. Flanzraich was previously with Clicker.com (acquired by CBS) and NBC Universal’s Digital Entertainment Strategy & Operations, graduated from Harvard in 2010, and has been building brands and organizations that last since his dog-walking business at 10 years old. Besides everything health and wellness, he also loves theme parks & theme bars.
Why does the world need a work revolution? (In other words: the way we’re working isn’t working. Why not?)
I’m still shocked by how many employers aren’t emphasizing health in the workplace. There’s now so much scientific research that points to employees being less sick, more happy, and more productive if they have time to work out, a flexible schedule, get enough sleep, etc… and it’s incredible (and sad) that the obvious bottom line benefits aren’t sinking in that fast. It’ll happen, obviously, and things are changing — but definitely not any time soon.
How are you or your organization reinventing work in some way (big or small)?
We’ve got culture “perks” like most progressive companies (flexible schedules, no vacation policy, free healthy food & snacks, reimbursed transportation, 100% paid health insurance, etc…), but where I think we are truly doing something meaningful is in the way we interact with each other. Our perks stem from a profound commitment to our core values, which continue to evolve but basically come down to trust and living the life we champion. We were recently named one of the 15 Best Startups to Work for in America — and I think the focus and shared reasons for why we do the things we do is key. We believe so freakin’ strongly that internal success equals external impact.
Why do you do what you do?
What kind of art (any kind) do you like and why? Any recommendations we should know about?
I’ve become pretty obsessed with jazz music recently. Not sure where the passion started, but it’s spilled over into a big time appreciation for jazz’s story and place in our country’s history. Jazz isn’t that different from a startup, really. Each person on the team has a particular special talent that they work for years to hone. Each may be impressive by themselves, but together they can come together and spark a whole different kind of magic — a magic that no playbook can spell out, a magic that takes trust, listening, and taking risk. Improvising but also returning to the original course (chorus?) if necessary. And the bandleader’s job is find not just the best individual performers, but to put together a group that can put on the best freakin’ performance night in and night out. Maybe I’m getting carried away a little, but I think it’s an apt metaphor nonetheless!
What is one specific thing your company does that makes your culture unique and/or different?
One is the emphasis we place on sweating together through group fitness activities. There’s something powerful about throwing a group into a physical challenge that not everyone’s ready for, especially if that challenge is Zumba.
What is one discipline/industry totally different from your own that has inspired you? How does it impact your work?
So jazz, clearly. Also I’ve always admired Danny Meyer, a well-known restaurateur that has started some of the most celebrated fancy restaurants in NYC along with the beloved Shake Shack. His book “Setting the Table” about the importance of passionate, personalized customer service applies to basically every industry. In the book there’s a powerful quote about how his staff members are more like surfers than servers that’s always stuck with me: “Surfing is an arduous sport, and no one pursues it involuntarily. No one forces you to become a surfer, but if you choose to do it, there’s no point in wasting energy trying to tame the ocean of its waves. Waves are like mistakes. You can count on the fact that there will always be another wave, so your choice is to get back on the surfboard and anticipate it. The degree to which you ride it with better form than the next guy is how you improve and distinguish yourself.”
What’s one tangible and concrete technique other organizations should use if they want to create a more human and/or meaningful place to work?
Working to write down, communicate, and then over-communicate an organization’s core values is too often overlooked. True culture is the soul of a company. Ask members of your team what values everyone shares — and if they can’t answer this exactly the same way then decisions both big and small are probably not being carried through correctly or with the right intention!
What piece of technology (other than your laptop/smartphone/tablet) could you not live without and why?
I love my Google Docs and email, but nothing replaces the good ‘ol technology of “pencil and paper” for me. My notebook helps me sort out thoughts, prioritize my to-dos, and visually organize my ideas. I even carry around a mini-sharpener in my bag because I love it so much. Computer, mobile phones, and tablets are great — but sometimes nothing helps me think more clean and crisply than a freshly sharpened pencil and a blank piece of paper.
How do you stay productive throughout your day?
I work in focused 1.5 hour blocks with a break in between — and brutally schedule out time chunks on my calendar. If it’s not in my gcal, it doesn’t exist! I’ve recently begun to prioritize ritualizing & automating as much as possible so I can move as much mental energy to the things I actually need it for.
What time of the day do you do your best work?
I’ve recently changes my daily routine from staying up late to waking up early and it’s been HUGE. I finally admitted to myself that it’s really tough for me to accomplish real “work” in the late evenings after a long day — and now I can turn those hours previously spent being marginally effective into awesome morning power hours. I also struggled to come to terms with leaving emails unanswered and tasks unfinished before I go to bed, but now that I’m there I think that’s also made me far more calm and grounded. It’ll all get done!
Where in the world are you?
New York, NY