Alexia Brue, the co-founder and CEO of the online news site Well + Good, shares her tips on creating a culture, holding meetings and giving employees perks.
In this series, Leader Board, we speak with CEOs, managers, founders and others who lead organizations to learn what makes them tick, what they look for in new hires and even where they eat lunch.
From weekly yoga classes to pre-meeting guided meditation, in everything they do — and beyond — the staff of Well + Good stays committed to its core mission: wellness. Launched in 2010 by former journalists Alexia Brue and Melisse Gelula, Well + Good is an online news publication that focuses on wellness, covering topics such as exercise, beauty, travel and more.
Today, the website garners a monthly readership of more than 5 million, has more than a million social followers and is on the path to doubling its users and annual revenue, which is already eight figures, by next year, according to the company. While it’s safe to say Well + Good is doing well, that didn’t happen quickly — it involved sleepless nights, quick decision-making and a whole lot of stress.
With no experience starting her own business, Brue, who is also CEO, spent most of her early career writing about the health and beauty space for publications such as Vogue and The New York Times. However, after meeting Gelula, and right before the rise of the trendy health scene when companies such as SoulCycle and BluePrintCleanse didn’t even exist, the two saw an opportunity. And while the initial focus of Well + Good was only on New York City, the co-founders knew they needed to expand their reach and launched nationally in 2014.
While it’s still growing, today Brue leads a team of more than 40 employees, all with a passion for health and wellness, along with a wide network of contributing writers and editors. However, coming from a journalist’s perspective was helpful, as Brue had to learn to bridge her creative side with business, leading the team’s strategic direction, revenue and business development functions. And from the experience, she’s learned “It all comes down to communication and clarity,” she shared with Entrepreneur. “Setting the vision and the tone for everything is the most important.”
And she’s done a pretty good job at that — creating a team that even works out and meditates together. From hiring to leadership habits to company culture, we caught up with Brue to learn how she leads a growing company.
On the most important leadership traits:
“It all comes down to communication and clarity. Setting the vision and the tone for everything is the most important thing. It’s really important that the whole organisation is really clear on what Well + Good good stands for. We’re all about high quality journalism and a pioneering point of view on wellness that we don’t think readers can get anywhere else. It’s also really important to lead by example. So if we value responsiveness across the team, [I] display that myself.”
On leadership style:
“Melisse and I founded Well + Good in 2010 — the first years were really challenging because we were bootstrapped and didn’t have [the] resources to invest in the team. Now that we’ve been around for over seven years, we are able to invest more and be more supportive, and help different people reach their fullest potential.
“I have a lot more time now to listen really actively. My role is to make my team’s ideas be the best that they can be. It’s not about me imposing my thoughts in a brainstorm, [it’s about] empowering and helping [employees] refine their ideas.”
On habits that help her lead:
“Getting a good amount of sleep is critical to judgment and productivity. I also prioritize daily workouts, which are really great stress reliefs for me and also a time [to] think through things. I don’t always start my workouts with a clear mind but I always end with one. I also have a gratitude app on my phone that I use every day. It helps me feel more optimistic and grounded.”
“It’s always really challenging to prioritize one’s time and to stay focused on the big picture. My co-founder, our COO [and] I use SMART goals, which we revise every quarter. The S is specific, the M is measurable, the A is agreed upon, the R is realistic and the T is time-based. So every quarter we each lay out what we want to accomplish. I visit my SMART goals fairly often to make sure I’m prioritizing [the] things I want to get done and staying focused on what’s going to drive the business forward.”
On the toughest business decision:
“The toughest decision was not to raise money early on. On one hand, we would have had the ability to fund our projects and not worry about daily liquidity, but on the other hand, we would have been giving up control and we wouldn’t have been able to build the company we wanted to. Spending a lot of time answering to investors instead of building our business in a way that felt true to us didn’t feel right. [But] it meant there were a lot of years [of] giving up sleep — we were doing the work of three people each.”
On the most important traits in a new hire:
“One of the questions I always ask when I’m interviewing people is about the type of work environment that they thrive in. Some people really thrive in fast moving, nimble startup environments, and other people prefer the structure and predictability of a corporate job. We try to find people who are going to be energized and invigorated by the type of environment we have.
“Also a passion and enthusiasm for the information that we’re putting into the world. This enthusiasm makes people better problem-solvers and more creative. It’s obviously so much easier to bring your A-game and work really hard for something that you believe in.”
On recognizing employees:
“We have a bi-weekly all-hands meeting [where] we go through weekly wins. So it could be anything from recognising a seller for a new account to our audience development team for a record traffic month. And then I try to take the time to casually congratulate people and create a culture where people are recognising each other on a daily basis.”
“For us, team-building revolves around trying new workouts at different studios about every two weeks. People can go or not go — totally up to them — but most love it and it’s a way for us to all do something fun together. We also host weekly yoga in the office. We have a different ‘Yoga Resident’ every month and [they] will teach classes. [It’s] called our Yoga Resident Program.
“We also have lunch and learns, [where] we’ll have different experts come in and teach the thing they’re passionate about. We have regular happy hours with different healthy food and beverage companies — they’ll come in and host a happy hour for the team.”
On unique office rituals:
“Whenever we’re welcoming a new team member in our all-hands meeting, we always play two truths and a lie with them. It’s a fun Icebreaker so we can get to know [them] in a casual, silly way. We also start our all-hands meetings with a five-minute guided meditation: we’ll all come in, sit down and use one of the different meditation apps and then do a body scan or a visualization exercise. It’s a moment for everyone to hit the pause button.”
On managing meetings:
“We try to keep them as tight and organized as possible, making sure there’s an agenda beforehand [and] that the meeting is getting kicked off with stating the goal. We try to be mindful of who’s in meetings — if a meeting can happen with five people let’s make sure there aren’t 10 people there.”
“We’re all on Google Calendar. Everyone can see everyone else’s Google Calendar. So my meetings are there and I’ve started blocking out time for planning the different things that I need to review so I can make sure I have a solid hour at my desk to get things done.”
On office setup:
“We have a whole floor and it’s all open plan. We have four conference rooms and they were just renamed after crystals — Tourmaline, Quartz, Moonstone and [Amethyst]. I sort of sit on my own so I have a little more space around me but it feels very much like a newsroom. I have a chair next to my desk so people can just pull up and have a spontaneous chat.”
“There’s a restaurant just down the block from us called Haven’s Kitchen and it’s like the Well + Good cafeteria. [You] can’t go in there without seeing someone else on the team. A lot of days I’ll either just grab lunch from there and bring it back or sit down and eat there with a colleague.”
On a strong company culture:
“Uniting everyone around why we do what we do is the most important thing. I think that people want to make a difference, and so all of us feeling like we’re putting out information that’s making a difference and that our company conducts itself in a way that is demonstrative of our core values is really important. That sets a lot of cultural tone.
“We have a lot of different manuals. We have this 100-page document that has all of our visual branding in it but it also what we stand for as a company. The editorial team has their true north documents around what we cover, what we don’t cover. We also have these glossaries, this sort of encyclopedia of Well + Good — the whole lay of the land.”
On cultural mistakes:
“Early on, not having the bandwidth and the resources to celebrate the wins and the milestones, and invest in culture. There were those early years where we were stretched so thin that we didn’t take the time to communicate clearly why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
On her biggest cultural win:
“A recent one was a lot of people were interested in having a day to work from home and summer [was] coming up so we started a summer Friday program that was really effective and gave people that work-from-home access they wanted. We were really clear on what the expectations were to make the program successful. We said you can work from anywhere you want on Friday but this means everyone still needs to be getting work done [and] if it’s abused we won’t be able to do it. Everyone was amazing and really enjoyed it. I think no one wanted to let down their colleagues.”
On her role models:
“Tory Burch is amazing. I love the way she saw an opportunity — she saw that there weren’t beautiful clothes out there that didn’t cost a fortune — and really invented a category and [filled] the need she saw. And she is a creative who is also the CEO — she’s really inspiring as someone who’s been able to straddle the creative and the business side really beautifully.”
On her favorite leadership books:
“Start with Why [by Simon Sinek]. I love his focus on people [to] connect with why you do things not what or how.”
On where most leaders go wrong:
“Trying to do too much themselves and not trusting their team. The most important thing is getting the right people in the right positions and empowering them to do their jobs.”