Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.
Shireen Yates is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Nima. After earning an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Shireen decided to pursue her passion for helping people lead healthier lifestyles by starting Nima. Since its inception in 2013, Nima has worked to create greater food transparency to help consumers make better health decisions. Its first product is a discreet and portable device that allows consumers to test their meals for gluten in a few minutes. The company aspires to alleviate the stress around unknown food ingredients, deliver social freedom, and make mealtime enjoyable again.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I was diagnosed with several food allergies and sensitivities in college, and I found it incredibly challenging to stay healthy while dining out at restaurants. I noticed people started to look at food as medicine, and I became interested in helping people understand the science and data behind nourishment.
The idea behind Nima came to me at a wedding. Because of my food sensitivities, I usually travel with my own food. I forgot to bring my own food to this particular wedding, and I asked a waitress whether some delicious-looking appetizers had gluten in them. She asked me, “How allergic are you?” It sparked an idea in my head. I thought, “What if I could take a sample of this and know whether it’s gluten-free?”
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
I like to approach each day with a top priority at work, at home, and for myself. I spend a few hours every Sunday planning out my week, including daily priorities. I also try to get some exercise every day, though my notion of exercise has changed since I had a kid — if I’m able to walk a few miles while on phone calls, I feel accomplished.
In terms of personal priorities, I make sure to always carve out quality time for my family. This is usually in the early morning (before checking my phone) and in the early evening. It can be a challenge to stay disciplined about no phone or computer distractions when I’m with my family, but it’s a necessary step to ensure that time is worthwhile!
How do you bring ideas to life?
When I see an opportunity, I like to vet the concept quite a bit before I bring it to life. With Nima, for instance, the process started long before we ever had a product. I know I had to be convinced of the opportunity before I was willing to dedicate my life to advancing the cause. That meant hundreds of conversations with potential users to assess the market and quantify audience pain points.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m excited about personalized nutrition and technologies that are connecting the dots between our body chemistry and the nutritional content we need to stay healthy. Companies like Habit, WellnessFX, and UBiome are helping people evaluate their health in innovative ways and then providing nutritional suggestions.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I try to spend at least 30 minutes a day outside exercising and breathing fresh air. I find it important to nourish my mind and body by being around nature, fresh air, and sunlight. Whenever possible, I try to sneak in a nap when I’m tired instead of drinking a bunch of coffee.
I also try to block off time on my calendar for creating space to reflect and think. This allows me to be more proactive with my time instead of getting caught up in a reactive cycle of putting out fires and responding to emails.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I recommend reaching out to your network of fellow entrepreneurs any time you feel stuck. I have go-to people from various startups in vastly different industries who can help me spitball ideas or shed a different perspective on a problem.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Given some of the additional vetting and testing we decided to pursue, we failed to ship our product in the timeframe we had originally anticipated. As an organization, we were transparent with our current and future community members about why we had this delay. That open communication undoubtedly helped us maintain trust with our users.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
If someone could think of a way to transport breast milk more effectively, I think it could have tremendous potential for working moms.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
A massage. It’s pretty indulgent, but it made me feel so great! The better I can take care of myself, the better I’m able to steer my company.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read?
From a practical standpoint, “The Obstacle Is the Way” by Ryan Holiday does a great job of highlighting how organizations and skilled leaders have overcome adversity. I also loved Ben Horowitz’s “The Hard Thing About Hard Things.” It would be an excellent read for any entrepreneur.
From a spiritual/emotional standpoint, I enjoyed reading “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. It’s a great way to shift your perspective.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t take yourself so seriously.
What is your favorite quote?
“The whole world smiles in the same language.” I find this quote particularly relevant today, considering that we live in a world of increased political and social tension.
- Vet your concepts thoroughly before you take steps to bring them to life.
- Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.
- Plan ahead and take time upfront so you can accelerate in the present and future.
- Read “The Obstacle Is the Way” by Ryan Holiday and “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz. Both books provide excellent advice for business leaders.
- Reach out to your network of fellow entrepreneurs when you feel stuck. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the help you’ll receive.
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