An influential voice in the Silicon Valley and founder of one of the largest media houses in the world, Arianna Huffington, in an exclusive chat with YourStory, talks about the need to alter our perception of success and why fighting the sleep deprivation war is the need of the hour.
A deep and husky voice asks me over the phone from California: “How many hours do you sleep?” Thinking back, I put the number at five, maybe six hours, followed by an overdose during the weekends.
“This is exactly what we want to change. We want to change the delusion that burnout is necessary for success,”
says Arianna Huffington passionately. “A human body needs seven to nine hours of sleep. Try getting seven hours of sleep and see how much more productive you will be.”
For a couple of days now, the idea of having a phone conversation with Arianna seemed surreal. Different questions and thoughts kept cropping up. What could be said differently about her that hasn’t been written about? Would she possibly talk about Uber?
After stepping down from her role at The Huffington Post in 2016, Arianna started Thrive Global, a corporate and consumer well-being and productivity platform.
Thrive Global is all set for a big launch in India, today.
It has been a long journey for Arianna. She started The Huffington Post in 2005, and it went on to become one of the world’s top politically liberal news and opinion websites. In 2011, when AOL acquired The Huffington Post for $315 million, Arianna continued as President and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post Media Group.
Since then she’s authored several books, has run as an independent candidate in the 2003 recall election of the California Governor, is on the Uber board and is a regular at the World Economic Forum at Davos.
But little did Arianna know that 12 years down the line she would be doing something completely different.
In August 2016, she decided to step down from her role at The Huffington Post to devote her time to Thrive Global that would provide training, seminars, and “e-courses” on “neuroscience, psychology, productivity, sports, and sleep.”
How did she do what everyone finds so tough: Letting go of one thing to start something else from scratch?
Genius, as they say, isn’t just knowing when to start but also knowing when to stop.
Though the wellness startup was launched last year, it had been on Arianna’s mind for a while. Since 2007 in fact, when her body gave her an extremely loud wake-up call.
It had been two years since Arianna had started Huffington Post. She was working seven days a week for 18 hours a day.
— Grace Lee (@graceless66) April 28, 2016
In her book, Sleep Revolution, she writes about her collapse from sheer exhaustion and the nail-biting moments at the hospitals running CT scans to realise the dire consequences of exhaustion. From then on it was a journey towards transforming her life and the way she viewed work and success.
Arianna says, “I made a lot of changes to my life. I started taking sleep much more seriously and making it a priority. I began meditating more often and began to be much more deliberate about building in time through the day to recharge. This was several years before Thrive Global, but learning about the science showing the connection between well-being and performance became the basis for my decision to found Thrive.”
How did she decide to move on from the super-successful Huffpost?
The answer was easy for Arianna.
“I have two daughters; I love them both equally and it would be difficult for me to choose between them. It was also difficult for me to choose between Thrive and Huffpost. But I knew the next stage was here,” she says.
The woman who built the Huffington Post into one of the Web’s most prominent liberal media giants shifted focus. And as Thrive Global started, well, thriving with bigger teams, offices, and plans, Arianna knew it needed her full-time attention.
Starting up after more than a decade didn’t seem difficult.
“When you love something the struggles and challenges simply don’t matter,” says Arianna, adding that she was lucky to have already built a powerful and successful media organisation and that this made everything else easier.
“This time round it was easier to raise money, it was easier to build a plan and focus on hiring,” she says.
Thrive Global will be launched in India in association with the Times Group.
India is more than just another geography for Arianna. Her love affair with the country started when she was 17 years old. Today, at 66, she feels that India retains the same charm and magnetism.
“I simply love India. I was 17 years old when I first came to here; I was studying comparative religion at Visva-Bharti University near Kolkata. I travelled across different parts of the country and couldn’t help falling in love with it every single time,” the entrepreneur reminisces.
Arianna believes that India today is on the cusp of a change, where people can look back at their history and culture, learn about deeper sciences and also easily embrace technology.
There’s a reason that her new initiative seems particularly relevant to India.
“With the growing push towards technology and the startup revolution taking over, we believe there is a need to emphasise on de-stressing and taking a break. This is the land of yoga and the Bhagavad Gita. India has given me so much that I want to give back to her in some small way,” she says.
Arianna adds that India is a country with several ancient sciences and wisdom that need to be tapped.
The Thrive team is looking to build awareness through its media platform. For this, it has tied up with enterprises and public figures to build a stronger brand.
With Arianna giving Thrive her 100 percent in the last year, the team has been hard at work. To the question, if she had to do one thing differently now than what she did earlier, Arianna has a ready response: “Hiring.”
“It possibly is one of the biggest lessons I have learnt. You need to find the right people and hire right. Hiring for any entrepreneur is a challenge and this time around, I hope to be more careful,” she says.
Arianna has been extremely vocal on the importance of sleep and why it is important to change the way we work and view success.
Her firm now offers e-learning courses with LinkedIn to facilitate schedule transformation for individuals.
Arianna strongly believes that if you aren’t well rested you can’t give your best.
Through our conversation, she continues to stress the importance of taking a break and getting those much-needed seven to nine hours of sleep.
Apart from joint ventures with Gruppo Espresso in Italy and The Antenna Group in Eastern Europe, the company tied up with the Times Group in an effort to expand and “chronicle the culture shift around stress and burnout” globally.
Arianna’s association with the Times Group isn’t new. She had earlier associated with the group (through its arm Times Bridge) to launch Huffington Post in India in 2014. Times Bridge invests and works with global ideas, including AirBnB, Uber, and Vice, and has helped bring them to India.
Arianna believes partnering with the Times Group gives Thrive the platform to reach out to many people and create much-needed awareness.
Speaking of Thrive Global’s plans for India, Rishi Jaitly, CEO, Times Bridge, says their top agenda is to hire leading evangelists for Thrive out of India.
“The aim is to find like-minded organisations, influencers, and users with whom Thrive can partner with across the country,” Rishi says.
The responsibilities of Thrive’s country manager will include ensuring companies and organisations across India benefit from Thrive’s products and services, telling genuinely Indian stories about what it means to nurture personal well-being in an increasingly fast-paced world, and ideating on more Thrive can be doing for and in India.
Rishi, Twitter’s only employee in India from 2012 to 2013, knows well what it means to launch and lead a global product in India from scratch.
“Arianna inspires. Her creativity, persistence, and vision are contagious,” he adds.
The businesswoman makes it a point to practice what she preaches.
A marketing professional accompanying Arianna during her recent India trip says Arianna would ensure that she took a pre-travel nap to reduce exhaustion and jet lag. “Arianna would a take a short break in between meetings and have power naps to ensure that she was recharged and refreshed,” the marketing professional adds.
Arianna has the last word.
“Our mission is to end the stress and burnout epidemic and get people to reject the collective delusion that burnout is necessary for success. This misguided belief persists despite all the science of the last few decades showing that when we prioritise our well-being we’re actually better at our jobs – more creative, more focused, and more productive,” she says.
With Thrive Global, she’s keen to offer science-backed solutions to help people “change the way they work and live so they can enhance their well-being and be more successful.”
We can’t wait.