This Co-founder Says It’s Vital to Integrate Your Company’s Mission Into Your Workplace Culture

The Co-founder of BARK shares his best business — and well-being — advice.

Courtesy of Henrik Werdelin
Courtesy of Henrik Werdelin

Henrik Werdelin, Co-founder of BARK, is a longtime entrepreneur, creating programs and methods to help build ventures and products that make people, and their pets, happy. His experience ranges from having served as an Entrepreneur in Residence to working with, advising, or investing in start-ups that grew into major companies and apps we use every day.

Werdelin talks to Thrive about burning out, sabbaticals, and how to incorporate a company mission into workplace culture.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?

Henrik Werdelin: The first thing I do when I wake up is I make my bed. I read somewhere that if you make your bed, you’ve achieved something already, and it sets your day on a good course. It’s also more interesting than saying you have a pee.

TG: What gives you energy?

HW: I get energy from making things, coming up with new ways of solving problems, and hanging with people I like.  

TG: What’s your secret life hack?

HW: Marry well. It will make solving life problems so much easier and it makes going on vacation so much less boring. (Related: Pick work partners that are smarter than you.) But for both, work hard every day to make sure that they don’t leave you. 

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?

HW: I try to keep my phone at more than arm’s length at night. I also tend to come up with my best ideas right before I fall asleep, or right when I wake up. One hack I have is that I’ve connected my Google Home to my to-do list so that I can add ideas without picking up my phone and getting sucked into notification hell. 

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?

HW: I think the last time I felt I was burned out was when I went on sabbatical. It took me three weeks to recognize just how tired I was, and I realized that the problem with burnout is that often you don’t see it. At BARK, we have 10-week sabbaticals for employees after five years to give people the important headspace to re-energize. 

TG: What advice would you give your younger self about reducing stress?

HW: I would tell myself, “Don’t worry, it will all be fine.” I would also tell myself to go to the gym more and don’t think of sleep as relaxation — think of it as recovery. 

TG: Do you have any role models for living a thriving life?

HW: My dog, Molly. She doesn’t take life too seriously and she is enthusiastic about every single moment. 

TG: What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness?

HW: I’ve turned every waiting in line moment into a mindfulness exercise prompt. I used to get really annoyed when I would have to wait, but now I’ve reframed it to practice mindfulness and think of it as a convenient time to do a little breathing work.

TG: How do you reframe negative thinking?

HW: I guess the way I reframe negative thinking is through mindfulness. I try to flip the negativity into curiosity. Instead of being overconsumed with the negative feeling, I try to explore what the feeling does to me at this time.  

TG: What was the biggest turning point in your life?

HW: The biggest turning point in my life was probably having kids. It definitely teaches you very rapidly how to care more about other people than yourself. 

TG: What’s your evening routine that helps you unwind and go to sleep? 

HW: I do breathing exercises and a gratitude exercise every night, and it’s becoming a trigger for sleeping. I read research that said practicing gratitude exercises has scientific benefits on your mental well-being and health, and I buy into that.

TG: What is your key piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

HW: Go to the gym. Seriously! If the hardware fails, then everything else follows. 

TG: How do you ensure that BARK’s mission starts from within the company?

HW: Hire crazy dog people! 

TG: What are some ways you incorporate the mission into your office culture? 

HW: Well the main thing is that our dogs can come with us to work, if they like that sort of thing!  Also on any day there may be 10 foster puppies in either of our offices in Columbus, Ohio or New York City, and these dogs are often featured on our social media with campaigns built around getting them adopted.  

TG: What is it about your furry friends that helps you thrive?

HW: I think there’s a lot of scientific evidence out there that shows us how dogs give us a better life — but mostly I can’t imagine living without my dog, Molly. 

TG: Your company encourages everybody to be “be the person your dog thinks you are.” What are three ways we can do that?  

HW: Be kind. Make time for play. Remember to treat yourself. 

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