“True success stems from who you”, with James Gray and Dr. Ely Weinschneider

I believe true success stems from who you are as a person and how you model that both inside and outside your home. I believe it is about being happy, having fun, treating others with care and respect. Just being someone that is enjoyable to be around — not someone that pulls others down. And maintaining that […]

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I believe true success stems from who you are as a person and how you model that both inside and outside your home. I believe it is about being happy, having fun, treating others with care and respect. Just being someone that is enjoyable to be around — not someone that pulls others down. And maintaining that while still taking on challenges and growing yourself. Not allowing the pressures of challenges or the growing pains of personal development affect others in a negative way but rather lifting others up with you.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview James Gray is an entrepreneur & investor who started his career taking proven consumer tech business models from the US to other countries. He and his wife recently co-founded Sophie James Wine Co, which in less than one year was completely sold out by memberships, and has a fast growing waitlist. Currently he leads a fast growing shopping-rewards platform that transforms people’s routine online shopping into charitable giving, Giving Assistant.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

There is no quick answer from me on this one. My best description would be, divorced family, lots of love, however an unusual amount of brutal, psychological pressure and manipulation. We grew up as the poorest family in a very affluent area. For example, my mother lived in Section 8 housing, while many of my friend’s parents had second homes. I grew up wanting a better lifestyle and wanting control over my own destiny, but felt limited and controlled by my parents.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

In college, I studied abroad in Spain and loved it. When I was getting near graduating college, I thought that I wanted to go abroad again — but I also wanted to get into a career in tech. I also loved concerts and sports. I partnered up with a friend to create secondary ticket marketplace (a StubHub business model) for the UK. That went well, we got acquired by Ticketmaster 4 years after starting it, and with 50 employees. Then after that, I was looking for more opportunities with either next gen marketplace business models or taking proven marketplace models abroad.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

In order to maintain enough time for my work responsibilities during the day, and family in the evening, I keep a pretty rigid schedule during weekdays. In order to maintain enough energy, patience and optimism — there is only one time to exercise — and that’s early in the morning. I wake up 5 am — then it’s 20 ounces of water, prepare a protein shake, and make a bulletproof coffee. Have the coffee — go for a serious workout between 6–7 am and down the protein shake. Then shower at the gym and head to catch the 7:30 am ferry into San Francisco. I make sure to get a seat that has a table — connect with WiFi and hammer out emails and reply to text and slack messages, or complete any high priority tasks. Get off the ferry and have a phone call with direct reports, investors or family on my 15 min walk to the office. Once I’m at the office, I go to meetings with my schedule booked with assistance from my incredible assistants. At lunchtime is when I connect with my wife over the phone to talk about Sophie James Wine Co and any other things we should discuss. She always has a list of topics that either need to be urgently discussed or fun, exciting things to share. Then I go back to my grind until about 4:30 pm when I head back to the ferry — doing a phone call on that walk, then working on my laptop during the ferry ride back home, followed by another phone call on my 15 min drive home from the ferry. The goal is to get home early enough to have dinner at the same time as the children and to spend time with them before they are tired and need to be put to bed. Once I’m home, the routine is dinner (ideally all together), play time, reading time, then singing time.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

Sure thing. If your children don’t spend quality time with you there are all sorts of undesirable things that could begin to happen. It could start with developing bad behaviors designed to get any attention they can get. The poor kiddos are thinking — “Well, my parents don’t pay attention to me — what could I do to get their attention?”

Other things that could start happening include: 1) losing confidence and optimism; 2) not being confronted about some of their bad behaviors when they first start exhibiting them, which could allow them to turn into bad habits; 3) not learning how to handle and resolve confrontation around their bad behavior; and 4) not learning how to follow through on their commitment to change certain behaviors and to be held accountable. All of this could lead to a troublemaker child, who just wanted his/her parent’s attention all along.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?

We’ve all read the research that points to the importance of having dinner time meals with your children. It helps them to develop critical social skills like storytelling and listening. It’s also a great time to hear about everyone’s day and to strengthen the bond around everyone’s interests, developments and challenges. In doing this, we often talk with our girls about the benefits of building trust, confronting issues, resolving issues and staying accountable. Often I don’t get home early enough to sit down for dinner with the girls — but over the long term we’re optimizing to increasingly make that happen. Reading to your children expands their vocabulary and helps them develop their speaking skills by you modeling how to pronounce things, your tone, and the body language you use. 

When I get home from work, if Sophie (my wife) and I need to talk about something, we will typically put on a 20 min show for our girls (aged 5 & 3) to watch, so we can prioritize that uninterrupted conversation. Once the show is over, or if they didn’t watch a show — then it’s play time with Daddy. Often this is just me on the floor with the girls climbing on me — or me hanging the girls upside down. Otherwise, we let the girls play whatever types of games or activities they are into — mostly unstructured. More recently we’ve been playing card games, like Go Fish, or simple board games, like Candy Land.

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

Yes, other than what I mentioned above, Sophie and I are focusing on introducing our children to positive and learning experiences. Our belief is that experiences create memories and accelerate our girl’s development more than anything. Some examples include going on family vacations, going to the beach, going to a museum, arts and crafts, going to the trampoline park, going on a walk in nature, going to a petting zoo, going to Disneyland, interacting with other kids in different social environments, etc. If we’re doing a chore around the house, or cooking in the kitchen — we always take time to explain what we’re doing and to attempt to give the girls a task that allows them to participate.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers some strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

Something that Sophie and I began doing that really helped was when I would come home from work we would put our phones away in drawers. It’s incredible how hardcore the addiction is to reach for your phone to check for a message or to visit your favorite websites. This routine forces you to be completely present and there is nothing else to do but focus on your family.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

A good parent is my wife, Sophie. At every level of development for our children’s lives she finds people and/or professionals to step in to take over the mundane, everyday tasks that can take us away from really spending time with our daughters. Things like cleaning and even some meal preparation, that kind of thing. We employ a nanny to help do many of these things that might otherwise pull us away from quality time with the girls. And Sophie’s mom is nearby and helps with the girls. (Which is a blessing for all involved.) I mean, Sophie and I have realized that it isn’t necessary for us to do all things — just the more important things. I’d rather play a game with my girls or do a project together or read to them than, say, wash dishes. And I think that is part of being a good parent. Putting your time and energy into actually spending time with your children. That’s how you help them grow and put them first. Of course, we are very blessed to be able to hire help. Not everyone can do that. But that main principle is still the same, no matter what the circumstances.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

We make a conscious effort to include the girls in what we do. They know and see what I do in the city, while we live and maintain our country home with Sophie’s business. They see skyscrapers and the tech world and they see vineyards and caring for the land. They experience nice dinner parties and fancy events, and enjoy spending time just relaxing at home with family. This gives them a wide range of experience as well as preparing them for any career or path that might call their hearts. We ask them from time to time what they want to do when they get bigger and, so far, they name things that are like what we do but with changes. Like my daughter Penelope wants to have a wine business — but name it Penelope, not Sophie James. I think that shows that we’re showing the positivity in what we do but that they are thinking beyond being exactly like us. Thinking about how they would do things differently. I believe that helps them to dream big.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

I believe true success stems from who you are as a person and how you model that both inside and outside your home. I believe it is about being happy, having fun, treating others with care and respect. Just being someone that is enjoyable to be around — not someone that pulls others down. And maintaining that while still taking on challenges and growing yourself. Not allowing the pressures of challenges or the growing pains of personal development affect others in a negative way but rather lifting others up with you.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

My favorite resource is actually other people we know. Sophie was a nanny for 20 years so when it comes to children, she already knows a great deal. But she also knows people we can ask for extra guidance or look to for inspiration as well. People that have experience and wisdom we need. Sophie and I often talk about what we see modeled and want to emulate or even do differently. And we’re not shy or too proud to ask for help in areas where we’re still learning. We talk to those that can help guide us. We’re dedicated to having a loving, healthy household and are constantly learning in pursuit of growing and maintaining that.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Just recently we’ve begun one in my household, “We’re optimizing for fun.” This has become my new favorite. It is at the core of what compels us to look for solutions to roadblocks we face. Like when there are too many things pulling at us and how to delegate some of those things away to others so we can focus on the most important things.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Sophie is an inspiration that I would like to see grow into a movement. That is, she is inspiring women to have a true career and be a wonderful mother. Finding solutions to do both every day. Without guilt.

For myself, I’m already part of what I hope will only grow as a movement. And that is helping consumers have ways to give back, to contribute to their communities, to have a positive social impact while taking care of daily responsibilities. A way where it is a regular part of their routine and millions of lives are changed for the better because of it.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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