Work it out with your team — If you’re stressed , it means your whole team or organization feels that stress too. If you project confidence and are optimistic with your team, it trickles down. The last thing you want is chaos in the midst of a high pressure situation
As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High-Pressure Moments,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Yaraghi.
Jonathan Yaraghi is the Founder & Creative Director of Jonathan Y. He launched his eponymous area rugs and lighting business in June 2017, catering to the Millenial state-of-mind.
Prior to starting his own business, Yaraghi spent 12 years with his family’s area rugs and home furnishings business, Safavieh. He held a variety of roles there including manager of wholesale sales and creative director of total home, overseeing all hard product categories including furniture, lighting, mattresses, decorative accessories, outdoor and more.
Yaraghi holds a degree in Information Technology from Syracuse University’s celebrated iSchool and sits on the steering committee of the Cooper Hewitt’s Young Patrons.
He calls New York home, where he works to meet the needs of the ever changing Millenial consumer through a balance of analytics and design. Fast fashion. Affordable pricing. www.JonathanY.com
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in the family business, climbing piles of rugs as a kid, and watching my parents and uncles work day in and day out to build on their legacy. I was always a creative kid (design is in my blood), but the “business” side of the business — and how it was always changing — always fascinated me and led me to study IT in college. I worked in the family business for 12 years and probably would have stayed there much longer, but a near death experience on a repelling trip in Ecuador pushed me to stop and take stock of what my legacy would be. The rest, as they say, is history. I realize now that every day you’re in business, you’re taking chances.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
My family is my inspiration. I’m a fourth generation entrepreneur. My great- grandfather started an antique Persian rug shop in Iran in 1914. My grandfather took over the business in the 1950’s and seeing an opportunity for growth, started exporting to the US & Europe. In the late 1970’s my father came to the US to visit my uncle at college and then the Iranian Revolution broke out so the family made the decision to move the family business to the US. My father was only 24 when he opened his first rug showroom on Madison ave in NYC, can you imagine? By the time I started officially working for the family business, I was told nothing would change about how the business was run. So I was led to believe I’d be delivering blanket wrapped furniture with two guys in a truck for the rest of my life. Guess what? Things changed. Technology and logistics became a big part of how we were able to differentiate ourselves in the market. When I eventually went off to build my own business model, it was built on the foundation of generations of successful family entrepreneurs.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I really can’t single one person out. When I say my family shaped me, I mean it in every way. My dad and his four brothers taught me everything, and my success is a credit to them. I mean what family business do you know where all the family partners are involved so wholly and actually get along? It’s a blessing. They each brought their strengths to the table, whether it was being aggressive, analytical, engaging with their customers, or teaching me to just take my time. I hope I make them proud because truly, the best parts of each of them are what I strive to be.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
This is actually a pretty funny story! Shortly after we launched our business, we had a customer post a bad review online and I frieked out. I was literally out to dinner when I saw it post and within minutes I had tracked the customer down and called her on the phone. To say she was shocked is an understatement. I told her I completely understood her dissatisfaction and appreciated her sharing it, but that I wanted to make it right. She couldn’t believe that I had reached out, and so immediately. I sent her a replacement product right away and because of that experience, she changed her review. It set the bar for how we still handle customer service today. It was a huge lesson in how important it is to connect with your customer!
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Be true to yourself and be persistent. Work is only hard if you don’t love it. Honestly, it would have been very easy for me to stay and work for my family. It was safe and comfortable. It was a great education and set me up for success when my path changed and I went out on my own. People still say, “oh is this a new line of your family’s?” Two years later, I’m still correcting them.
A lot of young people today want to get rich quick, but that’s not realistic. You have to show up every day and work hard. I make a point to come to work every day with the energy I did on my first day.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Sam Walton’s “Made in America”. This book and his story had a huge impact on me. I had a dream since high school to do business with Walmart — and now I do. A copy of the book still sits on my desk today, and I still refer to it from time to time.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” ~ Steve Jobs
This quote had gotten me through the crazy ride of life and business so far. You have to realize that some things may not make sense right away, but as you move forward, you start to see how they connect. You have to trust.
We’re living in a strange time right now. Business owners, especially retailers, have been dealt a big blow this year amidst the pandemic. As a business we went into survival mode and did what we needed to do to keep our team safe and working, to meet the new demands of online shopping and customer expectations. We had to adapt, and we’re stronger as a team and a business, for it. We’ve actually seen a major increase in sales the last 6 months with a spike in online shopping for home decor as people quarantined and spent more time at home — and updating their home — this year. We couldn’t have predicted any of that.
In addition, I personally tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this spring and spent a number of weeks in the hospital and recovering at home in New York. It was a rough go. The hardest thing I’ve ever experienced personally and professionally by far. I questioned “why” on a daily basis.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
With technology as a big part of our business model, we’ve got a few new things we’re excited about. We recently launched an online rug visualizer tool on our consumer site, eyely.com, because design is hard! People have a hard time imagining what something will look like in a room, just by a photo. With this AR tool, you literally just upload a picture of your room and it places any of our rugs — to scale — into the photo so you can “try before you buy”! We’ve also got a whole new line of “smart” products launching, designed to be wireless, accessible, convenient, and secure for how we live today. Plus a new Jonathan Y app in the App Store to manage everything.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
Take a deep breath
You need to take of yourself as the leader of the pack. However you find your calm, it’s important to take the time to do that. Meditation, yoga, a long bike ride, whatever it is that clears your mind and helps you focus — don’t dismiss it.
Work it out with your team
If you’re stressed , it means your whole team or organization feels that stress too. If you project confidence and are optimistic with your team, it trickles down. The last thing you want is chaos in the midst of a high pressure situation
Trust the numbers
You have analytics for a reason, use them. We gain great insight about our consumers and what they’re interested in that is integral to our business. If we ever get stuck on making a decision, we always go back to the data to help us.
Go out and have a great meal
My father taught me a long time ago that if you have a bad day, end that day by going out and having the best meal you can. Whether that’s your favorite pizza joint or dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant, it doesn’t matter. When I go to my favorite restaurant after a stressful day, it always turns my frown upside down.
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
Eating a good meal that’s good for you is literally brain food. A healthy breakfast before a big meeting or taking a tough client out to a meal you know they’ll enjoy. These things matter.
I actually did a ton of reorganizing and redesigning of my apartment after testing positive for COVID-19. Recovering at home had me purging and doing a lot of smart organizing. Like putting the knives where the cutting boards are, and reorganizing stacks of books or rearranging a vase collection. I find decluttering very therapeutic.
Fresh air and exercise does wonders for me. If I can start my day with a bike ride around the city, it definitely sets the tone for the rest of my day.
I wouldn’t be any kind of success without my family. I rely on them in good times and in bad. I know they’ll be there for advice or just a shoulder, especially when I’m under a lot of stress.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
Yoga is my go to. Focusing on your breathing is so important for centering yourself. It’s a great way to start or end your day.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
I tend to be analytical in my approach. If I’m distracted and get stuck, I go back to the data and analytics to help me focus, or re-focus on the task at hand.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
- The first is I laugh a lot. I try not to take things too seriously
- Remember to keep your eyes on the road, not the destination.
- The last thing is something I mentioned earlier, and that’s to come to work every day like it’s my first day. I want to channel that kind of energy every day.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
If something isn’t working, change it. It’s that simple for me. I think one of the worst habits we can have in business is micro-managing something to death that just isn’t worth it. It’s a waste of time. Today, no one has time to waste on things that are broken.
As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
I like to think of my new business journey as really as an ebb and flow. You have to be able to ebb to eventually be able to flow. When I started my own business over 2 years ago, it certainly wasn’t smooth sailing out of the gate. We had to work to find that flow. Then a worldwide pandemic hits and we have to find that flow again. The balance is key.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
In our generation, the biggest, most important thing we can focus our energy on, is the environment. It’s our responsibility as human beings, we all have to do our part. All the small things we do as part of our business — from using LED lighting to eco-friendly packaging — it all matters and makes a difference.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I’d have to say Barack Obama. I don’t think I even need to explain why. An amazing leader and a total inspiration. A true man of the people. Grace under pressure, compassionate, thoughtful and brilliant.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
@jonathany_official on social
Or our sister site
@eyelyhome on social