“You give what it takes, and you take when it gives”, Alexandre Douzet and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Live a balanced lifestyle. If you look at life as a whole: you need time to work, time for your family, time for friends — but you only have 24 hours in a day. It’s not expandable. So how do you go about prioritizing knowing sometimes there will be a conflict? I like to use an analogy […]

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Live a balanced lifestyle. If you look at life as a whole: you need time to work, time for your family, time for friends — but you only have 24 hours in a day. It’s not expandable. So how do you go about prioritizing knowing sometimes there will be a conflict? I like to use an analogy I got from a cycling coach: “You give what it takes, and you take when it gives”. This means, if work is super challenging, give more of your time to solve those problems. But when things are going well, it gives you some more time so then go feed something else that you’ve neglected.

As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewingAlexandre Douzet.

Alex is the CEO of Pumpkin Pet Insurance and a serial entrepreneur who is always looking for the best ways to disrupt industries. Prior to Pumpkin, Alex was CEO and co-founder of Ollie (a human-grade pet food brand) and also co-founded Alex has an MBA in general management, an MS in direct marketing and a BS in economy and business administration. He is also a competitive athlete and has completed several Ironman competitions.

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 was born and raised in Eastern France in a region near Germany. I was one of five kids and also the baby of the family. I think as the last kid, you tend to be a bit rebellious and want to shake up the status quo and I’d say I probably lived up to that. I always had a passion for creating and building things. In high school I was interested in computers and technology and learned the very early stages of coding back in the 1980’s. When I went to college is when I truly started my path in entrepreneurship. I built two different companies during school: an employment recruitment service that helped students find part-time labor jobs; and the second venture was a sports marketing company. It was a lot of work, but also tremendous fun. When I moved to the U.S. after college, I found it pretty boring to work for someone else. I knew it was necessary to do, but it was frustrating, and that’s how my path to entrepreneurship kind of set its course.

How I ended up in the US: I remember talking to a waiter who spoke French when I was on vacation with my parents in the U.S. during high school, and he told me about a visa program that he was in, which I wrote down on a napkin to remember. When I was 18, I applied to the same internship program he told me about, which led to a summer working at a restaurant in Raleigh, NC to learn better English which I ended up liking very much, so every summer I found a way to come back. Next I went to NY for another internship, and the next thing I knew I was waking up in 2001, getting married and living on the east coast. My whole family is still in France and I have a brother and sister who are both entrepreneurs as well.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.

My father definitely influenced me. He was a self-made person born to a single mother in a difficult situation and had to drop out of school when he was 10 to go to work, but ended up as the GM of a big company that still exists in France today. The stories he told me about his work were inspiring, and as the last child I felt a need to be disruptive, so I absolutely feel my father’s background mixed with my own desire to shake things up put me on my current path.

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 was working for a company called HotJobs out of college (has since been acquired by Yahoo) and we happened to have the CEO of DoubleClick sitting on the board who went on to be the founder of many media companies and is an incredibly successful entrepreneur. During my tenure at HotJobs, I was accepted to business school and I noticed it was the same business school that the board member went to, so I reached out to him and mentioned it and we ended up creating a strong relationship. Years later when I went on to co-found TheLadders, he was the first person I pitched for an investment and he ended up being my first investor. It wasn’t a handout, it was a great fit and he understood the model and what we were trying to do. But I think it speaks to the importance of nurturing relationships and creating meaningful connections with people. I didn’t pitch him the first time I met him, I got to know him over many years.

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?

When I was at TheLadders after the recession of 2008, business was being disrupted and we were forced to get really focused. At the time we were using this service that my partner felt was interfering with the NPS score and he made the case to shut it down on our site. I disagreed with his prognosis, seeing correlation but not cause, but we ended up shutting the service down anyway and I always felt like it was a mistake. Fast forward to a few years down the road and another competing company picked up the service and their business absolutely blew up, went global and grew to become much bigger than our business. I now know we should have stuck with it as we were first to market and could have probably tripled what we did if we had stuck with it, but I ignored my instincts. Hindsight is 2020, but lesson learned.

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?

Don’t become an entrepreneur to become wealthy- there are much easier ways if that’s your only goal. Become an entrepreneur because you’re passionate about your cause and know that you can do it better than anyone else. Building a company is the equivalent of completing ten Ironmans back to back, so you need to be very focused, dedicated, passionate about learning and be able to establish a pace you can run for 10 years. In order to succeed: it’s not just one thing that needs to go right; there’s about 17 or 18 things that need to go well. If you’re an inquisitive person and enjoy solving problems- this very well may be the path for you.

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?

I read a lot so I have many book recommendations, but there’s a book called The Hard Thing by Ben Orbitz who was a founder and CEO before he was a VC and his journey was so hard and challenging I thought it was a great example of the entrepreneurial journey. There’s also another one I recommend especially if you’re an executive called “Death By Meetings”. As a CEO, you spend your life in meetings and it’s important to learn how to make meetings as exciting and as successful as possible.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

Well I’m French, so to quote Napoleon, “You become strong by defying defeat and by turning loss and failure into success.” As a CEO I’ve had many failures, but I’ve learned from them and learned how to not do them again and I think that’s really the key to success.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Right now I’m completely focused on my current venture as the CEO of Pumpkin Pet Insurance and our goal to revolutionize the world of healthcare for pets. Currently only 2% of pets are insured and we’re aiming to take that 2% to 20% as well as enable better overall care for animals to not just focus on petcare but pet wellness as a whole.

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?

Stress has a bad connotation that people associate with a negative moment; but stress is actually good because it causes change. For example, if I’m an athlete and I’m trying to become a better runner but I keep running the same six miles every day, I’m not doing anything. If I want to run faster and for longer then I need to create stress so I can get better. Work is very similar. If you want to succeed you have to run towards the stress, tackle it and create transformation.

Re-code your brain to not look at stress as a moment of panic and fear, but something as a challenge to tackle head on that will make you better at learning. The more you practice the better you’ll be at managing stress. Also make sure you’re giving yourself recovery moments as well, it’s always something you can take a break and then come back to. You can’t live in a constant state of stress.

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?

I do breathing exercises often. Deep breathing will allow you to control any kind of anxiety you have. Exercise has a huge overlap with meditation and other ways to deal with stress. This could be boxing, or it could be running/biking/swimming — anything that triggers breathing and is aerobic. This will allow you to control the moment.

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.

See deep breathing exercises above.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

I get distracted when I’m bored and if the subject isn’t intrinsically interesting to me so my first technique is just to pick something I’m passionate about or have an extreme interest in. I really love problem solving and learning new things so that will really get me to focus.

I once participated in a 3–5 month long study on optimal exercise for cognitive functions with Dr. Wendy Suzuki who is a professor of Neuroscience at NYU. It was a pretty cool testing process in which I would do different exercises like run at a high pace for about 45 minutes and then take a test to understand what kind of recall I had. After each exercise, we would re-test to associate what exercise was most effective. So I know that for me, exercising in general has been key in achieving the highest possible level of focus.

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?

Live a balanced lifestyle. If you look at life as a whole: you need time to work, time for your family, time for friends — but you only have 24 hours in a day. It’s not expandable. So how do you go about prioritizing knowing sometimes there will be a conflict? I like to use an analogy I got from a cycling coach: “You give what it takes, and you take when it gives”. This means, if work is super challenging, give more of your time to solve those problems. But when things are going well, it gives you some more time so then go feed something else that you’ve neglected.

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?

To achieve a state of Flow, you need to align your field and expertise to work on something that is exactly suited for you. This means culture as well. The team or company you’re joining needs to fit your style- a certain culture isn’t going to fit everyone so it needs to be a good match.

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.

Climate change and initiatives to preserve what we have to make things more sustainable. We’ve turned into such a consumer society and we’re poisoning ourselves very quickly, and I don’t think any of this is a priority for leaders around the world. I would love to accelerate the adoption of protecting the environment and recycling as I think it’s something that would help the most people.

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 🙂

Two people come to mind: 1) Bill Gates because of what he’s been able to do post-Microsoft with the Gates Foundation is amazing. I think he’s one of the greatest minds and a truly fascinating guy. 2) Elon Musk because of what he’s done with SpaceX and Tesla. I would just love to have breakfast with him and hear about how he’s done those two things so well.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The best way to follow what I’m up to is to connect on LinkedIn:

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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