Welcome to Byrdie's new series, Level Up, where Byrdie's SVP and GM Leah Wyar shines a light on some of the smartest, most successful leaders in the beauty, wellness, and style industries. While climbing up the career ladder looks different for everyone, those near the top usually share one common strength: management, not just of their direct reports, but of those above them as well. But management—in all its forms—is one of the hardest skills to master and can take years of practice. The intent of our three-question column? To skip the small talk and surface the skills and practices to level up your most successful self.
Next up: Jonathan Shokrian, founder and CEO of MeUndies, which he created in 2011 as the first online underwear subscription. His mission: to simplify and elevate the underwear shopping experience while fueling authentic self-expression. (If you aren’t yet familiar, the brand’s near-weekly drops are full of personality, with colorful, cheeky designs, such as Send Noods—noodle bowls, galore—and Best Buds, a cannabis print.) For the last 10 years under Jonathan’s leadership, the brand has sold more than 15 million pairs of underwear in 120 countries around the world and expanded the product offering to include bralettes, socks, loungewear, BuddyBands (bandanas for pets), and, most recently, swimwear—all while staying true to its vision of creating a more thoughtful and accepting world, where living truths are celebrated. (MeUndies Gives, the company’s cause marketing platform, helps organizations such as LA LGBT Center, The Body Positive and Fashion Scholarship Fund, to fight conformity and promote acceptance and change.) And now, Jonathan’s advice for motivating, managing expectations and prioritizing mental health.
Jonathan, thank you for all you’re doing to move the inclusivity and individuality needle in the style world. Tell us: What are some secrets you’ve learned to successfully manage down (aka, your team)?
I’d say first, find people you really trust and work well with. A team that supports you—and you can learn from—is key. People are your most important assets, so hire thoughtfully, make time to connect person to person before jumping right into work in a meeting, and encourage open communication, be it about mental health, performance feedback, roadblocks, and successes. I let the team know my door is always open and that I’m here to help clear obstacles out of their path. I trust their creative and critical thinking in executing our company roadmap. Plus, we’ve made celebration a part of our company culture, with dedicated Slack channels and reserved time in our Team Meeting for shoutouts to recognize all the amazing things our team does for each other—both big and small.
How about tips for smartly managing up—to your Board and investors?
It was important for me to set them up for success from day one. That means, from the get-go, not raising [money] at aggressive multiples that put pressure on a business to perform and hit numbers that are not realistic or sustainable. I also make time to truly understand my investors’ priorities, so we can build up to surpass those goals. Just like managing my team, open communication and trust are key. It’s about building relationships and making sure you bring on investors and Board members you like—misalignment can be a huge setback. I keep my Board informed and regularly connect with them and make them aware of things ahead of time to avoid surprises.
Managing expectations is all about transparency, I agree. And how about yourself? Is there a mindset or practice that you use to stay level-headed, confident and focused?
My business philosophy is to take chances, seek advice, listen, and execute with the learnings I’ve acquired along the way. I used to doubt myself because I didn’t have an MBA. That’s not the case anymore; I know that calculated mistakes will only make me stronger and are lessons that can’t be taught in class.
I also prioritize my mental health: I meet weekly with a therapist—I’ve done this since launching MeUndies. And I workout just about every morning. Running helps me reset, and the occasional round with my punching bag always helps burn off steam. I also block out my time thoughtfully during the week. I review the upcoming week on the Friday before, visualize how I want the week to go, see where I potentially need to make changes or bring in more support, and then set the intention to have a great day every morning.