Millennial Reality: Technology, Meaning, And Management Unburdened By Legacy

Sophie Wade

Millennials approach things differently. Unburdened by “traditional” perspectives, they are freer to consider unlimited possibilities and unconstrained opportunities. When challenges arise, they may confront obstacles and demand change in order to make progress. No surprise—this is the endlessly repeated cycle of generations, and the essence of youth.

This time, the difference is that this soon-to-be-dominant, digitally native group is technology-enabled, tech-facile, and tech-integrated. Sometimes the digital realm is an almost seamless extension of themselves, where the edges of real and virtual may not be clearly defined or controlled. They have the advantage of almost frictionless technology adoption, easily embracing powerful and versatile tools and solutions.

At the same time, millions of millennials were initially thrown into a recession-depressed job market. A very different slate of starting job and project opportunities and longer-term career trajectories – often unclear and or networked pathways – awaited them.

With greater uncertainty and instability, never mind fewer prospective material rewards to accumulate, many appear to seek purpose to define their future and determine their motivation. Managing through this with meaning can leverage (and can require) different levers and motivators. In addition, unconstrained by legacy habits, first principles may be exercised and an extended range of ideas explored and tested, resistance-free.

Danielle DuBoise and Whitney Tingle, soft-spoken childhood best friends from Sedona, Arizona, are the millennial co-founders and owners of Sakara Life, a fast-growing, Manhattan-based wellness company with a focus on clean eating. DuBoise shared their perspectives on technology, disruption, and management.

Your business is all about organic, perishable food. How are you using technology in innovative ways to expand and scale your business? 

Technology is part of our product; we use it to educate, inspire and help make clean eating more convenient. We’ve developed technology that helps us ship fresh, organic meals across the country. We’ve developed a sophisticated custom back-end system that allows us to create prep lists, order lists, and menus all based on client input (like allergies) and location.

How would you describe the brand and culture of Sakara and the part they play in your success and growth?

We created Sakara Life to disrupt the diet and meal delivery game…actually doing things the way they always should have been done. Instead of calorie-or pound-counting, people learn to build a body they can listen to. We believe that what you put in your body determines the rest of your life – it’s about living clean as well as eating clean. Many call us the “Food Doctor” as we help many people deal with health issues by empowering them to use the power of food as medicine. Our brand is our culture. It is core to the essence and success of the company—it’s who we are, and a lifestyle choice and solution for our clients and our employees.

How does this translate into how you and Whitney lead the company? What is your approach to leadership?

We are an open book when it comes to sharing how the company is doing. We talk about revenue goals, our investors, customer dynamics,and ask how our employees think we’re doing. At weekly team meetings, we talk about everything so everyone knows, which is important as we have many cross-functional projects. Trust is important, and so we are not afraid of showing our vulnerability or getting emotional. We let people know it is not all business. We believe our employees must be able to fail and it be ok, especially since we are a startup—they can fail, feel terrible if they want, rectify the situation quickly, and move on. We try to teach people to reach for the uncomfortable…your work environment is a place for spiritual growth too.

You are inclusive in your leadership and your decision-making. You have recently adopted a new decision-making process. Why, and how does it work? 

We have called our New York office a corporate jungle den—there isn’t a clear path to the top; we’re all at the top! With many cross-functional projects that effect many people and teams, we found there isn’t always one clear decision maker. So who should make the call? We adopted RAPID, which was originally created at Bain. For every project, there are different roles when a decision is made – the person Recommending that a decision be made, the person Approving the final decision, the ultimate Decision-maker etc. RAPID allows these roles to be assigned at the beginning of the project, and there may be people with dual responsibilities. It’s a new approach and is working so far! We think this gives us the process and flexibility to continue to grow—now we have over 80 employees and are delivering more than 50,000 meals a month.

Prior to Sakara, neither you nor Whitney had much management experience. How do you know what to do, and what is your approach for managing your employees?

I think that’s a blessing in disguise. It means we get to discover what works best for us and Sakara rather than conforming to what we learned in school or at another job. We have close advisors who help us, and we try to do what we think is right and manage in a way we’d want to be managed. We also try things out and then adapt as necessary. We have a young team, so most people need to be in the office most of the time to learn from each other. We have a “one team” mentality, where no job is too small for anyone. We all eat together in the office…and recently came back from “Camp Sakara,” which was focused on training, as well as integrating the LA and NY teams. At the same time, we believe that each person is responsible for their own happiness. If they are not happy, then they need to do something to change things. We believe in empowering individuals – we tell them we’re not here to watch your every move; we want you to be your own worst critic and create your own level of happiness and efficiency.

It seems simple and obvious when Danielle says it. It may sound radical to many of those working in traditional corporate environments. However, this is not management mayhem. It’s about having an open mind and a forward-looking perspective focused on logic, efficiency, and happiness, which we now know is a close equivalent to engagement, which increases productivity and retention.

Sounds like good management practice.

For more on how millennial business leaders are transforming traditional business approaches, see New Leaders: The Rise Of Millennials In Leadership Roles.