6 lessons I learned from 3 days in Bali with the co-founder of Refinery29

Who we admire says a lot about what we want to accomplish in our lives. Admiring someone is not “being a fan” of them. It is observing how people made the best of their singularity, and what we can learn from them to leverage our own uniqueness. To grow to the fullest version of our own potential.

While on a sabbatical year in Asia, I spent 3 unexpected days in Bali with the co-founder of Refinery29 Justin Stefano, who happened to be a friend of a friend. Watching people’s behaviour is my biggest obsession. I could not help but observe how someone who sold his company to Vice for $500 Million was behaving in “normal life”. How a guy my age, drinking cocktails in a pool just like you and me, made it that far. I was a little bit anxious when my friend invited me for 3 days and 2 nights just the 3 of us in some breathtaking pool villas. I carried this cliché that the guy could be a successful prick. I was utterly wrong. The only way to make real connections is to be yourself, so I summoned up my courage and behaved naturally with this “highly wanted” US entrepreneur. And we had it as real as it gets: we talked non stop about entrepreneurship, business, politics, empowerment, feminism, life…and food — he is as obsessed as me with this sector, every meal he has is of major importance. So he was extremely curious about my restaurant ventures, as I come from a corporate background, and the conversations flew with gin by night and cold brew by day.

1/ Curiosity

The man could not stop reading. News, feature stories, politics analysis…He has insomnia? Justin will do 3–4 hours of reading on his phone. Has breakfast before us? New Yorker in a hand, eggs on the side. Always reading the full article, completely immersed in what he does. This is a trait I keep on spotting in every leader, entrepreneur, people of influence that I met. Harvard Business Review published a whole edition about how curiosity is key for great leadership and I verified this again and again through 20 years of corporate life and encounters.

We often say that we are in a world of “over information” but neuroscientist Albert Moukheiber reminds us that our ancestors were gathering much more information than we are today. Without a notepad or a phone to take notes. We should not be afraid of overthinking and over information, but quite the opposite.

2/ Failure is a fantastic asset for an entrepreneur

As French people, we are terrified of failure. This american entrepreneur, to whom I was telling all the mistakes I did with my own restaurant venture, found that it was captivating and one huge reason for me to set up another business in the future.

This was liberating advice, at the opposite of common thinking. “I would partner up with someone who already failed much more than with someone who succeeded. Because the learnings are way more substantial. Most people who succeed don’t really know why.”

This reminds me of the Great achievers versus Super achievers talk from Darren Hardy, where he speaks about the joy of failing. After failing many times, there are successes, and there will be more failures, and more successes. Only those who are too afraid of failing sit on the road of their lives. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pefcqT0bjM4

3/ Be a maximizer…

When Justin arrived at the hotel, he immediately said he wanted another, better room. “I am a maximizer”, he candidly and fiercely said. When i say that he was like us in a pool in Bali, I intentionally forgot to say one thing — the guy took almost no holiday in 10 years or so. Maximizing. Completely focused on his priority.

— “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” — Steve Jobs

4/ …but remember bigger is not always happier

A moving moment was when Justin admitted that the personal pleasure he took in his venture was the highest when he had a medium size business. Not when it got bigger. After that, days have been all about board meetings and explaining staff about the directions. Less freedom, less fun. Everyone has their G (or B for business) point, it is so helpful to know it. Some people love the seed, others the business development phase, some like structuration, some prefer to restructure existing businesses, some enjoy being on several boards and give advice, others will enjoy take the teaching and mentoring direction…we are at our peak at some stage and angle, it’s nice to know it to get happier.

5/ Gender equality convictions and deep listening

Refinery 29 started as a fashion curator and is now a referring media on women empowerment. And it was created by 2 men. To be honest, Justin is one of the — if not THE — most aware men I met on the topic of gender equality. Acting as a complete gentleman with both women and men, at least what I witnessed from the short time I was lucky to spend with the entrepreneur. As women, we are too often interrupted by men. When I heard the word “mansplain” in a series for the first time, my whole life came to light. I thought wow, yes, I’ve been “mansplained” so many many times. The man of the future is a super listener, and puts women exactly on the same level as men. Not in big theories but through acts. When a man does not try to finish your sentences or reformulate your thoughts, to give you unsolicited advice, and hears you with deep focus and interest, you have hope in humanity.

6/ Try new things

In just a week in Bali, the man had tried surfing classes, booked in all the best Bangkok restaurants for his 2 days before flying back from Asia, slept in four different locations in Bali, ate the maximum of food he never tried before, and just kept learning from everyone he met while reading and listening to podcasts the rest of the time. The introvert-focused kind of guy. But the maximizer version.

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Laure Maumus

Laure Maumus

Fearful yet go-getter, I live to eat, question and connect. Love stinky cheeses, chesnut cream, dog’s eyes, dog’s everything, chasing absolute and being wrong.