scorecardMONEY MOVES: The daily routines of 10 founders growing successful businesses through the pandemic and recession
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MONEY MOVES: The daily routines of 10 founders growing successful businesses through the pandemic and recession

Alexandra York,Jennifer Ortakales Dawkins,Shriya Bhattacharya   

MONEY MOVES: The daily routines of 10 founders growing successful businesses through the pandemic and recession
Careers6 min read
Jessica Hawks is a virtual assistant coach.    Jackie Sterna
  • The pandemic spurred a new class of business owners, including solopreneurs and freelancers.
  • The number of new businesses remains high, with more than 400,000 new applications every month of 2022.

The pandemic spurred a new class of business owners made up of solopreneurs, freelancers, and full-time side hustlers who launched companies at a record rate.

Aspiring titans filed more than 5 million business applications in 2021, according to data from the US Census Bureau. The growth continued in 2022: Entrepreneurs started more than 400,000 firms a month for most of the year.

These businesses range from restaurants to social-media-marketing agencies.

Starting a business in a pandemic or in uncertain economic times demands flexibility, agility, and originality. Ten entrepreneurs who did this told Insider how they structured their days for success, found a work-life balance, and honed their creativity.

They wake up early for a head start

Ria Graham
Ria Graham is a coowner of Kokomo, a Caribbean restaurant in Brooklyn.      Ria Graham

Jackie Nguyen, the founder of the Vietnamese coffee truck Cafe Cà Phê, and Ria Graham, a cofounder of the Caribbean restaurant Kokomo, both wake about 6 a.m.

For Nguyen, the early start is an opportunity to balance two jobs: In addition to running Cafe Cà Phê, Nguyen works nearly 40 hours a week in a corporate job doing branding and marketing. She runs her cafe from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., using downtime between customers to tackle tasks for her other job.

Nguyen, who was an actor and dancer for 12 years, had been dreaming of opening her own coffee shop before the pandemic began. When the crisis shut down live performances and left Nguyen without work, she turned her passion project into a new career. In July 2020, she launched Cafe Cà Phê in Kansas City, Missouri, and made six figures in sales in 2021, Insider verified with documentation.

Meanwhile, Graham starts her day early because it's the only quiet time she gets. She's a mother of two young children. She spends her mornings praying, meditating, and drinking tea before waking her family.

Graham and her husband, Kevol, opened their Brooklyn restaurant in mid-2020, offering customers distinct takes on Caribbean cuisines like sweet plantain pancakes and jerk chicken. Graham also makes her own coconut rum, called Good Guice, which is based on her family recipe. The couple booked nearly $4 million in revenue in 2021, Insider verified with documentation.

Read more: I'm a former Broadway actress turned entrepreneur. Here's how I run my coffee shop on wheels, which did $186K in sales this year, while working another job.

Read more: I'm a 27-year-old Brooklyn restaurant owner hitting nearly $4 million in sales. Here's how I spend my day.

They create strict schedules to ensure productivity

After losing her job as an auction art specialist during the pandemic, Charlotte Alden struggled to find work. She bought a bead kit on Amazon to serve as a pastime and opened her jewelry business, Lottie, by October 2020.

Today, she keeps a strict daily schedule that includes running every morning and blocking specific hours to make jewelry. Alden also stops working at 10 p.m., even if she's not tired, and goes to sleep.

"Getting a good night's sleep can determine my entire day," she said.

Lottie and Alden's creations have been worn by Zaya Wade, the daughter of the basketball star Dwyane Wade, and the model Nina Agdal.

Read more: A 29-year-old turned her quarantine hobby into a jewelry business beloved by models and a 'Bachelor' star. Here's how she spends her day.

They block time to build their digital brands

Dana Hasson
Dana Hasson makes time to connect with her followers on social media.      Dana Hasson

After a day of meetings and content creation, Dana Hasson devotes time to connect with her social-media followers. Hasson is an influencer with 2.8 million followers on TikTok and 120,000 on Instagram, where she's known for sharing beauty content and baking tips. She's also the founder of Should Look Like This, a line of bakeware that launched in late 2021. Despite her busy schedule, she'll spend hours before bed replying to fan messages and comments.

Hasson said she believed her growth stemmed from being consistent and genuine with her fans.

"I'm very proud of what I've created and the community I have," she previously told Insider. "I'm really excited to just grow old with them."

Nguyen also uses her evenings to build her social-media presence. Between 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., she'll draft posts for the next day. The cafe has 14,800 followers on Instagram, where it highlights colorful lattes, new merchandise, and a promo for Lunar New Year events.

Read more: A 24-year-old TikTok creator with 2.4 million followers and a newly launched business shares the daily schedule that keeps her organized

They prioritize downtime to have fun

Entrepreneurs like Erifili Gounari and Jessica Hawks both told Insider that part of their success came from knowing when to unplug.

Gounari has two jobs: She's the founder of the social-media agency The Z Link, which counts the consulting firm Deloitte Greece as a client, and runs social media for the insurer SafetyWing. Balancing these jobs means setting boundaries and taking time away from work, she said. For example, if she finishes work early enough, she goes for a walk and eats dinner with her family.

"There are times where I have to deal with a work task later in the day," she said. "But it's important for me to set boundaries and remind myself you should really not be working 24/7."

Hawks also balances a busy day. In addition to running her virtual-assistant coaching business and master classes, she also hosts a podcast. She booked more than $1.1 million in sales in 2020, which Insider verified with documentation. Despite her workload, she finds time for fun.

"You've created something for yourself that does allow you to travel and spend time with your friends and family," Hawks said, "and not just push those to the side because you could keep going."

Similarly, Gen Z entrepreneurs Travis Chen and Brian Femminella prioritize outdoor activities to avoid burnout while working. Chen and Femminella are the cofounders of SoundMind, a music-therapy app to help people who are experiencing trauma, anxiety, and depression. The app was launched in late 2021, after reports of a mental health crisis prompted by the pandemic made the two young men think about what they could do to help.

To unplug from their workdays, Chen likes to go on hikes while Femminella indulges in skydiving.

"It's to really see the world and hear nothing but the air and the sound of the parachute as a way to reset my mind," Femminella previously told Insider.

Read more: The 21-year-old founder and CEO behind a social media agency that's worked with Deloitte and the UN swears by this 7:30 a.m. to midnight schedule

Read more: A virtual assistant followed this daily routine to earn $9,000 a month and scale her business to $1.1 million in sales.

Read more: Meet the Gen Z founders who created a music app to help combat pandemic-induced anxiety and depression

They create an 'energy map'

Liah Yoo
Liah Yoo is the founder of Krave Beauty.      courtesy of Yoo

Being a founder is a time-intensive and emotionally demanding job, which is why the energy you're surrounded by is key, both Meha Agrawal, founder of journaling company Silk & Sonder and Liah Yoo, founder of beauty brand KraveBeatuy, told Insider.

"Every founder should do an energy map," Agrawal said. "Identifying what activities you're doing day to day that raise your energy and recharge you, and what drains you."

She suggests getting as much of the draining work off your plate by delegating tasks so you can focus on what drives you.

Agrawal has used this method to grow her journaling business from a side hobby to a brand that booked more than $3 million in sales from April to October 2022, according to documentation.

Yoo follows a similar strategy to determine where to use her energy.

She dictates her high-energy and low-energy tasks on her calendar with red or green boxes. If she notices too much red, she reevaluates her priorities, she said.

Yoo has been using this method from the start of her business — which began in 2017 and hit eight figures in sales in 2021, according to documentation.

"The energy audit is really huge," Yoo said, adding that she dedicates at least 20% of every day or week into something that sparks joy. "If I don't have that 20% of creative time, I don't think I'd be able to last any day or any week."

Read more: How 7 content creators built brands beyond fan merchandise and launched successful businesses

Dominic-Madori Davis contributed to this article.

An earlier version of this article appeared on January 18, 2022.