We last posted a blog on team building in the USA in 2013. Since then, we have seen a significant rise in enquiries, resulting in regular trips across the Atlantic to deliver our unique interactive events. There is always something extra exciting about working in the States and we relish the opportunity for making new connections and bringing our ideas to life.
I was lucky enough on my very first visit to the USA to see it from a stunning vantage point. As a young drummer working on the famous ocean liner the QE2, as luck would have it I was bound for New York on my very first voyage. Looking out from the bow of the ship, I eagerly awaited any sight of land. The first thing I saw, as the mist rose, was the Statue of Liberty greeting me after five days at sea across the wild Atlantic.
Who would have thought that many years later, I’d have the opportunity to work across the country from Newark to the Beverly Hills Hotel in LA!
These days, we might not arrive in such romantic fashion but certainly still bring excitement and wonder within the work we do.
The main reasons we attract interest from the USA are the uniqueness of our team building activities and how they are produced, and the ease in which the events are organised. Word soon gets around that the facilitators and artists we use consistently wow audiences wherever they go. They always leave fantastic event memories and ‘lock in’ whatever conference messages are required. Event organisers have enough on their plates sorting out presentation content, venue issues, transport and food. By providing no-fuss team activities that seamlessly fit into an agenda, we seem like a blessing!
So what have we been doing in the United States in the last few months?
I spent Paddy’s Day in Chicago, unleashing hundreds of pairs of rubber gloves on an unsuspecting conference. America might be the birthplace of Rhythm and Blues, but only we import back to them rhythm and rubber with our Clap Happy event!
From the urban streets of grimy south London, we sent over to sunny California our very own World Champion Beat Boxer. It may have been his unassuming surprise presence in the conference room, or the unbelievable sounds and beats of his opening performance, but I think it was his British accent that won the audience over to create one huge human beat box orchestra.
We also had a One Voice event just outside New York and lots of separate drumming events all over the East Coast. I know we will be back across the pond very shortly as we have many pending enquiries. Until then, may we wish our transatlantic clients and colleagues all the best and hope to see them very soon.
Have you ever seen a trapeze artist perform in a circus? Though his act is full of uncertainty and risk, the artist is able to perform without hesitation. What enables him to do this? The assurance of the safety net at the bottom. He has the surety in his mind that even if he falls while performing, he cannot get hurt because the safety net will catch him.
Similarly, we all seek that ‘safety net’ or protection in our life. This need for protection is fulfilled by different things including people, our status in life, the amount of money we have etc… These things provides us with security and peace of mind that helps us move on in life.
However, it is not enough to look for our own safety always. It is important that we also create an environment that allows other people to feel safe in our presence. When we make someone feel safe, it means that he/she does not fear us in any way. They can be open with us and not fear being judged for something they say or do.
Param Pujya Dada Bhagwan has defined this as the ultimate form of charity called, ‘Abhaya daan’. He says, ‘Abhaya daan is where one’s conduct is such that he will not raise fear in any living being. For abhaya daan, one should have the inner intention of not hurting any living being, even in the slightest degree. Only then will this come into practice.”
So on this auspicious occasion of Rakshabandhan, why don’t we decide to create a safe, open environment around us, which will enable others to feel protected in our presence?
Every so often, we find ourselves in the middle of a month where it’s suddenly everyone’s birthday. This weekend, there’s a family get-together to celebrate your baby cousin’s first year ’round the sun (even though they won’t remember the party ever happened). Next week, your sister’s turning 21 and insistent on making it a huge deal. And at the end of the month, your former college roommate is turning the big 3-0. Try as you may, you’re not getting out of any of these.
While it’s tempting to give everyone — mom, grandpa, even your S.O. — the same item (i.e. a practical and easy Amazon gift card), going the route of gifting something more in-line with their specific interests will be worth so many more brownie points. From your toddler nephew to your like-a-sister best friend, we’re sharing 27 great present ideas in the name of keeping things creative. Just remember, karma comes back around. A good gift could be to your benefit when the gifting tables are turned.
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.
Babies & ToddlersTransparently, infants really just need something that makes noise and that can safely be put in their mouth. But gifting for the sake of their parents helps, too. Opt for cute baby sneakers, toys that are too big to swallow, or a get-up with a pattern so busy no stains can ruin it.
Vans Infant Checker Slip-On V Crib, $25, available at VansPhoto Courtesy of Vans.
Babies & Toddlers
Jellycat Bashful Raccoon, $22.5, available at Bloomingdale’sPhoto Courtesy of Bloomingdales.
Babies & Toddlers
Zara Colorful Overalls, $29.9, available at ZaraPhoto Courtesy of Zara.
KidsWith kids on the other hand, you can have a little more fun with your gifting selection. Teach them a little something (with illustrations, of course), give them their first glimpse of fashion, or introduce them to a game they’ll likely play for the rest of their lives.
Quarto Books Rosa Parks: Little People, Big Dreams, $15, available at Barneys New YorkPhoto Courtesy of Barneys.
Apparis Goldie Children’s Mauve Faux Fur Coat, $195, available at ApparisPhoto Courtesy of Apparis.
Westminster Toys Cosmic Arcade Foosball Game, $44.99, available at NordstromPhoto Courtesy of Nordstrom.
TweensOh, tween-hood. For most of us, being a tween meant collecting Dr. Pepper-flavored lip balm and listening to Britney Spears or N*SYNC on our Walkmen. Nowadays, tweens are a bit more grown up. So try for mature picks with a young touch — an affordable designer handbag with a helping hand from Disney’s or a handheld video game console will do the trick.
Disney x Coach Boxed Minnie Mouse Coin Case, $99, available at CoachPhoto Courtesy of Coach.
Nintendo Nintendo Switch™, $299.99, available at TargetPhoto Courtesy of Target.
FENTY BEAUTY BY RIHANNA Avalanche All-Over Metallic Powder Set, $99, available at SephoraPhoto Courtesy of Sephora.
TeensTodays teens are just grown ups with enough time to do the things we only wish we could. Day jobs don’t allow for trips to the skate park or you leave us too tired in the morning to straighten your hair. Show the teens in your life to appreciate all that free time while they can with special birthday gifts this year.
Amika Mighty Mini Styler, $40, available at RevolvePhoto Courtesy of Revolve.
Toy Machine Fists Complete Skateboard 7.75 x 31.75, $89.99, available at Urban OutfittersPhoto Courtesy of Urban Outfitters.
Pixie Market White Beaded Bag, $119, available at Pixie MarketPhoto Courtesy of Pixie Market.
College StudentsGifting a college student is all about opting for utility. Think healthy supplements to get them through those late nights at the library or a bike to save some cash (and the environment). Basically, buy all the things we didn’t have in college that would have made a big difference.
Moon Juice Brain Dust, $38, available at Net-A-PorterPhoto Courtesy of Net-a-Porter.
Critical Cycles Harper Fixed-Gear Single-Speed Bike, $199.99, available at Westridge OutdoorsPhoto Courtesy of Retrospec.
Dagne Dover Dakota Backpack, $175, available at BandierPhoto Courtesy of Bandier.
FriendsBuying gifts for your friends is a much more personal endeavor. If you’re stuck on what to gift your BFF this year, remember, all anyone wants for fall is some good ‘ol hygge. Try a pair of pajamas that double as one hell of a going-out ‘fit or an oversized scarf to keep them bundled up through the chilly months.
Sleeper Black Pajama Set, $265, available at SleeperPhoto Courtesy of Sleeper.
Maison Louis Marie No.03 L’Étang Noir, $34, available at Need SupplyPhoto Courtesy of Need Supply.
& Other Stories Oversized Wool Scarf, $69, available at & Other StoriesPhoto Courtesy of & Other Stories.
Significant OthersNow’s the time to splurge and also the time really think about all those hints you’ve been getting over the last few weeks. Maybe your beau broke his or her Air Pods or lost their favorite shades during their last party weekend in Vegas. Here’s your easy chance to make everything well in the world again.
aHead Wireless Headphones, $145, available at AnthropologiePhoto Courtesy of Anthropologie.
Céline 46mm Square Sunglasses, $470, available at NordstromPhoto Courtesy of Nordstrom.
ParentsYour parents deserve the world. Take their birthdays as a chance to show them that. But remember, they’re true adults, so they can likely buy themselves a lot of what they need on their own. Get them something they might not splurge on for themselves, but would make them happier to have.
Grosche Madrid French Press, $30, available at Saks Fifth AvenuePhoto Courtesy of Saks Fifth Avenue.
White + Warren Luxe Cashmere Robe, $478, available at ShopbopPhoto Courtesy of Shopbop.
Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB Direct-Drive Professional Turntable, $299, available at AmazonPhoto Courtesy of Amazon.
GrandparentsIn all likelihood, your grandparents will adore anything you gift them. But don’t let that stop you from getting them something they’ll really love. Whether they’re big knitters or love photography from their heyday, find out what makes yours happy and run with that.
Vitruvi Stone Essential Oil Diffuser, $119, available at Free PeoplePhoto Courtesy of Free People.
We Are Knitters Chamonix Sweater Knitting Kit, $99, available at We Are KnittersPhoto Courtesy of We Are Knitters.
Assouline Dior: Memoire Book, $75, available at FarfetchPhoto Courtesy of Farfetch.
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?
These are a few things that happen when you spend a day with Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag: you tip-toe around their house as to not disturb their four dogs (the closest thing the couple has to kids), you eat Mexican food (twice), and you talk about what it’s like to be famous.
You know Pratt and Montag from their days spent in front of the camera on the iconic reality series, The Hills. They were the self-destructive, blonder, and less extreme Nancy & Sid Vicious of the Los Angeles club scene. They made Lauren Conrad cry. A lot. They tipped the paparazzi off to where they were at all times to elevate their namesake and couple moniker, Speidi. They bought crystals. They bought everything. They ended up broke, but never broke up. They rode the wave of fame until the tide died down and there were barely even ripples.
But then in 2016, something happened. Speidi found a new way to start entertaining their fans — old and young, new and loyal — by using social media to provide a (constant) glimpse into their daily life. They reinstated their relevance and their web expanded for the first time in years. They started using Snapchat and Twitter to interact with anyone that showed interest in their lives.
I was one of those people.
Despite seeing their dozens of tweets and hundreds of Snaps a week, I had to know more about the state of Speidi and what they really do all day. The purpose of my visit to Speidi’s lair is to see what the two do all day on the other side of their Snapchat selfie cams (and to fulfill a lifelong dream of hanging out with the Pratts), but more than that, it was to see in person how two people can go from television show villains, to struggling twentysomethings, to budding social media entrepreneurs.
They now live in a quiet beach town and mostly keep to themselves. However, they were kind enough to open their doors to me and give full access to follow them around for a day in late November.
So, what is a typical day for Speidi? Let’s start at the beginning.
This story has been updated.
The Arrival, 10:08 a.m.It wasn’t until I was tip-toeing up to the side entrance of their home that it sunk in that I was about to spend the whole day with members of the reality TV hall of fame (as the most notorious villains).
I first spot Heidi running up the driveway towards their house, hair still in curlers. She’s frantic; I’m on time. I ring the doorbell, pretending to not have seen her, and she ushers the photographer and I in through the side door, pleading with us to be as quiet at possible as to not disturb the four dogs in the back house. Once inside, she peels away to finish getting ready, and Spencer casually walks in, on his phone of course. We greet each other like old friends (isn’t Twitter weird?): “I feel like I’ve already met you.” “Same!”
Their home is well-lit with natural light from the vaulted ceilings and dozens of windows. It belongs to Spencer’s parents, and they live there rent-free at the moment. There are dozens of magazines (Spencer’s favorites) spread across the kitchen table. They have a lot of pictures of themselves around the house, but the most striking one is a huge custom Lego piece that hangs above the landing of their stair well. It’s the first thing you see when you walk into the house. Spencer doesn’t remember how much he paid for it, but he confirms that it was expensive.
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
The First Snapchat, 10:35 a.m.Every day, Spencer wakes up around 9 a.m. and starts Snapchatting. He easily shares 50 Snapchats a day, depending on the activities he has planned. But nothing is off-limits for him. After Heidi is finished with her hair, we head down to their car, a huge black Denali, which is full of half-empty Essentia Enhanced water bottles (he’s desperate for an Essentia sponsorship). We climb in, Spencer in the driver’s seat and Heidi in the passenger, and head to our first destination, their favorite breakfast burrito joint (they love burritos). We barely make it past the gate to their neighborhood before Spencer abruptly stops the car and jumps out. “I gotta get these birds!” he says, and starts taking a video.
Heidi uses this opportunity to take a few selfies and check out what filters are available. She says she would love to create her own filters and has a few ideas that she’s come up with. Most of them are animal-related. (Snapchat, are you listening?)
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
The Breakfast Burrito, 10:32 a.m.It is a fact that Spencer and Heidi love Mexican food. When I asked them where they wanted to go to, they chose to begin and end the day with Mexican food… galore. You know when little kids get a fountain drink and take their cup of ice to the machine and fill every kind of soda in one cup? It’s called “a suicide” and results in a toxic-looking black fizzy cola. Spencer does the equivalent of this with salsas.
He’d love to do a commercial for Taco Bell soon (if the internet is as powerful as we think it is, this could very well come to fruition): “I always tweet Taco Bell a picture of me and tacos, and I think a lot of people tweet them, saying ‘Give Spencer a commercial!’ ’cause when I Snapchat eating their tacos, the [followers on Twitter] always say that I make them wanna eat them.” This commercial would actually be nearly a decade in the making as in 2008. At one point the two were even spokespeople for the fast food chain.
They also tell me about their upcoming Taco Bell Friendsgiving event happening the next day, which they will later document every moment of on Snapchat. Pratt is also on a long mission to solve a Taco Bell mystery, which he calls “The Craziest Taco Bell Story.”
“I’ve told it before, and I’m going to bring it up when we’re there tomorrow,” he tells me later back at his house. “The President of Taco Bell gave me, off of his chest, his Taco Bell pin, which means you eat taco bell free for your life. I tried it at multiple Taco Bells and they looked at me [blankly]. Obviously, it worked for him, cause it’s like, ‘I’m the president.’ But for me they were like, what are you talking about? It never works. I eventually lost it, or I threw it away. But now I want it back, because now I would be live tweeting and saying, ‘I have my pin, they’re not giving me tacos.’”
Later that day, after I leave, Heidi would film Spencer doing a solo mannequin challenge in a nearby Taco Bell. People would later deem the video “one of the biggest social media moments of 2016.” He would also get the “magical pin” back.
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
MexiCali Lovers, 10:47 a.m.Spencer and Heidi both took Spanish in college. Spencer took three semesters, and Heidi only took one. If we’re getting into the details of it though, Heidi nearly took one because she was kicked out of the class. She was tossed out because she was never enrolled at University of Southern California where she had been attending said class. She went so she could be with Spencer. Neither of them use their knowledge of the language when ordering their food.
Only Spencer and Heidi would cheers their halves of burritos and seal it with a kiss. Before noon. Their puppy dog love for each other is palpable, but not obnoxious. They’re just really, really into each other. But they also know what to do to make people talk about them, it’s their gift. They still know how to work the paparazzi (even if it’s just me and the camera guy this time around).
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
The Touch-Up, 11:05 a.m.Back into the Denali we go. It’s only been an hour, but I’m getting used to this fam squad. I feel like their kid being toted around on errands. Heidi really wants kids. She’s made this a known fact in multiple interviews. They even already have a potential name, compliments Spencer: Spider.
I ask if we’d see the return of Speidi on their own show anytime soon, especially if she becomes pregnant. “I think anyone would, but it’s just, it’s different. Maybe when we have a baby. We’re not sure what [it would be], but, obviously we would like that, you know. We’ll see.”
The only problem is, she says, that most networks want an ensemble cast, not just a show centering around one couple. Rob & Chyna only worked because it was a spin-off from the Kardashian empire. “We’ll see what happens. We’re definitely not relying on that though.”
But it’s not out of the question.
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
The Espresso Selfie, 11:15 a.m.Spencer goes to Lucky Llama a lot. All the baristas know him and they light up when we walk in. They have inside jokes. He Snaps the two twentysomething cashier girls and they excitedly ham it up for his outstretched arm, iPhone in hand. “Don’t put an ugly filter on me!” one of the brunettes requests. Spencer orders an espresso shot, but goes behind the counter to make sure it’s up to his standards. He has extremely high espresso standards and makes his own every morning to weigh a perfect 32 ounces. He makes the guy standing at the machine make another one. The shot was too heavy; it’s no good. While the staff embraces Spencer’s foolery, older onlookers scoffed in his direction, and one man reading a book visibly glares in his direction.
Heidi quietly orders a latte, which she promptly Snapchats, but admits, “I’m a wino,” and that she usually just gets tea.
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
The Latte Art, 11:21 a.m.Heidi is a self-proclaimed housewife. Her days are consumed by taking care of her dogs, her man, and her money. She budgets everything they do. Everything. She’s their accountant. Throughout the day she says things like “Not in the budget” and ” every dollar counts.” Later on her couch, she explains that they are still learning how to save and spend money, since their income isn’t steady. Neither have ever, or probably will ever, work outside of the entertainment industry.
“We had a talk, the other day, again, and I was like, ‘Ok, our goals are getting out of line so sometimes we have to check in on it,” she tells me. Spencer doesn’t even look at the monthly bills, it has become Heidi’s project because she is naturally more financially-conscious. Spencer grew up with money and has always been a bit jaded about finances. “We just grew up so differently, too,” she says. “He grew up in the Palisades and went to private school. And it’s just different. So, growing up with everything, you don’t realize, everything is something. I grew up in a very different way wherein like, going out to eat once a month or whatever was a big deal. I kind of fell into the other lifestyle with him, like, ‘Oh, great we have so much money!’ and it’s just coming in. I assumed too much it was gonna keep coming in. So I’ve had to really go back to like my roots, and it’s like, every dollar counts. Back to my principles, and back to the original voice. I have to put my foot down.”
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
The Mannequin Challenge, 11:30 a.m.A connoisseur of grabbing the attention of the masses, Spencer has an idea for some potentially viral content: “Let’s do the Mannequin challenge now.” He calls me over and has me stand with the menu, and positions all the other baristas. One thing Spencer is great at is coming up with a relevant pop culture moment, and he appreciates other reality stars doing the same. We talk about Jonathan Cheban (“he is my new favorite, just ’cause I know he’s not eating any of that food”) and Kelly Oxford (“she wanted us to open a crystal store together in Silver Lake”), who both have prominent social media followings. Spencer and Heidi both particularly love Blac Chyna and her hustle.
“I never didn’t think she wasn’t a genius,” Spencer says. “She’s like, ‘Kim, you don’t wanna be friends with me anymore? Ok, see ya at Thanksgiving. I’d love to have your last name.'” He adds: “Mannequin challenge in the delivery room. We were saying like… your brain is operating at a whole ‘nother level.” Later in the day, I bring up that DJ Khaled Snapchatted his wife’s delivery, too. Heidi immediately responds: “Oh, we will be doing that!”
I hope she means it.
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
The Juice/Soup Life, 12:18 p.m.Speidi go to a lot of the same places all the time, one of them being Pacific Health Food, which is owned by their friends Whitney and Nathan. The grocery store features a juice bar along with an array of organic produce and other healthy ingredients. It’s very California. While we’re there, a cop walks in and stands next to us as we order our juices. Spencer asks him if he wants to do a mannequin challenge with him and go viral. He says no.
Meanwhile, Heidi helps me decide what to order. She loves fruits and vegetables and often makes her own juices at home (to save money). She is especially conscious of her health following her plastic surgeries and a recent arm surgery last year. “I try to cook really healthy for us. I usually cook like whole roast chicken, roasted and marinated, and then like, last night I made a grilled steak. I put it in the oven, with sweet potato fries, and then a vegetable. So I just try to eat like really healthy, organic, non-GMO, good ingredients, just really clean.” She wants to start her own cooking YouTube channel to share her recipes and Spencer really wants her to. He loves her cooking, especially her homemade soups (he calls it “soup life”). His current seasonal favorite is butter squash soup, although he never remembers the name.
Spencer: “Heidi knows I’m all about the soup life. So, this week’s soup has been, what’s the yellow one called?” Heidi: “Butternut squash.” Spencer: “Butternut squash, which is off the hook. She puts on the top of it, the actual roasted butternut squash seeds.”
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
Meta Selfies, 12:23 pm.The health food store is pretty empty, too, like most of the town. It’s chilly outside, but gorgeously sunny, which means perfect selfie lighting. It’s interesting to see how much Spencer and Heidi are on their phones. As a millennial and someone who very much grew up with social media, I come nowhere close to this level of social media addiction. Spencer says he spends 99% of his day on the internet.
The more they Snap, the more curious I get. How many people are opening up and viewing these flower crown selfies every day? When I finally ask them they both get defensive: “Zero…None.” They say in unison. Then, they both pull out their phones and start Snapping me in a very meta moment, and ask me to repeat the question. “Morgan’s asking personal intimate questions about Snap views, like a cop,” Spencer says to the camera, filming me. Heidi joins in, and shares a picture of me with the caption “Morgan is a cop.”
So, how many is a lot? I don’t personally have an answer, but I tell them DJ Khaled told me he has 3 million daily Snapchat views. “Well, he’s famous,” Spencer quips back. But… so are you guys I think to myself. Finally, Spencer answers (Heidi never does). “Before auto-play, I think my record was like, 35,000 [views],” he says. “But now I average 20. My story max is like 23 to 25,000.” Not DJ Khaled numbers, but still impressive. But he wants more, and he wants Snapchat to verify his account. He looked into it and has uncovered a Snapchat conspiracy. “I wanna know what it takes to get verified, because I was bitching like, ‘Oh, I wanna get verified,'” he says. “And then I was like, you know what, it’s because I don’t get enough views. But then, oh my god, Yes Julz, who’s like, supposedly the biggest on Snapchat, has a ton of views and they hadn’t even verified her. So they’re just elitist, you know. With all due respect — I love Paris Hilton — but they verified Paris Hilton.”
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
Speidi 101, 12:47 p.m.Back at their house with three stops down, and still one more to go (dinner at their favorite Mexican restaurant, of course) I sit down and get some one-on-one time with each of them. I want to know their exact daily routine.Heidi’s Typical Day:”I usually wake up at like, 7, and then I take the dogs out. Then I have like a half an hour of prayer, meditation time, alone, before he wakes up. Then I feed the dogs, and take them out. Then I usually start getting Spencer up. I cook breakfast for him. And then we clean breakfast. And then I help him get off to Jiu Jitsu by getting the bags packed and everything. When he’s gone I usually do accounting or some laundry and cleaning. I do a lot of housework and I manage a lot of our business, and all that stuff. Then he comes home and then I’ll cook lunch, and then I’ll clean lunch. Then I’ll do some more laundry. Then I walk the dogs. And then I do dinner, and I clean up dinner. And then, I usually watch like an hour of TV that I record. Then I get ready for bed, and then the next day starts. It’s like groundhog’s day.”
Spencer’s Typical Day:”Well, I wake up at about nine o’clock and I yell to Heidi from bed, ‘Are the waffles ready, honey?’ And she goes, ‘You want waffles or pancakes?’ And I go, ‘Uh, whatever.’ So then I wait for the pancakes or waffles to be ready. That’s my new thing, since I’m dieting, I don’t eat burritos everyday, I do waffles or pancakes. They’re super healthy. Whole wheat. And then, I pound a whole glass of water, usually right when I, before I get out of bed. Then I make espresso. First shot before I eat my pancakes or waffles. Eat them. Second shot. Then I start getting my gear and everything ready to go. I go to train Jiu Jitsu. Then, usually, we would pick up burritos for lunch, for Heidi and I, but now that Heidi is full chef, we usually just come home. Heidi has a soup prepared. Because she knows ’em all about soup life. And a slice of homemade bread. Then I just get on Twitter and read tweets and… other than that, just waiting for my big, my big call that they offered Ben [Higgins of The Bachelor]. I’m just waiting, coach. Put me in the game.”
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
Wall Of Fame, 12:51 p.m.To the right of their living room is a nook that has become Speidi’s office. The walls of the nook are covered with tabloid, magazine, and newspaper covers and clippings from their glory days. It’s weird seeing their entire lives chronicled by snarky headlines and rumors about their relationship. But they don’t care; they love them. “I have boxes more, I’m waiting to get them framed,” he says. “Why don’t we put ’em all [up]?” (They haven’t put them up because Heidi likes the white space and is particular about what kind of frames they use.)
To the left of Spencer’s computer is a framed copy of a Los Angeles Times cover star titled, “The Speidi Chronicles.” In the corner is a tiny write-up about Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson about their role in Twilight. Speidi’s coverage was six times the size of Twilight. Spencer looks at it proudly, and adds, “That was when the LA calendar, like pre-internet, like the LA calendar when, like, to be on the cover of that in Hollywood was like, the biggest deal possible, when that dropped. And now it’s like, who has a newspaper?”
These days, Spencer is working on going his post-internet relevance. From his desk, surrounded by memorabilia from nearly a decade prior, he sits, schemes and tweets. His latest idea is to go viral on YouTube. He started a channel, and purchased professional lights and a green man suit for videos. He plans to take his Snapchat content to the next level by uploading vlog-style videos to his channel. Spencer, like his wife, is a natural in front of the camera. He knows how to schmooze an audience (if you watch his Snapchats you can see it for yourself). One of the most popular segments of his Snapchat which he hopes to bring onto his YouTube channel are his daily gossip magazine readings. He sits down with a copy of US Weekly or Life & Style and gives a page-by-page dramatic reading of each celebrity story, adding his own Spencerisms here and there. He says the whole process of reading the tabloids takes him two hours, and wants the production value to match the amount of effort he puts into his endeavor.
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
#TBTs, 1:00 p.m.While we’re talking about peak Speidi, we fall onto the topic of pit Speidi, when The Hills was cancelled. I mention the drama from earlier this year surrounding The Hills anniversary special, which Spencer was not asked to attend despite him being an integral part of the show. “Originally, it was Lauren’s show,” Heidi explains. “And I think that the people who run that are still really close with her so, the only way to get her to do it I think was to just make it a special about her. So I think they were just like, ‘Alright … Whatever we have to do get Lauren to do it, let’s just do it.'”
I ask her about when the show wrapped, whether or not they were approached to do their own spin-off. She says they were, and that it almost happened. “Yeah we had our own one contracted. It just didn’t… it didn’t happen. We definitely thought that we had like a show after that, but it just didn’t end up…”
From the other side of the room, Spencer calls out: ” Jersey Shore murdered us.” But, he says, “they deserved to kill us.” Heidi agrees adding, “They were great.”
I ask if they have any advice for people starring in reality television. “Save your money.”
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
Espresso Expert, 1:20 p.m.Spencer has been on a mission to make the perfect espresso shot. On any average day, he says, he will sometimes make up to nine espresso shots on his journey towards the perfect 32 oz. shot. He doesn’t drink them all and will often pour them out if they’re not up to his standards. He has a fancy espresso machine, a fancy scale for his grinds, and a growing espresso cup collection.
Earlier when we were at Lucky Llama, he handed me his phone showing direct messages between him and a random man he found on Instagram who makes fancy cups. “This is like how into espresso I am. I’m like messaging, asking people where they get their cups. Look at this guy’s cup collection.”
“I hope they don’t answer,” Heidi says. “Oh no, I’m not getting any of them,” he says. “Not in the budget.”
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
Spencer Pratt On Espresso
“The grind’s the hardest part, because that changes the most. Like, right now, I can already tell, this machine has been on, for like, four hours, or whatever. The water’s so hot, that it’s gonna come out so fast. So the hardest part about, and like, baristas will tell you that it’s not that big of a deal, but you want 30 pounds of pressure. So I always wanna do an exact [amount of pressure], and like a barista guy will be like, “Well this isn’t 30 pounds, one lean.” You know. But this company came out one where one it pushes down that 30 pounds pressure. It exerts exactly that. So, I don’t have any reason, you know most like, fancy pants baristas all have like collections of tamps, different wood ones. It’s like, to me I’d rather have the perfect science where I know it’s 30 pounds. Maybe in a few years of doing that I’ll know exactly [how hard to lean], but still, you know, it’ll never be 30 pounds. So, you want 30 pounds of pressure on your tamp.”
His espresso machine starts making loud noises, but nothing happens.
“Oh no, I’m out of water. So that’s also the reason why I can’t compete against the champion [baristas] right now, is because of the pumped water. I guess it creates a different pressure, when it’s like pumped into your tank versus just pouring it in. I’ve looked into it, and to run a frickin’ hose into there, and it’s like so not cheap to have it. My accountant Heidi said, we are not running a dedicated line.”
Heidi from the other side of the kitchen chimes in: “This is his parents’ house. We are not.”
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
Crystallize, 2:03 p.m.Ah, the crystals. Spencer made crystals mainstream (and kind of a joke) at one point, but he still truly believes in the good intentions and positive energy these natural creations bring into his life. He even has his own metaphysical crystal kit. He says that Heidi is actually the one who first got him into crystals. “She actually had a crystal rock collection like it when she was a kid,” he says. But it would be Spencer who would end up with an expansive and impressive collection as an adult.
“They say in the crystal world, go with the first crystal you pick, and of course, Spencer picks the biggest crystal as his first,” Heidi comments, standing on the stairs behind us. “And he’s like, ‘I have to have it.’ Our business managers were like, ‘You guys cannot afford this crystal. And he was like, ‘No, it’s calling me. I need this crystal.”
“But I already bought it,” Spencer laughs. “And then they were like ‘No, we talked to the owner, he’ll take your return.’ But I was like, ‘No, no, I’ve committed mentally.'”
His favorite crystal at the moment is Kunzite because “it makes me feel like, chill.” People get lost in crystals all the time, he says. “I imagine if you do drugs, which thankfully, I don’t, then they’re way more interesting.”
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
Meditation Break, 2:18 p.m.Another favorite of his are Lemurian crystals, pictured here. “Lemurian is like, magical land like, Atlantis. Before Atlantis, there was Lemurian. So these are pretty much like, microchips from the future and the past. It’s like, so deep. So if you wanna download information from like, Lemurian, you meditate with these.” I ask if he mediates with them on his body or just surrounding him. “Everyone will say there’s a different way.” He isn’t as obsessed with crystals anymore, but still expands his collection. Heidi recently brought him home a Pyrites from her trip to Aspen.
Since crystals are all about energy, he got rid of the ones he had while filming The Hills. “Thankfully I gave away a lot of those energy stones. I didn’t realize I wasn’t gonna have money to be buying all these crystals forever, so I didn’t think, like, oh, here, take this $800 crystal. I gave one away for an Us Weekly charity that was like a $10,000 phantom smokey quartz that I still think about because somebody probably got it at charity for like 100 bucks or something.”
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
Fame Game, 2:28 p.m.Heidi has always wanted to be famous. One way or another, it was going to happen for her. “When I was little it was to be like a movie star,” she says when I ask her what she wanted to be when she was younger. “There’s home videos of me being like, ‘I’m gonna be famous one day!’ when I was little. I called my stepdad Mr. Cameraman. Like, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Cameraman!’ So, that was always my biggest dream. And then I wanted to be in fashion when I was in middle school and high school. And I was like the only one in my town who had Vogue and all those things, and that’s really what I wanted to do. I moved to San Francisco and I was going to fashion school because they have one of the top three fashion schools in the country there. And so I was going to that school, and then I met Lauren.” And the rest is, as they say, history.
While her childhood dreams did come true, there’s one aspect of her celebrity stardom that never came to fruition: her career as a pop star. In 2010, Heidi, with the help of Spencer, independently released a 12-track album, Superficial. It took nearly three years and more than two million dollars to create. In a 2010 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Heidi compares the album to Thriller. Should we expect more music from her?
“I do have one song I need to get in and cut that I bought a long time ago that I still love, and I’d love to do that,” Heidi says. Spencer adds that they spent $15,000 on the song back in 2007 and just haven’t created a single yet. “I need to cut it, but other than that, I think I’m kind of done in the music scene. In my imagination, I’d love to have a Christmas album.”
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
Wine Time, 2:32 p.m.Speidi has a lot of downtime, considering they mostly just hang out with each other. Most of Spencer’s “friends” (he uses air quotes, too) live in Malibu which is about two hours away (on a good day). In their basement level, they have a few time-wasting activities: an arcade game, a pool table, and games, like chess.
“Do y’all play chess?” I ask, pointing to the expensive-looking crystal chess set sitting by their fireplace. “We used to play,” he says. “It’s way more fun when you drink wine.”
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
Yin & Yang, 3:15 p.m.Speidi doesn’t know who came up with their famous nickname. It’s either Ken Baker, a photo editor at Us Weekly, or a random person who will never get credit. I tell Spencer that I thought he made it up, but he defiantly responds, “I’d like to but nah. I’d obviously claim [but] I didn’t.”
Whoever came up with it deserves a Peabody because no other couple is so deserving of a hybrid title than these two. Every decision they make is for Team Speidi. But every couple should hang out with friends. Balance is key to any healthy relationship, even theirs.
I ask how often they hang out with friends. They say not too often. “I’d rather hang out with you,” Spencer says, looking up from his phone to make eye contact with his wife. “Well, always,” she responds.
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
Speidi 2.0, 3:41 p.m.By hour four, Speidi and I are feeling pretty comfortable with each other. I tell them they should get a podcast, they say no thanks. I joke that they should sell their parents house to make money, they say lol, no. And then we get to the real stuff.
Do you guys feel pressure to be constantly be in the spotlight? I ask Heidi. “I feel like in order for us to move forward and kind of reinvent ourselves within a realm, because that is our main thing — television shows and all that. I think it’s important for us to figure out how to evolve within our own realm.”
Evolving within their own realm. That’s a pretty serious take on what feels like a frivolous topic, but this is more about their livelihood than than making a tabloid headline. Rather than deal with agents and a PR team, they’re doing everything themselves. “It puts a lot more pressure [on us], but it’s also a lot easier at the same time. It is easier when you have other people do everything for you. It’s also different when one’s like a guaranteed income and one [show] is more like for fun.”
All of their appearances on television have been purely for income, never just for fun. “We’ve done a TV show ever since The Hills. I did Famous Food. And then we did Wife Swap. Then we did Celebrity Big Brother. Then we did Marriage Boot Camp. I did the Mother Daughter Experiment.” So when networks approach them, do they get to choose which show they want to do? Heidi laughs. “No. Sometimes we have to choose between two…but usually, it’s just one.”
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
Beach Oasis, 4:06 p.m.There’s still an hour or so before the sun will set, and the Pacific Ocean is glittering. I spot the pile of surfboards on their patio. Do you guys surf? “Spencer does,” she says, adding that he’s actually really good.
As for her? “No, I’m way too fragile,” she laughs. She’s referring to her surgeries, which I even forgot she had until then. It dawns on me that she looks great. Her face is wrinkle-free and her inconspicuous outfit of a high-neck sweater, tan leather jacket, and faded boot-cut jeans is drawing no extra attention to her figure. (She loves The Gap.) The young, naive, and insecure Heidi we knew is nowhere in sight. Instead it’s housewife Heidi, who doesn’t surf because of her surgeries instead of posing with a bikini on one — something she would have done for a photo op in the past.
I walk further down to past the chairs and the surfboards and almost set off their silent alarm. Heidi asks me to step back, and calls for Spencer. The dogs in the other house can hear the alarm go off and will start to go crazy, she says, “They know when I’m around.” “They can smell her,” Spencer adds. Since I’ve been with them for nearly six hours, this is the longest they haven’t seen Heidi in a while. I ask if she’s content with their calm life, outside of the toxicity of L.A. “It’s been great being here [in Carpinteria]. We’re just kind of figuring out what’s the best option. You know it is better to be near family and be down there [near Palisades, where Spencer is from]. And, you know, there’s more opportunities down there. But we love it up here, too. So this is kind of a win-win.” We go inside and decide to head out to dinner. Before we leave, Heidi does a few dishes while Spencer browses Twitter.
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
Delivery at Delgados, 4:57 p.m.When Spencer and Heidi started dating, their messy relationship seemed fake. But now, it’s one of the sole authentic moments from the show. One of their favorite topics is how manufactured and scripted the entire series was. Of all the cast members, Heidi says that Whitney Port was the only one that actually worked, which is why her spin-off, The City, didn’t work. She was too busy to pretend.
And that’s the best part about Speidi, they don’t pretend either anymore. They are upfront about their intentions and desires from the get-go. The reason they share so much on social media is because they are so comfortable with themselves now. They’ve grown up. On our way to dinner, we run into their mail man who warmly greets the couple. He hands them a delivery, and Spencer is psyched. When we park at Delgado’s Mexican Foods, he tears into the package and pulls out his brown belt from his Jiu jitsu training. Heidi is beaming. “He’s getting his brown belt!” she tells me excitedly and starts Snapchatting him as he Snapchats himself. Their support for one another is unwavering. Their time as reality star villains might have had an expiration date, but their commitment to each other is sound.
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
Fry Guy, 5:14 p.m.Even though we’ve been to four food places in six hours, Speidi manages to order enough food for a dozen people at Fry Guy; they clearly miss eating out. Before Heidi’s budgeting days, they would come and eat here regularly. When the waitress spots us, her smile widens. She comes over and immediately assumes we’re getting a pitcher. Not today, they say. “I’ve thrown up in that bathroom so many times,” Heidi says to me, pointing to the restroom to our right. She hasn’t been drunk off tequila since she got sick from it on The Mother Daughter Experiment.
When they first moved to Carpinteria, they used to get blackout drunk here all the time. They would stumble home, wasted off tequila. “It was our version of a frat row” she says.
While we’re wrapping up, I ask Spencer to rank the legitimacy of gossip magazines, and his opinion on which one exposes the juiciest secrets. “The only mags that have juice and gossip are In Touch and Life & Style. They all have different purposes. Us Weekly, to me, is the publicists magazine. You’re never gonna get a story there that will offend a big star. You’re not getting any juice juice. And People is never going to air out anyone’s dirty… they put Donald Trump right on the cover. But it’s a loaded question, so I read all of them. I never have to choose just one to buy because I have a subscription to all of them.”
A trend starts to appear: Spencer likes everything to be over-the-top. Why have nachos when he can have fries on it too? Why get one crystal when he can get 100? Why choose one magazine when he can buy all 15? Why Snapchat one moment when he can share it all? More is more. He will always crave a lifestyle of excess. As we get up from the table to leave, I ask what they’re going to do once I leave. “Maybe go see a movie,”Heidi says. “I had a record at the Santa Monica Blockbuster for the most videos before they closed,” Spencer adds. “I used to rent like 20 movies at a time, I swear.”
Photographed by Nathaniel Wood.
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?
Most would assume they couldn’t possibly find a well-fitting jean without trying it on. When you don’t know your size in a particular brand, or what style, cut, or silhouette you’re looking for, you can end up waiting in a 30-minute-long changing room line, only to end up sweating just two pairs in.
But what if we told you that you could find the perfect baby blues without even having to try them on? We asked members of Refinery29’s fashion team for the pairs they swear by to save you the stress (consider this our version of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants). If you’re long overdue for some denim you won’t hate wearing, go ahead: Here you’ll find a pair ahead for every style, budget, and body booty.
“You know the magic that was felt when the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants discovered a perfect pair of jeans which fit everyone like a glove? That same magic is what overcame my body first time I threw these on. While I don’t plan on sharing *my* pair with anyone else, I do recommend everyone go out and buy them. Their wide-leg, sexy button-down sides are full of J.Lo circa “Jenny from the Block,” but there’s still a slouchy, tailored fit that gives them a dressed-up edge. How often do you come across a pair of jeans you can wear on a Friday night out and a Monday in the office? I wear these jeans so much, my coworkers are probably sick of seeing them.”- Ray Lowe, Fashion Market Editor
3×1 Joy Snap Away Jean Riva, $425, available at 3×1
“Let me preface this by saying: I hate wearing pants. I really do. Proportion-wise, nothing is more frustrating than trying to find a pair that doesn’t gape at my waist, but also fits over my thighs and behind, and aren’t too long for my 5’2″ stature, which is why I tend to avoid shopping for jeans altogether. These Good American ones, however, are one of the more recent denim purchases I’ve made. I love the cropped length, the wash, how soft they are (I hate when jeans feel starchy), and the high- (but not too high) rise.”- Erin Cunningham, Fashion News Director
“I swear The Gap has somehow stolen my measurements, because their jeans have always fit me since as long as I remember, no matter what size I’ve been. I’ve got healthy calves, average thighs, and a substantial butt — without much of a waist, and their jeans never make me feel like a sausage but aren’t weirdly roomy in spots that don’t need to be roomy. I like my jeans to have zero stretch, and their originals are made with that really rigid denim, and I’m currently into their wider silhouettes. I own this cropped pair in three styles and washes!” – Connie Wang, Senior Features Writer
Gap Cone Denim® High Rise Wide-straight Jeans, $36.99, available at Gap
“I like my jeans super high-waisted, but being just barely over five-feet tall, it’s rare that I don’t have to cut the bottoms of my jeans for them to hit that sweet-spot right above the ankle. These, though, check all the boxes. The straight leg is elongating without being too skinny, and the fit overall is at a flattering middle ground between second-skin and relaxed. They hit right at the waist up top and at the perfect length at the bottom, and you bet the back looks just as good as the front, too.” – Alyssa Coscarelli, Senior Fashion Market Editor
BDG Girlfriend High-rise Longline Jean – Dark Wash, $59, available at Urban Outfitters
“Thankfully for my curves, plus-size denim has vastly improved in the last few years. I have three go-to denim brands, depending on my need/budget. If I have more money to work with and need a classic, wear-with-anything style, I go for NYDJ. They’re super-comfy, and the fit is fantastic. If I want something a bit more fashion-forward with a classic twist, I go for Melissa McCarthy. Their fit is so spot-on for me that I think I must have the same measurements as their fit model. If I’m on a tighter budget and want a well-fitting but still unique and edgy look, I go to Eloquii. They are one of the most trend-focused plus brands out there, and thanks to them I don’t have to wait an entire year to try current trends!” – Liz Black, Plus-Size Contributor
Eloquii Peach Lift Jean, $89.9, available at Eloquii
“To me, killer jeans means being able to wear them every day of the week without anyone noticing. The Liya cut from Citizens of Humanity aren’t too skinny, aren’t too boxy, and have an amazing rise. Read: You can style them a million different ways and your colleagues will be none the wiser. Sure, they’ll loosen a bit if you (like me) wear them Monday through Friday but that just adds to their charm. Plus, they come in several different washes so if you’re opposed to wearing the same pants back-to-back you can swap them out for a lighter or darker pair.” – Annie Georgia Greenberg, Video Producer and Fashion Editor-At-Large
Citizens of Humanity Liya High Rise Classic Fit in Fade Out, $268, available at Citizens of Humanity
“Shopping for vintage jeans that fit just right is far from a timely process. So, when I found these AGOLDE loose-fitting jeans at American Two Shot a few months ago, I couldn’t resist the urge to get jeans that look vintage, without any of the work. I saw them, somehow knew they’d fit like a glove, and was at the register checking out five minutes later. Fate, or just really good jeans? Either way, I’ll probably be back for pair #2 pretty soon.”- Eliza Huber, Fashion Market Writer
AGOLDE ’90s Mid Rise Loose Fit in Reunion, $198, available at Agolde
“It took me a really long time to come around to wearing pants, denim included. I’m short, my hips are non-existent, and my butt is pretty big for my frame, which makes it hard to buy a pair of bottoms right off the rack. However, these cropped Loup jeans offer just the right amount of stretch and the length is perfect. I want them in every wash now!”- Chaning Hargrove, Fashion Writer
Loup Dark Indigo Simone Jeans, $165, available at Loup
“Though I don’t advocate spending too much money on vintage jeans, I can still admit that they’re worth it. They age well, and if you take good care of them (pro tip: never, ever wash them), they’ll last you a lifetime. (And last someone else a lifetime, too.)”- Landon Peoples, Fashion Features Writer
In this article, you will learn about the top trends in team building for 2018.
As a team building facilitator and speaker, I realize that the umbrella topic of “team building” brings a number of ideas to people’s heads – not all of them positive!
Many leaders can see the profitable impact of relevant and intentional activities, and recognize the usefulness and of professionally delivered team building events.
But not all of the top trends in teambuilding are positive…
Just as not all that glitters is gold, some of the events and activities that managers and team leaders schedule for their people can be less relevant and have minimal impact.
Team building is NOT the same as team bonding.
And, while there is a place for and a value in simple bonding activities, team building should provide relevant and actionable insights and take-aways that immediately improve group awareness, focus, and interactions. In this article, you will hear about some of the best (and some of the less beneficial) trends in team building – because as a team leader, your focus should be on what is effective, not just what is popular…
From “Recreational” to “Intentional” – Team Building Trends for 2018
The following are activities that many companies and groups have invested time and resources in. They are listed in order from recreational to intentional.
Recreational Events usually offer a few hours of fun, with little real-world application or impact… while Intentional Team Building activities are more intentional and results-focused.
All events CAN have a positive impact on team dynamics and interactions – but the further down the list you go, the more the event will likely have relevant and actionable outcomes that will improve your team’s accountability, collaboration, etc.
Bowling and Laser-tag and Zip-lining, Oh My!
There are a number of things that managers schedule and call team building, and like these activities, they may be fun, but they are not truly relevant… and they likely offer no real-world application other than a few laughs together. And while laughter and rapport are both valuable in building and strengthening relationships, these activities often offer little depth of meaningful interaction.
Chili and Paint Experiences
Cook-offs and artistic afternoons have become a bit more popular, and while these do offer an occasional discussion of “how we are all important ingredients” or “together we create a beautiful canvas,” the take-aways are seldom more than a lighthearted and enjoyable leisure time together.
Building Bikes and Bears
These “charity builds” give your people a chance to spend time away from the office, and definitely deliver a thoughtful gift to the people they are donated to, but there is seldom any tangible change in office dynamics or behaviors…
Whether across an entire city or at a specific location, a scavenger hunt is a fun and engaging way to allow your people to work together toward a common goal. Some companies, like WildGoose, even use technology to collect and score the events… and you can group people together to ensure they interact during the event. The challenge is finding a facilitator to help the activity translate to a boost in inter-office collaboration or effectiveness.
Crisis & Adventure Simulations
Using out-of-the-box notebooks and PowerPoint programs adds an engaging twist, but a group conversation about being stranded on an island (or saved from a bear attack) doesn’t always provide applicable take-aways for your team. Your people will likely only carry back to their daily activities the memory of a short activity that has limited applications to improve their interactions and productivity.
Nearly everyone has visited – or at least heard of – an escape room experience. In Atlanta, the Ultimate Escape Game is a popular and highly rated opportunity for people to enjoy a fun hour together with a unique challenge. Escape rooms are a controlled atmosphere where all ages can participate and learn the importance of collaboration, and can be helpful to inspire improved communication skills if the lessons are connected to your everyday workplace situation.
One of the more interesting team building trends is to incorporate team building activities into a conference event. These intentional networking and connection-creating opportunities are a key part of why attendees are there in the first place – to grow their network and collaborate with others who they can share information and issues with. Whether as part of an opening interactive keynote, or an engaging set of conversations and designed interactions throughout the event, allowing people to establish and grow useful relationships is as valuable a take-away as any content they may collect in their notebooks.
Enlightening Shared Challenges and Laughs
A tailored collection of experiential challenges can be a powerful and effective way to improve self-awareness. Business team building events are a unique and fun way to tailor team challenges and interactions to address a specific teamwork issue or need, whether it is increased accountability or personality conflicts or just improved clarity in communications. A fun day of laughter, where “ha-ha’s” are transformed to relevant “a-ha’s” that impact your team performance, can be a powerful catalyst for team development.
Experiential activities can be powerful learning tools.
They provide far more effective and memorable insights than a lecture or bullet-list PowerPoint presentation or recreational activity!
As you plan for your next group development event, consider the impact that your investment will ultimately have.
Looking back in 3-6 months, will the time you and your team spend together translate into more effective communication and performance?
There are a number of team building options available, and the trends for 2018 offer a spectrum of experiences for your people to enjoy. And, there are truly no wrong answers. Every activity provides at least some measure of interaction and bonding opportunity.
But for team leaders looking to get the most impact for their teams, the more intentional you are in your team building activity, the more improvement in team dynamics you are likely to witness.
Last month, Paris Hilton found herself in a familiar position, standing in front of a crowd of goading paparazzi decked out in bejeweled sunglasses and a shiny silver mini dress. But the conversation they were having was certainly not familiar to those who may think they know the heiress: “President Trump is going to sign the executive order to help the immigrants,” a voice yells out to her amidst the incessant pop of camera flashes. “Do you think that’s going to help?”
Hilton, who’s been the subject of paparazzi lust for almost two decades, is quick with an outspoken opinion: “He better help them, because this is not right what they’re doing to these children and their families … No one should be separated from their family. I’m disgusted,” she replies, turning her head to the side, revealing the weighty gold Gucci logo emblazoned on the arms of her glasses. She doesn’t stop signing autographs, but then looks directly into the camera and tells the world (or perhaps it’s her former family friend, Donald Trump, for whom she voted and to whom she is primarily speaking): “People come to America for the American Dream.”
This is TMZ’s contribution to the national debate over Trump’s family separation policy, and it feels both like a throwback to the tabloid-fueled chintziness of aughts-era Hollywood and a moment that could only occur in 2018. It is a surreal exchange for a litany of reasons, not least because of our collective understanding of who the woman in the sunglasses talking about immigration is: Paris Hilton is an icon not just of the 2000s, but of a certain widely held image of what inherited wealth, undeserved fame, and American excess looks like. There was her reality show The Simple Life, which followed Hilton and then-BFF Nicole Richie as they abandoned their lives of leisure to go live and work alongside “regular” Americans. Then there was also the numerous film and TV appearances, the singing career, the product lines, and the constant coverage by tabloids and early blogs. Through all this she crafted a persona — and, according to our conversation with her, that’s exactly what it was — of a spoiled, air-headed, platinum blonde princess, complete with the fake baby voice and sugary pseudo-sexuality that implies.
“I just got stuck with that character because people don’t know me in real life or haven’t spoken to me,” Hilton tells Refinery29. “They assume it’s just the baby voice and you know, ‘what’s Walmart?’ and silly things. I would say that’s not really how I am, but I was just trying to be entertaining for television.”
At 37, she’s been in and out of the spotlight for nearly two decades, and seems to be emerging now with a concerted effort to shake the image of the prodigal rich girl. How much it’s actually worked is in the eye of the beholder. “I think now I’ve really proven myself,” she argues. “With the success of my fragrances, then all my other 19 product lines, and all the big deals I’m doing, and real estate. I’m finally being taken seriously as a businesswoman and empire.”
While her grandfather donated 97 percent of his fortune to charity when he died in 2007, Paris currently has an estimated net worth of around $300 million. Her perfume empire alone is worth an estimated $1.5 billion. That it’s taken this long for Hilton to feel that she’s earned it says as much about the magnitude of her ambitions as it does about our fascination with money and how those who have it behave. Hilton was arguably the first person to turn her mere privileged existence into a lucrative career, a model copied today by many, but most famously mastered by Kim Kardashian (Paris’ old right hand) and her sisters. This year alone, Hilton released her 24th fragrance, launched a skincare line, and premiered a show on Viceland — of all places — where she examines the lives of young people attempting to “make it” in Hollywood. She also still DJs for nightly fees that, in 2014, were reported to be as high as $1 million per night, and dropped a new single titled “I Need You” earlier this year, though unfortunately it failed to live up to the success of her 2006 cult hit “Stars Are Blind.”
Yes, I came from Hilton hotels, but I’ve parlayed it into such a huge business that even my grandfather said to me, ‘I used to be known as Barron Hilton. Now I’m known as Paris Hilton’s grandfather.’
For all of today’s conversations about the spectrum of privilege and where certain people get placed on it, America either loves, or loves to hate, rich people. (Bonus points if they’re beautiful women with recognizable last names.) In thinking about Hilton, it’s hard not to call to mind another very privileged, very ambitious young woman: Ivanka Trump. In addition to being friends since childhood, both have monetized their moneyed backgrounds and our hunger for a piece of their world to sell a watered-down, mass-produced version of luxury. Paris’s numerous fragrances, like Ivanka’s now-defunct clothing line, are much less valuable because of the products themselves as they are because of the names behind them.
Hilton herself seems to understand this, saying of her new scent: “I really, I really want it to represent me and have my fans have a piece of me.” Nevermind that it smells like one of 2018’s least popular scents (roses), and has aggressively ignored the minimalist, millennial-friendly packaging her celebrity peers have adopted — Hilton’s confidence in her product reflects a confidence that rich-bitch wealth will always be relevant.
Indeed, even as her own star power has waxed and waned, the enormity of her legacy has come into focus: She is there in the fashion influencers filling your feed with their spon con. She is there among the stars of various reality television franchises, as they fling insults and beverages about on national TV. She is there among the socialite-turned-DJs-turned-fashion-designers that populate the most rarefied corners of the world, like Harley Viera-Newton and Alexa Chung.
“Ever since I was a teenager, I wanted to be independent. I didn’t want to have to ask my family for anything,” Hilton explains of her attitude toward money and privilege. “Yes, I came from Hilton hotels, but I’ve parlayed it into such a huge business that even my grandfather said to me, ‘I used to be known as Barron Hilton. Now I’m known as Paris Hilton’s grandfather.’”
When asked about the recent controversy surrounding Forbes magazine’s designation of Kylie Jenner, whom Hilton has known since birth, as “self-made,” she was adamant that she agrees with that characterization — and feels it applies to herself as well. “I think of myself and anyone who does business as being self-made. Everything I’ve done, I’ve done on my own, and yes, I do come from a last name, but there also are many children I know that come from families who, you know, take the choice of not doing anything with their lives.”
“I think of myself and anyone who does business as being self-made.
“I work harder and travel more than any CEO I’m friends with,” she continued. “The same with Kylie. I think any woman who is going to get into business and be an entrepreneur and make a big name and brand for themselves, they are self-made.”
Indeed, Hilton and Jenner probably do work harder and travel more than any CEO. Because while a traditional CEO is responsible for a particular product, what Hilton and Jenner are selling is more ephemeral and all-encompassing. The CEO of L’Oreal or MAC doesn’t have to prove that their entire existence is consistent with and can be distilled into a $30 lip kit or a $20 perfume. Perhaps the fact that this is a real career path is a small part of the reason why the American Dream to which Hilton refers in the video increasingly feels like just that — a hallucination from another plane of consciousness. If the American Dream, a flawed premise in and of itself, is about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, what Hilton and Jenner have done is more like standing for a long period of time in Louboutins. It’s impressive, but you had to have the $1,000 down payment to get there.
Paris Hilton is not self-made, of course. But it’s not hard to imagine how people like Hilton, Jenner, and Kardashian — who recently echoed a sentiment similar in an interview with Refinery29 — are able to conceive of themselves as such. They are indeed a different breed from those born into immense privilege who make no attempt to move forward on the opportunities afforded to them. Hilton’s hustle is impressive, but it doesn’t make her self-made in the way that someone like Cardi B or Rihanna is. You can be hard-working and break barriers without being able to define yourself as self-made.
Hilton’s legacy is a complicated one predicated not just on a cultural obsession with rich girls, but on a sexist desire to tear apart and vilify them in a way that rarely occurs with men of similar means. Why are we so obsessed with the Kardashian sisters and not the Brant brothers?
When we spoke to Hilton over the phone, she sounded cool and self-assured. She has, in case you were weren’t aware, dropped the infamous little girl voice. Surprisingly though, like many who came of age in an era before smartphones and social media and celebrities with teams of people meticulously crafting every inch of their facades, she also holds a degree of nostalgia for that more freewheeling time. “I can’t imagine if I had social media back then,” she confesses, imagining how much more difficult her fame would have been to cultivate.
“I didn’t have all these tools. I didn’t have an agent, no publicist, no manager. I’m going out in public and just being myself and everyone used to say like, ‘Oh my God, famous for being famous’ and like it was almost a bad thing, but now I feel like it’s a whole new formula that has really inspired this whole new generation.”
Despite this, Hilton boasts 9.3 million followers on Instagram, and 17.2 million on Twitter. There are fan accounts out there dedicated not just to her, but to her pets. She’s not Kim Kardashian, who has 114 million Instagram followers, nor is she of the mold of Chrissy Teigen and Busy Phillips, two celebrities beloved for their highly relatable social media content. But people don’t follow Paris Hilton for the great content she’s going to post. They follow her because she’s Paris Hilton.
Critics have said that The Simple Life, the premise of which was dreamed up by Fox execs, functioned to mock the denizens of the small towns it featured, but one could just as easily argue that Hilton and Richie were the butt of the joke. It also flattened Hilton into the one-dimensional character that it appears the “real” her has spent the past decade struggling to emerge from. It is unavailable for streaming on any of the major sites, but exists in perpetuity on YouTube. What is supremely ironic about Hilton and her attempt to return to the spotlight is that the thing that initially beamed her into our living rooms was that she was such an effective agent in showcasing the great American class divide, a massive crater which has only widened in the decade following.
Indeed, Paris Hilton is truly not self-made. But more than her family’s wealth or her well-known last name, we made her.
While Twitter didn’t exist back then, tabloids and early blogs did, and as Hilton’s star rose, so too did the level of scrutiny placed on her. In 2004, just as Hilton was about to become a household name, her ex-boyfriend Rick Salomon released a pornographic video of her. Today, the video would be understood as revenge porn, but back then, it was somehow understood as attention-seeking on Hilton’s part. In The American Meme, a 2018 documentary she appeared in, she compared the ordeal to being raped and said she “literally wanted to die.” While illicit celebrity tapes still exist and get leaked, it’s thankfully no longer socially acceptable (in most places, at least) to slut-shame the women victimized by them. If anything, thanks to the ability of the internet to magnify a more diverse range of voices, people are quick to call out such injustices with hackers serving jail time.
“It’s incredible what is happening right now with this movement,” Hilton says of contemporary feminism. “I think women can take over the world. Even though there’s been so many awful things that have happened and scary things, it’s really just changed the whole climate, and what people know women are capable of.”
But there’s a big caveat: We know the capabilities of some women, the ones who have been provided with the advantages necessary to show us what they can do. Which is maybe why Hilton’s rebranding as a serious business woman feels complicated at best. What’s surprising, though, is that even now, her understanding of a concept like being self-made still seems so limited.
Nevertheless, critics would do well to remember that Hilton wouldn’t have become famous if we hadn’t wanted her to be. Indeed, Paris Hilton is truly not self-made. But more than her family’s wealth or her well-known last name, we made her.
And to hear her tell it, she’s grateful: “I feel so proud of my fanbase and how loyal they are. The relationship I have with my fans, they’re like my family. They call themselves the Little Hiltons, it’s such a loyal fanbase. They really can relate with me.”
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In April 2017, the authors of Legacy In The Making visited me at Patagonia’s headquarters, in Ventura, California, to talk about the legacy I’m building as the founder of Patagonia. We talked about a lot of things, some of which I’d never spoken about before. Afterward, when they asked me if I’d share some of those insights and stories in the foreword to their book and I made it clear: I never wanted to be a conventional businessman. I liked climbing rocks, not corporate ladders.
“Exactly,” they responded. “That’s why we asked you.”
It’s true. I never set out to be a businessman. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about business with Chouinard Equipment and Patagonia, the two outdoor outfitters I founded. But I’m a creature of the 1960s. I never liked authority. I was a rock climber. Back when I started climbing at the age of 19, the gear was poor quality. The pitons—the metal spikes you drive into cracks—were made of soft iron and were designed to be used once and left in place. The attitude back then was about dominating the mountains, conquering them and leaving all your gear behind to make it easier for the next party. I didn’t share that attitude. I had a different ambition.
I wanted to climb without leaving a trace so that the next party and every party after that could experience the climb as I had—in its natural state. To do that, I needed a new kind of piton that you could remove and reuse over and over as you ascended. Since nothing like that existed at the time, I decided to design it myself. I bought an old coal-fired forge from a junkyard, built a small shop in my parents’ backyard, taught myself how to blacksmith, and began making my own high-quality reusable pitons. They were the first of their kind, designed for a new style of climbing. I called my fledgling company Chouinard Equipment.
Initially, I was just a craftsman making climbing gear for myself and my friends. But I happened to be pretty good at it, and pretty soon I was selling gear to friends of friends out of the back of my car (whenever I wasn’t surfing or climbing, that is). That evolved into making better crampons—the metal spikes on climbing boots—and better ice axes. With climbing, the better the tool, the better your chance of coming home in one piece. The quality of the materials and design—how the tool actually functioned in the field—was everything. People noticed, and by 1970 Chouinard Equipment had become the largest supplier of climbing equipment in the United States.
At that time, we were on the cutting edge of climbing. Some of the climbs we were doing in Yosemite National Park were harder than any rock climbs ever done in the world. Being on the cutting edge meant that we were not following the market. We weren’t waiting for customers to tell us what to make. For example, when I started coming out with new tools for ice climbing, people had no idea how to use them, and so I began writing a book about it. The Austrians and Germans had different techniques than the French and the Scottish. I ran around the world and studied all the different techniques so that I could bring everything together in one unified method.
In 1970, on my way home from climbing in Scotland, I bought a rugby shirt—a blue one with yellow and red stripes. Functionally, I thought it would be a great climbing shirt. It had a tough collar so that the gear slings wouldn’t cut your neck and rubber buttons that wouldn’t rip off. At that time, American sportswear was basically gray sweatpants and sweatshirts. That was it. There was no colored sportswear for men. Yet all of a sudden, here I was, wearing this really colorful shirt, and people were saying, “Wow, where’d you get that?” That was when we decided to start selling our own.
Our colors got pretty outrageous, but they also served a function. When you spend days suspended on a “big wall” climb or weeks stormbound in a tent, it’s tough on your psyche. You want colorful clothes just for your own mental health.
We sold a lot of those rugby shirts. By 1973, we had launched a new brand, Patagonia, to focus on our growing clothing business. Unlike Chouinard Equipment (which we eventually sold to a group of employees who launched a brand called Black Diamond), we knew nothing about the established clothing industry when we started Patagonia. Zero. Conventional fashion designers take a mannequin, wrap cloth around it, pin it here and there, and create a dress. But our background was in designing lifesaving climbing gear, not fashion, and so we looked at clothes as tools.
Before we designed any new piece of clothing—whether it was an alpine jacket, a pair of socks, or a bikini—we always started by asking about function. What problem were we trying to solve? How would the product be used, not just worn? Which features would it need, and which would it not need? It’s like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said: “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” In retrospect, I think that is our biggest contribution to the clothing business: treating clothes as tools and applying the principles of industrial design.
When you approach products as tools that serve a function, it forces you to pare things down to their essence. Just look around. Complexity is easy. The world is full of complex, disposable junk. Simplifying things, though—designing quality tools that last—now, that’s hard.
More than 60 years after I forged that first removable piton, we still approach everything we make just as I did in the beginning— as a simple, functional tool. The best tool for whatever your ambition is. As my ambition was to make better gear for the things I loved to do, my companies were the tools I used to achieve that ambition. But as your ambitions evolve, as mine would before long, so must your tools.
In the early years, I ran the business like every other company. Just running it for the sake of getting larger and larger, doing everything that normal companies do. By the 1980s, we were taking off: opening new dealers, developing our own retail stores, and growing about 50 percent a year. You can’t grow like that for very long before you end up in financial trouble. It’s just impossible.
In 1990, the American economy went into recession. After years of growing just for the sake of growing, our sales suddenly hit a wall. The banks got into financial trouble, and so did we. We couldn’t borrow enough money to cover inventory, and we nearly lost the business. For the first time in our history, we had to lay people off—20 percent of our entire staff. Those people were like family, and the impact on our brand culture was a wake-up call. After we had been preoccupied with growth for years, our brand was adrift. Not only did we have to reassess our growth plans, we had to reassess who we were and who we wanted to be.
That was when I took our key managers—about 10 or 12 of us—and we all went down to Argentina, to the real Patagonia. We hiked around, sat down, and asked ourselves why we were in business and what we expected to get out of this. We asked each person why he or she was working for us. Though my ambition had always been to build the best tools, it was during this trip that we discussed our values:
• Make the highest-quality products.
• Consider the environmental impact of everything we do.
• Engage and support our communities.
• Contribute a portion of our sales to philanthropy.
No one said a word about profit.
Once we had collected everyone’s thoughts, we established our brand values by consensus. I’ve always believed in making decisions by consensus as opposed to compromise. Compromise is what the government does. Compromise never solves a problem. Compromise leaves both sides feeling cheated. Consensus is how Native American tribes historically made decisions, and it was the chief ’s job to build consensus. That’s been my role: to set the general direction we’re going in and to get our employees to buy in.
After we got back from our trip to Patagonia, I started leading weeklong seminars to teach our employees about the values that would guide our brand culture moving forward. I wanted everyone to be empowered to make day-to-day decisions that were based on those values rather than always waiting for instructions from the boss. Years later, in 2005, I published everything—my ambition, our history, our growth crisis, our values—in Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman. Like those recyclable pitons, I didn’t publish the book to get rich. I did it because as a reluctant businessman, I had learned an important lesson about business: Regardless of what you sell, your business itself—including your culture and your values—is your product. If we could inspire more values-based businesses, our society and environment would be a lot better off.
Let My People Go Surfing is still selling all over the world. They teach it in high schools, and it’s been printed in 9 or 10 languages—all because people see the Patagonia brand as a different model. We’re not alone in our beliefs. Brands with long-term ambitions and strong values-driven cultures are increasingly demonstrating that profits and purpose aren’t mutually exclusive.
Lasting Brands Move People, Not Just Goods
I’ve always been an advocate for social and environmental causes, but I don’t like being on the front lines. I get too frustrated. Instead, I’ve learned how to use business to effect change. We follow our beliefs, our customers follow us, and positive change tends to follow that. People who believe in what we’re doing gravitate to our message. They become our advocates. That’s why our marketing philosophy is so simple: We tell people who we are and what we do. That’s it. Fiction is so much more difficult to write than nonfiction.
For us, marketing isn’t about moving goods. It’s about moving people. For example, in 2011 we ran a print ad on Black Friday that said, “Don’t buy this jacket.” We sold so many of those jackets! That wasn’t the intent. The intent was to encourage people to reflect on what they buy and to buy only what they need. The best thing you can do for the environment as far as clothing goes is to buy the very best quality, use it as long as possible, and keep it out of the landfill. Repair it. Reuse it. Recycle it.
That Black Friday campaign forced us to make a pact with our customers: If you buy one of our jackets, we’ll repair it forever. If you outgrow it or stop using it, we’ll help you sell it to somebody else. Eventually we’ll take it back and melt it down into more jackets. It forced us to build the largest garment repair facility in North America. In fact, we have a truck that goes around to colleges and teaches kids how to sew buttons on. We’ll repair any of their clothes, not just ours. We practice business this way because our customers are our loyal sales force, and they pay far more attention to good deeds than to lofty words.
For our 2016 Black Friday campaign, we decided to give all the revenue away to environmental causes. Not just the profits. All of our revenue that day. As a result, our sales quadrupled, from $2.5 million the previous year to over $10 million for Black Friday 2016. We gave away all $10 million—in addition to the $9 million contribution we made that same year in line with our annual commitment to contribute 1 percent of our sales to charity. Philanthropic campaigns like this don’t cut into our sales. In fact, 60 percent of our customers from these campaigns are new. Just think about how much it costs most companies to get new customers. The social media aspect of this campaign cost us nothing. We let the word out, and in turn, our customers helped spread the word for us.
At the end of the year, we measure success by how much good we’ve done and what impact we’re having on society, not by profit. Honestly, if you ask me how much money we’ve made in the last year, I would have to look it up. I know that we are extremely profitable. I also believe in karma. Karma and profits coexist here because every time we’ve made a decision in service of doing good, our customers have noticed. And when our customers get behind us, more good things follow.
If you look around and see who’s working here, we all have degrees in subjects such as anthropology, zoology, and English. Only a few of us actually have degrees in business. We’re all learning how to run a business by asking lots of questions and approaching things as beginners. We’re successful because we have the confidence to write our own rules rather than master someone else’s.
Maybe that’s why we’re comfortable being a guinea pig and trying new things. We’re making healthy food and producing films about society’s impact on the natural world. We’re even thinking about starting an immersive nature school for kids. As unconventional as these programs may sound, all of them are firmly rooted in our ambitions and values. Ultimately, the next generation won’t care about nature if they don’t think they’re part of it. So while our values haven’t changed, the way we choose to express those values to new generations of customers is always evolving.
At Patagonia, it’s not that we’re just looking for ways to stand out for the sake of standing out. We behave differently because our ambitions are different. We also measure success differently—on the basis of long-term contributions, not short-term profits. When you chase short-term profits, you either keep doing what you already know will work or copy what someone else is doing. We don’t do that. When we stand out, it’s because we’ve found a new way to express our long-term ambitions.
In the mid-1990s, for example, we took a stand against chemically intensive cotton and began making all of our clothes with organic cotton. It was a challenge, and a lot of our manufacturing partners walked away from us, but we learned by doing and ultimately developed our own private cotton supply chain. Most people aren’t willing to jump right in like that. But that’s the way I like to deal with everything. Most people want to figure things out to the nth degree before they ever take a step. In the end, they won’t even take that step because it feels too unfamiliar. Not me. I immediately jump in and see how it feels. That’s how I know we’re on the cutting edge—when we step outside conventions and lead the market rather than follow it. This approach takes vision and perseverance, but it keeps us in a category of our own. As the saying goes, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.”
I was on a panel during the recent recession, and it was all surf industry CEOs and people like that. We all talked about our businesses, and I talked about how much effort we put into cleaning up our supply chain and trying not to cause unnecessary harm. One of the CEOs from one of the largest surf companies told me his company had been making a few organic cotton ball caps and T-shirts before the recession but had cut back when the economy slowed down.
I said, “How are your sales?” He said, “Well, we’re down about 25 percent.” Patagonia was up 30 percent. That company ultimately filed for bankruptcy. Today the surf industry is on the rocks, but we’re doing great because we’re riding our own wave.
The Secret To Lasting Is To Keep Playing Your Own Game
I’ve been in business for over 60 years. I’ve survived bad times. I’ve thrived in good times. I believe the secret to lasting is never sitting still. Some people see change as a threat. They hate it. I thrive on it, as does every ecosystem as well as every business that cares about its legacy in the making. I’m not talking about change for the sake of change. I’m talking about evolving and adapting as if you intend on being here a hundred years from now; it’s about never losing sight of where you came from or what inspired you in the first place.
Although we try to run Patagonia as if it’s going to be here a hundred years from now, I tell my employees that doesn’t mean we have a hundred years to get there. Continuous change requires a sense of urgency. That’s why my job these days is to combat complacency and instigate change. There’s a falconry term—yarak—that means super-alert, hungry, and ready to hunt. Along with our other leaders, one of my responsibilities is to keep the company in yarak.
The best way I keep us from sitting still is by using what I’ve learned to educate and inspire the next generation of leaders, which includes the following:
• Have an ambition to develop better tools.
• Growth can be toxic, though culture can be a tonic.
• Move people, not just products.
• Be distinct in everything we do.
• Evolve and change to remain unique.
• Long-term values can guide quick decision-making every day.
As the authors of this book say, “The making of a legacy is personal, behavioral, influential, unconventional, and perpetual.” These lessons don’t expire, and through education they can transcend generations. So I share my story—as I have here—to pass my legacy forward for others to carry on.
The business world talks about the importance of long-term thinking in a short-term world. It’s true, though it’s never easy. Conventional business will fight you every step of the way. Long-term investments in programs such as our brand’s employee childcare center and our pollution standards always look negative on our financial ledger. But because we think long-term, we know we have responsibilities beyond our conventional bottom line. So do you. So does every great brand leader.
You may already believe that your culture is your product, not what you sell. You may also believe, like me, that companies shouldn’t exist simply to be sold for a profit and broken apart. Of course, this isn’t how conventional business works. Conventional business treats companies like fatted calves to be auctioned to the highest bidder in the shortest amount of time. It’s the American way. It starts when we’re young, when they say, “Okay, kids, line up on the starting line and let’s see who can run the fastest! Now line up over here, kids, and let’s see who can jump the highest!” That way of thinking produces one superhero and a bunch of losers. But, I wanted to do something different. I always have.
Growing up, I was as good as anybody at baseball and football and other sports. But when it came time to line up and perform for a crowd, I couldn’t do it. So I’ve been a climber, a kayaker, a falconer, a Telemark skier, a spear fisherman—all noncompetitive sports. All individual pursuits where your only competition is how high you set your personal ambitions.
That’s my advice to you as you build your legacy in the making: Invent your own game. Ask yourself what you hope to get out of this life, let that enduring ambition guide you, and if the right tools don’t exist to accomplish it, design your own tools. Be the only person who does what you do the way you do it. That way, you will always be the winner.
Alexandre Mars is a serial entrepreneur and an engaged philanthropist. Over the last 15 years, he has successfully launched and sold several companies in Europe and North America across diverse business sectors, including venture capital, Internet, mobile marketing, social media and advertising. His two latest startups, Phonevalley (the world’s largest mobile agency) and ScrOOn (a social media management system) were sold to Publicis Groupe and Blackberry, respectively.
Understanding the demands of a new socially conscious generation, Mars created Epic Foundation as a platform for donors to engage in their charity through technology, allowing them to select, monitor and experience their impact. Mars is injecting new momentum into the world of philanthropy by shattering outdated restrictions to the act of giving. By manipulating what has traditionally been consumer technology, he is giving donors a chance to see the reach of their donations, ultimately driving them towards a two-way relationship with their charity.
Q: How did you transition from business to philanthropy?
A: I always knew I would use my success for good- it was embedded in me from a young age. In 2013, upon selling my last startup to Blackberry, my wife and I pulled our children out of school for nearly a year and travelled to over 13 countries, meeting with nonprofits and philanthropists around the world. The goal was to deepen our understanding of the philanthropic ecosystem and find out how we could get involved. I spent a great deal of time with NGO directors, philanthropists and social entrepreneurs identifying problems that the philanthropic market was facing and then finding ways to address those problems with effective solutions. I learned a great deal about the needs of donors as well as social organizations.
On the one hand we had these incredible organizations and social entrepreneurs. They had innovative or proven ideas for how to change the lives of children and youth, but were struggling to access funding, expertise, and new networks. On the other hand, you had donors with lots of capacity, and big powerful networks, who want to do more but didn’t know where to start or who to trust. It was then that I realized I didn’t have to transition completely. I could build upon my 20+ years of experience as a tech entrepreneur to innovate the nonprofit space. In response, Epic was born. We launched in 2014 as a global nonprofit startup headquartered in NYC.
Q: How does Epic Foundation work?
A: At Epic, we are disrupting the giving industry by proposing and providing new solutions that enhance how donors select, monitor and experience their impact. We are breaking down the barriers that restrict people from giving by providing a targeted answer to the issues of lack of time, knowledge and trust in nonprofit organizations that people typically face when giving.
To help them overcome these obstacles, Epic builds and manages a portfolio of rigorously vetted social organizations; tracks and monitors their social impact through a data platform; and keeps donors connected and engaged with the portfolio organizations through ongoing reporting of performance and accountability via a mobile application. And we do this free of cost for the donors: I’m funding Epic’s development and overhead costs myself.
Q: How can donors see the reach of their donations?
A: Donors want to give to organizations that best utilize their contributions. So each year we go out looking for the world’s most impactful organizations, working to empower children and youth in order to connect them to our global network of philanthropists and corporations looking to give in a more strategic and engaged way.
From there, it’s all about showing donors what their social investments are achieving. We do this in several ways, including monitoring reports twice a year. Our Impact App allows donors to track their social portfolio to provide a new level of transparency and speed to philanthropy. It’s one of the first attempts to create a two-way conversation around giving. You no longer send your money away in an envelope and wait until the end of the year to hear of its outcome. At your convenience, you have access to the numbers of meals served to youth in a homeless shelter in NY, or the number of vaccinations given to children preventing life threatening illnesses in Uganda. We connect their systems to our system, we render everything, we have a beautiful user interface and you’re able to track everything. It’s user friendly, and it’s impactful.
We also always encourage our donors to visit the organizations they support, but for those who can’t, we worked with a Hollywood award-winning producer to create a series of VR-based films around the work of each organization in our portfolio. Donors can put on a headset and immediately transport themselves into a setting of abject poverty. Yet, they also receive a quick glimpse into the work of the organization they support. The films are really engaging and we’ve received great feedback from viewers.
Q: What advice do you have for companies that want to integrate social impact into their business objectives?
A: First off- just do it. Get involved! There’s a whole wave of socially conscious consumers and potential employees coming to make sure that you do, so it’s better to get ahead.
More importantly, this is a question we’ve been working to answer for quite some time at Epic which is why we launched a series of solutions for companies, employers, entrepreneurs, etc. to integrate a social impact component into their business models. From taking our “Founders Pledge” (which commits entrepreneurs to give away a part of their profit to charity upon exiting their company) to instituting payroll giving so that employees can pursue purpose and profit at work, there are so many ways to make your social impact component painless and authentic. And it enables everyone at all levels of industry with the right tools to make a real difference.
A great example to look up to is Christian Dior Couture. In partnership with Epic, they just announced their new payroll giving initiative to their 1,000+ employees. Not only was it an easy absorption on Dior’s part, but it’s a great tool for their employees to turn leftover change at the end of their paychecks into support for their favorite cause.
Q: What trends are you seeing in CSR right now?
A: I think the most obvious is that employees are starting to urge employers to do more. CSR isn’t enough. It was a great initiative 10-15 years ago, but then we started seeing companies incorporate CSR strategies as a marketing ploy. People can see through this. We live in a world driven by tech which means that news spreads like wildfire. If employees don’t think your strategies are authentic, if they don’t think it’s enough, the internet will know.
That’s why we’re such a big proponent on authentic giving strategies. They’re systemic and easy-to-absorb, yet engaging and powerful when you think of their potential for impact when multiplied. It’s a modernized version of CSR, with a pure intention – just give.
Q: What is an easy way to make an impact that companies aren’t doing enough of?
A: Companies have done a poor job of engaging their employees in their impact. Again, that’s been the shortcoming of CSR. It’s a one-sided approach with a result you only see through a paper report. And it’s not to say that the objective isn’t there- it’s not to say that having some kind of social component is a bad thing- but we’re beyond that.
CSR was a great demonstration of a company’s responsibility to society when it first appeared, but now people are ready to do more. If more companies recognized that their employees are no longer interested in employer-provided health care but making a difference in the world, if they created a way to channel their energy into purpose alongside profit, I think we’d all be better off.
Q: What are you excited about right now?
A: The social disruption – a new slew of young, socially conscious individuals that want to make a difference and with their mission in mind, will disrupt all aspects of society. Every structure is ripe for the changes they will bring, not just industry.
In my family, I’ve witnessed firsthand the desire for my daughter to donate her earnings from the Tooth Fairy at just six years old. I know I wasn’t thinking about charity with the $2 I found under my pillow when I was her age. They will account for 50% of the workforce by 2020 so we’re only beginning to see their influence.
Compassion is changing before our eyes. A religious concept associated with Jesus and Buddha (known as “the Compassionate One”) is being researched today through brain scans and positive psychology. In positive psychology your aim is to reach a state of well-being. The actions of a compassionate person, being kind and sympathetic, turn out to bring personal benefits as well. This is one way that a spiritual value acquires practical, everyday value.
As part of a compassionate lifestyle, a person:
Lets go of judgment
Is more accepting of others
Appreciates how other people feel
Tries to help in difficult situations
Acts as a sympathetic listener
Renounces anger and aggression
Works to maintain a harmonious, peaceful atmosphere at home and at work.
The reason a compassionate lifestyle leads to greater psychological well-being may be that the act of giving is equally or more pleasurable than receiving. A brain-imaging study led by neuroscientists at the National Institutes of Health showed that the “pleasure centers” in the brain—the parts that are active when we experience things like dessert, money, and sex—are equally active vicariously. We feel pleasure, for example, when we observe someone giving money to charity as if we were receiving the money ourselves. A complementary study at the University of British Columbia showed that even in children as young as two, giving treats to others increased the givers’ happiness more than receiving treats themselves.
In a description written from the viewpoint of positive psychology, compassion is “an evolved part of human nature, rooted in our brain and biology.” In other words, as human beings evolved, we became more aware of the good that results from empathy and kindness. We developed an alternative to selfishness. Studies have suggested that compassion is indeed an evolved part of human nature, vital to good health and even to the survival of our species. Compassion motivated 26.5 percent of Americans to volunteer in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
A recent study found that the pupils of infants’ eyes widened when they saw someone in need—a sign of concern—but their pupils would shrink when they could help that person—or when they saw someone else help, suggesting that they felt better. (Babies as young as four or five months will try to help their mothers pick up something dropped on the floor.) They seem to care primarily for the other person and not themselves. It was calming to see the person’s suffering being alleviated, whether or not they were the ones who did it.
In the same vein, research by David Rand at Harvard University shows that adults’ and children’s first impulse is to help others, not to compete with them. Other research by Dale Miller at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business backs this up. Compassion involves feeling what someone else is feeling, which forms an invisible bond. But the bond is more than mental or emotional. Research in positive psychology suggests that connecting with others in a meaningful way helps us enjoy better physical health and speeds up recovery from disease; it may even lengthen our lifespan.
These physiological findings go back almost 30 years to experiments at Harvard where people watched a film on the charitable work of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who devoted her life to the poorest children in India. As they watched, the viewers’ heart rate and blood pressure changed in a positive direction.
More sophisticated measurements are available to us now. New research at UCLA and the University of North Carolina evaluated the levels of cellular inflammation in people who describe themselves as “very happy.” Inflammation is suspected to be at the root of cancer and other diseases and is generally high in people who live under a lot of stress. We might expect that inflammation would be lower for people with higher levels of happiness. But there was an important distinction. People who were happy because they lived a life of pleasure (also known as “hedonic happiness”) had high inflammation levels, while people who were happy because they lived a life of purpose or meaning (also known as “eudaimonic happiness”) had low inflammation levels. A life of meaning and purpose is one focused less on satisfying oneself and more on others. It is often a life rich in compassion and altruism.
As for longevity, a compassionate lifestyle may be beneficial because it provides a buffer against stress. A recent study conducted on a large population (more than 800 samples) led at the University at Buffalo found that stress was linked to higher mortality rates, but not among those who helped others.
In sum, the spiritual value of compassion has been shown to extend to mind and body as well. It’s in our nature to be sympathetic and kind to others while doing great good to ourselves at the same time.