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“I never interview to hire someone when I’m tired because I know I’m much more likely to make a mistake,” says Arianna Huffington sitting in her light-filled office in Thrive Global’s contemporary new headquarters in Soho, New York. “Hiring mistakes are expensive,” Thrive’s Founder and CEO continues. “When I’m really recharged and powering on all cylinders, that’s the time to interview.“
Huffington started discussing the competitive advantage of sleep in her book ‘Thrive,’ released in 2016. Two years later she published ‘The Sleep Revolution,’ taking a deep dive into the data, research and economic cost of not getting enough shut-eye.
“I think its definitely changing,” says Huffington, of the idea that sleeping a minimal amount can lead to greater productivity. Some of her fellow entrepreneurs agree. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said recently he functions best when he gets 8-hours of solid sleep and that shortchanging sleep to gain more ‘productive’ hours is an illusion. Alibaba founder Jack Ma stated during this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos that it is sleep that helps him efficiently address problems.
LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman discussed changing his approach to sleep with Huffington during a recent edition of his podcast ‘Masters of Scale.’
“He has now seen the light around sleep,” says Huffington of Hoffman. “He’s been very open about the fact that this is a transformation for him.”
It is not just billionaire company-founders that Huffington hopes to convince to prioritize their sleep. She believes that wearing fatigue as a badge-of-honor is a societal norm that needs to shift. So much so, that Thrive Global describes itself as a ‘behavior-change’ media and technology company that aims to build a global community around wellness and be an online hub for all-things sleep related.
It turns out, sleep is a lucrative space. A 2016 Rand Corporation study estimates that sleep deprivation costs the U.S. economy $411 billion a year. Sales of sleep aids and technology are expected to reach $84 billion by 2021 according to BCC Research, growing at 5% annually. The consumer goods industry is taking notice. The myriad of sleep-tech products on-show at CES this year supports the notion that the value of good sleep is starting to seep into the collective consciousness.
“I think in order to have a real cultural transformation on the topic, we need to be very science and data-driven,” says Huffington.
The Athens-born founder announced this week that she has appointed Shelly Ibach, CEO of smart-bed company Sleep Number, as Editor-In-Chief of Thrive’s new Sleep section. Ibach will draw on her experience using science and technology at Sleep Number in her new role writing and curating sleep-related content for Thrive. Ibach has led Sleep Number since 2012 and spearheaded the mattress company into the smart-sleep space, including the 2015 acquisition of Silicon Valley-based sleep technology pioneer Bam Labs. Sleep Number reported $1.5 billion in annual sales in 2018 and net sales growth of 13% in Q4, beating expectations. Ibach says she learned the value of sleep when she joined the company 12 years ago.
“The advancement in our technology has led to a higher and higher quality sleep for me,” says Ibach. “That has helped me so significantly in my personal and professional life that I see that direct linkage between performance and quality sleep.”
It is a message she is taking across the nation. Sleep Number has 580 retail stores throughout the country and recently partnered with the NFL to provide smart-beds to football players. NFL athletes who sleep in the beds wake up to data-points measuring their heart-rate, breath-rate, restful-sleep, restless-sleep and total time in bed. The data can be used in an athlete’s training and to facilitate performance and recovery. The high-tech bed is equipped with sensors that monitor eight-and-a-half-billion biometric data-points and uses machine-learning to detect sleep disturbances. The mattress can automatically adjust throughout the night to best support pressure-points and the spinal-alignment of each sleeper. Ibach notes that this technology is how Sleep Number differentiates its mattresses from its competitors. Huffington says these tech-features are what helps her get a restful night’s sleep too.
Huffington and Ibach were introduced through a mutual friend in 2014, quickly bonding over a shared love of slumber and a desire to shift the culture toward valuing it. Ibach says Sleep Number is a purpose-driven company that shares Arianna’s vision of using technology to enhance wellbeing.
“When we met, we had a shared mission,” says Ibach. “It was just clear. I could see the future, which is where we are now, where this technology in combination with our adjustability, could be life-changing.”
Huffington adds that the new Ibach-led Sleep-focused section of Thrive will not only create a highly-engaged online community where Thrive Global users can interact with Sleep Number customers who have already shown they are willing to invest in sleep-related goods. It also builds an online community-of-practice for people all over the world to share and learn about sleep.
“Sleep Number has affected the sleep lives of over 11-million customers. We want to hear from them,” says Huffington. “We want to hear their stories because what we have found is that people learn from each others’ stories. They want to hear from experts of course, but they also want to hear from each other about how sleep helps them navigate their lives better.”
Academic research is in alignment with the position that a solid night’s sleep is invaluable. U.C. Berkeley Neuroscientist and Professor Dr. Matthew Walker stated in his 2017 book, ‘Why We Sleep,’ that sleep enriches our ability to learn, memorize, make logical choices and recalibrate our emotional brain circuits. Dr. Walker also notes that sleep “is a virtual reality space in which the brains melds past and present knowledge, inspiring creativity, and mollifying painful memories.” Huffington has personally witnessed the positive impact that sleep can have in an emotional crisis.
“Something that has been incredibly powerful for me is to see how Shelly used sleep to heal in a very hard moment in her life when she lost her husband,” says Huffington of Ibach. “She’s very private, but I’m a big believer in using these private moments to help move the culture.”
Though she has spoken out on the overuse of technology in the past, Huffington is a proponent of innovation and technology that aims to facilitate rather than distract from sleep. The 68-year-old serial entrepreneur adds that the things that keep her up at night these days are of a personal nature.
“Most recently, my youngest daughter was diagnosed with endometriosis, so we went through that whole journey and surgery,” says Huffington. “Being able to quiet my brain [was important in order to] have a good night’s sleep, because that’s what wakes us up in the middle of the night and makes it hard to go back to sleep. It’s not our exhausted bodies, it’s our brains that have not slowed down.”
Approaching life in a holistic, wellness-focused manner that integrates body and mind is at the core of what the relentlessly ambitious Huffington hopes to achieve with Thrive. She founded the company in 2016, five-years after selling the Huffington Post to AOL for $315-million.
Huffington saw an opportunity in the $4.2-trillion wellness industry, not just as a hub for media content on the subject, but also to provide wellness consulting-services to companies looking to improve employee well-being and performance. Thrive provides its consulting client-companies with a range of technology tools to assess employees and facilitate wellness training. It also offers media partnership opportunities for branded content, events and editorial sponsorship.
The partnership announced this week with Sleep Number will be the first time Thrive has had a dedicated Sleep section on its website. It comes at an opportune time, as the perceived value of sleep is increasing and companies are looking to wellness programs to attract and keep talent. Management consulting firm McKinsey released a study in 2016 titled ‘The Organizational Cost of Insufficient Sleep‘ that called for companies to embed ‘sleep training’ into their employee wellness programs. The study also noted that there is a proven link between positive sleep habits and effective leadership, and that achieving employee wellness goals requires a cultural change in the way we view sleep.
Studies like that, calling for behavioral and cultural change, are music to sleep-advocate and savvy entrepreneur’s Huffington’s ears.
“I had a dinner at home, I sat Shelly next to Bon Jovi,” says Huffington in her light Greek accent, a smile playing at the corner of her mouth. “She and I have been trying to get him to change the lyrics of his song ‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead’ to ‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Tired,’ because the culture has moved on. Wouldn’t that be great?”
March 4, 2019 at 09:15AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs