Please enjoy this transcript of my conversation with Alexandra Zatarain, Co-Founder and VP of Brand & Marketing at Eight Sleep, a sleep fitness brand. Transcripts for other episodes can be found here.
“I think that ultimately the definition [of success] for me is this idea that you know, and you feel, and you set for yourself a bar of what your potential is, and you will feel successful when you feel that you are utilizing your full potential and that you're utilizing it not just for yourself, but for the benefits of others, too.” – Alexandra Zatarain
Alexandra Zatarain (@a_zatarain) is Co-Founder and VP of Brand and Marketing at Eight Sleep, a sleep fitness brand. In 2017, Alexandra was named by Forbes to the 30 Under 30 list of young professionals making an impact in the Consumer Technology industry. The same year, she was a speaker at the Forbes Under 30 Summit on the topic of longevity, sleep and technology. Prior to Eight Sleep, Alexandra applied her marketing experience at various startups, academic institutions, and Wall Street organizations. She was raised in Tijuana, Mexico and now lives in New York City. She holds a B.S. in Communication Science from Tecnologico de Monterrey.
Playbook: Alexandra Zatarain – Co-Founder and VP of Brand and Marketing at Eight Sleep
Daniel Scrivner (00:05):
Hello, and welcome to another episode of Outlier Academy's Playbook series, where each week we sit down with an elite performer from iconic founders to world-renowned investors and bestselling authors to dive into the tactics, routines, and habits that got them to the top of their game and keep them there, all in less than 30 minutes.
Daniel Scrivner (00:23):
I'm Daniel Scrivner, and on the show today, I sit down with Alexandra Zatarain, founder and chief marketing officer of Eight Sleep. Alexandra grew up in Tijuana, Mexico, before coming to the United States and eventually founding Eight Sleep with co-founders Matteo and Massimo. In this episode, we explore Alexandra's nightly sleep routine as well as her favorite books, daily routine, superpower, and so much more. You can find the notes in transcript for this episode at outlieracademy.com/91, and you can learn more about Eight Sleep at eightsleep.com or by following Eight Sleep on Twitter. With that, please enjoy my conversation with Alexandra Zatarain of Eight Sleep.
Daniel Scrivner (01:02):
Alexandra, thank you so much for joining me again on Outlier Academy.
Alexandra Zatarain (01:05):
Yeah, I'm excited to be here.
Daniel Scrivner (01:07):
We're going to focus more in this conversation around tactics. Given that obviously you've spent a number of years building Eight Sleep, and that sleep is very important to you, I thought an interesting place to start would just be to ask about your sleep routine. Can you talk about... I guess some of the questions that spring to mind is like, do you use blue light blocking glasses? What's the light like in your bedroom? Just talk a little bit about the setup in general.
Alexandra Zatarain (01:32):
Yeah. I actually have my blue light blocking glasses right here in my desk drawer. So I use them usually in the evenings when I start around 5:00, 6:00 PM. I feel like it definitely helped my eyesight relax a little bit and feel less of a strain, but I'll describe to you... If you're chatting today, it's a Friday, if I'm not mistaken. I don't even know what day of the week it is, but Friday nights, I love Friday nights because I feel like I can disconnect a little bit better in the evenings. So generally what it looks like is I would stop working at the computer at around maybe like 7:00 or 7:30-ish, if it's like a normal week and we're not in some product launch mode or campaign launch or no fires. So just making sure that even if I remain connected at my phone, that I'm not at the computer, that I get some movement, if I didn't work out in the morning, like try to get a workout or go out for a walk, something like that.
Alexandra Zatarain (02:24):
I really think that's when my bedtime routine starts and how you unwind and disconnect from your major sources of stress, then we do dinner. And right after dinner is when I would take my... So Friday night treat, which is my House of Wise Sleep gummy. I talk about it a lot on my Twitter too, because it is my favorite supplement for sleep. I love to pair that with my pod. And yeah, it's just really that. I will do like a tea to warm up. Especially for women, temperature during the different times of our cycle may change. There may be times of the month when you feel cold or you feel very hot. And so sometimes I find like taking a relaxing tea in the evening helps me warm up a little bit, which is important in order to fall asleep.
Alexandra Zatarain (03:06):
For me, personally, I need to be a little bit warmer because I'm generally colder in my extremities. So finding that balance took me a while, and now it has become part of my routine. By the time I go to bed, I'm pretty relaxed between my sleep gummy, if I haven't fallen on sleep on the couch already, and my tea, and my pod is waiting for me at my temperature, which is generally warm. So my pod levels on my side of the bed will start at around like a plus-three, plus-four. We have levels based on those numbers. And then it'll cool down a little bit in the middle of the night, and then it'll warm up again in the morning, like around 3:00, 4:00 AM, I generally get pretty cold. So just the fact that my pod is adjusting, helps me really stay asleep.
Alexandra Zatarain (03:47):
That's really it. I don't do anything else, and it's mainly because I have become really rigid with my routine. I go to bed usually between like 9:30, 10:00 PM. Honestly, since we moved to Miami, we go to bed a little bit later and wake up a little bit later. That's just probably the Miami life, but not too late. Like at the latest by 10:30, we'll be in bed and wake up naturally, usually don't need an alarm because my body's just used to it. So I get to bed, I fall asleep, and stay cozy all night.
Daniel Scrivner (04:18):
You probably have thought about this. Do you keep your phone next to you in bed? Do you keep it outside of the room? Any thoughts on whether your phone should be near you or not?
Alexandra Zatarain (04:25):
I keep the phone on my nightstand, and that's sort of part of the way I advocate for sleep and sleep habits is you can't force yourself to just completely change your lifestyle. And if it doesn't work for you, it's okay. The phone is not the enemy, it's the fact that maybe you haven't actually tried how good it feels to get a good night's sleep and get enough sleep. So if you're struggling with sleep, and Matteo talks a lot about this, the first thing you should think about doing is not to change all of your habits at once, but just trying to do a sleep stretch for a period of time, meaning commit for a week or five days to get more sleep than you usually get. And this applies obviously to people who are sleep deprived, they're not sleeping enough.
Alexandra Zatarain (05:11):
If you sleep six hours, try sleeping seven-and-a-half hours consistently for those five nights, give yourself enough time to unwind and actually reconcile your sleep. And you'll feel so much better, that you're going to start prioritizing sleep. You're going to realize what you're missing out on. And at that point, there is no phone, there is no Netflix show. There is nothing that's going to get in the way, because you understand how good you feel, how much clearer your mind is, how much healthier you are, how much more energized. I just know how my body feels when it gets enough sleep. So I will very rarely, I think like two nights in a year, that I would be scrolling on my phone in the night, late. Now it just doesn't happen, because I know how bad I'm going to feel the next day if I didn't get enough hours.
Daniel Scrivner (05:55):
Yeah. I wish that was true for everyone. It's definitely not true for me. So I think that gives me a good bar to strive towards as I try to improve. I want to ask a question, which was... You've been building Eight Sleep since 2014, which is quite a stretch, it's for eight years now. What has that experience been like? And talk about some of the hardest and some of the best moments over the last eight years.
Alexandra Zatarain (06:19):
Yeah. It feels like it has been 20, honestly, just so much has happened in a good way. I think I've learned a lot. I have matured. I have grown. It has challenged me to become a different person, I hope a better person. It's been really exciting. Obviously, the hardest moment, which I think for any or most businesses that went through early 2020, was that period of time. It was very challenging. And so we went through team cuts, we went through complete restructuring of how we run our marketing and our customer acquisition, and how we think about our business and the next steps of our business. That was very, very challenging, and it was time when we were just running on [inaudible 00:06:56] fight, and you fight for it all, and it was very emotionally draining.
Alexandra Zatarain (07:02):
I think that the team that went through that period with us did an amazing job of staying focused on the why we do this and our mission. And, yeah, I think we all have scars from those times, but it made us stronger. And definitely I would say the highlights are every day when we wake up and there's someone talking about Eight Sleep, and they say, "Well, I just had my first night," or "Look at my score," or "I miss it because I'm traveling." It's the fact that we get to build something people can use every day that makes their lives better. That's so cool.
Daniel Scrivner (07:33):
Yeah, and as we talked about in the deep dive interview, the tide has changed enormously over the last eight years, where no one used to be talking about sleep. It wasn't something people were prioritizing. People wouldn't even share whether they got a good night's sleep or not. Yeah, a lot of the attitudes have changed around that, which is amazing. Now I see people talking about Eight Sleep all the time, so you've clearly done a good job. Now that you've had this experience of what it's like to found a company and the good, the bad, the ugly, the ups and the downs, what is your counsel to people that are thinking about founding a company? Do you have a kind of standard, well, here's my experience, or here's what I would say? Do you not offer any advice? How do you approach that? And are there any words of wisdom you share?
Alexandra Zatarain (08:13):
The only thing I say is it's really hard. It's really, really, really hard. And I would deter you to do it, and if you still want to do it, then you should, because it means that you're in it for the right reasons. It's really hard. It's not the easiest way to make money. It's not the only way to make money, if that's what you're after. It's not the only way to even to make an impact in the world. It's like a very specific way. It's a very specific type of business. You need to grow it fast. You need to work intensely. So it's not easy. That's what I would say. And if you're still convinced after you hear that, then go for it.
Daniel Scrivner (08:42):
Yeah. Yeah. Which I think another way of saying like, don't fall for the sexy allure of what it's like to run a startup,
Alexandra Zatarain (08:48):
Daniel Scrivner (08:48):
Because the reality is it's nothing like that.
Alexandra Zatarain (08:50):
Daniel Scrivner (08:53):
Every founder knows. I want to talk a little bit about you. One of the things I wanted to ask is what your superpower is. At Eight Sleep, you obviously focus on brand and marketing. I don't know. I can make some guesses of kind of why that is and why your brain's wired that way. How do you think of your superpowers, and how does that show up day to day?
Alexandra Zatarain (09:13):
Yeah, superpowers. I would say, and I would think from what I believe other people in my team think of me is that sort of different perspective. Like my brain is definitely more creative or in tune with the person side of a consumer: trends, emotions, culture, believes, communication, messaging. So when I'm brought into a conversation, whether it is any technology we're developing, any feature we're releasing, or a backlog in our operations or supply chain, I immediately think, what is the message here? How do we communicate it? Why do is this matter to our customer? And that's part of my default, and I think that's my strength and my own job, because I have to do that every single day. And that's the value that as co-founders, we each have a different strength, and so we were able to complement each other, especially in the early days you have a small team.
Daniel Scrivner (10:12):
Clearly, if you're dealing with a tricky situation and your first thought is what's the message, and how do I share that, you're in the right role, of kind of being responsible for brand and marketing. On the flip side, what do you feel like you've struggled with? And that can be over the last eight years as a founder, if there's things you felt like you were butting your heads up against over time. What would you share that you've struggled with, and how have you worked around that? Or just said, "Okay, I'm not going to focus on that. I'm going to find other solutions."
Alexandra Zatarain (10:42):
I think that there have been a lot, and I have been pushed to learn about a lot of areas, even in my discipline within marketing, that were new to me and have had to learn them to certain extent. And then obviously you hire experts that would know more or want to be more specialized in that area. And that's totally fine, but you still need to understand them, it's still your job to be able to oversee them. I honestly would say that the hardest part of the journey as a founder is that you're constantly outside of your comfort zone, because you can't be good at everything, but you're going to encounter problems in a lot of areas of the business, challenges, problems, opportunities. So you need to become good, or at least have a strong opinion about it pretty quickly.
Alexandra Zatarain (11:20):
You don't have years to figure it out, so you're constantly inside your comfort zone. The biggest challenge is probably emotionally. That is where, it's an emotional rollercoaster. A lot of founders speak to imposter syndrome. I just define it as like that feeling like you're outside of your comfort zone all the time. And so you just really sometimes don't know and you have to be, I think, lucky enough to be surrounded by other people who can guide you: advisors, mentors, investors, peers, because that is the way to learn the fastest, to go up to the people that have been through it, that problem, or a similar problem. If they share their knowledge, you're able to, and you'll learn really fast, which I think makes great [inaudible 00:11:57] to be able to learn really fast and make your own opinion out of the opinions and experiences of others, and then apply it into your business, and that's how you grow quickly. But that challenge emotionally of always feeling like you're on your edge is the hardest part to handle, and I've certainly felt it.
Daniel Scrivner (12:13):
I love that note. It makes me think, what is your advice, or what has been your strategy for getting over that? Because, I've had that experience, as well. There are different approaches. Part of the belief I have is that people just need to live with that discomfort and it gets more comfortable over time. Maybe you share that belief, I don't know. Any advice for people feeling that, or anything you did that maybe helped you work through that discomfort?
Alexandra Zatarain (12:37):
Yes. I have focused in the last couple of years on just flipping my perspective on it, and I find joy in the process. Rather than feeling like this is a burden and, oh my god, I don't know how to do this, I need to go find people who do. I need to learn about it. I say, wow, what an amazing opportunity I have to learn how to tackle this challenge. And if I learn, then the next time I'm confronted with it, I'm going to know how to do it, but also it's going to help me figure out frameworks for similar challenges in the future. So I just see it as an opportunity. And I certainly wasn't doing that in the earlier years.
Alexandra Zatarain (13:11):
I think also when you're younger, you're more arrogant and you think you know, and so I was not really going out there and learning from others as much. It's like, I'll figure it out. I'll read a little bit. I know how to do this. When you're young, you have that thing that you just think you know it, because like you've got a degree in school that is vaguely resembling what you're doing today. So yeah, it was a process to change my attitude towards it, but especially the last few years has been a complete mindset shift in even how I think about it, and I turn it into a positive.
Daniel Scrivner (13:41):
I love that shift, because, one, it's a good reminder that at any point in time we can do that. We can just say, I don't need to feel this way. Let me put on this pair of glasses or this kind of frame. I love that piece of advice. On the habits and routine side. We've talked obviously about your sleep routines, but when it just comes to day-to-day things that you do that help you show up as your best self, both at work and at home, what do you do? I think part of what I'm trying to ask there is, one, if you have an elaborate routine, we could certainly go through that. But I think it's like are there a handful of things you do that really move the needle? And what are those?
Alexandra Zatarain (14:15):
Most important ones: sleep, not kidding, it really is the number one, physical movement. Either I work out or I go for a walk, but just moving, and getting some level of sun exposure, really important for me. We moved over a year ago now from New York to Miami. Miami is a blessed sunny place, and it's made a huge difference in just my energy levels, my attitude, my positive attitude, when I'm able to get some sunlight, even if I'm working, have my windows open, seeing the sun, huge. So those are super, super key. And I would say the fourth one is, I have found that in different bursts, spending time with friends and family is really re-energizing. I don't live close to my friends and family. I grew up in Mexico, so my friends and family are not close at all from where I live, and I'm speaking about obviously my childhood friends, because I have friendships that I've made in adulthood, but they're different.
Alexandra Zatarain (15:12):
Like your family, when you have a good relationship with your family, they feed you emotionally in a different way. So I have found that's valuable to me, and whenever I can, once a quarter or even sometimes, some years, it's a couple times a year only that I get to go back home and spend time with them. But when I'm there, I'm very intentional about being present, spending time, absorbing that energy, because that will power me for a few months.
Daniel Scrivner (15:38):
That's really well said. I want to talk a little bit about what you just brought up, which is you grew up in Mexico, I think it was Tijuana, and obviously you're now in the United States, you're a founder, you're running an amazingly successful company. How has that origin story for you shaped your experience both positively and negatively?
Alexandra Zatarain (15:56):
How it shaped it. Obviously, it made me who I am. I grew up in Tijuana. I was there for 18 years of my life, and I left for college, but it's a very specific place, I would say, in Mexico. Tijuana has its own sort of culture, border culture. You grew up in big between these two worlds. You get exposed to American culture from very early age. So I think that I benefited a lot from that, from growing up right on the border, from being able to understand these two worlds in a very deep way. Because by the time that I moved to the US, it wasn't this strange foreign place. I was [inaudible 00:16:34] in San Diego, too, so I'm very lucky that it was an easy process to move to the US and be able to work here, because I am a US citizen. So I think I benefited a ton from that.
Alexandra Zatarain (16:44):
One of the other things I've identified that really shaped me of my upbringing in Tijuana is sort of that resilience when you grew up in a place that's certainly not perfect, most places are not, but Mexico is a country with a lot of things still to be solved, a lot of challenges that come with living there, with starting a business, in all respects. So I just grew up seeing my parents with people around me, never giving up. Like you have to find a way to make things happen. There's always a way, there's always a route, there's always someone you can talk to. There's always someone else that's going to help you, so culturally, people are always helping each other. I think that also shaped my approach to that resilience of, my default in any situation is I'm going to find a way to fix this, because I know that there must be.
Daniel Scrivner (17:34):
Yeah, and that is a beautiful and amazing gift to get, to be able to carry with you in life is just this undeniable, unstoppable, like I will figure it out, which is very important as a founder as well, too. We talked in the deep dive interview about the importance of, I think the book was called Get to Aha!, if I'm getting that right, by Andy Cunningham.
Alexandra Zatarain (17:54):
Daniel Scrivner (17:55):
We'll link to that in the show notes. Related to that, a question we typically ask is, if there are other books that have either had a big impact on you personally or professionally, or even shaped the way that you approach your work at Eight Sleep, are there any books that are especially resonant, or that you give to new employees, or you reference internally, or have been profound [crosstalk 00:18:14]?
Alexandra Zatarain (18:13):
Yeah, I just actually gifted my entire marketing team. We did an offsite to kick off the year, and I have it right here, because I'm rereading it for like the third time, but I gifted everyone The Score Takes Care of Itself, which is a really good book. I really think it's probably like a great management book, because it's not a typical management book, but it has tons of great learnings. The other book I gifted to everyone is Shoe Dog from Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, which I really, really like.
Alexandra Zatarain (18:41):
Personally, a book that I read a few years ago that I really enjoyed from an emotional perspective, and I think it made me really think about life and death and the time we spend here, is When Breath Becomes Air. It's a really beautiful book. It's a pretty quick read. I remember reading it on the plane and just bawling and crying at the end of it. It's just such a beautiful book, and I think it moves something inside of you, and I love when you're able to connect that way with some piece of writing.
Daniel Scrivner (19:11):
Yeah. That's a good reminder that I need to read that book, because it's a book that's come up so many times, and I still haven't read it. So this will be a good nudge for others. On that note, one other- Well, not really quite related, but I think one of the questions I wanted to ask was around success. Part of that is how you think about success both in this phase of your life and in this phase of running Eight Sleep and being in your mid thirties and all of that stuff. What is your perspective on what success means now, and how has that changed over time?
Alexandra Zatarain (19:42):
Growing up on the border and watching American television growing up means, because I'm also in my thirties, so I think like most women around to this generation, I was heavily influenced by Oprah Winfrey. I loved watching her on TV, and I loved seeing a Black woman, and I'm Mexican, so I thought, wow, like if she can do it and she can build a business, not just be on television, I can do it, too. I once heard her talk about this idea of fulfilling your true and your utmost potential as success. And I really empathized with that. And I think that ultimately is the definition for me, is this idea that you know, and you feel, and you set for yourself a bar of what your potential is, and you will feel successful when you feel that you are utilizing your full potential and that you're utilizing it not just for yourself, but for the benefits of others, too. That's how I define it.
Alexandra Zatarain (20:44):
To me, success is not something you're just chasing. You can really feel it every day, if you feel like you are doing what you're supposed to be doing today based on your potential today, and that you're also pursuing an expansion of that potential, because success is also something you're always sort of chasing, but so is your potential always growing and changing.
Daniel Scrivner (21:02):
I love that note. I'm a huge fan of Oprah, and maybe after this, I'll send you one of the best podcast series I've listened to is, I think the name was Becoming Oprah, but it basically goes through in like four chapters, the genesis of her show launching and going through her career, and it's just incredible. On that note, what I also love about what you just shared is, it totally reframes it from success is this extrinsic thing, I'm supposed to know I'm successful by all these things that surround me, to a very intrinsic thing where it's like, no, it's just about me and fulfilling my potential. And it makes it feel like you have that power and that you can do it. I think it's really beautiful. No one's framed it up that way. Last question is around gratitude. What are you most grateful for in this phase of your life?
Alexandra Zatarain (21:45):
Health, a hundred percent. I think health has become the one thing, I think it's the only thing that matters. From eight years ago or so now, I don't even know how- Actually, it was eight years ago, since I was starting the company, that my father passed away, my perspective on life completely changed. You realize that the only thing that matters is health and having another day to live and to spend it doing what you like and the people you love. So I'm just grateful to have my health today.
Daniel Scrivner (22:12):
That's amazing. Thank you so much for the time. It's been wonderful to spend a little bit of time with you. For anyone interested, I highly recommend, one, you can follow Alexandra on Twitter at A underscore Zatarain, and if you're interested in Eight Sleep, which I think everyone should be, go to eight sleep.com to learn more about what you're building. Thank you so much for the time, Alexandra. Appreciate it.
Alexandra Zatarain (22:31):
Daniel Scrivner (22:34):
Thank you so much for listening. You can find links to everything we discussed as well as the notes in transcript for this episode at outlieracademy.com/91. For more from Alexandra, listen to episode 88, where she joined me on our spotlight series to go deep on category creation, including when to create a category, how to go about it, and why it's key to turning what might otherwise be seen as a commodity product into a [inaudible 00:22:58] brand. In that episode, Alexandra walks us through the origin story of Eight Sleep, how renowned investor Keith Rabois told them they needed to create an entirely new category to be successful, and we learn how they did it we at the help of Andy Cunningham and the book Get to Aha!.
Daniel Scrivner (23:13):
You can find more incredible interviews with the founders of Superhuman, Levels, Rally, Commonstock, Primal Kitchen, and so much more at outlieracademy.com. You can also find us on YouTube at youtube.com/outlier academy. On our channel, you'll find all of our full-length episodes totally for free, as well as our favorite short clips from every episode, including this one. From our entire team at Outlier Academy, we hope you enjoyed the show, and we hope to see you right here next week on our Playbook series.
On Outlier Academy, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they've mastered and what they've learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today.
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