The Meaning of Life with Twenty Twenty Vision
How Founder Sarah Gerber Lives, Works, Manages the Scale Mentality of Silicon Valley, and Stays Connected to Her Passion. (Even if It Means Dealing with the Occasional Shit Day.)
I first met Sarah Gerber over a salad in Berkeley. Yeah, yeah, stereotypes abound of documentary filmmakers meeting in Berkeley, CA, discussing ways to tackle climate change and human rights over bites of locally-grown kale. (You should try it sometime!) But I digress…
Sarah is HQ’d in the Berkeley WeWork location, and is the founder of TwentyTwenty Studios. I first came across her story via the WeWork app, where she mentioned celebrating her 5-year anniversary, and what an amazing adventure it had been. I could relate, so I clicked her link to check it out. The footage and photos she shared included images from her international documentary work, such as her film The Way Back to Yarasquin that is showing in San Francisco as a part of the U.N.’s Global Voices Film Festival. I was inspired by what I saw, and excited to learn that we even shared experiences telling stories about the efforts of the Lost Boys of Sudan to rebuild their country.
Below is my interview with Sarah, the first in a series of stories about intrepid female founders HQ’d in WeWork offices around the world.
HOW I LIVE
Let’s start with the basics: what’s the meaning of life?
To courageously become the best version of myself in order to give that away to the world and leave it better than when I arrived.
Who would you consider to be the greatest influence on you growing up?
Looking back now, I think my grandpa on both sides played a big part of shaping my perspective on the world. They were both entrepreneurs and it showed me even from a very young age that you can carve your own path–if you work hard for it. It just gave me “permission” to go my own way. I think that entrepreneurial spirit set into my subconscious at a young age and I haven’t looked back since.
What was the soundtrack of your high school experience? (ie, who were you listening to, and provide a specific story of a song or artist that helped you manage any typical high-school drama =)
Yeah….my high school experience was not that dramatic. I wasn’t that into music at the time, but I did enjoy Coldplay. And that’s my boring answer.
You’ve traveled to some amazing places, including one of my faves: South Sudan. Why were you there? What risks did you face? And what made it worth it?
I traveled to South Sudan with a non-profit started by a Sudanese Lost Boy. We had met several years earlier and his story was one of the most remarkable stories I had heard. The moment I heard it I knew I had to be a part of what he was doing. The risks for the trip were several. First, I almost didn’t make it because the airline tried to tell me I needed a visa (even though South Sudan was not yet a formal a country that could give visas). Second, we were there during the first attack from the North. And finally, I honestly think our poorly constructed hotel could have collapsed at any moment. I just tried not to think about it at the time. What made it worth it was meeting and experiencing some of the most resilient people on the planet.
Where are you seeing beauty in the world?
I am seeing more and more how a moment of vulnerable connection between two people is both rare and beautiful. As a filmmaker, people trust me with their stories, the often times vulnerable parts of themselves, and once in awhile we are able to break through the desire to remain hidden and protected, and to instead share ourselves with another human being. Those are often my most beautiful moments.
HOW I WORK
What was one of the best productivity tips you ever discovered?
Control the email! I am very particular about when I look at and respond to emails. I don’t have an alert on my phone and I won’t respond to someone outside of “business hours.” I noticed a dramatic difference in my overall effectiveness at work and my stress levels.
What was your perception of entrepreneurship prior to running your own company, and was the reality different than you imagined?
My perception of entrepreneurship was one of self-determination and hard work before running my own company (reference my answer to question #2). I’ve found those things to be true, but what I didn’t fully understand or realize is how many decisions as a business owner are wrapped up in questions of identity–my identity. And that doesn’t end. As my business grows, these questions of identity grow with it. It’s something that I’ve learned is part of the journey and I’ve started to really embrace that aspect as an opportunity.
What’s one of the best sales tactics you’ve learned?
I don’t have many sales tactics, perhaps that is my tactic. I try not to “sell” anything, but to give an opportunity to create something great by working together. And I can make a kickass proposal.
What’s the lamest thing you’ve experienced as a female founder, that made you think “Guys don’t have to deal with this shit”?
I don’t think about it on a day to day basis, but the other day I was on a shoot and I was the only woman there. I thought that was kind of lame. And that would just never happen to a guy in my same position. There are lot of women’s voices that are missing from this space and I’d like to be a part of changing that.
When the going gets tough… (what do you do?)
Re-connect to my vision. Why am I doing this? Some days it’s hard to answer that question, but ultimately I find my way back to the passion that drives me, and even though sometimes it means dealing with shit days, my circumstances don’t control my vision. Also, I might head to an art museum, take a walk, or just drink a good glass of wine.
Finally – being adjacent to Silicon Valley, how does the “scale scale scale” mentality affect you, and what is your dream for both yourself and TwentyTwenty?
When I started out I never envisioned creating a large company, so I don’t feel the pressure to scale. However, as my business continues to grow, my vision grows, and that vision requires that I find more people to join the team. My dream for myself is to be a leader in my field and for Twenty Twenty to be a leader in creating and promoting stories that matter.
Malachi Leopold is a founder, storyteller, content strategist, award-winning producer/director, human rights advocate, documentary filmmaker, mountain biker, aspiring mountain climber, dad, and global goodwill ambassador for Tequila Thursdays. He is the Co-Founder of Trep Life.