About seven years ago, Zachary Quinn was tasked with an assignment in a college entrepreneurship class that he had no idea would change his life — and the lives of thousands of others. The challenge was to create a business that would earn a profit by the end of the semester. Quinn and his classmate-turned-co-founder, Brian Keller, started doing their research and learned that the local children’s hospital was in need of warm hats for kids who had lost their hair to cancer treatment. And that’s how the idea for their mission-driven apparel brand, Love Your Melon, was born. 

In the beginning, Quinn set up shop outside of one of his parents’ restaurants and started selling the warm-weather gear to locals. For every hat sold, they gave another one away to a child in the hospital who had cancer. After dropping out of college to pursue his dream full-time, the young entrepreneurs set out with an initial goal of donating 45,000 beanies — one for every child struggling with cancer. While their goal has been greatly surpassed, Quinn has no plans of slowing down. “Now that we’ve given a hat to every child battling cancer, we are on a mission to give as much money as we can to fight it,” he explains. Love Your Melon has surpassed $33 million in revenue today, and continues to donate 50 percent of profits to the cause.

In this Thrive Questionnaire, Quinn shares what helped him build a company from the ground up — including why staying authentic has been a key to his success.

Thrive Global: What’s your morning routine?

Zachary Quinn: The first thing I do is go through email and iMessage to check all of the items that have come in until my inbox is at zero. I drink black tea — never coffee — and usually eat fruit or eggs and toast for breakfast.

TG: Do you sleep with your phone?

ZQ: I sleep with my phone next to my bed in case I need to attend to something urgent. But I have most of my notifications turned off at night, leaving only the volume on for phone calls. It’s important to be available when needed, but you have to be able to disconnect too.

TG: How has giving back stayed at the forefront of what you do?

ZQ: As a company, we began an impact series where everyone on our team has personal interactions with our mission and giving. Whether it is visiting a hospital or hosting an event with one of the non-profit organizations we support, it helps ground us as a company and reminds us why we do the work that we do. Giving back through running a philanthropic company has been the most fulfilling part of my life since Brian and I started this as a college project in 2012. We’re not only making a difference but also inspiring others to make an impact of their own.

TG: When was a time you failed, how did you grow from it?

ZQ: I don’t believe in absolute failure, because whatever has happened has led us and the company to the point we are at today. It’s important to appreciate the lessons we have experienced and not regret any of them, good or bad, because they helped lead us to the point we are at now.

TG: Starting a company can be really stressful. What’s a Microstep people can take to reduce this stress?

ZQ: Stay organized from the very beginning. People underestimate nuanced things like making sure you have clean handwriting and taking good notes. Stay on top of these things and always stay organized.

TG: What are some of the best ways you communicate to achieve your goals?

ZQ: I practice being patient and work to remove stress from the conversation. In-person conversations help to convey the most accurate information and facilitate the sharing of ideas; it’s the most efficient and direct way to get on the same page about the direction you want to take.

TG: How do you manage your inbox?

ZQ: Something that’s helped me with email is an app called Superhuman, which has done a really good job at reorganizing my inbox. It keeps you focused on completing tasks that come in and then helps you move on to the next one in the most efficient way possible.

TG: Sleep is a huge part of a healthy life — is there anything you do to get better rest?

ZQ: Reading books before bed helps me unwind.

TG: Do you practice compassionate directness?

ZQ: Yes — alongside listening to others’ perspectives. Understanding where another person is coming from is the most important part of communicating, but then you have to be direct with what needs to happen.

TG: Best advice for someone starting a company?

ZQ: Start small but move fast — you don’t need to have everything perfect from the beginning. In many cases, success is derived from other people feeling like they can be a part of your story. As you work your way up, these people will see the progress you make and feel a part of it. This creates lifelong supporters and those people will help spread your story even further and make your story authentic. If you wait too long to start, you might miss the opportunity and those that see what you’ve created won’t feel like they can be a part of it.

TG: What’s a mantra that helps you thrive?

ZQ: Stay authentic.

TG: What brings you hope/optimism?

ZQ: Business owners and entrepreneurs are going beyond themselves to make an impact, starting companies in waves with missions to make a difference. Not only that, but consumers are engaging with those brands and making purchases that look beyond their own benefit.

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