Day in the Life: How a Modern-Day Philanthropist Runs Her Purpose-Driven Company

Ever wondered what people do at work? If you’re a voyeur like us, then you’ll love our series A Day in the Life where we get a real behind-the-scenes glimpse into the professional lives of CEOs, business owners, and entrepreneurs we admire. From their morning routine to the rituals that set them up for success and questions such as “do you ever reach inbox zero?” because we all want to know how to streamline our lives.

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“As most entrepreneurs will probably tell you, there’s no ‘average day’ in startup life. In the last year since starting ALMA, I’m no longer surprised by the daily surprises.”

—Michelle Rittenhouse

We’ve all heard the quote, “be the change you wish to see in the world” but if you want to see what this can actually look like when put into practice, check out ALMA. The co-founders Michelle Rittenhouse and Dan Hill are pretty perfect examples. The pair met while working at Airbnb and after realizing that they shared mutual passions for change-making and empowering others, they decided to create ALMA.

It’s not every day that you hear stories of people wanting to see a change in the world and actually taking initiative to make it happen. Rittenhouse and Hill have a very specific vision for their mission-based organization. In Latin, ALMA means “nourishing,” and that is exactly what this company intends to do: nourish and empower a new generation of philanthropists.

The organization is a platform that brings together nonprofits and donors, with an emphasis on transparency and collaboration. We sat down with Rittenhouse to walk us through a day in the life of the successful philanthropist, and to give us insight into what it takes to run a purpose-driven organization.

What does an average day in your life look like?

“As most entrepreneurs will probably tell you, there’s no ‘average day’ in startup life. In the last year since starting ALMA, I’m no longer surprised by the daily surprises. In a typical day, I might meet with a couple of nonprofit partners, launch an Instagram campaign to support the pro-choice movement, then test our new donation flow designs. I’m constantly switching gears.

“That said, I love routines to help me stay organized, so I build routines into my week whenever possible. Monday morning starts with a weekly planning meeting, and Friday ends by recapping the week with a PPF (Progress, Plans, and Fires). The day-to-day work changes constantly, but anchoring my week with those routines helps me to stay focused on the top priorities.”

What time do you get up? What’s the first thing you do upon waking?

“On a good day, I’ll get up at 6 AM and run, but realistically, most days it’s closer to 7 AM. I’m guilty—the first thing I do is check my phone. Since our product is very closely tied to trending topics, I always check a few news sources to see what issues people are starting to stand behind, and think about how ALMA might help be part of the conversation. I also read emails but don’t respond to any until I’m in the office in front of my computer. Glancing through emails, my schedule and catching up on the news helps me prepare for the day ahead.”

Are you a night owl or a morning person? When do you do your most important work and why?

“I’ve always been a night owl. If I have hard problems to solve, particularly if it requires going deep into the data, I find that I’m able to focus better late at night. Workdays can be too filled with distractions and competing priorities, but at night I can clear everything off my plate and go deep on a single idea. “

What does your morning, pre-work routine look like? What rituals set you up for success?

“First, breakfast! I need a good healthy breakfast before heading to the office. Lately, I’ve been prepping and freezing ingredients for smoothies to easily make throughout the week. I currently have an hour-long commute on a metro (with no wifi!), so I’ve been listening to podcasts or reading on the way to work which is a great way to ease into the day.”

Being a founder means you are wearing so many hats and across so many facets of the business. How do you manage your time effectively?

“I’m a ruthless list person, and I need to actually write things down. Nothing is quite as satisfying as crossing something off my list and I don’t get the same thrill from checking it off online. I’ve also learned when to ask for help or outsource certain areas of the company. I’m never going to be an expert in every aspect that’s required to build a business, so we lean on the experts when it makes sense.”

Alma—Michelle Rittenhouse

I’ve learned when to ask for help or outsource certain areas of the company. I’m never going to be an expert in every aspect that’s required to build a business, so we lean on the experts when it makes sense.”

—Michelle Rittenhouse

Do you ever reach inbox zero? How do you handle the constant influx of inquiries and communication entrepreneurs are so familiar with?

“Yep, though not too often. Since most of my team communication happens in real-time over Slack, email is less time-sensitive than it used to be. I tend to batch my email and crank through it in bursts, rather than constantly monitoring it all day. I don’t like to let emails dangle, so I’ve gotten better at quick replies, even if it’s letting the recipient know I’ll get back to them later. “

What are some work habits that help you stay healthy, productive, and on track to reach your goals?

“Talking to our customers is one of the most energizing and productive things I can do. It helps me see ALMA through their eyes, and they often have great ideas. I can’t tell you the number of strangers I’ve approached in coffee shops to ask them about their perspectives on donating to charity. It’s awkward at first, but oh-so-productive.

“Outside of work habits, it’s the self-care routines I’ve built that keep me balanced. I’ve always been a runner, and it’s critical for me to find the time and space for long runs on the weekends. It clears my head and sharpens my focus.”

When do you go to bed? What’s your “optimal” # of sleep hours?

I” aim for 11 PM. I recently set up Downtime on my iPhone it’s been a game-changer (Settings > Screentime > Downtime). At 11:15 pm, all my apps automatically lock. That’s my signal to put the phone down and grab a book.

“My other tip is keeping a journal. I’ve been writing in a five-year-journal for the last few years, which helps me unwind and clear my mind before bed.”

What’s the most rewarding part of your day?

“Hearing from happy customers is always the best part of my day. My company, ALMA, is a donation platform empowering a new generation of philanthropists, mostly younger, everyday donors giving $20 a month or so to the causes they care about. We hear constantly from donors that they’re much more satisfied with this type of intentional giving compared to just donating reactively to friend’s fundraisers or whenever there’s a natural disaster. We’re sending $1,000s of dollars to our nonprofit partners each month, including many small, local nonprofits, so this support is very impactful for them already.”

When did you know you wanted to start your own company? What was your journey like?

“I’ve had the itch for a long time, and last year the timing was right for me both personally and professionally. I was an early employee at LivingSocial, then worked at Airbnb for years, so I’ve been lucky to twice experience once-in-a-career type startup growth. When I was thinking about my next steps after leaving Airbnb, I knew I didn’t want to go work for a large company, nor was I eager to join someone else’s start-up. I had plenty of ideas and was eager to build something from scratch.”

What are some exciting projects you’re working on this month? What are you most excited for in 2019?

“It’s been great to see how active and passionate our generation is to drive change. In the first six months after launching ALMA, we raised over $500K for charity, with the average donation around $50. We’re connecting everyday people with really important causes. We’ve recently launched a number of big product updates, including the ability to donate to any verified nonprofit in the U.S. I can’t wait to see how much impact our community is able to drive over the next six months.”