An Interview with Michael Radparvar of Holstee by Christine Havens
When Tony happened across the now-famous Holstee manifesto, like many entrepreneurs, he was inspired. On a whim, he invited Holstee co-founder, Michael Radparvar to lunch while on a business trip in Brooklyn, and the two became fast friends. Eventually Tony introduced Michael to Seed’s co-founder Alex. Later, Holstee’s team asked them to join Holstee as advisors and investors. “We said yes,” Tony smiles, “and we continue to be inspired by the conversations we have with them, and they continue to blow us away with their leadership of a mindful organization that does good for people and business.”
Holstee started as an apparel company, aptly named after a T-shirt with a holster position side pocket, has evolved into something much, much bigger. We sat down with Michael to ask him about how the Manifesto came to be and to find out what living mindfully means to him.
CH: Holstee launched at the height of the recession, I’m curious about what it is you were doing before you started the company. How did the recession change your life course?
MR: At the time, I was working at a training and consulting company in New York. That was my first job out of college, and I had been there for three years by the time the recession hit, and I was hungry to do something more closely connected to things that are important to me.
My brother was at a design agency in Brooklyn; we always knew we wanted to start a business together. We wanted to infuse our values and culture to create the company we wished existed that we couldn’t find. We wanted to define success for ourselves in non-financial terms.
“We wanted to infuse our values and culture to create the company we wished existed that we couldn’t find. We wanted to define success for ourselves in non-financial terms.”
Penned on the steps of Union Square, the Manifesto would serve to influence Seed’s, (if you haven’t read it, you can find it here). Michael, along with his brother Dave and their friend Fabien Pfortmüller, decided to create something they could reflect back on if they ever felt stuck or found themselves living according to someone else’s definition of happiness.
“We put the Manifesto on the about page of our website early on.” In 2009, they partnered with designer Rachel Beresh, turning the words of the manifesto into a thoughtfully stylized letterpress poster. “There is real power in putting well thought together words in a beautifully designed way. That was the turning point, where we shifted from being an apparel company to a design and print company.”
Since then, the Manifesto has been translated into 13 languages and has been viewed and shared millions of times. The breath of people that find value in it transcends economic and geographic borders.
CH: The Holstee Manifesto is credited with inspiring a stunning number of start-ups like Google and Airbnb. Why do you think it resonates with entrepreneurs?
MR: I think it shows the human side of starting a business, not just how it will make money, but also why, we as entrepreneurs would choose to dedicate our lives to it. Companies never had a problem stating what they do and how they do it, but it is less common to share why they do it.
CH: You talk a lot about the notion of simplicity. What does that mean to you personally? How do you find the balance?
MR: Finding balance is challenging. I work from home and as a result, I’m very conscious of my time. I try to live by the “toothbrush to toothbrush” philosophy. I don’t leave my phone by my bedside; and once I brush my teeth I don’t check it until I’ve done so again in the morning. I work at creating a separation between those things, and try to keep my bedroom as a sacred analog space.
I have a routine: meditation for the spirit, reading for the mind, and exercise for the body. If I go running, I don’t take any electronic devices, I’m just disconnected, and running as free as possible.
When I’m disconnected, my brain defragments and all the different things I’m thinking about become more clear. Creative ideas can’t be forced. If I want to write, it requires a lot of deep thinking and I block off an entire day.
“When I’m disconnected, my brain defragments and all the different things I’m thinking about become more clear. Creative ideas can’t be forced. If I want to write, it requires a lot of deep thinking and I block off an entire day.”
CH: What is it you are most excited about? What do you see as the ongoing evolution of Holstee?
MR: Dave and I have this theory that social media is rewiring our brains, and we see the effects of this more and more. We’re less connected to being human and many of the virtues that actually bring us long term happiness. Interestingly there are a lot of approaches addressing this through apps and technology. But the reality is, technology alone will not get us back to being human. It’s something each of us needs to confront in our daily lives. There’s a great quote that says, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive because the world needs people who are alive.” Don’t live in an autopilot mindset.
Our approach to remedying this at Holstee is through the creation of art, words, and action that inspires people to be their best selves. We realize that living a mindful life and living fully is one of the hardest things to do. It’s a continuous balance between being ambitious and being content. It would be nice to feel good without continuously wanting more, and we acknowledge that tension exists.
We need to connect to what it means to be human—friendship, adventure, human qualities that improve the way our minds work and our health. It’s dangerously easy to go for days without seeing a person face to face or having to interact with people. The Manifesto is a reminder of a time and world before screens. I think that’s a big part of the appeal. It has a lot of universal human tenants that make a person happy.
Right now we’re taking on some of the big questions in life. It’s wildly naive, but as we’ve found with the Manifesto, if we reach a lot of people—we can make an impact.
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