Zooey Deschanel Embraces the Word ‘Quirky’ and Thinks Businesses Should Too

“I’m wondering if there’s one thing about me that makes individuals not wish to solid me,” muses Zooey Deschanel. She’s by no means been good at auditions — or pitching traders, for that matter. What’s pushed her success as each an actress and entrepreneur is far more durable to quantify or replicate, which is why David Mayer nervously obtained on a Zoom along with her a 12 months and a half in the past.

Bobby Fisher

Mayer had been constructing Merryfield, a platform that incentivizes and rewards individuals for purchasing clear, “better for you” merchandise. The he envisioned wouldn’t solely give extra customers entry, but in addition assist well being and wellness manufacturers attain a wholly new buyer base. The query now was methods to get Merryfield in entrance of that wider market to ship on his promise. The extra he regarded for the best answer, the extra he zeroed in on Deschanel as a cofounder.

Her reputation as an actress was enormous — to not point out she starred in his youngsters’ favourite vacation film, Elf. But she’d additionally cofounded a media firm known as HelloGiggles, which offered to Time Inc. for a reported $30 million, in addition to Lettuce Grow, a fresh- startup that’s now doing a wholesome enterprise. Perhaps much more, Deschanel is understood for the sort of relatable, non-judgy credibility he desperately wished for Merryfield.

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It turned out to be an excellent match. “Obviously there’s a series of moments where certain things clicked, but you know, again, I started HelloGiggles with two of my friends — ” Deschanel says immediately, after which she’s off, skating right into a tangent, which is the way in which she usually operates. Business, physique love, meals, and privilege—she covers all of it, axeling and touchdown earlier than circling again to the subject that’s been obsessing her for years now, which is making good issues accessible. And then you definitely understand: It’s not a tangent in any respect, however slightly the sum of what drives her as an entrepreneur.

When Deschanel finds one thing that works, she desires to make it accessible to everybody. “It’s kind of an anti-elitism, I guess,” she says. And then it’s about getting others to comply with that mission by doing issues in another way, which comes right down to what has helped her reach so some ways, a top quality she’s been each praised — and criticized — for throughout most of her life.

It’s the entire quirky factor.

Image Credit: Bobby Fisher

“Someone said I was quirky in college,” remembers Deschanel, “and I was like, ‘Oh, I never heard that word before.’” She promptly went and regarded it up.

Since then, “quirky” has adopted her like a GPS satellite tv for pc — via comedic leads and offbeat sidekicks in films like (500) Days of Summer, Yes Man, and Failure to Launch — to not point out seven seasons of “adorkable” Jess in New Girl and 6 albums of her indie duo She & Him with M. Ward. It has additionally clung to her via a long time of plunging necklines and disappearing pants as she’s stayed full-skirted and high-waisted with cute collars, bows, and bangs. Unbothered, she has owned the phrase. When did a collection known as “Bein’ Quirky with Zooey Deschanel’’ featuring Abby Elliott as Deschanel, she claimed the joke and played Mary-Kate Olsen in an electric blanket.

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“I’m not a goofball,” clarifies Deschanel, 42, who has a steel-toed sense of who she is. “Quirkiness is really just standing out from the crowd. It takes confidence to do something different. And I think as an entrepreneur, you have to have quirkiness to make a business succeed.”

She first stepped into that world a dozen years in the past, at a Tracy Anderson studio the place plenty of celebrities have been getting match. She obtained to chatting with Sophia Rivka Rossi, a producer on The Hills and The City, which led to lunch and the 2 speaking digital media. These have been the times of Gawker and Jezebel, when on-line magazines have been gossipy and snarky. The physique acceptance motion had but to indicate up. Rossi had been eager about beginning a brand new sort of media firm, and Deschanel noticed a niche.

“I’m not saying there’s no room for snarkiness, but you can be snarky and kind,” Deschanel says. “It was a lot of just girl-on-girl hate, and I tended to be in the center of it. People would make fun of me, trash me. I’m like, ‘Whatever, I have a thick skin.’ But I wanted the next generation to have access to a different narrative.”

Rossi and Deschanel teamed up with web blogger Molly McAleer and based HelloGiggles in 2011 — a gossip-free web site the place anybody may write in the event that they agreed to be edited. “We started off with Zooey’s ethos and aesthetic, which happened to match mine,” says Rossi, now cofounder of Hi Note seasoning mixes. Deschanel contributed content material and concepts. Readers cherished it, however critics noticed the nice and cozy, unapologetically girly, classic vibe — particularly Deschanel’s — as setting girls again. When a Glamour interviewer pressed her on it, she countered, “We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a fucking feminist and wear a fucking Peter Pan collar. So fucking what?”

Deschanel was not shy about what she wished for the enterprise both, says Rossi. “She’d go, ‘I don’t like that.’ And you’re like, ‘Whoa. Okay.’ But she has such a clear compass. And that’s really supportive, because when you do something you don’t really want to do, everyone pays. The other thing about Zooey is that she’s scanning constantly, like, Okay, okay, stay positive.”

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Deschanel, in actual fact, practices positivity nearly like a self-discipline. “It’s not like I’m just happy-go-lucky,” as individuals assume, she says. “No, I work at it every day. My mom called me ‘The Great Self-Improver.’”

As a child, Deschanel remembers discovering how extremely highly effective it was that, with the best mindset, “you could start down and end up.” When annoying issues pop up, for instance, she’ll deliberately body them as a privilege to resolve, one thing to relish and get enthusiastic about. She additionally embraces the thought you can really feel two methods (like offended and grateful) on the similar time. And then there’s empathy. If somebody out of the blue modifications her capturing schedule, as a substitute of dwelling on what she now can’t do, she thinks about all of the issues on that different individual’s plate, which makes it exhausting to be offended.

Despite the haters, HelloGiggles — with its contemporary, informal, and inclusive voice — turned out to be precisely what plenty of younger girls wished. It was drawing 20 million distinctive guests a month and had a workers of 45 when then-magazine large Time Inc. purchased it in 2015.

Image Credit: Bobby Fisher

Around the time that deal went down, Deschanel grew to become a mom along with her now ex-husband Jacob Pechenik. They’d met the earlier 12 months on the set of Rock the Kasbah, the place he was producing and she or he was enjoying a struggling singer alongside Bill Murray and Bruce Willis. “It was,” he says, “the sixth or seventh, I can’t remember, worst film of all time, according to how much money it made in box office compared to the budget.” The two bonded over it, and when she obtained pregnant, they began speaking about consuming more healthy.

The similar approach Deschanel had been adamant that you simply didn’t want cash to be a HelloGiggles woman, she began obsessing concerning the disparity in who may afford Whole Foods and natural produce. Any mom would need the perfect diet for his or her little one, however wholesome meals appeared to be a luxurious. Pechenik shared her curiosity however got here at it from a programs perspective. He’d beforehand based two tech firms that made provide chains and spinoff buying and selling extra environment friendly. Now he began to query why it takes days, even months, for produce to go from the farm to the grocery retailer bin, all in a course of that bleeds the meals of vitamins and pumps out emissions as vans eat up highways to get it there.

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As the couple realized extra, they tried to assemble an answer that might reduce out as many middlemen as attainable. No extra transportation. No extra retailer, even! What if shoppers may develop meals at residence? they puzzled. The trick could be to make it simple for busy individuals with no time or house for a backyard.

In 2017, they launched their reply: an organization known as Lettuce Grow. Its first product is the Farmstand, a shapely hydroponic system that waters and fertilizes itself. Made of as a lot recycled plastic as attainable, it twists along with modules so prospects can regulate the scale and use it indoors or open air. Once they plant any of the 200-plus seedlings the corporate cultivates — every part from arugula to watermelon — they solely must have a tendency it for 5 to 10 minutes per week to maintain it rising.

“After we started,” Deschanel says, “people from gardening columns would call and say, ‘I want to interview you.’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m not a gardener! I want to sit in a garden. I don’t want to be gardening. But I do want that fresh food.’”

It’s been a protracted trip, personally and professionally. “There was a time we were going through our divorce, and it was like, ‘Maybe this is more like my thing,’” says Pechenik, who admits he wouldn’t do one other startup with a member of the family. “But actually, our friendship and her support of the businesses has grown.” Lettuce Grow, too, has grown. Thanks to the assistance of a Series A funding spherical final 12 months, it has now invested in 5 seedling farms and — with a group of 70 and a brand new product on the way in which — it plans to develop internationally.

The firm’s problem now’s developing with extra artistic financing. Farmstand prices $400 to $700, and on the excessive finish of that vary pays itself off inside ten months (primarily based on the financial savings of consuming homegrown meals). But Pechenik and Deschanel know that not everybody can afford the upfront value. Without fixing that, they haven’t served the corporate’s core mission of accessibility. So they’re now exploring choices like a subscription mannequin and lobbying for tax incentives for individuals who develop their very own meals, just like these for solar energy.

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“When we were first pitching it, we didn’t have anybody who would invest,” says Deschanel, who bootstrapped it with Pechenik, “and now I kind of want to go back and be like, ‘Are you guys kind of mad you didn’t?’”

It reminds her of the Hollywood auditions. “People today are mostly casting me on my body of work, but on the rare occasion I do audition for something, I never get it. And I would like to challenge [them], because I always think I do a good job, but then for whatever reason…” She trails off, laughs at herself and the audacity of all of it, and wonders if perhaps she talks an excessive amount of. “It’s just something I make jokes about now.”

Then she strikes on to what works, as a substitute of what doesn’t.

Image Credit: Bobby Fisher

Toward the top of 2020, Merryfield confirmed up. As it seems, Mayer, like Deschanel, had an awakening when he grew to become a father or mother. He’d spent years within the funding world, and at 42, stood holding his daughter in his arms and began to see the world via a wholly new lens. He watched individuals store at Whole Foods, go to SoulCycle, and drink inexperienced juice as “almost this alternative healthcare system,” he says. As for everybody else attempting to boost households who couldn’t afford it? He started asking the identical questions Deschanel was attempting to reply.

Mayer first partnered with Joe Dickson, who’d been director of high quality requirements at Whole Foods for 14 years, after which went trying to find a 3rd cofounder to spherical out the group.

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That’s how all of them ended up on a Zoom name with Deschanel. “As soon as they told me what his idea was,” she says, “I was on board.” By then, she’d come to understand that even when Lettuce Grow grew to become as ubiquitous because the fridge, it wouldn’t resolve your entire meals entry drawback “because say you grow 20% of your food at home; what about the other 80%?”

Merryfield, she realized, may cowl that bigger piece. On the decision, she obtained particularly fired up concerning the thought of serving to individuals vote with their {dollars} to demand much more of those good manufacturers — and convey the value down additional. “It’s a domino effect!” she says.

Where Lettuce Grow turns individuals into farmers, Merryfield takes on the aspect. But it does it in a singular approach — functioning extra like a membership and loyalty program than an e-commerce platform. Shoppers merely purchase no matter they need on-line or at their native grocery retailer. Then, they scan their receipt into the Merryfield app and are rewarded for buying any manufacturers in this system — firms like Stonyfield Organic, Vital Proteins, LesserEvil, and NadaMoo! which might be vetted for protected, high quality elements and accountable practices, in order that nobody has to navigate the rockslide of promoting info. Every buy earns factors which might be redeemable for reward playing cards at locations like Amazon, Sephora, and Target. Users save not less than 5%, however usually far more.

While the membership prices nothing for customers, firms pay an annual price to be included within the app. Why would they do this? “For brands today, it’s very expensive to reach new customers,” Mayer says. “The big opportunity for those in the wellness space is not just increasingly trying to double down on the same audience they’ve been marketing to for the last decade,” however as a substitute to develop their viewers. He additionally hopes to indicate that Merryfield builds loyalty as a result of shoppers are extra inclined to buy the entire portfolio of manufacturers, which provides a stickiness to the relationships.

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Like Lettuce Grow, Merryfield is ready up as a public profit company, which Deschanel has robust emotions about. “Nonprofits are absolutely essential,” she says, “but I lived in the former Yugoslavia for several months growing up and I think a little bit of capitalism can put a fire beneath you and get the best minds. My dad stepped on a [poisonous] stonefish, and if you’ve never been to a communist hospital, I just have to say it’s a good thing to see.”

With solely three or 4 months of great advertising beneath Merryfield’s belt, how nicely it may ship on buyer acquisition stays to be seen. But with 65 manufacturers on board immediately, Merryfield expects to succeed in 100 this 12 months and has ambitions to develop to different classes like meditation apps, health club memberships, and eating places — the entire “wellness ,” as Mayer places it. “The brands love her,” he says of Deschanel. “She thrives on positive energy, and that can be contagious.”

Image Credit: Bobby Fisher

These days, Deschanel is placing that positivity into follow at each flip as she collects miles flying between Los Angeles and Atlanta filming Harold and the Purple Crayon, gears up for a tour this summer time with She & Him, juggles two youngsters ages 4 and 6, and works on the 2 startups — all whereas making time to go to “a ton” of escape rooms along with her boyfriend, Property Brothers’ Jonathan Scott. “It’s one of our favorite things to do,” she says. “We love to solve puzzles.”

At one level whereas discussing her companies, Deschanel steps again. “It’s funny,” she says. “I don’t think of myself as an entrepreneur, exactly, because I’ve worked with all these amazing CEOs who really make these companies happen. I’m risk averse. And I didn’t go to business school or anything like that. But…” And then you possibly can see that positivity self-discipline in motion — which, let’s be sincere, is among the most important entrepreneurial expertise of all. “I have a lot of good ideas. I bring my creativity. And vision.”

Not to say quirkiness. “You have to do something different,” she says.

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