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Why bicycle design inspires Simplehuman’s founder and CEO

He bikes, he walks, he plays basketball. It all leads to fresh ways of looking at things.

Why bicycle design inspires Simplehuman’s founder and CEO
[Photo: Jose Mandojana]

When I was 7 or 8, I used to say I wanted to be an inventor, and people in Taiwan, where I’m from, were like, “What do you mean? You don’t want to be an accountant or an attorney?” I always had ideas. I wanted to make a dog feeder that had a timer so food would come out [when it was time for] a puppy [to eat], which they make today. We immigrated to the States when I was 11, and I ended up studying political science at UCLA with plans to go to law school. My girlfriend, who is now my wife, used to listen to my ideas and suggested I look into industrial design—I had no idea what it was.

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Even though I’m the CEO of Simplehuman, I spend about 60% of my time on R&D, because that’s what I love—I think about it all day. I also have to take care of all the other things that keep the business going. Our factories are in Taiwan, but I’m based in California, so I’m always double-checking emails and making sure I’m available on Skype, often very early or late because of the time difference. I’m on all the time. People joke that I’m the fastest in the company at returning [emails] or looking at Slack.

I always take an hour for lunch to eat in our general café area and talk to my colleagues. I try not to talk about work stuff because if I do that, nobody wants to sit next to me. I want to hear about their vacations or hobbies, or talk about the NBA.

I really believe that my mind and body work together. We have a basketball court in the office, and if there’s a problem my team and I can’t solve, we’ll go there and shoot around. We also have Krav Maga and yoga classes, so I take those too. Sometimes when you take your mind in a different direction, you can come up with a solution to your problems. I love cycling. I have three bikes in my office, and when I need a break, I ride around the parking lot for 15 minutes. I get this sense of freedom when I ride, but I also love the mechanical aspect of bikes, the way the gears shift, the way the frame is made, the geometry of the design. That inspires me.

Time he gets up: 6 a.m.

First thing he does in the morning: “I have coffee and chill in my backyard for 10 minutes before going on a 45-minute walk around my neighborhood. I don’t take my phone with me. I tend to ponder bigger questions and think about what I want to accomplish that day.”

Best habit: “Stretching. I stretch all the time, especially since I injured my back playing basketball 15 years ago.”

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Worst habit: “I have so much clutter, but I’m getting better. I’m actively trying to get rid of things.”

Last thing he does at night: “I take my second 45-minute walk of the day—usually around 9 o’clock—after my kids go to sleep. It’s different from my walk in the morning. I look at the stars, and it makes you feel very little; the universe is so big . . . it gives me a good perspective.”

Time he goes to bed: 10 or 10:30 p.m.

A version of this article appeared in the Winter 2019/2020 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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