Episode #1283 Mike Del Ponte: How SOMA Succeeds by Obsessing Over the Details

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Mike and Jenna discuss how clarity and purpose fuel creativity and simple routines you can implement to live a fulfilled life. 


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Mike Del Ponte

Founder and CEO of SOMA View Full Profile

Insights from Mike

On Thoughtful Design

  • "One of our rules at SOMA is to never be derivative. We want to be original. We don't want to follow. The whole vision of our business is that we want to elevate water to inspire thoughtful living. We started by completely reimagining the experience of filtered water. If something as mundane as drinking water could be reimagined, what does that mean for our lives? How thoughtful can we live? With that in mind, we think about everything we do as how can we do it new, fresh, innovative, and better?"
  • "You can’t understand good design unless you understand people. Design is made for people."
  • "There is a confluence between really understanding and empathizing with our consumers and also having the vision to do something unique. As consumers, we only know so much. We need visionaries to see what we can't see."

On Obsessing Over the Details  

  • "The difference between good and great is the difference between 99% there and 100%. The details are the 1%. Those are the little delightful moments when you realize that something on the packaging matches the website and the product. It’s almost like an inside joke when you start seeing all of these tiny, minute details that have been very thoughtfully selected. It makes you feel like you are part of an inside circle."
  • "Our products are never done. We are always improving our products, packaging, online experience, and everything about the brand."
  • "When you’re drinking out of our bottle it feels like a kiss. For us, it’s what our consumers are doing over and over - drinking out of the mouth - it has to be perfect. We obsess over that detail."
  • "I really love getting into the details. I love the last 1%. When you are on the one yard line and you are trying to get in to the end zone. I love refining every little detail over and over, whether it’s product, packaging, or something else. For me, that's thrilling because so many people stop earlier in the process." 

On the Hidden Door Supper Club 

  • "We started an underground dinner series as a way to use our creative strengths to design experiences that really reflected the SOMA brand without being salesy. They were extensive dinner parties that were more like immersive experiences than a sit-down dinner. We would bring 20 amazingly diverse people together in a room who were activists, journalists, entrepreneurs, influencers, and investors and treat them to an incredible experience. The whole idea is that we didn’t require anything from them. In fact, we told them they can’t share this on social media or write about it. We were building long term relationships and showing our true colors. Many of the people who were a part of the club have become great friends and huge advocates for the brand. We were young, scrappy, and trying to do a lot with a little. We made those investments without asking for anything. They paid great dividends over the years."

On Clarity and Creativity 

  • "I really believe that you have to have a very clear mind in order to create. You want to start from a blank slate. You don’t want to walk to your canvas with paint and debris on it. You need a clear canvas to start your creative process. Rejuvenating to have a clear mind is incredibly important." (Great story on Mike’s process in The Wall Street Journal)
  • "We really believe in ritual and rhythm. What are the key rituals that get you to a peak state? What is the rhythm? How often and what time should you practice them?"
  • "I spend 60 to 90 minutes of ‘Clean Time’ every morning. Clean Time can be spent on anything that nourishes me. It can be journaling, prayer, meditation, yoga, creative thinking about the business, reading, or writing. That time is so important. One of the things that I believe strongly is doing all of that work pre-input. So, before you check your text messages, email, the news, social media, or really any external input you want to have a fresh mind, having just woken up, to start creating from that space. I usually do one or two of those activities and try to limit it so I have time for each. Most of the magic, creative thinking, and insight work is done early in the morning. We all struggle with the outside distractions. For me, I have a little pad of paper where I write down any thoughts or tasks that I remember during that time so I can make sure I do them later."

On Writing SOMA’s Story

  • "One of the things that came out of my creative sessions is writing the story of SOMA. I wrote it as if it was a biography of the company, starting in the beginning before we launched the business. I wrote a history up until where we are. Then, I wrote the near future, like the next quarter, and then the long-term future. That exercise allowed me to see things that were on the horizon. I immediately brought it into the team and had them engage with it. I remember getting extreme clarity on the things that were most important in the business. It allowed me to come to the team, talk about the near-term future and the most important things that we need to focus on now. I could have looked at our strategic plan from the year before or our financial model but by giving myself the space to think about it, I was able to identify some things I probably would have overlooked that made a big difference."

On Serendipity

  • "I have a counterintuitive mindset about this, almost a contradiction, which is blocking out time for serendipity. I try to avoid times in which I think: What should I do? I try to be very clear about work time and rejuvenation time. Rejuvenation is when the serendipity happens. An example of that is the morning ritual where I have 90 minutes where I can do anything I want. On Sundays, I try to never work. My rule on Sunday is that the only thing I schedule is a massage. I’m going to have a clear slate. I don’t want anything to distract me. I am very serious about work and rejuvenation.  You rarely have a powerful moment of serendipity sitting on the couch watching TV or staring at your laptop wondering what should you work on next. By being proactive and creating opportunities for execution time, creativity time, fun time, or rest and rejuvenation it opens you up to have more powerful experiences than if you are living life reactively."
  • "If you could only do one thing with your life right now, what would you do?"
  • "I am a pretty introverted and independent person so I get a lot of insights traveling alone or having my Clean Time in the morning. Often times, I only have so much perspective around the world. It’s narrow. I can only see what I see. It’s really important for me to learn from other people and to get insights that I usually wouldn’t find on my own."

On Living a Fulfilling Life

  • "There are three questions I learned when I was at Boston College about discerning your vocation, what you should with your life: What brings me joy? What am I really good at? What does the world need? When you answer those three questions, put them down, and see the overlap like a diagram that is where your calling is. The world needs a lot. All you can do, is give what you are best at and do what brings you joy."
  • "The world needs entrepreneurs who are tackling real problems. A frustration I have in Silicon Valley, is companies that are raising millions of dollars and attracting very smart talent, are really not making a big difference. I don’t mean to be overly negative or critical but there are a lot of silly apps that make our lives incrementally better. Really smart people should be solving really big problems. The global water crisis is a massive problem. Climate change is a massive problem. We know now more than ever that unity and respect for all people, whether they look like us or agree with us, is a really big problem. I would say that when people go through that discernment process, take it really seriously. Once you commit to something it can be many years of your life. You don't want to wake up saying I spent six years creating an app that helps people park their cars faster. You want to say I spent six years having a blast, learning a lot, and really making a difference in the world. There are so many different problems to tackle. It is up to all of us to commit to one or two and really make a difference with them."
  • "Purpose is the most important thing. How we spend our time is everything. If you really don’t feel like you know what your life’s purpose is, spend time on that. Don’t feel like you are on a conveyor belt of life moving forward without a vision. Really discern what your best at, what brings you joy, and what the world needs. The best things in life aren’t things. We can get so caught up, especially with all of the messages on social media that tell us we aren’t good enough and we need to spend money to become good enough. It’s important to go back to what really matters in life; That’s purposeful work and love. We need to think more about how we spend  our time with the people we love and how we spend our time on the creative work that we do to make this world a better place."