(Scare-Free Sundays)

Birdies Co-Founder Bianca Gates Talks Stress & The Magic Of Foot Massages

They work wonders.

Lindsay Hattrick/TZR; Chelsea Lauren/Shutterstock
Bianca Gates Birdies co-founder

In TZR’s franchise Scare-Free Sundays, industry leaders discuss the all-too-common weekend anxiety (aka Sunday Scaries) that can rob one of the relaxation and rest they so desperately need to properly take on the week ahead. Here, we sit down with Bianca Gates, co-founder of shoe brand Birdies for her tips on how to keep weekend work stress at bay.

Bianca Gates will be the first person to tell you she’s an “accidental entrepreneur.” The oldest daughter of Latin immigrants, the Southern California native had the idea of the American dream embedded in her brain from an early age. “I always really wanted to make money,” she says to TZR. “Money for me was independence.” For this reason, Gates’ early career was in marketing and sales, working for big name companies like Univision, Viacom, and Facebook. “I had a life in sales so I could beat my W-2 [annually] because your income fluctuates based on your performance for the year.”

In meeting the energetic CEO it’s easy to understand her early success in marketing. Gates’ enthusiasm and naturally positive disposition (she was referred to as “Bianca Joy” as a child) is truly magnetic, even through the virtual lens of a Zoom camera. In fact, in a twist of fate, it was this solution-focused attitude that eventually led to the career shift that changed her life. “I had this nagging problem that every time I'd welcome people to my home, I'd ask them to take their shoes off, and it was kind of that embarrassing moment where people were like, ‘Oh, I don't have a pedicure. I'm wearing holey socks underneath my boots.’ And so I was like, ‘Gosh, how come somebody hasn't solved this problem?’”

Thus, Birdies was born. The chic footwear, designed to “champion women+ with every step,” combines the sturdiness and support of a sneaker with the comfort of a plush slipper. Launched in 2015, it didn’t take long for the clever shoe to get the attention of some very big names, including Meghan Markle, who’s been a fan of Birdies since its early days.

Pool/Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images

But even immediate success comes with its challenges, and Gates explains that entrepreneurship threw her into uncharted waters that tested her mental health and sense of self. Ahead, she talks candidly about anxiety and work stress and how she juggles life as a business owner, mother, and passionate female advocate.

Going into a completely new career field that you were unfamiliar with surely took a toll on your anxiety levels. Can you tell me a bit about that?

I think it was a hodgepodge of emotions. On the one hand, you're excited because you see your product out on consumers and people paying money for what you've created. So you have that high. On the other hand, don't forget, for me, my north star was always to beat my W-2 every year, and I will never forget that W-2 in 2017 was like half of what it had been the year before, because I quit my job at Facebook in the middle of 2017 and 2018 was zero. We were not paying ourselves anything. And so for me, it was the first time I felt like, Wow, I'm really dependent on my husband right now and I had always told myself, ‘I never want to be dependent on my husband or a man. I'm going to figure this out on my own.’

So that was really scary for me, and it made me feel really vulnerable and almost like a fraud. I had been telling women, ‘We should be independent, we should make our own money, we should not depend on men,’ and here I am fully financially dependent on my husband. That felt really scary. However, he has been incredibly supportive.

How does your work and personal life take a toll on your mental health?

Since I was a little girl, they used to call me Bianca Joy. As an entrepreneur, you're sort of like an eternal optimist. The glass half-full, where there's a will, there's a way. And so I'm generally a very, very positive person. That's how stress comes in funny ways. Mentally, I can say I'm happy, I'm not stressed, I can conquer this challenge, it doesn't bother me, but then sometimes my mind and my body aren't totally in sync.

So, when my body starts to run down it comes out really in the form of bad sleep. If I get restless sleep, that's when I know I'm probably more stressed than my brain is telling my body and I need to slow down. That's when I know I need to slow down and drink more water and hydrate more. But yeah, generally I'm a happy person, but I have learned that our bodies and our minds are not always in sync, and I have to be mindful of that.

Walk me through your current day-to-day.

OK, my days are very packed, as you might imagine, which I love. But Monday through Friday, I am usually out of the house ready to go before 8 a.m. for school drop off. And my first meeting usually starts around 8:30 a.m., and then I'm just living off my calendar. It's back to back to back to back. I mean, I do try to block time off to think and get some other work done, but then that sometimes gets taken over. Then, after work, after school, I'm like a taxi driver. I'm driving the kids around from sports to sports, so we don't get home until like 7:30 or 8 p.m., and then it's dinner time. So it's pretty jam-packed. The weekends, frankly, are sometimes worse than the work week. Our kids are heavy into sports. They do tournaments. So we're out of the house most weekends by 6 or 6:30 in the morning to make it to tournaments all weekend long, and then whatever else comes of it. It's a pretty packed schedule, but it's also a very fulfilling seven-day-a-week schedule.

Do you take moments for yourself?

I don't take a lot of me time, but it's also because I love what I do. I love my job. I love spending time with my kids. But my little secret is, when I'm feeling somewhat run down, I go and get a foot massage. I've done this for like 15 years. It's the best. I go for a 90-minute foot massage. I've studied the feet so much. I mean, I'm in footwear, but there are different pressure points all over the feet that connect to different parts of the body, your neck, your eyes, your sinuses, your stomach, your kidneys. And so a simple foot massage, just sitting on a chair can alleviate so much stress and pressure all over the body. And it's not a big commitment because you're not lying on a table for 90 minutes. You're just sitting on a chair, and I get a lot of reading done when I'm getting my feet massaged. So that's sort of my me time when I can get it done.

Do you experience any sort of ‘Sunday scaries’ or work anxiety ahead of a Monday or ahead of a busy week? How does that manifest for you?

The Sunday scaries are interesting because I feel like I got them a lot in school. The weekends I was completely shut off from everything, and then Sunday night I'd be like, ‘Oh my god, I have that task and I didn't...’ So I think that taught me that the scariness comes in the form of not being as prepared as I probably could be. If I feel really prepared for a meeting or have a great outfit for an interview, I'm actually looking forward to the week. But I get scared if I'm not prepared. And so if I do get one of those Sunday scaries or Friday scaries or whatever day, it's probably a signal that I'm not as prepared as I need to be about something. Like I said, though, my work week and personal life are seven days a week, so for me it's not a Sunday scary. It'll pop up any day of the week. But when I am prepared, I'm like, ‘Bring it. This is going to be a fun week.’

The other thing I do is I look at my week and I look to see what are some fun things I'm looking forward to. That helps me get excited about the week ahead because something I'm looking forward to is going to happen. If I don't necessarily have something unusually exciting that week, I book my foot massage. I have to have something to look forward to.

What sort of rules you abide by when you're technically off or not working?

Weekends, again, I'm not technically off. I've got my office in a bag. I mean, I've literally done Zooms and emails in the trunk of my car. There's nowhere I haven't just jumped into a work meeting.

But we have always carved out dinners together seven days a week. It's become a little bit harder with the kids being a little bit older, but it's always been in the dining room. For us, that's an element of getting out of the kitchen where it's busy and into a more calming place with no technology, and we go around the table talking about our days and who's doing what. That's a way for us to connect on a regular basis and sort of escape work. I say sort of because anytime I give my update, it's probably something related to work, and my husband's an investor and so then we start getting into conversations around what's happening and the world and whatnot. But it's our time that we carve out together as a family, dinner time.

What sort of intrusive or anxious thoughts do you get specifically related to business?

In 2018, 2019, 2020 when a lot of other direct to consumer brands were raising a ton of money, I was like, ‘Well, I'm sure I could. It doesn't seem like the best idea because I don't think a business like ours needs to raise a hundred million dollars. We're probably not running it profitably if we do.’ But I did have those moments of doubt. Should I be raising more money? So, am I playing small or am I playing big or was this the right idea or was that the wrong idea? Then, we changed our logo a few years ago. A lot of people in our company were like, ‘No, we loved the old logo. We shouldn't change the logo.’ And so I go to bed thinking, Am I making the bad decision? Am I making the right decision? And sometimes you just never know.

So how do you combat these intrusive thoughts?

I will say this is why being a mission-driven company is so important because as long as you are working towards your mission every day, you can make some mistakes here and there, but authentically you're sticking to who you are, and that gives me peace every single night with what we're doing.