Alexia Bonatsos: ‘If You’re Not Failing, You’re Not Trying’

The former TechCrunch co-editor on her evolving relationship with technology and how she overcomes self-doubt.

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Alexia Bonatsos: “What’s happening!?!” I scroll Twitter for 15–20 minutes then head to my coffee maker/holy grail. I also spray this pretentious ginseng and cactus flower mist on my face at some point in the interim. I’d like to think it has the effect of waking me up. Placebo effect? I’ll take it.

TG: What gives you energy?
AB: The blood of young people. J/K! Reading, traveling, writing, conversation with witty, creative folks, downtime with my husband and running.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
AB: A professor in business school taught me to always act like you are coming at a given situation or challenge from a position of optimal power and resources. So much energy is wasted on self-doubt. This approach seems to magically dissolve it for me.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
AB: Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” made me cry when I read it in college (I was a dramatic teen). It had the same effect on me as Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”; Convinced me to stop trying to fit in and embrace my quirkiness. In today’s parlance, “don’t be basic.”

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
AB: I’m like Narcissus with my phone screen; it’s my black mirror. I’ve deleted the Facebook mobile app because I was an hourly active user (Instagram survived the purge). My phone charges right next to my bed but it is on silent mode after some foreign PR people rang me up in the middle of the night. Rubbish!

TG: How do you deal with email?
AB: I’m the opposite of a “zero inbox” person but Sheryl Sandberg’s responsiveness on email is my hero. In order to be more like her, I use an app called Affinity that has a “Missed emails” feature. It lets you know who is waiting for a response from you, and vice versa.

I hate the hamster wheel of doing email on my phone, so I reserve time to go through email in massive chunks at home. Some still fall through the cracks unfortunately. I’m no Sheryl, but I’m alright with that.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
AB: Check Instagram or Twitter is what I actually do. Responding to texts, DMs and emails is what I aspire to do.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
AB: There was a period in 2011–2012 when I was working for TechCrunch and freelancing for Wired print simultaneously and the Wired job involved actually shadowing Uber drivers at night (it was about early-stage Uber). Surge work stress coupled with surge personal stress plus little sleep made me briefly lose touch with what was important in life: family, friends and health.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
AB: I fail at things every day. Big things sometimes, but usually little things like sending the wrong document in an email. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying. The way I overcome failures now is think: “Well, if Donald Trump can be president, anyone can do anything.” Seriously. Get back on the horse!

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
AB: “That’s why pencils have erasers, because humans make mistakes.” — Jenny Rainsford on “Fleabag”


Alexia Bonatsos was previously co-editor of TechCrunch. She’s now working on something new.