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Soluna in the Time of Coronavirus


Business, CEO, Startup

By the team at Soluna

While the world wages war against the novel coronavirus, we at Soluna continue our fight against Climate Change.

We have always been a distributed team.

Soluna is based in New York, with team members located throughout the US, including Boston, California, DC, and abroad in Morocco and London.

For the past couple of months, we’ve joined most of the world who are now “sheltered in place” and only leave for essential services.

Just about everyone is coping with cabin fever in their own way but thought we’d share a day in the life of some of our team members during this crisis.

Below you’ll find answers from the team to the following questions:

  1. What is a day-in-your-life like in these challenging times?
  2. What new tools are you using (other than Zoom or Slack) that you find useful?
  3. How are you keeping calm during the pandemic?
  4. How do you stay connected to the team?
  5. What is your favorite article (or other content) on the pandemic you’ve read during the past fortnight?

John Belizaire, CEO from New York

When I am not immersed in meetings with members of the team, or answering questions from our co-development partners and investors, I am the official family chef. Starting at about 6:30 am, I prepare three meals a day for my wife and kids. The night before, I prepare the menu to the best of my ability for the next day. If we are short on supplies, I also make a supply run heading to the grocery store (wearing my mask and gloves). Things have been challenging in New York — the epicenter of the pandemic in the US — so careful planning is a must.

My oldest attends Kindergarten via “Zoom school’ now, so we have to be prepared for just about anything. Between video sessions, we assist with a myriad of activities from crazy hair day, to book-making, to math that literally involves counting how many socks I own. (Lol.)

After dinner, it’s storytime and then we rinse and repeat.

I have also added some new tools to my repertoire. I use the New York Times cooking app to help me plan meals. I scan my pantry and try to construct meals from the vast library they have on the service. How many ways can you make chicken? Surprisingly, a lot!

My favorite dish is, wait for it… Moroccan Tagine. It is a hit right now.

To keep track of the various things I do both professionally and personally, I now use the Todoist task management tool. It is by far the best list tracker I have used to date. I love Trello (I keep recipes, blogs, etc. there), but Todoist’s reminders, and project-based sorting, makes it ideal for organizing my life right now.

I use my noise-canceling AirPod Pros with Soundcloud to create a “quiet” space for deep work at my new makeshift office on the family dining room table or occasionally in my coat closet.

Keeping calm has certainly been a challenge.

I try to avoid the news and TV nearly 100% of the time. I meditate twice a day and have refound yoga with a 10-min regime in the morning. I take walks — always wearing my mask — and listening to one of my favorite mind-expanding podcasts.

My kitchen appliances have been breaking down one by one, so I have slowly become proficient at appliance repair using youtube!

(I just finished fixing my dishwasher.)

Governor Cuomo’s twitter feed and the New York Times daily Coronavirus Briefing has become my main source of information on the outbreak’s effects on New York. I often say the city is turning into a giant hospital.

I also stay calm by being creative. I bought a coloring book for grown-ups. Coloring is very relaxing. I journal every night (using Evernote)and have shifted to reading physical books to take a break from screen time.

In the past week, staying calm has become nearly impossible. The virus has made its way into my life. Two of my siblings and my mom have now contracted COVID-19 and are dealing with the gripping effects of the world’s new global enemy. As a result, my creativity has now turned to make daily “I love you, and hang in there” videos for them.

(Since the drafting of this article, my siblings are now on the mend, and my mom — who spent over 30 days in the hospital — continues her recovery at home. My two sisters are with her every day tending to her needs.)

I stay connected with the Soluna team by making it a rule to reach out to each person either live or via our multiple collaboration channels. We also now do daily stand-ups that help to keep us all connected on various projects we have underway. Last month we had our first team social event where we played virtual poker.

We also started a beard-growing contest (among the guys) — called COVID19 beards.

I try to speak with our board members often as well.

My favorite piece of content related to the pandemic is this beautiful poem by an unknown author:

We fell asleep in one world and woke up in another.

Suddenly Disney is out of magic,

Paris is no longer romantic,

New York doesn’t stand up anymore,

the Chinese wall is no longer a fortress, and Mecca is empty.

Hugs & kisses suddenly become weapons, and not visiting parents & friends becomes an act of love.

Suddenly you realize that power, beauty & money are worthless, and can’t get you the oxygen you’re fighting for.

The world continues its life and it is beautiful. It only puts humans in cages. I think it’s sending us a message:

‘You are not necessary. The air, earth, water, and sky without you are fine. When you come back, remember that you are my guests. Not my masters.’

Dip Patel, CTO from New York

Soluna is a company that requires a lot of travel, whether I’m headed to the NYC HQ or Morocco. I’ve also been to some remote places in this country. Google timeline shows that I had 35 trips in 2019, but only 4 in 2020!

I have to say, I am extremely fortunate during this pandemic. Soluna allows me to work and make progress remotely, and my class at MIT has adapted as well. My wife also is lucky enough to get to work from home. So overall, I have no complaints.

My day to day is pretty routine, which is irregular for me. I wake up, take my dog out to handle his routine. Then I come in, handle mine, and get to work. I usually do some pull-ups (grease the groove) and pushups (a COVID Challenge with my buddies) before work and throughout the day to keep active.

The one thing I find alarming is just how much cooking I’m doing. Like John, I am the person responsible for food in the household. My wife is also due in July, so this duty is extra critical! I love cooking, but I am very bad at optimizing. I will get better.

After work, on Mondays, I teach a class at MIT which is now fully remote. I applaud our students for adapting to such challenging times and making it way easier for people like me to teach. On other days, I begin to prep for a delicious dinner, then handle some chores and unwind for bed.

See, no complaints. I take my dog out a few times throughout the day as well, and if the weather permits (It’s been very stormy) — we hang out on the beach for a while.

For tools, other than the usual suspects, I love playing games virtually with friends and family. We’ve found Jackbox a ton of fun for game nights, and incredible for hosting poker games.

I also found that I worried a lot about the sourcing of my food since it is likely when I would be most exposed to the virus (other than Dr. Visits). As such I’ve done a ton of research into how to get food delivered, but (surprise, surprise), most delivery services, including boxes like Blue Apron are sold out. Luckily, by connecting with farms directly, we’ve been able to source awesome, healthy food.

We even have a milkman. His name is Dave. He delivers the milk and other stuff from the farm into a cooler. We do the demo man handshake through the glass and then the sanitation begins!

To stay calm during this time, I’ve been staying busy and also trying to stay away from the echo chambers created by social media and other sensationalist stuff. I’ve been reading fiction books, some mental model books, and parenting books to stay busy. Video games are awesome too!

My wife and I are also tackling a ton of projects around the house we haven’t been able to do. This is a huge time of transition for us. Our first 11 years together, we lived in over 10 different places. Now we’ve not only been here for almost 5 but are expecting a new add-on soon.

I think that’s the key.

Stay positive even with all the turmoil, and keep healthy distractions! Some are challenging and others are just for recharging. The key is not to get bored! Ride out this storm, learn from it, and become stronger for the (inevitable) next one!

Larbi Loudiyi, VP Energy from Morocco

My mindset has always been to turn constraints into opportunities.

So, on a personal level, the confinement has been a blessing for me and my family as it has allowed us to spend considerably more time together. Surprisingly, after the two first weeks, my little three-year-old daughter became the real commander-in-chief, setting the tempo all day long.

My day starts whenever she wakes me up: “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!…enough, enough. Work! Work!!”

A shower and a couple of coffees later, I enter my bubble until lunchtime. After a 10 minute break, I’m back to work until I can not focus anymore. Usually, It happens when my little girl gets tired of waiting to play. As I told you, she’s setting the tempo!

After playing, comes the time for dinner where the entire family is in the kitchen for cooking. We’re having a lot of fun with our new kitchen gadget–a Thermomix. We make tiramisu, bread, smoothies, risotto, or whatever else we fancy. All we have to do is select the recipes that come with this marvelous gadget’s app and follow the instructions.

We usually end up with one hell of a feast to the family’s delight.

Phillip Ng, VP of Corporate Development from Maryland

The first thing I learned about coronavirus life was that having two professionals work from a 600-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in New York is not possible.

So, early into the lockdown, my wife, my dog, and I retreated to my parent’s suburban home in Laurel, Maryland. While this has been a great blessing — and afforded us ample space and breathing room — it also has felt like a step back.

We are moving in with our parents.

Since settling into Laurel and adjusting to the rhythms of stay-at-home life, I have focused on a few things. Firstly, I have tried to maintain a routine sleep/wake time and exercise. Second, I have focused on eating healthy. I have found these three factors are very correlated to my mental health and attitude. They also help me stay productive.

From a work perspective, Soluna has started a rhythm of daily standups, which have been great for our productivity. Also, I spend a lot of time in meetings. While these activities take many hours out of my day, they are important to staying focused and synchronized as a team. Despite the new distance of separation, I actually feel closer to my teammates than before.

Beyond productivity, my other two sisters have joined us at my parent’s house. The house is quite full (and the dirty dishes never seem to end). While the close proximity can be a source of tension at times, most of the time it’s been a great pleasure to spend such extended hours with family which I might normally only see a week or two at a time at most. Our evenings are filled with board games, storytime, and bottles of wine. On the weekends, we undertake big projects like preparing a full traditional Malaysian dinner or going on group hikes.

I certainly won’t miss many portions of lockdown life, but there are a few aspects that I’m glad to have experienced such as the deliberate communication with our team members, the extended time with my family, and gratitude for all the conveniences of daily life when they finally do return.

Cybele Ramirez, Content Strategist from New York

At the start of quarantine, I expected all of this time to just magically appear in the day, with so much of the world on pause. Instead, I’ve found myself busier than ever.

Much of my day remains the same as in pre-quarantine life. I wake up, meditate, and walk my two pups. Then, I get ready for the day (which just means changing from the clothes I slept in into clothes that I could sleep in, but won’t), make my morning brew, unfold my laptop, and get to work. For the last year or so, I’ve simultaneously worn many hats. Student. Teacher. Analyst. Freelance Copywriter. Content Strategist.

It’s been a year of learning to multitask and stay motivated at home leading up to our current mandate to shelter in place.

I’ve found small rewards, like reading or cooking, have been the best way to break up my day and keep me excited for my next break. To do so, I’ve been using Siri to set reminders for breaks. It’s not a new tool, by any means, but surprisingly helpful when you have the tendency to spend 75% of your day behind a screen.

In late 2019, I made a commitment to myself to read more– a book a week, in fact. At the start of lockdown, it was hard to find the will to read when binging a trending Netflix series was just a click away. But, a few days in, I remembered why I challenged myself to begin with. I found that as a graduate student, reading felt a lot like a chore and I missed reading for pleasure.

So, staying calm during the pandemic means turning away from the news or TV, and turning toward a good book. As part of entering the weekend, I’ve been spending a scheduled couple of hours on Saturday mornings with a double serving of coffee and a good book.

The team at Soluna is constantly sharing insights, both fun, and thought-provoking. Staying connected to them through our usual channels has reaffirmed our team’s adaptability, transparency, and care for one another. In general, heightened communication during this pandemic has provided a sense of safety, normalcy, and calm.

I’ve been doing my best to schedule consistent video calls with the people closest to me. Who knew video chatting could be so fun? I’ve had Zoom dinner parties, FaceTime happy hours, and Google Hangout trivia nights.

As fun as they may be, I miss the bustling New York City scene. I miss commuting to class every night, seeing familiar faces at the coffee shop, and sharing a meal at one of my many favorite restaurants in the city. When I start to worry about our city’s recovery, this post helped me gain optimism. I’ve watched it so many times.

Overall, staying busy and connected has lessened the anxiety of quarantine. It’s been a unique experience, at times challenging, but one I, like my team, am trying to make the best of.