Daina Falk is a celebrity cook, spokeswoman, TV personality, nationally known game day expert, and Amazon bestselling cookbook author. She is the Founder and CEO of Hungry Fan, a lifestyle brand that lives at the intersection of two booming categories—sports and food. Falk is the author of The Hungry Fan’s Game Day Cookbook, which features her recipes for game day parties and contributions from Olympians and professional athletes like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Andre Agassi, and Boomer Esiason.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up outside Washington, DC. I went to public school, did after-school activities, took piano lessons, enjoyed many a sleepover party with my friends, played sports, and did all the other things regular kids do. The only difference in my life was that my dad’s job as a sports agent entailed joining him at a lot of sporting events and having his clients frequently join family dinners and stay over in our guestroom. When I was really little, I didn’t recognize that this was different or special. But when I got a little older, I started to see that my dad’s job and the things that came with it were seen as special, if not glamorous, by others. I just saw the athletes my dad worked with as people and I enjoyed watching them do their jobs. They were like my uncles, just usually a lot taller than any of my other family members. And because of them, I fell in love with sports.
All this time spent in stadiums and arenas also afforded me an opportunity to realize that I was pretty obsessed with sports fans. I remember being a little girl, standing on the court at Madison Square Garden before a game, looking up into the stands and watching the fans shuffle in, clad in all their blue and orange Knicks gear. We used to go up for Knicks games a lot because my dad represented Patrick Ewing, who I simply adored. I remember these two guys who used to come to all the games. One had a gigantic wooden “D” painted white. And the other had a portion of white picket pence. And like maniacs—or like what we now know as modern-day spirit squads hired by teams (though these two were just pure fans)—the two of them used to run around the old promenade of the Garden getting Knicks fans to chant “de-fense” at deafening levels. This exposure to sports fans, their traditions, and their incredible tribalism both inside the arenas and in the parking lots before games is what ultimately inspired me to create my company Hungry Fan.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I don’t have many regrets. I appreciate the lessons I learn, even if I learn them the hard way because they make me stronger as I continue on my journey towards achieving my goals. That said, there is one thing I took for granted and that was my health. As an entrepreneur getting started, I slept very little and burned the candle at both ends for quite some time. That ultimately landed me in the hospital with a serious medical condition that has had lasting effects on my life. No fun. Not great. So, if I could impart any advice to aspiring entrepreneurs it is this: You are your greatest asset. The business won’t get started without you starting it. It won’t run without you running it. And it won’t succeed without all your efforts. So the smartest thing you can do to get from a great idea to a successful business is to take very good care of the person powering the journey.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Tough one. I don’t know that I have heard any bad recommendations. If anything, it’s very clear to me that everyone’s entrepreneurial journey is unique. So what works for some might not work for others. Therefore, one approach isn’t necessarily better than another. I’ve been given plenty of recommendations by smart and successful people that just didn’t work for me, didn’t yield success, or with which I just fundamentally disagreed. But I am of the mind that more data and more input is better than fewer data and less input. So I’d suggest entrepreneurs keep an open mind because, for every x number of recommendations, there will some number of very helpful nuggets of wisdom.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Easy: Partnerships. Cooperation. Synergy. It’s like that Beatles’ song lyric, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” I enjoy surrounding myself with a team, business partners, advisors, and brand partners to take good ideas from tiny kernels to bigger, successful (often co-branded) activations.
What is your morning routine?
I am not a morning person. I freely admit that. I much prefer the quiet stillness of the early morning hours to think, work, write, and ideate. But in January 2020 I got a puppy so now I’m up early (7-8ish) to take him out for walks. He owns by mornings now and I’m super good with that. He’s brought me a lot of calm and our walks afford me time to do some deep breathing exercises and gratitude meditation. It sets a good tone for my day.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I have really worked on being very mindful, particularly as it relates to gratitude, attitude, and taking time to take care of my body. I started doing yoga, ballet, gymnastics, meditation, and breathwork. I still enjoy high-impact sports and exercise. But adding these new kinds of body and mind work into the regular rotation has made me feel so much better and I am therefore so much more productive. It’s also helped with my stress, which is a constant issue for most of us entrepreneurs. I’ll add that I find practicing mindfulness provides a greater sense of contentment with being on a path of progress. I used to be incredibly impatient, eager to get where I was going immediately, if not sooner. Now, it’s easier to appreciate the process and it makes the wins feel that much sweeter.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
For me, being productive and organized is all about being rested. Rest provides for a clearer and sounder mind, which equates to higher effectiveness and efficiency. It’s easy to get lost in one’s work as an entrepreneur. I’ve been there—I’d sleep maybe three to four hours a night. But my work output suffered as I found myself taking on more than I was finishing. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the best way to be a productive, organized, and efficient worker is to make sure your number one priority is self-care.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
To be perfectly transparent, I much prefer reading for fun, so I read a lot of historical fiction and murder mysteries. I’m a big Patricia Cornwell fan and I also quite enjoyed The Alienist by Caleb Carr and Last Days of Night by Graham Moore. I have read plenty of “business” books, such as Seth Godin’s Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (great for understanding human psychology if you’re trying to build a community for your business), and I have enjoyed many a Malcolm Gladwell book (Tipping Point was my favorite). But at the end of the day, I’d so much rather dive into a book as a distraction from work.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
My dad’s mom had a saying. It went, “Always shoot for the stars and never settle for second best.” It was a saying my father repeated to me about a billion times during my childhood. I always liked my mom’s addendum to it, which she would quietly repeat to me at night before bed. She said, “…but don’t step on anybody along the way.” The takeaway: Never settle; and don’t stop until you’ve achieved what you’ve set out to do. BUT—and this is a big but—the road to your success shouldn’t be littered with damaged relationships, burnt bridges, or hurt people. There are always less destructive ways to get where you’re going.