10 Questions: Mike Del Ponte, founder and CEO, Soma

Apr 24, 2014

FORTUNE -- Mike Del Ponte has long held an interest in the intersection of humanitarianism and entrepreneurship. After college -- where he earned a bachelor's degree in theology from Boston College and a master of arts in religion from Yale -- he spent time traveling around Nepal as a microfinance consultant, helping Nepalese women start their own businesses. After his time abroad, he started a non-profit called Sparkseed, which provided resources to college entrepreneurs, and he then worked at BranchOut, a career networking company.

After a frustrating experience with a big-brand water filter in 2012 -- let's just say that he got more water on the kitchen counter than in his glass -- he was inspired to found Soma, which has developed a water filter that is made from entirely biodegradable materials. The company partners with Charity:water to fund clean water projects globally.

In an effort to encourage employee wellness, Soma's San Francisco office is a little unorthodox. Del Ponte, whose fun title is "Chief Hydration Officer," runs a morning meditation session with his employees, and the company adheres to a "no meeting Wednesdays" policy.

Del Ponte, 31, spoke with Fortune.

1. Who in business do you admire most? Why?

The entrepreneur I admire the most is Neil Blumenthal from Warby Parker. He’s incredibly ambitious with creating the best products for his consumers and for having a huge impact on the world. Warby Parker has a fun brand, great products, great customer experience, and they’ve given glasses to over half a million people. He’s someone I really admire and look up to as someone who’s built a purpose-driven company.

2. Which companies do you admire? Why?

Warby Parker, obviously. But Method has also been a huge inspiration. We love Method’s design and their focus on sustainability. They’re a really fun brand. I think in terms of design and innovation, Nest is toward the top of the list. Just like Soma, Nest focuses on these ubiquitous but somewhat mundane products and reinvents them and makes them really exciting also with a sustainability twist. The last one for me is Tesla. The pure audaciousness of Tesla is really inspiring. They’re also focused on reducing their carbon footprint and having a great design aesthetic.

3. What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?

My No. 1 piece of advice is for someone to discover their calling. Regardless of what that is, the most important thing is to find out why you were put on Earth and to do that thing. There may be people who want to do what I do, but they’re actually called to something else. It takes a lot of courage to follow your heart, but I think that there’s nothing more valuable to yourself and to the world than finding that. The best advice I ever received is, if you want to find your calling, you have to answer these three questions: What am I best at, what brings me joy, and what does the world need?

4. What challenges are facing your business right now?

I think in Silicon Valley one of the biggest challenges is recruiting talent. We have an amazing team here at Soma, and every time there’s a new position to fill, we’re always eager to hire the best people as quickly as we can. It’s not hard to get candidates; it’s hard to get the perfect candidate.

5. What was the most important thing you learned in school?

The most impactful thing from my education was connecting with great mentors. I think the most important thing I learned from my university experience was to be developed as a whole person. Skills are helpful, but being someone who has high integrity, is able to learn quickly, and believes in working hard and being honest is much more valuable.

6. What is one goal -- either personal or professional -- that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime?

I would like to see the end of the global water crisis. There were 1 billion people who lacked access to clean drinking water, and that number has been knocked down to about 800 million, which is a lot, but I believe we can end that crisis. Just like how the world took on polio and to a great extent eradicated it, so too I think we can provide clean drinking water to everyone on the planet.

7. What do you do to live a balanced life? What do you do for fun?

I love getting outdoors since I’m in the office so much. I like rock climbing and hiking. Anything that is an adventure outside is fun to me. A balanced life is really important to me personally for the company culture. Most mornings I do yoga. I spend a lot of time reading and journaling. I never work on Sundays; I spend time in church and prayer. The key is a great diet, exercise, and rest. I try to incorporate those things into daily life.

8. What was the last book you read?

I’m currently reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, which is really fascinating. I’m also reading a book on recruiting called Who [by Geoff Smart]. The last great book that I read was Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open. I loved that book.

9. What is one piece of technology you can’t live without?

I have a non-tech thing that I’m obsessed with. It’s the Zojirushi thermos. It’s this really beautiful matte black stainless steel thermos. As a water guy, I appreciate any vessel that’s well-designed, but in terms of both form and function, it’s the best water bottle I’ve ever seen.

10. What is one unique or quirky habit that you have?

I eat a lot of sweet potatoes. I love sweet potatoes, and I like to bake them. Luckily we have a great kitchen with an oven. There have been multiple occasions where we’ll be working, and someone will ask, “Is something burning?” And it’s my afternoon snack of sweet potatoes.

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