Jordana & Jesse

October 16, 2016

We sat down for a love-filled and goofy Sunday afternoon chat with total power couple Jordana Kier, co-founder of organic tampon delivery company LOLA, and Jesse Derris, John Kerry’s presidential campaign spokesperson and founder of the communications agency behind some of tech’s biggest brands. They told stories about their badass grandmothers, floated the idea of moving to a cabin in the middle of nowhere but admitted to being New Yorkers for life, confirmed their mutual love of gefilte fish (canned is okay, but none of that jelly stuff), and more.

What’s your earliest memory?

Jesse: The Challenger disaster. They had a teacher on board, so they had our entire elementary school watching. I was in kindergarten. It’s the first thing I remember because it was so traumatic. My other early memory is watching the debates for the 1988 presidential election with my Grandma. She is the first person who got me into politics. She was a fiercely independent, smart, incredible woman. In another time, she would have been a CEO. She had a college degree and was well read and the best cook I have ever met.

Jordana: My first year at a performing arts summer camp up in the Berkshires. I was 8 or 9 and we did a bunk skit. Nobody knew that we were supposed to be funny. Our theme was Disney, so we decided to sing Colors of the Wind, standing in a line, and that was it.

Jesse: I have been blessed with the opportunity to watch a lot of the song and dance revues that were on VHS that her dad converted into digital.

Are there stories behind your names?

Jordana: My parents were near Toronto at a bed and breakfast owned by a really nice Jewish family who had a bunch of daughters. The youngest one was named Jordana, and they loved this little girl. They thought, “She’s so cute, so welcoming and friendly, and her name’s great, let’s do it.” Lynn is my middle name and is in honor of my mom’s mom, Lenore, who passed away when my mom was 16.

Jesse: I was named after my mom’s uncle, Jack, who passed away in his forties. My middle name is Francis.

Jordana: What?! That’s not your middle name.

Jesse: Well, it’s Frasier, but I’m named after my dad’s grandfather, Francis.

Jordana: Francis, that’s a good puppy name.

Jesse: Franny?

Jordana: Francie? We still don’t know what we’re naming this puppy we’re getting. We really like Gus. We were thinking we could call her Gussy. Sydney, we like. Ty, we like.

Jesse: I like Franny.

Where did you grow up?

Jordana: Upper West Side. So boring.

Jesse: I grew up on Long Island in a town called Syosset.

Are you New Yorkers for life?

Jesse: It’s something we talk about. You have to consciously make a decision. I grew up in the suburbs surrounded by grass, learning how to ride a bike on the street, and those are things I don’t want to give up when we have kids, but I love the city and living amongst all of this energy and all the great art and food and people. There are times when both of us feel like we need to get out of the city. We like going upstate.

Jordana: I really love it here. After college, I knew I wanted to be back in New York because I was in the arts and I wanted to work on the Lincoln Center campus. That was my dream. When I was applying to business school, I liked the idea of being in an urban place where I could be fully immersed in school and have the outlets I needed to continue to develop myself professionally, as well as maintain the links to friends and family who were not in the business school bubble.

The city is tiring but also extremely exciting and stimulating, so it’s about finding the right balance.

What were your kid personalities like? Are you still like that today?

Jesse: I was the first child in the family in that generation. It’s a big family and I’ve always been deeply competitive and pretty uptight. Correct?

Jordana: Yeah, that’s correct.

Jesse: I don’t think that’s changed. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself, even as a kid, in terms of wanting to succeed and being ambitious and having high expectations and a false sense of confidence way too early on. The older I get, the less I realize I know. I ran for class president and lost four times in a row. It says a lot about me that I was stubborn enough to keep running. I always had a pretty deep passion for politics. The most “Jesse thing” is that I’ve never, since a very young age, had a problem telling anybody I’ve met, no matter how old they were, exactly what I thought. I remember very, very early on in my career working on political campaigns where you’re put in a position where you not only have to have an opinion, but you have to defend that opinion and that opinion has to be at least subjectively right more than not. You learn to speak up and to defend yourself.

Jordana: I spoke very early and I was a very musical kid, so I was always singing. In one video, I’m two and I’m talking about how I’m going to go jogging in the park with my dad, but I never go, and that’s how I am in terms of exercising now. I’m like, “I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go…” I do well with goals. I am intensely competitive. I love team sports. I love music. I love creative expression.

Since you’re both competitive people, tell a story about a time when you didn’t win.

Jesse: I was a spokesman on John Kerry’s presidential race in 2004. I was very young. Twenty-three or twenty-four years old. We lost the race. I came back to New York and I couldn’t get hired to save my life. I spent a few months going back and forth between my parents’ house on Long Island and my friends’ couches in the city and I finally got into the race to be Chuck Schumer’s press secretary in New York City. I went through the interview process, all the way to what I thought was the last interview, which was with the senator in his apartment in Brooklyn. At the very end of the interview, I was trying to make a human connection and mentioned that we knew somebody in common, a friend of mine who also worked in politics and who introduced Jordie and me. He said, “Oh, she’s terrific” and called her that afternoon and offered her the job. It led to me taking a job at a consulting firm instead of going back into politics and, because I was at that consulting firm, I ended up working on technology, and, because I worked on technology, I ended up working on Warby Parker, and, because I worked on Warby Parker, I ended up starting a company. It had come at the end of a three or four month series of really humbling experiences. That last experience led me to this other one that took me down an entirely different path in life.

Jordana: The internship that I got when I graduated college. That was the third or fourth time I had applied for that internship. They kept saying, “Look, we really like you, but it’s just not a fit.” I kept on not believing them.

Jesse: Didn’t stop you.

Jordana: Didn’t stop me.

When do you feel like the best version of yourselves?

Jordana: After a really hard workout class, you’ve given it your all and you’re disgusting and sweaty, and your adrenaline has increased, but you’re also somehow calm and relaxed. That’s when I feel my best physically and emotionally. And after a really awesome meeting, either with my team or with an external partner, where I feel like we’re going to get what we want and we’re going to accomplish what we need to do.

Jesse: Hugging your mom.

Jordana: Oh, yeah. That’s so true.

Jesse: In the last few years, I’ve found that I’m able to stop and think about how lucky life is. Finding those moments for context. They can happen, like Jordie said, after a particularly good meeting or after a great day in the office or, maybe it’s 5 o’clock on Thursday afternoon and the entire world is looking up. They can also happen when I’m sitting in the apartment with Jordana having a glass of wine or cooking dinner.

I can stop and say, “Wow, life turned out in a pretty optimal way. I feel incredibly grateful for it.”

How did Judaism play a role in your childhood?

Jordana: We grew up on the Upper West Side. I went to a school that was predominantly Jewish. Not until I went to college did I feel in the minority. I went to Hebrew School, I was bat mitzvahed, and then, after my sister’s bat mitzvah, we did a little reevaluation and stopped going to synagogue, except for High Holidays, which I enjoy. Being part of a congregation is special. My dad’s family is Cuban and there aren’t many Cuban Jews, but there’s a small synagogue that my great grandfather helped to finance in Havana. It’s more about the connection, rather than practicing religiously, week by week.

Jesse: Judaism was about the family. We struggled to find a synagogue that we actually felt like we should be a part of. There was a very young congregation that, at the time we joined, was meeting in a Presbyterian church a few miles from our house. It was called Temple Chaverim. We joined that synagogue early on and my mom joined the board when I was very young and stayed on the board until well after my brother and I were out of college. I was bar mitzvahed and was confirmed when I was sixteen. My parents were foundational members of the synagogue. We started out in the Presbyterian church, my bar mitzvah happened at the JCC, and, by the time I got to college, they were laying the foundation for the synagogue. When I came back for High Holidays, we were sitting in a building that hadn’t existed when I was a kid, which is pretty cool.

How does Judaism play into your daily lives today?

Jesse: I’m not going to pretend like we’re incredibly active. It’s still very much about family for us. And about learning. Growing up and in college, I was surrounded by Jews. The University of Wisconsin had a really vibrant Jewish community and a Hillel and the vast majority of my friends were Jewish. I befriended a Jewish professor when I was a sophomore who became the most central person in my educational experience and helped get me my first job in Washington with a Jewish public affairs firm.

I used to confound being religious with being observant.

As a Reform Jew, those two things meant the same thing. Jordie and I are not observant. There might be a time in our lives when we’re more observant, but I think it’ll be more about the practicality of unplugging for a night and being a family than it will be about religious observance. Judaism, to me, is about family, and about the importance of that structure and that’s the primary thing in our lives and I’m incredibly proud of that. Jordie’s family made the No God-ah Haggadah. Passover with Jordana’s family is as much a recitation of political history and science and everything else about the actual time we’re talking about as it is about religion. It’s highly academic.

What’s your favorite place in the world?

Jesse: I love London. It’s super cosmopolitan, it’s fun, the food’s great, there’s soccer.

Jordana: Jesse loves the soccer. When he started getting into premier league soccer in England, he wanted to really research the teams.

Jesse: It’s like moving to the United States and picking the Yankees. It’s unfair. You can’t. You’re born with the Yankees or you’re not.

Jordana: And he was born with the Jets, and that sucks.

Jesse: Oof. Yeah, that’s a little more challenging.

Jordana: He picked a team called the Tottenham Hotspur. They play in what used to be the Jewish ghetto of London and the fans are called the Yids.

Jesse: They have a really strong Jewish history. They also happen to be a great team. I picked them for a bunch of reasons. I wanted the team to be in London so that whenever I went to England I could see them. It couldn’t be the teams that everybody usually picks that are in London, which are Arsenal and Chelsea. I looked at the histories of the teams and how they play and Tottenham just spoke to me. It had the Jewish history, which I thought was fascinating. To this day, sometimes, when they go into opposing stadiums, folks will chant things that are anti-Semitic. It’s the latent anti-Semitism in Europe. They play a really interesting style of football that I like. It’s offense-minded. I could nerd out for a while on it.

Jordana: Zion is amazing. We stayed at a bison ranch.

Jesse: There was a bison burger on the menu, and I thought, “This is awkward, they’re running around outside.” Like, I apologize.

Jordana: Zion is heavenly and so majestic. Half of it is mountainous and massive and you understand your place in the universe. You drive through this grandiose piece of the park and then you get out on the other side of a tunnel and it’s like moonscape.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Jordana: Massages.

Jesse: Mine is meals. I think food is art. I’d be willing to spend as much on a meal as on a play. The front of Gramercy Tavern is my favorite restaurant in the city. The desserts there are incredible. The last time we went, we had green tomato flatbread.

Jordana: With pork. Sorry! I mean kosher chicken… Let that be stricken from the record.

Do you have a favorite or least favorite Jewish holiday?

Jordana: I really like Passover. It’s the start of Spring, it’s a beautiful story, the food’s delicious, you drink four cups of wine. What’s wrong with that?

Jesse: I hate to agree with you, but I do. I love gefilte fish. Like, looooove gefilte fish. I can definitely eat the canned stuff. I’m not a huge gel fan, but the carrots. I grew up eating Fairway’s gefilte fish and I think that’s perfection. I never got the carp swimming in the bathtub, but I’ll settle for Fairway.

Anything else that you want to share?

Jesse: No Plans Wednesday?

Jordana: Oh, yeah! It’s kind of like our Shabbat.

Jesse: We believe in planning no planning. Every Wednesday is No Plans Wednesday. If you want to move it, you have to ask permission. It has to be replaced. We cook that night. It’s the best way for us to talk to one another. Otherwise, we were ordering dinner and sitting in front of the television and not speaking. Even if Jordie’s gotta crank something out for work or I do and the other one cooks, we’re still talking, there’s still a glass of wine, and it’s still a nice low key way to connect.

Photos by Josh Dormont.

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