“Effective Executive” Series with Jamie Walker of Fit Approach and SweatGuru

JamieWalker_PhotoCreditVictoriaDavis

This week’s “Effective Executive” interview is with Jamie Walker, co-founder of Fit Approach and SweatGuru, fitness fiend and all-around energetic entrepreneur.

Jamie, along with business partner Alyse Mason Brill, launched Fit Approach, a health-centric community, blog and class booking service, back in 2009. Their initial cult following evolved into an impressive (and intensely-loyal) online and offline community, so the team spun off the class-booking portion of the site, creating SweatGuru – the “Open Table” of fitness – last year.

A self-proclaimed “professional hustler who thrives on forging strong partnerships,” Jamie leads vision, strategy and business development for both companies. We asked her about this role, along with some of her business best practices and what’s on deck for the remainder of 2013.

SweatGuru is winning accolades left and right for being one of the hottest San Francisco startups – have you found it difficult breaking into the Silicon Valley boys’ club?

I wouldn’t say that it has been difficult breaking into a male-dominated space, but it has been a challenge that we’ve come to love tackling on a daily basis. My co-founder, Alyse Mason-Brill has a great, short response to it all: “We won’t back down!”

And that’s really the truth. Every day, we work on something that we absolutely love, live and breathe – it makes building a product that will change the fitness industry so much easier. We’re winning awards, but it is only because our fitness community has come to know Alyse and me so well, so they support us and encourage us week after week.

We have had some memorable encounters, though. Like being called “little girls” or the infamous VC who remarked that he “didn’t make investments based on boobs.” Situations like those just add more fuel to our fire. We’re creating a product we believe in and confident that it will make some noise, and that’s why we keep running so hard.

Your professional background is in PR/Marketing. How does that help you in your gig now as an entrepreneur?

Everybody has great ideas and concepts in their minds that they think will be groundbreaking. But an idea without a vision, plan or goal is just that – an idea.

Having worked in marketing and PR for seven years, I was fortunate to learn from a lot of smart people. From building a brand to the art of networking and making personal connections, I can definitely rely on what I did as a marketing and PR geek. Now, we have an idea with a solid roadmap and marketing team behind it. Never underestimate the power of good PR and marketing.

You’ve built a really engaged, loyal community – both online and offline. Can you share your top three tips for engagement and community-building?

This has been one of my favorite parts of this journey so far. But that doesn’t mean it was easy. It takes a lot of hard and genuine work to build a real, engaged and authentic community. If I had to narrow it down into three tips, it’d be this:

  1. Dedicate yourself for the better good of the community – They’ll learn to trust you as a result of that.
  2. Embody the community – If you aren’t involved and making it a huge part of your life AND enjoying it, how can you expect others to?
  3. Be authentic and transparent – Believe in what the community represents, and don’t be afraid to show it. You can’t fake that; people will see right through you.

You’re one very active lady! Tell us about your own athletic pursuits – i.e. how the heck you manage to stay in shape, despite a super hectic schedule.

I follow one major rule of thumb: Staying in shape is not optional.

If I were a dog, I’d be the breed people would be hesitant to buy because I need a lot of space and exercise to stay sane. If I go a few days without a workout or yoga class, I start to feel sluggish, cranky and am not very fun to work with. (But don’t worry; I won’t pee on your carpets, ha!)

That being said, regardless of my schedule or late nights, fitness is essential to my day. The alarm typically goes off at 5:30am, and I’m up and running – literally.

Running and yoga are my two mainstays. I’ve been doing ultra-marathons for the past eight years – I love the 50-milers, but am aiming to conquer the 100 in the near future. Yoga is one of the main reasons I can stay on the daily grind and not feel a letdown. It really does help keep you grounded and focused on the bigger picture.

Tell us, what’s your favorite part of your job(s)?

The fact that it doesn’t feel like a job…I love what I do and love the people I work with.

Also, when it comes to being an entrepreneur, the trial and error of creativity is a fantastic experience. Whether I’m alone in the office or brainstorming with others, the power to create and do things that you want, and then DO them…it’s a really cool feeling. It’s so rewarding. I’ve grown a lot in the past couple years – learned so much – and am humbled by the experience.

Finally, what’s next for you for the second half of 2013?

This both excites and frightens me all at the same time: We’re launching SweatGuru, I’m running a 100 in September and planning my wedding. That’s all. :)

“Effective Executive” Series with Shelli Trung, Founder of 3Six5Dates.com

This week’s “Effective Executive” interview is with Shelli Trung, Founder of reality date-a-thon website, 3six5dates.com. The social experiment follows the adventures of four women in four international cities, all going on about 100 dates each, within one year. Shelli was recently listed as one of Australia’s Top 10 female startup entrepreneurs, and is frequently quoted in the media on Marketing and Branding for startups. She is currently located in New York, discussing partnership opportunities to grow 3six5dates – including turning the dating stories into comics and animations.

 

How did you come up with the concept of 3six5dates?

I had set myself a goal at the age of 25 to have started my own business by the age of 30. With this in mind, I started researching the range of businesses that would suit the lifestyle I wanted. I knew I wanted to create something fun that would not tie me to a specific location. I love storytelling and was specifically inspired when watching Nora Ephron’s “Julie and Julia,” which is about a woman who cooks through all of Julia Child’s recipes in one year while simultaneously blogging about it. I combined this curiosity with the gap that I felt the TV series “Sex and the City” left behind when it finished up. I didn’t want the voice of the mature, professional, single woman to fade into the background. 3six5dates is an attempt to fill that gap in some way.

As someone who is passionate about female entrepreneurship, can you provide some ways that women can empower themselves and embrace entrepreneurship?

Regardless of whether you are male or female, going out on your own is exciting but can also be scary. Historically, women have let men lead the charge. However, I am seeing more and more women stepping up to the challenge, which is uplifting.

Women need to recognise that their unique talents – such as being excellent relationship builders, natural multi-taskers and the simple fact that women make more purchasing decisions than men – to be great assets to starting a business. The key thing that has really made the difference for me, is to go out and get your support system if you are not surrounded by other entrepreneurs. I certainly wasn’t when I started! But it is this single reason alone that has sustained me through the tougher moments – and there will be plenty of those. Learning to ask for help is another key factor. Women tend to think they can do it all – but they should realise that they don’t have to! Burning out is the fast track to wanting to give up!

Can you tell our audience about any obstacles you faced when creating your Company and how you overcame those obstacles?

At one stage, we were trying to work on 10 projects at the one time and not completing any of them. It was definitely a lack of focus – trying to do too much and accomplishing nothing. We instead now concentrate on – and are committed to delivering – three larger project outcomes every quarter.

How do you manage your busy team of volunteers and what tools have you found to be effective on a day-to-day basis?

I can work pretty much anywhere there is an internet connection. Being a virtual team does come with its unique challenges. We make use of a lot of online tools – many of them free.

We run all our meetings and training through Skype, which allows us to share one another’s computer screens – extremely useful for design work.

All our files are shared on Dropbox and we are also heavy users of Evernote to keep track of tasks. To minimize the number of emails we send one another, we have a 3six5dates private group to relay any team announcements.

Most of my team, including myself, have their emails feed into their phones which has been a great time saver.

As the sole founder of your Company, how do you keep up with the everyday demands?

I have a wonderful team who are very supportive and make me feel like a superstar so I don’t feel like a solo founder!

I think running any business effectively and ensuring you are leading and driving the vision – as opposed to working ‘in’ it – requires that you automate and delegate as much as possible.  This means equipping, empowering and trusting your team once they are trained.

What is next  for you for the remainder of 2012?

3six5dates has spent the last six months developing strategic partnerships with dating organizations in the US. We have and will continue to roll out cross-promotional activities with them, including comics and animations.

In addition, I am working on launching another startup in Australia called MenuHub with a good friend and co-founder. As the name suggests, it is food-related and early testing has shown extremely positive results so far. I am excited about this new challenge!

The rest of the year looks to be full of possibilities!