“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 Executives” Series with Beantown Bedding Founders, Kirsten Lambert & Joan Ripple

Here at PerkettPR, we are not only avid Red Sox fans, but many of our employees are proud to call Beantown our “home.”  This week’s interview is with the founders of a  local Massachusetts-based company, Beantown Bedding. Beantown Bedding, LLC was founded in December 2011 by Joan Ripple and Kirsten Lambert, two mothers of college students. The company is located in Hingham, MA, a suburb of Boston (“Beantown”).

The concept behind Beantown Bedding was to offer a solution to busy college students who had little time to launder their sheets.  Beantown Bedding developed a line of linens made from a fiber called Tencel, derived from Eucalyptus trees, which you can simply toss into a compost bin or trash can when they’re dirty. The sheets are both compostable and biodegradable and available for purchase on their website and at Amazon.com.

We caught up with the founders and asked them more about where the idea came from and what they have planned next.

 

Please tell us a little bit about Beantown Bedding and where the idea came from.

We met when our oldest children began dating in high school.  When they each went off to college, we quickly learned that they, like most college students, just didn’t take time to wash their sheets.  The health and hygiene implications were simply gross.  We wanted to find a way for them to have clean sheets without the hassle of laundering. Essentially, we decided to rethink laundry.  We joked about sending them the rolls of paper sheets found in a doctor’s office.

 

We decided to take the idea seriously and began searching for material that would be both comfortable and disposable in an environmentally responsible manner.  Easier said than done!  We identified the material we liked, organized focus groups with students and mothers, and began to explore sources of supply. Once we had a product, we conducted product testing with students from 22 universities over a two-month period.  The findings indicated we had a winner.

 

When you were researching what type of materials to use in your products, where did you turn for information and how long did the process take?

The better part of a year was spent researching the market, fabrics, and supply options. Initially, our secondary research focused on sustainable textiles through sources such as fiber and fabric manufacturers, trade organizations and publications,  trade shows and published white papers and articles.  Our first fabric choice didn’t perform well in the qualitative research stage, so we continued the search until we discovered a fiber called TENCEL®, which offered the properties we wanted… softness, strength, and compostability. Lenzing, the manufacturer of TENCEL®, was instrumental in helping us establish our supply chain and has been tremendously supportive as we’ve grown. In fact, they recently hosted us as part of their Innovation Platform at the Home Textiles Sourcing Expo in New York City.

 

How did your previous education or career prepare you to be a business owner?

While we both have degrees and backgrounds in business, we feel it’s the versatile skills we learned as mothers and volunteer leaders in our communities which best prepared us for our entrepreneurial duties.  Like all entrepreneurs, we wear many hats and must be resourceful. Joan’s Management and Human Resources background nicely complement Kirsten’s marketing and research experience. For everything else, we either learn quickly, consult with experts, or cover the gaps with outsourcing.

 

One extremely valuable resource was the team of graduate students from Stanford University who worked on our business as a class project this past spring.  After presenting our pitch at a competition for startup companies at Stanford last April, we were selected by one of the teams. It was one of many tremendous opportunities we’ve had in bringing bedsox to market.

 

You are passionate about the environment and sustainability especially with your product offerings. What else are you passionate about?

Yes, sustainability is a central theme in our messaging and we’re delighted to have just received USDA certification as 100% Biobased®.   That said, we really love college kids!  Their energy, enthusiasm, work ethic, and desire to make a difference in the world is inspiring.  Our own college kids are the basis for our story, but we’ve worked closely with many others as we’ve researched and gotten to know our primary target market.

 

Our dogs are also an integral part of our story. Since our earliest conversations about the concept, the local dog park has been the venue for many of our strategy sessions. We each have yellow Labrador Retrievers – Fenway and Sunshine, who receive an undue amount of attention since we sent our youngest children off to college. (For the record, the younger kids also dated!)

 

What is next for Beantown Bedding in 2013?

College kids aren’t the only time-starved consumers who can enjoy the convenience of laundry-free linens. We will soon roll out additional sizes of sheet sets to serve markets such as overnight camps, vacation homes and travel.   Though the retail launch was only weeks ago, via our ecommerce site (www.BeantownBedding.com) and Amazon, our wholesale business took off before we received our first inventory.   Universities nationwide began purchasing bedsox this summer for their overnight conferences and events.  As a result, our next steps are to generate awareness for bedsox in both the retail and business sectors.  Fortunately, Beantown Bedding has received quite a bit of media attention in recent weeks to convince consumers to rethink laundry.

 

Ladies’ Home Journal Features PerkettPR’s Own Heather Fraelick

If you’re a regular reader, you know that PerkettPR provides its employees with 40 paid community service hours per year, to spend on a cause of their choice.  We are proud of our employees’ efforts to help others and we want to support their desire to do so. Hiring people who care about others and have passions outside of work is a fundamental part of our culture.

Along those lines, you might have read this post from our own Account Supervisor, Heather Fraelick, about how she spends her hours – spreading the word about sun safety and skin cancer. Today, Ladies’ Home Journal featured Heather’s story in The Skin Cancer Guide – a three-part series – providing a “dermatologist-approved detection guide that just might save your life.”

Heather’s bravery and willingness to share her story to help others are just a few of the may reasons we’re proud to have her on our team.