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:
- Dedicate yourself for the better good of the community – They’ll learn to trust you as a result of that.
- 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?
- 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. :)