Entrepreneurship is ‘a HIIT workout,’ says The GIST co-founder Jacie DeHoop

Updated: Apr 24

By the time Ellen Hyslop, Jacie DeHoop and Roslyn McLarty heard their early-stage startup had been accepted into an acclaimed accelerator backed by Facebook, their decision to leave their corporate jobs had already been set in stone.

What started as a casual conversation over wine between three Queen’s grads in 2017 would go on to earn the three longtime friends spots on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, leading a team of more than a dozen, and sharing their message to a community of over 90,000 in two countries in just two years.

The initial idea for The GIST came to them during a conversation about the lack of a female perspective in news coverage. The statistics they saw were bleak: less than 14 per cent of sports journalists were female, less than four per cent of sports media coverage was of female athletes, and less than two per cent of C-suite executives in major league sports were women. The existing coverage was not inclusive or accessible for new sports fans, especially women.

“We wanted to provide a female voice in sports and make sports feel more inclusive and accessible to all types of fans,” says DeHoop. “So, we decided to be that voice.”

They had been working on The GIST – a subscriber-based sports newsletter for women – off the side of their desks for six months when they were accepted to an incubator program with the Ryerson DMZ and Facebook Journalism Project in Toronto, which was providing them with $100,000 in funding and a $50,000 ad coupon. At the accelerator’s end, she says it wasn’t even a question of whether they would return to their previous roles.

“Honestly, I probably should have been more nervous,” recalls DeHoop. “But I was doing it with two of my best friends, and we were totally on the same page about everything. I can’t imagine doing it on my own.”

Support from their networks was crucial and the team solicited all their contacts – from colleagues to classmates and professors from Queen’s University – to subscribe.

“We wanted to provide a female voice in sports and make sports feel more inclusive and accessible to all types of fans,” says DeHoop. “So, we decided to be that voice.”

“It takes a huge army to get a startup off the ground, and we weren’t shy about reaching out to anyone and everyone in our network to help us out, whether that was to subscribe, connect us with someone else or write out a cheque.”

Even with wide support from their former classmates and colleagues, the first year was very overwhelming, says DeHoop. The three had no experience in startups or media, and had come from structured corporate roles in insurance, accounting and consulting.

One of the biggest challenges the team faced was the transition from the structure of their full-time jobs and the schooling they had had to the ambiguous nature of growing a startup. According to DeHoop, after they came out of the Ryerson DMZ, even figuring out the first thing to tackle was a process.

“At work, there’s a project plan, there’s a project lead, it’s much more prescriptive. At school, there’s a rubric. But in a startup, there’s really no guideline of what success looks like or what it’s going to take to get there,” says DeHoop.

Finding funding wasn’t their first priority – in fact, they didn’t know how to spend the money they already had.

“$100,000 doesn’t sound like a lot now, but back then, we didn’t even know what to do with that much money.”

Since then though, their objectives have become more clear. The money they have raised has gone towards supporting a content team of 12 part-time employees, bringing on a full-time hire to run their social media, and testing their content across markets to achieve maximum community growth. They now reach 90,000 “GISTers” across North America with their launch in the United States in the fall of 2019. Their current markets are Toronto, Ottawa, Boston and Philadelphia, with plans to expand to Washington DC, Vancouver, New York, Los Angeles once sports are back up and running.

It’s really not a sprint, but it’s not a marathon either ­– it’s a HIIT workout. Intense, but with active rest periods.

Because of the speed of their expansion, when they look at new hires or apprentices, they seek an ‘all hands on deck,’ go-with-the-flow mentality, says DeHoop.

“When you’re working with a founder, you have to realize that that person’s time is really valuable – so being able to hear something once then run with it, or look at a process and find ways to make it more efficient, are extremely helpful.”

Now, she says, as they learn how to motivate and lead a team while exploring options of branching out into audio and video content, they emphasize the importance of finding balance in their own lives and leading through active self-care. After becoming burnt out after their first year, says DeHoop, the founders had to take time to learn how to recharge – a message they hope to pass along to their fast-growing team.

“The success of your company is entirely dependent on your people, so if they’re feeling stressed and burnt out, you can’t progress. It’s really not a sprint, but it’s not a marathon either ­– it’s a HIIT workout. Intense, but with active rest periods,” says DeHoop. “So, even when you’re feeling pressure, you need to hold on to what you know is working for you. That’s how you’ll succeed.”

Written by: Irene Galea, Creative in Residence at FLIK

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