How working in HR can prepare you for entrepreneurship - with Larissa Holmes

Larissa Holmes comes to entrepreneurship from a diverse range of career experiences. She's got multiple degrees (one of which in Art), worked in hospitality, pharma and technology, and has spent years developing capacity at companies like Borrowell - where she grew their team to 200+ people and assisted acquisitions.

In this episode, we cover a lot of ground; catching up quickly on the unique mix of work experiences that prompted her to found Coterie, and then exploring how her software platform is enabling the modernization of golf and pickle ball by connecting players with their support communities and developing business models to support players when they aren't playing.

If you like this interview, we recommend you catch up on previous episodes of StartWell's Gathering Podcast, where we take a look under the hood of Canadian company culture through first person interviews like this one.

*Coterie is the first online community that is empowering women by democratizing private club sports through technology.

Read the full transcript

Career paths, including tech, pharma, and art, with a focus on personal and professional growth.

Larissa Holmes 0:04 I think being a chief people officer in a past life is a superpower that very few see. I think a lot of investors. I think the tech community as a whole is not used to seeing people go from Chief People Officer to founder. It's a very uncommon path. Larissa Holmes 0:25 I could speculate on a lot of reasons why, but I actually think that it's a massive advantage to growing a tech company. Yeah, some of your biggest problems as a founder are about people, whether it's investors, it's employees, it's customers. Understanding people's behavior is what Chief People officers do, right, whether it's from recruitment, from culture, all these different angles, and as a founder, we're dealing with very similar issues, but you are redirecting that to your customers. You need to understand your customers needs. What are they really looking for customers. Don't even know what they want half the time, similar to people, listen to the Qasim Virjee 1:08 people, people in culture. Oh yeah. It's time for the gathering podcast. It's time for the gathering Qasim Virjee 1:26 podcast. Qasim Virjee 1:27 So Martin, did mention a little bit of your career history to me before we jumped in here, quite the sordid past. Well, okay, so I know that there was a chunk of time you're at borrow L, yep, but you probably saw borrow l grow in that period, right? Larissa Holmes 1:41 Yeah. I joined them when they were about 20 people, okay, scaled them to 200 Larissa Holmes 1:47 led one of their key acquisition that they made on the West Coast. Went through a couple rounds of fundraising. Was there for almost five years, wow. So it was quite the journey. So when it was 20 people, it was just you at the helm of the people and culture type stuff. Yeah, the first hire I was, I was it, I was, was it exciting, terrifying, it was it, was all of it. It was great. I have a lot of admiration. It was obviously very inspiring, which is why I was silly enough to think I could go out and do it on my own. No Larissa Holmes 2:21 which it was, what's inspired me to kind of found coterie. So I have a huge amount of respect for them, and just the whole ecosystem and my career has been a lot of different twists and turns. I was a management consultant at Deloitte before getting into tech. Okay? I worked in pharma in New York. I have a master's degree in museology. Qasim Virjee 2:46 So, wow, that's cool. Larissa Holmes 2:47 You stitch all that together. It's quite the patchwork. Yeah, museology, you heard correctly. It is a real word, yes. Thank you for answering all those questions. Study of museum like, museum management, essentially, yeah, hard say, music, am I No, no museum. So I have an undergrad in art history, a master's in, essentially, museum management out of the UK. Okay, that was the initial Speaker 2 3:14 get into the museum. It was Yeah, and I failed at that. I moved to New York after grad school, and then Larissa Holmes 3:21 failed at getting into the art world. It's a tough world to get into a new year, yes, especially if you don't have a trust fund, right? Yeah, it's like you can't make money. You can get a job. Qasim Virjee 3:31 job. Larissa Holmes 3:31 You kind of max out at like 50, 60k working at MoMA or some of the big institutions. Yes, you know, you start at 40k a year, and then miraculously, a lot of those people live in three to $5 million apartments in New York. So those two things don't typically compute for me. So when I lived in in in New York, a bunch of people I knew, most of the people I kept meeting didn't understand how I lived in Harlem, you know, right? And that was in 2005 so it was still, like, gentrifying, but it was just about to, like, the Starbucks had just opened on, like, Malcolm X that and, like, kept getting rocks in the window, yeah, and Fab Five. Freddy was there making sure no one gets mad at him drinking his cappuccinos. You know, I lived in Williamsburg before it was cool, when everybody would still say bridge and tunnel. Yeah, totally like 2009 to 2011 Speaker 2 4:22 and, yeah, it was a totally different time, totally different. Everyone would say I was bridge and tunnel, and nobody would come visit. And now I joke with all those friends, because now, Qasim Virjee 4:33 exactly, it's the hotspot. Yeah, it's the cool place. We never go into the city anymore. Oh, the city. Oh, why would you go to city? Larissa Holmes 4:40 All the good restaurants are here. Everything is better in Brooklyn. Billy Berg, yeah. So yeah. And then I kind of fell in love with tech, actually, through Deloitte. Qasim Virjee 4:51 Just say, please say that again. Yeah, Deloitte, at Speaker 2 4:56 the time, during my time there, they had started a. Larissa Holmes 5:00 Relationship with Communitech out of Waterloo. Oh, cool. And sponsored a big part of there. And so if you're in consulting, you had the opportunity to do kind of pro bono work with the companies that were kind of incubated at a Communitech. And so that's where I got my first exposure to the tech scene in Toronto. That's phenomenal. And that's when I decided I would make, make the switch, make the switch, ditch the pitch, and you can edit that out. Pharma. Before that, what I was in New York, and I was trying to get into the art world wasn't happening. Yeah. So then, how did that land you in pharma? What were you doing in pharma? I You want to know the real story. Of course, the real story tell me a lie, I mean, but make it good. Make the lie better. Lie better. The real story is pretty good. I'll just try to make it quick. I was managing a restaurant in Greenpoint in Brooklyn, okay, and a regular that would come in all the time just, I guess we clicked. And he worked in pharma, and he thought I was wasting my time and energy managing a restaurant, which I was, but I was also hustling, trying to get into the art world, right? Was what I was really doing. I'd always waitressed and bartended through both my degrees and Larissa Holmes 6:15 and, yeah, he was the one that got me into pharma and thought I should go into sales and marketing and pharmaceutical world. And I decided I was tired of being poor, to be quite honest, you had a hand in the old No, Larissa Holmes 6:31 this sounds like a movie I watched on Netflix. I did not know I worked. I worked on a diabetes drug, to be very clear, okay, okay, but it was very eye opening to the industry, and made me realize very quickly that it was not for me. Yeah, as a i That was the time that I realized I am very financially motivated, so I liked that piece of earning good money, but I'm also mission driven, and those two things don't align for me personally in the pharma world, so it's difficult. I left, and there was other personal reasons that I decided to move back to Canada and

Partnerships between educational institutions and corporations.

Speaker 1 7:10 got my footing here. Nice. Martin Hauck 7:13 We were, we were dunking on Canada for a little bit earlier, yeah, but kudos to Communitech having that like Deloitte New York partnership that, Unknown Speaker 7:24 well, nothing to do with New York, but, yes, but no, Qasim Virjee 7:27 it's, I'm surprised that Deloitte was willing to underwrite, you know, man hours, yeah, through their sponsorship, that's a very unique thing. Speaker 2 7:36 It's very smart. I have a lot of positive things say about Deloitte. I know a lot of people shit all over consulting, but it's I think they do a lot that's quite innovative. It's very creative in their approach. And to be honest, it makes smart business sense, because a lot of these companies do grow up to be big companies that can afford consulting services. And as a founder, I'm sure all of us can potentially relate to this. You don't forget people who help you in the early days, and you don't forget people that Qasim Virjee 8:06 nobody helped me in the early days. The Larissa Holmes 8:09 days are still young. Days are still young, but you still need the help. Yeah, Qasim Virjee 8:14 yes. Anyone listening to this, please help me. Yeah? Same any way that you can still, Larissa Holmes 8:17 still open to help. So, yeah, yeah, Qasim Virjee 8:21 it's true. It's absolutely true that, if there's any, I look at it like this, like this, partnerships between educational institutions and corporations are really kind of potentially powerful, and it's up to the people normally in those roles, really kind of like playing a balancing act to, you know, push their own agenda. Yeah, often, and, and that's where a lot of virtue comes from, because I played the same sort of role at IBM. I was like, running their startup program across Canada, which is kind of an oxymoron, right? Yeah, it was, it was shankfest to just try and provide value. And, yeah, you know, I was given a remit from someone like high up, you know, like second to Ginny Rometty, the CEO to, you know, use our resources in Canada to help startups at my own direct Yeah. And so I started pulling people from, like, the UI UX teams that were doing great work for corporate clients, saying, hey, why don't you give back on Fridays? Can you give me two hours? Yeah, no problem, man. Can you give me four hours? Then I get a manager's email, yeah? Who's gonna pay for those hours? And I'm like, I don't even, what do I have to What are you talking about? Pay? I will not let you use my staff. And I'm like, okay, really? Yeah, keep them on the farm. It's all good, yeah, yeah. It's tough. It's tough, yeah. And so then, okay, so then you land yourself in startup world. You guys grow quick, and now you're people in Larissa Holmes 9:48 culture. Second startup, second start. What was the first did another startup that didn't, didn't take off. Worked at borewell, loved it, and then had the idea for coterie, and decided to i. Start my own business. So Qasim Virjee 10:01 how long has Kotor even a thing? Two years? And what is it? So Speaker 2 10:06 it is a platform that helps sport professionals grow their own communities. So we're a SaaS, a SaaS product that helps them earn income while they're not on the course or court. Qasim Virjee 10:18 So I'm like a pro golfer, Speaker 2 10:21 say golf or pickleball, or the first two sports that we've Can Qasim Virjee 10:25 you see those in the same sentence? Golf Speaker 2 10:26 Ball, yeah. Oh, the two love each other. They do a ton of crossover. Oh, yeah. I Qasim Virjee 10:32 guess both of them don't really like stress their knees much, right? Is that what it is? Larissa Holmes 10:36 Are you implying something? I was just at the PGA Show in Orlando, and a huge section of the exhibition floor is dedicated to pickleball. There's two pickleball courts. There was, Qasim Virjee 10:52 it's a lifestyle thing. Yeah, they're complimentary, for sure. There's, Larissa Holmes 10:55 there's a lot of compliments. My father in law, who's Qasim Virjee 10:58 70, Oh, forgive me. Hope Unknown Speaker 11:01 he doesn't watch this. Yeah, Qasim Virjee 11:03 I'll have to clip it and send it to him. Now, look at me fumbling on your age. I Unknown Speaker 11:06 think he's in his 70s. He's Qasim Virjee 11:08 like, 76 maybe, Martin Hauck 11:10 I think he's okay with you not knowing his age. Yeah, are you okay?

Growing sports communities through digital products.

Qasim Virjee 11:14 He doesn't know how to turn this on. It's okay. But like, no, he was, uh, when we went and for our annual family holiday in Mexico this last Christmas, he was delighted, like, delighted that there was a pickleball court next to the pool, because we had, like, a bunch of rainy days, and it was phenomenal. I started playing with him and random people, and it was a Speaker 2 11:36 super fun sport. Yeah, and to see how people to Speaker 2 11:40 play pickleball, play pickleball, but people also love to dunk on it. Borrow Martin's turn. No, well, because it looks like, yeah, it's, it's like, Martin Hauck 11:50 don't they call the hits. They like when you hit a pickleball, it's called a dink or a donk. Martin Hauck 11:57 So that's, that's one, on the con column of the pros and cons list Qasim Virjee 12:03 that makes it more fun. What are you talking about? Yeah, it makes around all day. Dick Speaker 2 12:07 around. Yeah, exactly. And there's tons of companies that have popped up with the name dink that are so in the pickleball space, of course, right? Yeah, popular newsletter. Qasim Virjee 12:16 But like, okay, so this is interesting. So whether they're pickleballers or golfers, they want to engage with Speaker 2 12:22 their audience, but their players, or their community, or their community, so it's not about fans. So it's not just about fans. It's about imagine a golf pro at a local course that has, you know, a strong email list of people who've either taken lessons from them, joined clinics that might be kind of adjacent to them, but how do you keep their attention? How do you monetize them? How do you make money off of them? Well, without just giving lessons, right? There's lots of ways to engage with those communities, and now, more than ever, people need to maintain attention and keep top of mind. So we're really passionate about getting these sport professionals more opportunities to make money without just spending their time. Martin Hauck 13:04 My golf instructors website is absolute trash. Most Speaker 2 13:08 of them are, sorry, Gary, this is real. You should tell Gary about coterie. Martin Hauck 13:13 I will, I will. But like that I'm processing like, this is I'm figuring it out. But like, that's interesting. Nor should they like, no, and Larissa Holmes 13:20 this is it. This is where I I talked to, especially a lot of golf pros. We just announced a big partnership with the LPGA. Congratulations. Thank you. And I talked to golf pros all day long. And a lot of them struggle with this, because what they're great at is the game. It's the sport. Same with pickleball, same with any of these things. They've dedicated their lives countless hours to being outside pickleball, growing the game pickleball. Martin Hauck 13:50 My parents love it. Yeah, no, my my dad. It's his life now, like battle will be his legacy. Is like winning a trophy in pickleball? Is Speaker 2 13:59 he competing? Yeah, he's trying to good for him. That's fantastic. And so they need people to help them with the business side, and that's where we come in Martin Hauck 14:11 the the part about community is interesting, because every company seems to be going down this path is something that I'm familiar with from, like, the people, people group side, something Qasim is familiar with, like gathering people at his at his venues. And so what you're building starts more with the digital side, yeah, which I think is interesting. What? What have you learned so far in, like, the building out of this, from from like, how it helps individuals connect digitally. Speaker 2 14:49 Well, I mean, first of all, we've learned a ton that the sport world is very under served in terms of digital product. Especially as it relates to community, there's a lot on the technical side. So I know you play golf, cousin, do you play? Qasim Virjee 15:07 I got time for golf? Yeah. Unknown Speaker 15:09 You got time for pickleball? Yeah, I don't know, yeah. No, Qasim Virjee 15:12 no, I like golf, you know, but I don't get invited to play. This is the problem. I once Speaker 2 15:17 went last but we talk a lot about underrepresented communities. Thank Qasim Virjee 15:21 you. I am underrepresented. The last time, the last time that I played golf, I showed up for a tournament in Birkenstocks, and they didn't, yeah, well, no, they let me. I snuck on and I played a fairly good game, a fairly good game, and I hit a few under par is birdie. It depends Unknown Speaker 15:47 how under par, Qasim Virjee 15:49 yeah, one shot and Speaker 2 15:52 like under par, like under par By what so Qasim Virjee 15:55 I did okay in my Birkenstocks, and I was just ridiculed, and all those people that I know who play golf now, I suppose I know one more who invite me, two more who can invite me on another shoot. Of course, Martin Hauck 16:07 yeah, I keep saying this, I think that'll be the thing. Yeah, that'll be about it Larissa Holmes 16:11 a lot. But we're very passionate about helping these professionals make more money, but also just growing the game. To your point, what does it matter? If you play in Birkenstocks, yeah, yeah, exactly. If you're willing to pay and to get out and play, then, you know, there's a lot of discussion in especially golf, less than pickleball, because it's a newer sport, right? There is, you know, that one is a whole different beast. But in golf, there's a lot of discussion about how to grow the game and how to get get more people and keep the attention. Golf grew a ton during the pandemic. They saw a huge surge. A lot of people either came to the game for the first time or got back into the game. A lot of the younger demographics, underrepresented people. People were getting out and playing because it was outdoors. It was safe here, especially one of the few things that was still open.

Modernizing golf for professionals and underrepresented groups.

Qasim Virjee 17:01 You weren't allowed to like, you know, yeah, you it was crazy, right? But how do Larissa Holmes 17:05 you maintain that attention? How do you keep people engaged in something now that the world has come back and people can go out and do all the same things they could before, and I can tell you as not taking off the entrepreneur hat and putting on my mom hat, as a parent of three kids, it's very hard to get out and play a game, yeah? Like, how do you I don't so if there was, you know, there were courses that were putting in childcare or mini putt games, you could drop your kids off. Yeah, right. There's a lot of discussion about how to modernize the game, and I'm really quite intrigued on all facets of Qasim Virjee 17:42 are you allowed to take kids with you golfing? Do they get mad at you? No, Larissa Holmes 17:45 you unless you're paying unless they're a player, like party or Foursome, and typically you're not under six years old, no, 12 and overs. Most course rules, not all of them, but most of them. It'd Qasim Virjee 17:56 be cool to take my daughter golfing, man, and she even if she just chills out and just cracks jokes. Martin Hauck 18:00 Don't have any form of bring your kids. And it's, it's always been very VIP, exclusive, exclusionary and so. But that's that's shifting in a lot of different ways. It's, it's been interesting to see from from a few different angles, one you mentioned earlier that you are monetarily driven, but you're also mission driven. What's What's the mission driven piece for you with with coterie? Larissa Holmes 18:33 I mean, for me, it's all about getting more people into the game, and the more we can help professionals grow their individual businesses, the more that gets more people into the game, right? So imagine you, Martin, are a golf pro, the more I can help you make money. That means the more you're growing your game. And you're the golf pro. I'm not a golf pro, right? I came to golf later in life, picked up pickleball four years ago, something you know, but coming into these sports, you start to see how much it can bring people together. And it's not just about the sport, it's about that community piece. I've met great people professionally on the golf course that I never would have. The first time I picked up a golf club was when I was working at Deloitte, because I knew, because of what so much business happens on the golf course, and as a woman, I stand out. I'm very memorable because there's you can count on one hand, yeah. How many of us say yes to golf tournaments? Yeah, and that's starting to change a little bit, but there still is a massive underrepresentation. I was at a tournament in September in the tech community, there's 120 players. There was 12 of us. Yeah, there are 12 women that played Qasim Virjee 19:48 like across the board with the tech community in general, right? It's so and Speaker 2 19:52 then the dinner reception, more women turned up. No, they didn't come to the they just didn't play the round of golf. And then came to the dinner reception. Mm. Speaker 1 19:59 Hmm, I let Chet do these things. Speaker 2 20:04 But I think as a woman, you actually have a not just, I shouldn't just say woman, because it's also extremely white, yeah, Qasim Virjee 20:12 golf, golf is super white man. Golf is so white. Shocking, yeah, Larissa Holmes 20:20 yeah, and so as any kind of like underrepresented person, you you stand out. And I think a lot of people tend to just self select out, instead of flipping their perspective right and saying, This is a great advantage, that you're memorable, that people are gonna say, Hey, I think I saw you at that golf event. Were you? Were you there? Martin Hauck 20:42 Yeah, like being an early adopter of Twitter, for example, if you just put in the work when it first came out, oh, look at you. You've got all these followers you've Yeah, you put in and people. So there's like this benefit of just having shown up on a regular basis and Speaker 2 20:58 compounding interests, my friend, basic, but Qasim Virjee 21:02 So, okay, so tell us a little bit about this, like, idea of how your platform helps, taking lessons from the kind of like, what you might have learned, growing teams in a corporate reality, how professional athletes can grow their team. Like, is there a corollary directly there, or is it just something where inspiration from your history came in? Speaker 2 21:24 I mean, there's, it's a bit of both. But I would say that I think being a chief people officer in a past life is a superpower that very few see. I think a lot of investors. I think the the tech community as a whole is not used to seeing people go from Chief People Officer to founder. It's a very uncommon path. I could speculate on a lot of reasons why, but I actually think that it's a massive advantage to growing a tech company. Yeah, some of your biggest problems as a founder or about people, whether it's investors, it's employees, it's customers. Understanding people's behavior is what Chief People officers do, right whether it's from recruitment, from culture, all these different angles, and as a founder, we're dealing with very similar issues, but you are redirecting that to your customers, you need to understand your customers needs. What are they really looking for? Customers don't even know what they want half the time, similar to people where they say that you know they want snacks, and that's not the problem you're trying to solve for, right? Like it's snacks. Yeah,

Startup founders' priorities and challenges in Canada.

Qasim Virjee 22:37 we are just what snacks everyone Speaker 2 22:40 all the time, catered lunches. You think you want, you think you want catered lunches, but you don't. So it's my point is, is that if you are a strategic people leader and people executive especially, and you've been used to sitting at the table having the tough conversations about the business as a whole, yeah, you're very well positioned, in my perspective, to be a founder, because you start to understand your customers needs, and you're constantly putting the people first, whether that's your investors, your employees, and you realize the power that that can bring to your business. Well, especially Qasim Virjee 23:14 if your intent is to actually build a business. Larissa Holmes 23:18 What? What else do founders are founders intending to build Qasim Virjee 23:23 fatter bank accounts directly. You know, it's about the balance that Marty called out that, you know, a lot of people don't have. You know, I don't know. I was surprised by this. I might sound old and jaded, right? When we our hair starts going gray. Just talk shit about young people, but like, Larissa Holmes 23:39 my hair started going great when I was a young person. There you go. I'm talking about before it was cool talking shit about myself since I can remember. Qasim Virjee 23:51 But like, What I meant was in the last, I think it's in the last accelerating the last five Well, the pandemic threw things off. Let's call the last decade this kind of like the bro culture in this false Silicon Valley emulation mode that Canadian founders, and especially first time founders, have had with the easy access to pre seed, seed, early stage capital, has been very interesting To watch, especially from the sidelines to see how people are not necessarily in the in software, right? And then we've got this AI thing that's changed the world in last few years, right? But like before AI, keep an eye on that. Oh, my God, before AI, it was like you actually had to hire people to make the software, and you're not concerned about redundancy, or at least your investors aren't. So you're saying, okay, like, this thing's gonna have legs, and it's gonna become a unicorn, right? And it's gonna be amazing, man. And you're taking OPM, right, and you're deploying it. It's, it's like, let's, it's a burn fest, and that's, it's burn over earn, right? It's burn over earn. And a lot. Of the majority, in fact, of portfolio don't necessarily, typically venture back. Portfolios in Canada don't necessarily have a clear path to like. Unknown Speaker 25:07 Those days are gone, though that's, well, no, they're

Growing the sport of pickleball, connecting with customers, and using gamification to engage the community.

Qasim Virjee 25:09 they're gone in the sense that, if you talk to a VC, they're going to be like, I want to see a clear path to like, profit scale. Well, yeah, we hold profitability. It should be profit scale. It shouldn't even just be profitability. It should be profiting scale. But Martin Hauck 25:22 yeah, yeah, yeah, you just went through the raise mode. So Unknown Speaker 25:27 yeah, we raised a small precede, so Qasim Virjee 25:29 nice friends kind of thing, or institutional No, Larissa Holmes 25:33 mostly like angels, angels. Martin Hauck 25:36 So your us, your perspective on on what the temperature's like right now is very much like, it's not even scale of profitability. It's actual profitability. Like, yeah. I Speaker 2 25:47 mean, I think it's constantly changing, and it depends where you talk, there's always a higher risk appetite in the US. I found a lot more success with us angel investors. Love our Canadian angel investors, but most of them, you know, when you've scaled and operated a business, you have a network, you have a you have a track record, right? So I was very fortunate in that I knew a lot of founders and CEOs from from my time with borrow well, and I'm very grateful to that. But then going to that next layer was a lot more challenging for me in Canada, and I found a lot more success going to the US, especially with the type of business I'm trying to build. I think the the scale of the sport world in the US is just so much more, you know, I mean, I can quote the numbers, but the just our population is, you know, the entire country is the size of Florida. So when you look at that, it, it just doesn't compare and compute for a lot of a lot of Canadian investors, when and our interest is not to start in Canada like we've started the business in the US. That's where our customers are. That's where we look to grow. That's the market we want to dominate. When Qasim Virjee 27:06 you guys are kind of like communicating with the with the customer base, with athletes, what are the values of community that you think they all connect with? Speaker 2 27:17 I mean, number one is growing the game. I think, you know, everyone wants to grow the game and for the game to be more inclusive. And I think obviously there's an economic factor to that. The more we grow it, the more money is on the table, the more we get people to be interested and grow the game. There's more economic upside for everybody involved, whether that's suppliers, courses, the pros themselves, everybody wins. But, you know, there's, there's a lot around this idea of connectedness. Everybody seems to be very interested, similar to community being a bit of a buzzword. So it was longevity, and people are very interested about not just how long we live, but the quality of life that we have. And I think there, there has been a lot more attention given in the last couple years to this idea that loneliness kills and hot topic in the States, yeah. And how do we start to, you know, swing the pendulum a bit the other way, we've swung it so far towards tech, which has created a disconnect and in the US for the, you know, for one of the first times in modern history, you know, lifespans are reducing. You know, people are dying younger than they have in the past years. And there's, there's a lot of reasons that kind of tend to start to point towards that that could be related to social connections and a lack of connectedness, oh, yeah, lifestyle Qasim Virjee 28:40 factors, for sure, diet, lack of connectivity. And Speaker 2 28:46 we feel, I feel really passionate that sport hits on all of that, right? It's increasing mobility. It's increasing your social connectedness. It's getting you outside, right? Just certain elements of getting more vitamin D, right, getting a bit more sun and exposure. So there's a lot of things that we think sport really can help, and it isn't, doesn't have to be about the technical or the competitive aspects. It can be social and repositioning. Why people play includes more people. Martin Hauck 29:19 I just went down a rabbit hole of do you add sort of a activity tracker to like the app for the individuals, where it's like, oh, just to keep them engaged? Yeah, Speaker 2 29:30 we have, we have a number of different kind of gamifications in app, less around like specific activity and more around kind of engagement, because we're focused on the community piece and trying to think about sport differently, yeah, right, thinking about it as a community builder, as a way for you to instead of, I would love in the future world, instead of saying, go for coffee, go for a game of pickleball, 100% Yeah, right. Qasim Virjee 29:58 Let's go to. Yes, I used to invite people for the tennis game all the time, and

The intersection of sports, wellness, and professional development.

Speaker 2 30:03 there are certain games that are more conducive to that because they're shorter, and that's why I said pickleball and not golf. Like you're not gonna go for a four hour coffee all the time. People don't necessarily have that kind of time. Yeah, you know that you're gonna play 18 holes, and that's the reason you and I have probably struggled to do it. Between having young kids and everything taking a half day is no joke. But Pickleball is on the complete other side of that, and it's very inclusive. In suburban America, people have their driveways as a pickleball court. Yeah? And you know, can hop out play a game in 20 minutes and be back on Zoom. Qasim Virjee 30:37 20 minutes is long, man, I just challenge people to thumb wars, right? Like, that's my sport. Bring Speaker 2 30:43 back the old fashioned arm wrestle, right? An arm wrestle, Qasim Virjee 30:47 I'll just lose really quickly, and then we can talk business. Yeah, no, it's catching on like wildfire, right? Like pickleball, all Speaker 2 30:56 of it is, but I was saying to Martin too, that for me, you also learn a lot about people playing games with them, and you learn a lot about people's personalities, how they lose, how competitive they are, how they talk to themselves, how hard on themselves they are, right? Take a bad shot. Are you going to beat yourself up for the next three holes, or are you going to just brush it off and move on? Martin Hauck 31:20 Yeah, to double click on that further the joke slash half serious, like the half joke I made was if, if we could have pickleball as a part of the interview process. Qasim Virjee 31:34 Oh, like you, you're the hiring manager. Like Larissa Holmes 31:39 talking about before, yeah, and you'd get tons. I mean, you told me, nobody listens to the podcast, but if there's people that do, I would love to hear I'm sure people in the comments would blow up about this idea that it's not inclusive to play sport, right? In an interview process, people leaders, we've heard it all, yeah, but I do think there's something to it. Yeah, whether you've played or not, it doesn't matter. It's about how you handle the game. It's like any assessment, right? It's not actually about the results. It's about how you know, how you deal with challenges, how you collaborate, right? If you're playing in doubles, like playing in doubles, Pickleball is part of your interview, it would be huge, hilarious, Qasim Virjee 32:23 hilarious, Martin Hauck 32:27 insightful, I think, yeah, my guy goes Qasim Virjee 32:29 Mac and roll out everyone. It's done. Sorry, we'll call you back. Never, um, but here's where it Martin Hauck 32:37 all fell apart. Yeah, let's record the pickleball game for Qasim Virjee 32:42 you the what was the catalyst for going this route of becoming a founder? If, sorry, I missed it in the career history? Was it people in culture role at you know, borrow, borrow. Well, why can't I say that borrow, borrow? Well, because it's, it's too borrow. Well, too doubly. It's Speaker 2 33:05 funny that you can't say it, considering it's quite close to start, well, hard Qasim Virjee 33:08 consonant on a T, right start, well, it ends, but like borrow. Well, well, it's like too many W's. My lips are fat. Man. Okay, so, but anyway, Larissa Holmes 33:18 it was my time there. Yeah, that I started to come back into sport myself. I read a very fascinating book called together by Vivek Murphy. I'm not sure if you guys have read it. Highly recommend it, all about this concept of loneliness and about longevity. He's the Surgeon General in the US, and is does a fantastic job of weaving storytelling with the data around how our lack of connectedness is really impacting the duration and the quality of life that we live. Scrolling, the Doom scrolling Yeah, is what I always call it, yeah. It's like all we're Qasim Virjee 33:55 all connected apart, Martin Hauck 33:56 yeah, the convenience of it is, is Yeah, is misleading. Sorry, no, Speaker 2 34:01 and I was just saying, and then I got really quite obsessed around more the mission and the purpose of getting more active myself, and getting more caring more about this idea of connectedness, but wellness and just being more physically active, having young kids, and focused 150% on my career for, you know, 12 plus years, I was a real and I obviously still am as a founder. But how do I weave in this idea of, you know, living a more intentional life? And I think that as a woman and talk doing a lot of user research, especially with underrepresented groups, and why they maybe shy away from sport is so much about its positioning and people having perceptions that it's hyper competitive, it's overly technical, it's not for me, it's not welcoming, it's not where I belong. And I really thought. But there was a, there's a great opportunity, and I obviously still believe that, like very passionately, that this, like Venn Diagram of bringing together kind of sport wellness, and for a professional in a professional context, like people can really see that there's so much value to be had here, yeah, and that people can, you know, be helping themselves from a health perspective, but they can be networking, and they can stay active. It's Qasim Virjee 35:26 so interesting because, you know, like in this series, we're now in the second series, second season of the gathering podcast. But like many of the conversations we've had on and off, Mike have been to do with people, their career stories coming into people in culture roles and HR roles, right? And we haven't been talking to too many people, so I've enjoyed this conversation to speak to someone who have left it, well, you came into it and left it. You know, it's Larissa Holmes 35:53 not like see it as leaving I think, yeah, because you're still doing community stuff. But not only community, I just feel so passionately that founders, so much of what you deal with is to do with people, oh, yeah, and the and kind of people problems, people issues, right? Whether you want to call it a problem or just directly related to people, that's why I just, I really don't think I've left it as much as it's evolved and now in the role of CEO and founder, you know that is a key part, but now my stakeholder group is just different. It's, yes, it's part employees, but it's investors, it's my customers, it's industry leaders, and those are all still valuable. Yeah, Qasim Virjee 36:39 it's about relationships, right, managing relationships and encouraging people, various stakeholders, to stay kind of engaged but motivated in their own role for whatever you need and for theirs, yeah, if

Using sports platforms to foster team connections and wellness.

Martin Hauck 36:55 you put on your VP CPO hat, your your leader of people at an organization, and you, you're not the person that is building what you're building now. But you hear about it is there are you looking to eventually? Because there's an interesting cross section of the thing that companies want, or executives want, is for people to feel more engaged. There's like this belonging piece. You can see where I'm going. So I'm curious about that aspect, because there's the wellness piece, which is also something that HR teams are responsible for. There's the connectivity between teams that is unique. And, you know, outside of, like we talked on a previous episode, of getting out of your space, getting out of, like, the four walls that the company operates within, so you can think creatively about new ideas, or bridge connections. Coterie seems to be, yeah, I'd be curious to know, like, is that on the roadmap? Is that, is that something you want to build towards, or is it a little bit off? Is it sort of like a it would be a nice to have? Speaker 2 38:09 Yeah, it's interesting, given the macroeconomic environment right now, I think if we were in a different time, that might have been the direction, and maybe exactly, if it was in 2020, it might have been the direction that coterie would evolve to, especially given that we did start as originally as a B to C platform to help connect women through sport, on golf and pickleball, and we still have that side of the platform running, but we've spun out and started this B to B product that has just gotten faster traction. And, you know, we really enjoy and it furthers along the mission, and we know that that will feed the B to C platform as well in the long term. And we're here to build a big, meaningful business. So yes, and like in the future world, is there some point where this becomes, you know, a way for teams and to build wellness? Yes, but I don't know what you're hearing, but I've heard a lot in the space that budgets aren't what they used to be. Well, team well, companies are saying that they're focused on connectedness and wellness. That's not as much, and it's the market has shifted back to being a bit more of an employer market and not the employee market. Yeah, so that's not the right time for us to be focused on that. Martin Hauck 39:23 That makes sense. That makes sense. But the the opportunity should if and when, when things turn around. Yeah, there is that interesting play of Qasim Virjee 39:34 sport in the comp, in the Martin Hauck 39:37 because it happened. It happens organically, right? You know, someone will start a Golf Channel in Slack. And then, you know, but again, it's very broie, it's the sales team, it's the executives, and then there become the numbers. Yeah, look at the numbers. It's, it is what it is. But then if there, if there's another way to go about it, and the. There's a platform to kind of promote it in a way that gets everybody versus, like, the sales team doesn't need to bond. Executives don't, like, yes, they do, but in different ways. But the whole organization would benefit from, like, going back to the point of, like, the crazy idea of doing an interview and having it, but like, just seeing how other people work together over a game of pickleball. My parents are gonna love this episode. It would be pickleball. Yeah, yeah. And Speaker 2 40:30 I think that's how we we kind of started too, right? We have a ton of content. We have creators like we have professional, vetted professionals on the golf and pickleball side that have created custom content for us to help, you know, educate people, inform people, and then we have, kind of, we've leveraged a lot of AI in the platform to help match people off a number of different criterias suggest locations to play at, all these types of things. So it's not that far fetched and far reaching for us to think about that. I think there's a lot of opportunity for organizations to keep people way more engaged, but also help to get more business, quite frankly, too, the more you encourage people to be thinking about themselves as a full person when they're in the office building or outside, I think the more you build connections, and the more you get people to be thinking about your business all the time, and that includes the golf course in the pickleball court totally. Martin Hauck 41:25 Do you have two sections of users? Like you've got the pros that are the B to B product, yeah? And then you've got the B to C product, the B to C side as well, which Speaker 2 41:35 is focused on women today. Yeah? Yeah. 222, very different communities, but all kind of feeding similar purpose, right? No kind of getting people more into the game, getting more access, getting more awareness. It's Qasim Virjee 41:52 super interesting, because in North America, this might be a global phenomenon, but like, there's this kind of dichotomy between the player and the fan, you know, and I think it's because of the commercialization of sport, but like that naturally precludes people from assuming that they can kind of be, they can flip, and they can be a professional in some way, not that they need to be, but that they could be a player. Yeah, it's, like, takes so much effort to be a player, right? And they're like, oh, maybe that's not me, you know, but it's okay. I'll just like, but Speaker 2 42:19 it kind of goes back to your first point. What you opened with was, I never get invited, right? So many people say that I would go out, oh, I would play golf if somebody invited me out. Oh, I'd try pickleball if somebody invited me. You know, there's both sides of the coin. Why do you need to be invited? Like, start your own game. Yeah, is what I say to people, or ask people to say, Hey, do you ever, have you ever played great, can you I want to invite you to come teach me, you know, or whatever it might be. And then the other side is, yeah, if you play, like, just invite people more. Qasim Virjee 42:55 So many people don't know what Pickleball is. I didn't know what pickleball. I think Speaker 2 42:59 that's more in Canada, yeah? Sure, we are always

Growing pickleball and golf communities through digital platforms.

Martin Hauck 43:03 a couple years behind fastest growing sport in North America for three years in a row. Yeah, from just so the other thing against golf is that it is, like, financially prohibitive. So if you have underrepresented folks, trying to get into the sport, pickleball seems to be the way to go, for sure, Unknown Speaker 43:28 if you're, if you're, it's cheaper on time and money, Martin Hauck 43:31 time and money, right? So that makes sense that you would there's also it makes sense to have golf as well. Are you looking at other sports to Qasim Virjee 43:42 to add to the platform. Yeah, um, Speaker 2 43:45 yes. And no, not in the short term. We know there's a lot of opportunity to grow and on those two, and we're also very passionate. We have some inroads there, so that that's a clear line, but obviously in the future, yes, and that's why we started with two. We wanted to be really clear that we're not a single sport. SaaS platform, right? We're not intended just for one sport. We're not building this in a way that only works for golf or only works for pickleball. There's a lot of sports and growth out there that we think could be really interesting. So Martin Hauck 44:18 the aspect of like, with startwell, you've been very intentional about designing the experience so that when somebody shows up, the place sells itself, and it does when you you know the like, this is the most legit podcast studio I've been in, and it's like, Ooh, there's, there's a there's a sheen to it, so to speak. There's an excitement. There's like, you want to tell people about it, right for me, on the on the people, people, group side, like, the experience of a member, of someone joining is important. And like those first like moments you have the same, same thing with, with your place now, like, how, how are you? Does? Designing the experience. Because, yeah, how are you designing the experience so that the people that do join or do follow end up, like, what are your thoughts in in like, creating that community? Because it doesn't just happen, right? There's, I think we're generating facts. Do Qasim Virjee 45:14 you mean? Like, okay, a digital platform can connect people and but once they're connected, they need encouragement to be related to each Martin Hauck 45:23 How do you invite people onto the dance floor? Right? There's a dance party. Everybody knows about that. Speaker 2 45:27 And we have, uh, so we have a number of different ways we we give, like a toolbox to the pro to help them onboard their community. So that gives them suggestions of how to engage, whether that's through email and posts and different recognition a number of different ways that we really rely on the professional to do part of that, to bring in their they're bringing in their community, right? And then, as we've scaled we've started our own sub community of pros that use the codery platform. And how do we recognize them and create our own coterie community of people who use it. So there's a couple different ways, but we've been very fortunate with this partnership with the LPGA, and we're working with a couple of other associations that that helps give us, give us in, gives us the inroads to these professionals, and not only kind of builds the top of funnel sales for us, but also gives a sense of community, right? These people pay a lot of money for their membership association fees to be part of whether it's the LPGA, the PGA, you know, there's, there's pickleball associations recently an amalgamation, I'm sure your father knows a lot about in the US and you know, like there's, there's strong community foothold with these associations that we feel really strongly is a great alignment from a values perspective on helping us to kind of build that sense of community too. Yeah, as a young company, it's always hard to build your brand right and build your community when people don't know you, and especially for us, being female founders based in Canada, when we're building a business in the US. You know, there's a lot. I'm half American and I lived there, but I'm not physically there. Day to day, I end up having to travel a fair bit as well, but it's there's, I'm learning a ton too along the way, Martin Hauck 47:24 little bit of a pivot, but it's still for the overall conversation. But we talked about how you started out in the people and culture space, and now you're into the the founder space and the startup entrepreneur side, for the people that are listening, that are in People Ops, that have this itch to build something, eventually, curious to get what your advice to them would be, whether it's their whether, yeah, curious to get your advice to them, to follow in your footsteps, so to speak. Speaker 2 47:59 Yeah. I mean, even going back just before I answer the actual question, I think a difference with me too is that I was never a real people, people, person, right? I came from management consulting. I didn't kind of grow up and get my HR certification and check all the boxes in a traditional sense, yeah, I was a generalist in business first before, kind of going deep into the people space. So I've always been very comfortable making big jumps, right? Because I I'm always very careful about giving out advice, because I think everybody has to follow what they they have to follow what works for them, because you might not have the risk appetite. I always like to be really honest with people, but it is hard. It is whatever you however hard you think it is, is going to be 10 times harder. Qasim Virjee 48:50 Yeah, it is a constant path of difficulty. Yeah, Speaker 2 48:54 you're, you're literally, there's no losing the most difficult path. Yeah, possible if you want something easy, comfortable, stable, reliable and consistent. Qasim Virjee 49:03 Get fired every couple quarters and keep getting, keep

Entrepreneurship, risk tolerance, and the challenges of starting a business.

Larissa Holmes 49:07 applying to another job with somebody that used to work at at the previous company, exactly just, I think it's not to say, like, don't do it. I mean, the other side is, if you're gonna do it, I say you have to kind of make the leap, and there's no other advice except, like, just do it. Just get out and do it and iterate. I mean, would I do things differently for myself? Probably, you know, there's always good lessons learned along the way, but I think there's small ways you can start earlier. I probably would have started even earlier in life having two little kids and then having, you know, I started the company in January of 2022, and I gave birth to my third may 1. So I had two kids in one year. Essentially, I had a company baby and a real baby within the same, you know, same. Six months. So I wouldn't do that again, but I think the advice is to just get out and start but you have to realize what your risk tolerance is. Qasim Virjee 50:13 But also, don't you think there's, there's this kind of misconception amongst career employees that are kind of assuming another job is it is self employment. It that's the way, and there's no fault on anyone's, you know, head to think of it that way, because if that's the way that you see the world, everyone is an employee, then you don't understand what it means to not be an employee. And it's about shedding comfort and embracing risk, sure, but it's also about having the means of self propulsion in terms of motivation, yeah, I love it, and everything's on you, but it's also within your own head, yeah, in terms of how you rule, set goal, set, success, pat on the back. Set, like, how do you feed your soul while you're you know, putting things in the world, yeah, and deal with hardships along the way, of course, and rejection, but also deal with success. And it's interesting, because I know you've just started on this path, right? But you mentioned you just dropped it. You got the LPG on board and stuff. So that's good. Those are little wins, right? That like you have access to to customers now, yeah, but it's very difficult to even explain to someone thinking about becoming an entrepreneur as such, or launching a venture that you rarely even have time to see any milestones of success as that. You know, like, when do you celebrate? How is it worth celebrating when you still got bills to pay? It's like, Yeah, this is awesome, but now we got more expenses. I Martin Hauck 51:54 No sorry, because we just celebrated her a lot. No, no. Larissa Holmes 51:57 I mean, listen, I think it depends on your personality. Anyone who's worked with me knows I've never been great at celebrating wins. When I was an executive, I wasn't great at it. I, you know, and that's very odd for a former chief people officer to say I was like, yeah, yeah, here's your glass of champagne. Like, let's get back to work. Like, who cares? Yeah, it's like, we got shit to do. We got other stuff to do. We have bigger milestones to hit. Deloitte talking, yeah, and I think it is kind of, you know, my like being bred in this, like it's just never enough environment is also very much in line with a founders mentality, because if you celebrate the wins too much, the hits are so low. If the highs are highs, the lows are lower. So for me, it's always been like, well, let's just kind of try to keep us, you know, even keel, as you can keep it going, because you got to just keep on chugging on, yeah, Qasim Virjee 52:52 and you have to enjoy that kind of, like, ever presence, right? It's really important as an entrepreneur to just be able to be in the moment. And what's that like, right? No, and revel in that. I mean, I think that's the only tell me, tell me Unknown Speaker 53:05 what that feels like. But yeah, Qasim Virjee 53:09 people ask that question. It's Martin Hauck 53:10 all hold hands, yeah, be in the moment. Yeah, no, yeah. Qasim Virjee 53:17 It's very interesting people, especially I talked to by virtue of my wife being a doctor, I, you know, in the last decade have met many professionals and talked to professionals a lot. Otherwise it wouldn't happen. But I find it very interesting that mindset of particularly like, if you're a lawyer, doctor, accountant, that's executive. Well, even not, not necessarily within that same ilk, but like, if you've got, like, a functional job and you're on a career track that's preset, right, with a glass ceiling, but it's your lifestyle, because it's very finite, yeah, what we're talking about the entrepreneurial path is, is the opposite. It's the inversion of that. It's yeah, and their cultures don't even Yeah. Can't explain anything to anyone. You know, yeah, no. And I very interesting. I Larissa Holmes 54:13 think you're somebody who likes to innovate or create or not, and the world needs both. That's the other thing I always, I think, kind of swung to this glamorizing entrepreneurship founder life, have we? But I hope we externally. Today conversation? No, I think public culture is more what I'm talking about, that we've externally, put it on a bit of a pedestal. And I the new deities, right? I am now, you know, you until you're in it, you don't really realize that, you know, it's obviously not how life is. I mean, if you've joined an early stage company, you probably have a lot of insight. Do you have a little bit of the. This appetizer, yeah, to the to the main course, Martin Hauck 55:02 the buffet, that is entrepreneurship, yeah. But Speaker 2 55:07 I've always liked launching things and doing different ventures. I mean, I launched my own podcast this year, and, you know, I've committed to kind of continuing to launch things, and you have to be okay with some things are going to hit and some things won't. Oh, totally Yeah.

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