Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Follow your passion - Entrepreneur Jaclyn Garris of KickStart Endurance

I used to tell my students, and now I tell my kids, to follow their passion when it comes to careers and work. Find a problem you want to solve or something you want to make better in the world and focus your energy on that. If you do, you'll eventually end up where you want to be, allowing for those painful/instructive work "detours" along the way. (Mine would be working at Wendy's in High School...ugh!) Don't become a ____ because you "think you should" or because people tell you that's what you'd be good at. Follow *your* passion, work hard, and you will be successful because you will be fulfilled.

When you are doing what interests you, and you have the opportunity to use and develop your skills, talents, and creativity, working toward goals you believe in, most of the time work doesn't feel like work. That's where I landed. I could go on and on about how happy I am working in the world of triathlon but this blog post is actually not about me.

Today I bring you a story of an entrepreneur who followed her passion in triathlon too, by opening a store and eCommerce site called KickStart Endurance. Owner Jaclyn Garris contacted me, inviting me to review the site and products here, but I hesitated. I haven't really been big into reviewing or selling. I was all set to say "no thanks" but I grew intrigued by her story. What prompted her to open what she calls the "Endurance Athlete's Candy Store?" What job had she left behind? What background did she have to prepare her for this? Is she able to keep up with training and racing while being an entrepreneur?

The story below resulted from our dialog. In addition to supporting our local sports stores, I think it's also important to support those in the triathlon community who have taken a risk to serve a niche. Jaclyn has clearly done so, as I discovered as I browsed through a large collection of nutrition options on her website (where it says "Oh no, your cart is hungry!" I love that!). I appreciate how easy it is to find high-protein, caffeinated, organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, or vegan options among the many out there. While I could review each of the products that arrived in my mailbox, I don't plan to, but I am excited to try Jesse Thomas' and Lauren Fleshman's Picky Bars, products from Skratch Labs, and some of the other products that are new to me.

The point of the KickStart Endurance site is that choosing products is very individual so what works for me may not work for you. Jaclyn's value-added is in aggregating, organizing, directing, and recommending! Check it out for yourself, or just learn a bit about Jaclyn and how KickStart Endurance came to be!

Jaclyn's Story - Life Long Athlete

As a life long athlete of various sports, nutrition has always played a key role in whether training or game day was a success or failure. I remember first getting cramps in my toes and calves during basketball practice in 9th grade and being told that eating a banana would help. Well, lets just say I ate a lot of bananas but still had cramping issues!

During college, I turned my love of sports towards the business and event side of things when I enrolled in the Leisure and Sport Management major at Elon University in Burlington, North Carolina. My junior and senior years, I logged many hours setting up and executing athletic events while learning the ins and outs of marketing, law, sales, and more in the classroom. During these last two years, I re-engaged with working out and living better, as I had gained 40 lbs during my freshman and sophomore years of college from a lack of exercise and high calorie meals in the dining hall.
Jaclyn far right at her first sport business conference
at the end of sophomore year when she was "her heaviest"

Running from Winter

Upon graduating for college, I made my way to Cleveland, OH for a yearlong internship with the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), the professional organization for college athletic administrators. Being a Florida girl my entire life, the winter took its toll on me both mentally and physically so when the snow started to melt and the roads were no longer icy, I started to jog, mostly so I could be outside and get fresh air.

My running activities allowed me to enjoy the parks of Cleveland and to see that despite my lifelong belief that I absolutely hated and abhorred running, I actually really enjoyed it. After seeing some gains and a post of a good friend in Boston doing the “Boston Run to Remember” in May of 2009, I emailed her to see if she thought it was crazy if I tried to do the 5 mile run. Of course, whenever you ask a runner if doing an event is crazy, they will say absolutely not, come join in the fun!

I was so nervous during the time leading into the 5 mile race, thinking there was no way I could handle 5 miles, 2 more than I had been doing in training but alas I ran the entire distance and felt as if I could have run even more after crossing the finish line!

Back to Florida

Achieving that goal led me into 10ks, half marathons and eventually triathlons. I returned to Florida following the internship to attend the DeVos Sport Management Program at the University of Central Florida where I would graduate with a MBA degree and a Masters in Sport Administration.

Throughout college and graduate school, I held the idea of being an entrepreneur very close to the vest as I had no idea what kind of business I wanted to start and therefore thought it was silly to even mention my aspirations of one day being my own boss. Since the entrepreneurial route wasn’t an option and really only a fleeting thought I set my sights on working with the best in the business. Having a strong passion for the game of golf, I completed an internship with the ANNIKA Foundation, founded by Hall of Fame golfer Annika Sorenstam, during my graduate studies. The ANNIKA Foundation promotes and teaches healthy living while trying to cut down the obesity rate amongst children. Learning about this issue further stoked my fires for a healthier lifestyle for not only myself but my family and friends as well. Following graduation I immediately took a position with the PGA TOUR in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL in the Tournament Business Affairs department

Tri-ing the Tri Lifestyle in Jacksonville

It was not until I moved to Jacksonville that I really started to think about doing a triathlon. I thought the Ironman in Kona was the only real event in the sport and had no idea the expansion and growth the sport had achieved over the years. Gradually I became bored with “just running” and tried my hand at triathlon and immediately fell in love.

 At a recent local tri, LLS Conquistadores Sprint Tri

During my time as a runner, even back into high school when I would run as part of my weightlifting program, I experienced major stomach issues and often times would get sick after a run, no matter the distance. As I grew into both sports, I took a closer look at my diet to see what issues there were and there were many!

I proceeded to do a lot of research and trial tests to see what worked for me and what didn’t. I also enlisted the help of friends and training partners. Eventually, I found what worked for me and even became a go-to source for others experiencing issues or wanting to try out a new sport.

The “Idea”

During the trial and error periods, I found the lack of assortment with regards to flavors, brands, and servings puzzling. I was in a rather large city yet had trouble finding the nutrition I needed. One morning after a training session, I thought of an idea to open a “healthy convenience store” which would cater to athletes and those seeking healthier options. I wanted “athlete hours” and bike racks to welcome people in. I did a ton of research on C-Stores or convenience stores as you and I know them. The more I researched, the more the idea morphed into other things.

Once I solidified my business plan, funding and location, I resigned from my position with the PGA TOUR in November of 2012 and moved back to my hometown of Vero Beach, FL. In the months leading up to my resignation, I spent many hours working on my e-commerce website and learning the ins and outs of setting up an online business. We officially launched on January 1, 2013.

KickStart Endurance Opens for Business

Since that time, I have opened our physical, brick and mortar retail shop in Vero Beach as well. We opened our doors on April 23, 2013 and have quickly become active in the running, triathlon, cycling and outdoor communities. It is my goal to not only be a retail store but also a resource for other athletes whether it be with diet, training, equipment etc. as well as a community place for people to gather and learn more.

Another important differentiator I am constantly striving to promote and improve upon is our selection of gluten-free, dairy free, and vegan friendly options for those who have a harder time finding such items to train and race with. I have organized our website to make it easier to find such items and often ask customers if they follow a specific diet. I do not offer products that contain questionable or illegal substances, are out of date, full of chemicals and preservatives or make extreme claims of greatness. In the business world and the nutritional word, often times you pay for what you get, so next time you see a certain brand on a website at half off, think to yourself about the integrity or condition of the product being sold to you.

Life of an Entrepreneur and Athlete

Being a 27 year old, female business owner certainly hasn’t been the easiest path but I am certainly enjoying the freedoms that come with owning a business. The work never stops but I get tremendous joy when a customer or a friend tries a new activity and succeeds after coming to me for help. Sport is a powerful tool and I want to use it in the most positive way as possible, as a motivator to improve ones’ self and those around us.

With regards to me personally, I am the mother to a wonderful Schnoodle (Schnauzer/Poodle) named Memphis who is with me just about every day at the store and even puts up with modeling our outdoor dog gear line, Ruff Wear. I am currently training for Ironman Augusta 70.3 and will be volunteering this summer at Ironman Lake Placid to register for the 2014 race!

I train in the early morning and late evening hours and travel to races to promote and sell our products as an expo vendor or sponsor on the weekend. Four great ambassadors who are each very accomplished in their own right support me as well and provide tremendous insight to their different diets, race distances and prior experiences. I am proud to see “KickStart Endurance” across their chest during their races. One such ambassador is Stephen Patterson, who won the HITS Half Iron distance race in Ocala this year and was a 2012 Kona qualifier!

Customer service is very important so if someone needs a question answered, hard to find item or last minute product, I strive to meet these needs and make the life of the athlete just a little easier.

 Jaclyn with her dog Memphis