Can you tell us about the cohort that’s coming up? The goals of what it is, how long it lasts, and whatnot?
Jaclyn: The program is called “Founded in Philly, Series 1.” It is intended for what we call “Idea Stage startups.” What this means is that these are individuals who basically came to us with an idea, and they need support with validating that idea and getting that idea off the ground. Basically, turning that idea into a reality. It’s the earliest touch point of the entrepreneurial funnel. We accepted 20 people, some of them are just on their own, some of them already do have a cofounder. Again, that initial stage is having just formed an LLC.
Bryan: What would support look like for those guys? Say I’m a new entrepreneur and I’m just starting, what kind of support can expect from either your team internally, or other people that sit on the chair, or even people who have been in the program before. What’s that work process look like?
Jaclyn: The program itself is 12 weeks. Consistently we have weekly sessions that are led by 1-2 startup leaders who speak and then each session in addition to that startup leader have 4-5 mentors in the room. From a PSL staff perspective, we are supporting them consistently throughout the 12 weeks and beyond that. Then the broader community is involved each week by being there to speak to them and do interactive activities with them. That’s 5-6 additional people outside of our staff each week. Also, being a part of the program, it gets you a lot closer to our board seats. A lot of our board people are involved in the program, but if anyone wants to meet them or get a meeting with them, all they have to do is ask.
Bryan: How stressful is it, on these founders? How many hours are they putting in? Obviously growing a startup – especially in the early stages – is very, very stressful because you’re so unsure of yourself, right? It’s almost like “imposter syndrome” the whole entire time. How does stress affect these founders?
Jaclyn: Stress is the main theme amongst all these early stage founders that I meet with. I end up being, throughout the program, honestly, a therapist. The emotional support that we provide as a staff, but also amongst each other is one of the main components of why this program is so valued. Essentially, they’re sacrificing themselves for the future of the company that they’re building. They, by default, are putting their own personal health and sanity at the bottom of their priorities list. They have high levels of stress from every angle; from the investors, customers, employees, family, whatever. What’s specific to this program is that it’s designed so that you can still have a full time job. You don’t need to be a full time founder because we obviously understand the realities of the dream of wanting to start a business and the financial situation that you might have. We work with them to sort of find that balance. But the stress in and of itself – they’re working 60+ hours per week in terms of their full time job and their side hustle. They are constantly up against unrealistic expectations. We believe that this leads to a dangerous cycle that could end in burn out.
Bryan: I completely agree! As I mentioned before about the “imposter syndrome,” it is such a big part of what happens to founders, especially when you’re sitting in a little room by yourself trying to figure all this stuff out. I can imagine being in your environment and having a “mother hen” like yourself, but also having other founders who are going through the exact same thing. This would be sort of a huge relief for all these founders, don’t you think? It’s almost justification: “I’m doing this and this is the right thing.” While I have all these other people who have been successful doing it, I also have, for lack of a better word, these team members, who I can struggle with and bounce ideas back and forth. It’s a great, great environment.
Obviously, we started this conversation because I approached you about doing something with PSL on the idea that growing a startup is a relatively unhealthy thing – or it can be a relatively unhealthy thing if not taken seriously. What we discussed is doing a series of events to keep health and wellness top of mind for these startup founders, right? What we agreed upon is that on a monthly basis starting in February we are going to do a wellness event where all the cohorts of the Founded in Philly series can come out and take a free Soulcycle class or a yoga/meditation class which LEON will manage and host.
If you could touch on why health and wellness is important to you as an individual, but also why you think it’s important to startup founders and companies as a whole.
Jaclyn: For me personally, it’s extremely important. I am someone who believes that in order to have a healthy life, you have to implement a healthy lifestyle; it’s literally incorporated into your everyday: foods you’re eating, exercises you’re doing, sleep, all of that. I practice that. I’m a huge yogi. That’s why prioritizing that as an individual is one thing, and then being this “mother hen” to this group of entrepreneurs that I so admire because they’re taking risks and making their dreams come true. But they don’t have anyone holding them accountable to prioritizing their own wellness. As an organization, this program is to develop these founders and we believe that in order to do that, their wellness goes hand in hand. The reason I wanted to do this partnership is because it is a great opportunity for us to make it clear that we not only encourage, but expect this self-care. Also, that they are aware of – and we can help make them aware of – different tools, resources, and support systems right here in Philly at their disposal. That way they can embrace wellness and therefore embrace their founder’s development. We also want to help them implement realistic goals. Whether that be around stress, sleep, energy levels, exercise, or mental health, those are all things that we as an organization don’t specialize in ourselves, but our staff is extremely passionate about it and we implement it everyday into the culture of PSL… so how can that further bleed into how we develop these founders. That’s why this partnership was important to me.
Bryan: We work with a lot of startups and it’s funny how you’ve seen the “grind or die” or the #hustlehard has almost gone by the wayside. It’s actually very interesting that the expectations are there to get your job done, but it’s a much more fluid environment. If you would have said, even 10 years ago, that a founder wasn’t working 80-100 hours a week, it was a ridiculous statement because founders were expected to do that. But you don’t see that as much anymore, which is actually an enlightening thing. Ultimately, you’ll have happier people and happier and healthier companies.