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How Roslyn McLarty transitioned from a career in accounting to co-founding The GIST

On leading a women-run digital sports media startup, advice for women founders and essential reading

Roslyn McLarty

Credit: Roslyn McLarty

It’s been a while since we highlighted a Money Crush Monday, and who better to bring it back than Roslyn McLarty, the co-founder and head of growth, operations and finance at The GIST. The sports media brand, made by women for everyone, boasts an audience of 700,000 (and counting) people across its newsletters, podcast and social media platforms.

This interview was conducted by Taryn Carr and has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about your career and how you started The GIST?

As a CPA, my career path started with a business degree (where I met my two co-founders Ellen Hyslop and Jacie deHoop) and three years at a professional accounting firm.

It was in those three years of working and living in Toronto that my now co-founders and I noticed how sports are a part of our culture, create a sense of community and can be a powerful connector both socially and professionally. But we also noticed how sports can be exclusionary to women and those who don’t necessarily feel represented in the traditional sports media.

When I got together with my now co-founders one winter evening in 2017 to catch up over takeout and some wine, Ellen (who is a very passionate sports fan) was telling me and Jacie about the big Toronto Maple Leafs game that happened the night before.  

Jacie and I had heard about the game, but didn’t really feel part of the conversation – we just didn’t know the context behind the excitement. This sparked a conversation around why we felt the way we did, and we started to talk about how sports could feel like a boys club. We decided to start The GIST then and there, with the idea of bringing long-absent female voices to the forefront of sports news and in doing so providing a refreshing, inclusive and accessible perspective on both men’s and women’s sports.

In mid-2018, we quit our corporate jobs to pursue The GIST full-time after we were accepted into an incubator program—and we haven’t looked back since. Since the full-time launch of The GIST in 2018, we’ve grown our community exponentially, raised capital, hired an incredible team, brought on brand partners, expanded into the US and surrounded ourselves with a very supportive group of mentors and supporters.  

Btchcoin obviously loves a good newsletter, but how did you settle on this medium?

Honestly, we initially settled on a newsletter because it felt like the easiest way to get a minimum viable product to market and test out our concept of female-centric sports content. We also were all big fans of theSkimm at the time and observed from them how convenient and personal it was to get news straight to your email.

That said, the fact that by virtue of giving our readers ‘the gist’ and keeping our newsletter to a five-minute read, we’re sometimes limited in our ability to dive deeper into certain topics or break news. That’s why the podcast and social media have been awesome complementary platforms for our content.

The transition to podcast has been a fun one for my co-founder and our dead of content, Ellen, to explore. Because The GIST voice was initially inspired by her, that feeling of your fun, sporty best friend telling you about sports has carried over to the podcast well, but it’s definitely always a learning curve figuring out a new platform.

Can you give us some insight into your business model?

Our main revenue stream comes from brand partnerships. These are with brands that are looking to get in front of our niche, engaged audience of predominantly female sports fans via our newsletter, podcast and social media.

We work with brands to communicate their brand value to our audience in our signature GIST voice and in many cases we create content with them that allows us to introduce them to our audience in a fun, authentic and engaging way. In addition to brand partnerships, we also sell GIST merchandise directly to our audience and have earned revenue from events where we bring our GIST community together.

What challenges have you faced as female founders in a male-dominated industry?

The GIST sits at the intersection of the sports media industry and the startup world, which are both industries that have traditionally been (and remain) male-dominated.

It can be challenging to break into the industry and to get into the positions of power and influence needed to start balancing things out. However, with The GIST being a fresh new company built from the ground up by women and for everyone, we’ve allowed our female centricity to be a differentiator in a gender-imbalanced industry and a competitive advantage for us.

In the startup world, a common challenge faced by many women is fundraising. Again, in this industry, much of the power and capital is held by older, typically white, male networks. And the numbers show that there is a bias at play that results in the large majority of venture capital going to male founders.

The GIST has not been exempt from this statistic. We’ve definitely experienced the challenges of fundraising and have heard ‘no’ or ‘maybe later’ more times than we can count.

We’re very fortunate to have found a group of angel and strategic investors who believe in our market, our vision and our team’s ability to execute on it. We’ve recently arrived at a level of sustainability in our business that allows us to be more in control of our own destiny.

Advice for female founders?

Leverage your perspective. Use your unique experiences, perspectives and talents to build something that’s meaningful to you and that’s missing from the world or solves a problem in a unique way. Many of the products for women out there were created by men. As women who actually use the products and services we experience the issues and see gaps in the products. Because we’re the consumer, women are in a very strong position to understand the target market, build a better product or see opportunities that have been overlooked. Have confidence in yourself and your idea.

Companies that have been built by men don’t need to be the example you look up to. We have an opportunity as female leaders to build companies and cultures in a way that feels right to us. Just because our society values the more ‘masculine’ energy characteristics, like hustle, productivity and analysis doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t also use the more ‘feminine’ energy characteristics—like empathy, creativity and intuition—to create a competitive advantage. Ultimately, you need a balance of both so don’t get caught up in the former set of characteristics all the time because that’s what you feel you “should” be doing. The best ideas and decisions come when you give yourself space to rest and think thoughtfully rather than when you’re chasing down the endless to-do list.

Check in with yourself to make sure you’re aligning yourself to your values in the decisions you’re making in building your company. It will feel a lot better and will probably lead to better results, too.

What’s next for The GIST?

Our vision is for The GIST to be the go-to source for sports for underserved sports fans.

We’re very proud of what we have accomplished thus far, but we feel like we’re just scratching the surface in terms of the value we’re providing our GISTers (our audience) and in terms of leveling the playing field in sports.

We recently expanded into a new sports business vertical, starting with a 3x-weekly newsletter that provides coverage on the business side of women’s sports. And we’re planning for a third newsletter this fall. We’ll also be launching a rebrand this summer and we can’t wait to share our new look with our audience.

Beyond this year, we’re really excited to continue expanding our channels, verticals and offerings in new and exciting ways that continue to add value for our community.

Now for the fun part: What are some of your current favourite podcasts, books and TV shows?

Podcasts: The Reset and We Can Do Hard Things for personal growth. Digiday, Founders Journal and Work Life for work. And, of course, The GIST of It for sports.

Books: I just finished While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams and Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty (I love a good mystery). For work, Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0 is a favourite and I’m currently reading The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky.

TV: I always look for something light and fun! For that, I like Mindy Kaling’s shows Never Have I Ever and The Sex Lives of College Girls. They were hilarious.

What are some of your work from home essentials?

Coffee and bubbly water, biker shorts, AirPods and a second screen.

How do you start your mornings to ensure you have a productive day ahead?

My best, most productive days start with a workout, coffee, a meditation (my favourite is Chopra app) and sitting down to make a to-do list and block time in my Google Calendar before jumping in. This doesn’t always happen, but it’s what I shoot for!