How Does It Work is our version of a Proust Questionnaire, created to reveal the inner workings of interesting companies and their people programs. The GIST is a women-owned sports media start up that is gaining an increasing following in both Canada and the US. In 2021 TechCrunch reported that after 350% audience growth the previous year, the start-up raised an initial $1 million round of seed funding.
Location: Remote and distributed across North America.
Size: 17 full-time, around 15 part-time.
1. What do you as an organization value? If you have defined values, you can share them.
Roslyn, Co-Founder of The GIST: We definitely have some organizational values that we share with the team and work by. I think it’s also worth mentioning that our mission for the whole company is to level the playing field in sports, which means three things. One is equal coverage of men's and women's sports, two is bringing long outstanding female and non-binary voices to the forefront in sports and the third is making sports more accessible and inclusive to all sports fans.
Beyond that, we also have three values that are really important to us, they're teamwork, integrity, and excellence. Teamwork is all about having a team first mentality. We believe that an environment of open communication and collaboration, not only produces the best results, but also it's just fun to work at. Excellence is about being a high performing team that values and rewards excellence in our workplace. And then integrity means we're honest and transparent and accountable to our audience, our community, our partners and to each other. In a sports media startup that can manifest in a lot of different ways, from striving for the highest journalistic standards to making sure that we're leveraging numbers and data in a way that’s a true representation of reality in our internal reporting and what we report back to our brand partners.
2. If the GIST were a person who would they be?
Roslyn: The GIST would be your sporty, witty best friend who is super passionate about sports. She can't contain her excitement when telling you about what's happening in the sports world. She's also someone who understands that you might not be an avid sports fan or maybe that you’ve never felt traditional sports media resonated with you, so when she talks to you about sports, it's in a fun, straightforward, educational, and approachable way. She's also playful, genuine, and relatable and that's what makes you trust her. She's also not shy to share her perspective on social issues and how sports intersect with our culture. She's 100% a feminist and stands up for and amplifies underrepresented voices as well.
3. What's your internal tool stack?
Roslyn: We're pretty early as a start-up still, so nothing super sophisticated. For recruiting, we are using our email service provider, Campaign Monitor, to promote our different job openings as well as post stuff on our website built through Take Shape, our CMS. We also post to external job boards and use LinkedIn for prospecting.
Google Drive is where a lot of the hiring work, actually where all the work happens. All our onboarding content is there too. We are actually launching a rebrand and a new website in August that will leverage a tool called Job Board Fire, which we'll use to host all of our own open positions as well as open positions for other companies in the sports industry that are looking to hire more women into their organizations.
4. How are you structured? What's your management culture like?
Roslyn: We have three co-founders: myself, Ellen Hyslop and Jacie deHoop, and we each lead a different area of the organization. Ellen is our Head of Content and she oversees all of our content strategy and execution of our newsletter, podcast, social content. Jacie is our Head of Revenue, she oversees our revenue generation, mainly through brand partnerships. And I oversee all of our operations, finance and audience growth. Each of us has three to five full time team members that support each of those major areas.
Our organization is also really flat. With the size and stage of the company, each individual team member has a really big amount of responsibility and opportunity for impact in their role. As management, we feel our job is to empower each of our team members to really own their roles and impact at the company, while providing ambitious but achievable targets and milestones and guiding the general direction of the company. As co-founders, the three of us are still very involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization, so it’s also a very collaborative environment between us and our teams and we’re not afraid to roll up our sleeves and be in it with them.
Lastly, we're an all female co-founder team and full-time team so there's also probably more of the traditionally feminine traits and qualities at play in the organization—lots of support and care for our team, lots of collaboration, and a level of self-awareness.
5. What do you not care about as an organization?
Roslyn: Something that people are surprised about is that we don't really care about prior experience working in the sports industry. Since our company is here to disrupt the existing male-dominated legacy sports industry, we really do value people that can bring a new voice, perspective or way of doing things that's different from the existing sports media industry.
6. What do you look for in a new hire?
Roslyn: In addition to the experience and skills that we're hiring for, we also look for people that exhibit our core values of integrity, excellence, and teamwork. At our size and stage, we also definitely need people who are high performers that are going to come in and make things better than the way that they were before in the area that they're stepping into. We also absolutely need team players that are willing to help each other out and have a team-first mentality.
Beyond that, because our company is growing and evolving so quickly, it also requires our team members to grow quickly and be open to how their role is evolving. We definitely look for people with a growth mindset and that are okay getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. And then lastly, people who are really passionate about our mission too.
7. Do you have any interesting benefits or perks that you offer your team?
Roslyn: One fun one that is different from the corporate world that I came from is that we give everybody their birthdays off.
8. What's your hiring process like?
Roslyn: Well, we are very fortunate to be a media company that has an email list of half a million people, majority of whom are women who are interested in sports. So, that's really helpful for promoting our different open roles.
Usually we'll start by posting an open position on our website and then promoting it through our newsletter and socials. We have had success with getting great pools of quality candidates that way. Sometimes when we're recruiting for a more specific role or when we don't get a pool of diverse, quality candidates, we'll post it through LinkedIn or on some external job boards that might cater to the role that we're hiring for.
Typically after a resume screening we'll have a homework component, which can look like writing a couple of newsletter sections for a newsletter writer role, or it can be an Excel analysis test on the operations side. We like this because it shows us how people will perform in the role and it also can take some of the bias out of the hiring process. Then we'll have interviews, usually with one of the co-founders and one other person on the team. From there we'll make an offer.
9. What's been the most important move in your diversity and inclusion strategy or journey?
Roslyn: Diversity and inclusion is something that’s really ingrained into our organizational values and mission. Since our mission is around making sports more inclusive and accessible to all sports fans, this is something that is very consistently communicated in all of our content, and provides an opportunity to show our wider team what we stand for in terms of inclusivity, diversity and equity in our industry. Internally, it’s also something we’re very aware of in our hiring because we think inclusivity and diversity is a major competitive advantage as a media company. Ultimately having more diverse voices, backgrounds and life experiences on our team and team members that feel empowered to share those ideas and perspectives makes us stronger in our content and more appealing to a wider audience.
I would say that the most important move we’ve made has been to intentionally prioritize this throughout our recruiting and hiring processes and actively ensure we have a diverse pool of applicants at each stage of our process, from resume review, to homework, to all stages of interviews.
10. What's a people decision that you made that you regretted or had to walk back?
Roslyn: I think a place where we could have made a better decision on the people front was actually waiting too long to hire somebody who would dedicate time to people operations. That was a mistake because we definitely want to prioritize people and culture. But now we’re so happy to have somebody who is dedicating time to things like improving our onboarding and team culture and also get back quickly to people inquiring about anything HR-related.
11. What are you bad at as a company?
Roslyn: As it relates to people stuff, since this is the first company that we have started we're very new to how to set up an HR function so there are things we haven't been super proactive in setting up or where we've had to react to people on our team asking for things. In some cases we haven’t known the best way to navigate certain conversations or asks from the team.
While we definitely feel like we're moving in the right direction and have a lot of really awesome people initiatives and structure in place, we also know that there's a lot of room for improvement and that there's this best in class version of The GIST from a people perspective that we are working towards.
12. What's an unexpected thing that you splurge on as a company?
Roslyn: Something that we wouldn’t have necessarily thought would be as important as it is, is sending our full team together for company off sites twice a year.
We had our first off site ever in March of this year and it was so nice for people to meet each other in person that had only spoken to each other over Zoom. We rented a big cottage north of Toronto and flew everybody in. We did some work-related activities—we did a session on our values and we did a session where we had everyone fill out a “user guide” about them and had them present to one another. We had some fun social stuff too, like a foosball and air hockey tournament and friendship bracelet making.
13. What is a company practice or ritual that other people might find strange?
Roslyn: Hmm. People at other companies might feel that this is a distraction but our whole Slack is just a group of women going off about sports all the time. Our Slack is like our sports newsroom, it's organized chaos. When there’s a big game on that a lot of people are watching, we have a #random Slack channel and it will just be people's reactions to the game.
14. What type of person doesn't work well at your company?
Roslyn: I think coming back to the core values, anybody who is not a team player doesn't really work well.
15. What is your idea of failure as a company? How do you talk about failure?
Roslyn: As a startup that's testing out a lot of different things all the time, I feel like failure shouldn’t be framed as a bad thing at all. It can be something that we learn from. I think we try to take calculated, data-informed risks and use audience feedback to take a shot at something, but if something doesn't work, that's totally fine. It's just good that we tried it and learned from it.
16. Who do you think has the best or most unique job at your company?
Roslyn: Oh, that's tough. Everybody is very well suited to the roles that they're in. But I feel like it would be really amazing to be on the content team at our company, because it's so unique from what you would be doing at another sports media company. It's very unique to be at an all female sports media company getting to talk about sports in a way that actually feels authentic and right to you and getting to see the positive impact you make through the content you’re creating on our community and the sports industry at large everyday
17. When people leave The GIST, what's one thing you hope they have learned while working there?
Roslyn: One thing I hope people will have learned when they leave the GIST is that you can be successful in a business sense while also doing social good. There is an amazing business opportunity in women’s sports and in catering something that has previously felt exclusive to a massively underserved group.
18. What do you never want to become as a company or what's one trait you hope you never have?
Roslyn: I don't think we ever would want to be a company that loses sight of our values and our mission that we've set out to accomplish. And we would never want to be in a place where we're prioritizing a business metric over our mission, or the wellbeing of our team that's helping us get there.