Roslyn McLarty, on building a women-led digital sports media company for excluded sports fans

Tell us about yourself!

My name is Roslyn McLarty and I’m a co-founder of The GIST, a female-led sports media company I founded with my two friends that’s all about making sports more fun, inclusive and accessible for underserved sports fans. We provide a fun and refreshingly female voice on sports through a 3x-weekly newsletter, social media, and a podcast. At The GIST, I oversee everything finance, operations and growth related. As a CPA by training, I love using data, numbers and analysis to drive business decisions. But I’m also an empathetic person who cares deeply about my team and working with my co-founders to build a culture and company where our employees are excited to show up to work. Outside of work I like to cook, read, listen to podcasts, spin and practice yoga.

Techstars is so cool! Tell us more about that experience? What was your biggest learning curve?

Yes! Techstars was so valuable to us and will probably be one of our favourite memories in building The GIST. We went through the 2019 Comcast NBCUniversal Lift Labs Powered by Techstars (it’s a mouthful) program in Philadelphia. As a Canadian company, it was incredibly helpful for us to start expanding our American network and we actually used it as a launching pad to expand our business into the US. Beyond that though, the program was so supportive in terms of mentorship, training, resources and especially the other founders in our cohort going through all the same challenges and growth as us.

How did you come up with the idea for The Gist? Any upcoming launches you can tease us with?

It’s a fun story. When I got together with my two now co-founders, Ellen and Jacie (who were friends from business school at the time), 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 a big hockey game that happened the night before that she was really excited about.

Jacie and I had heard about the game throughout the day, but reflected that we hadn’t really felt a part of the conversation around it – we just didn’t know the context behind the excitement, and so we couldn’t fully understand why the game was such a big deal. 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. For us, sports were an intimidating space and it was difficult to be a casual fan, especially as a woman or as someone that didn’t feel represented in traditional sports media. This feeling, we learnt, stemmed from a massive gap in gender diversity in sports, with less than 14% of sports journalists being female, and less than 4% of media coverage is on female athletes. So we decided to do something to address this gender gap — and that’s how The GIST was born. A year later, we quit our corporate jobs to pursue The GIST full time and haven’t looked back since!

In terms of what’s next for The GIST, I won’t promise too much yet, but I will say our long term vision is for The GIST to become the go-to source for sports for underserved sports fans. We’re very proud of what we’ve built so 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’re actually currently in the process of closing $1M in financing, which we intend to use to scale up our growth, team, and offerings so you can expect lots from us this year!

Our long term vision is for The GIST to become the go-to source for sports for underserved sports fans

How did you work to create such an empowering community?

Hmm good question! I think it all stems from our company’s larger purpose of levelling the playing field in sports. We really believe in the power of centering women’s voices in the creation of sports content, in equal coverage on men’s and women’s sports and in catering a top notch offering to an audience that has been overlooked and underserved by the existing sports industry. Our team really embraces that purpose in everything we do, from how our team operates internally to the content we put out and the way we interact with our community. We also have a zero tolerance policy for any racist, sexist or otherwise demeaning comments, which unfortunately, is not something you always see in traditional sports media and communities.

Since founding the Gist, what’s been your biggest achievement? Biggest setback?

My proudest moments building our company include leaving my accounting job to work on The GIST full time, the first time we paid ourselves a paycheck, being named to Forbes 30 Under 30, and most recently, oversubscribing on a $1M fundraise! All that said, it was tough early on being female founders trying to raise money at the intersection of two very male dominated spaces - sports and the startup/tech world. A lot of the potential investors we had conversations with were men. And while there have been some really amazing men who completely believe in The GIST’s value and upside potential, there are others that just didn’t really understand the problem we were solving, the value of our solution, and the massive business opportunity we were sitting on.

What is the biggest lesson the pandemic has taught you?

In a world where a lot of the external things that bring people happiness - seeing family & friends, travel, your favourite gym or restaurant, going out and socializing - are taken away, I’ve learned how meaningful it is to have work that I care about and that is intrinsically motivating. The fact that I get to work on something everyday that gives me a sense of purpose, that challenges me to grow, and where I can see the direct impact of my work - and alongside people I love nonetheless - is something that has really helped me get through the pandemic and makes me especially grateful to do what I do.

Stress is real! What’s your go to stress reliever and how do you take time for yourself while running a start-up?

To be honest it’s been challenging in the pandemic to separate work from everything else when you’re limited to your space and have less things to do outside of work! It can be so hard to shut off your brain. That said, I’ve found it really helpful to make sure I’m moving my body regularly, journaling, taking time off on the weekend and consuming media that is truly just for the fun of it and isn’t tied to work, self improvement or anything else that feels like effort.

As you know, Community is everything to us, how has your community helped you? Personally & professionally.

Being a founder is such a unique experience - one that’s filled with uncertainty, new challenges, and a ton of personal and professional growth. It’s very different from the career paths many of my close friends have taken. Because of that, it’s been very meaningful to be a part of communities with other founders and entrepreneurs that can fully identify with the struggles, appreciate the significance of a major win and offer support in either scenario. I’ve learned so much from fellow founders - both tactical things that can be applied in running the business and also personal things like how they’re approaching their full lives as entrepreneurs and multi-faceted human beings! It’s been so comforting knowing there are others who are going through the same things and that support you wholeheartedly.

Enjoy this? You'll LOVE Diem. Join here.