Kevin Roche – Co-Founder & CTO, Wellthy

Kevin Roche is the co-founder and CTO of Wellthy, Inc. based in New York City. Wellthy is a modern care coordination service, helping the 66 million Americans who care for sick and aging loved ones.

Prior to founding Wellthy, Kevin was a VP at Goldman Sachs and led a team of developers building strategic platforms for the bank.

Kevin received a BS in Computer Science and Mathematics from Northeastern University and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Tell us about the early days of Wellthy.

From the beginning, my co-founder Lindsay Jurist-Rosner and I were committed to building what we call a family-first business. That was the foundation upon which Lindsay had approached me to co-found the company so it has always been important to us. Neither of us had professional backgrounds in healthcare but we were both passionate about providing a modern solution for the growing caregiving crisis in the US.

We translated this passion into obsessing over the quality of customer experience from day one. Thankfully, it paid off as our earliest customers became our champions in sharing amazing testimonials, which led to word-of-mouth growth. The overwhelmingly-positive feedback continues today and is an important source of ongoing motivation for the whole company. Reminding ourselves of these daily stories of the lives we change is a big factor in helping us work together to overcome challenges.

Wellthy started as a direct-to-consumer business since we wanted to focus on building the perfect experience for families, without worrying about other stakeholders. While we still offer this, we weren’t able to grow that business as quickly as we had hoped, so we began rigorously testing various growth channels. This willingness to experiment and quickly iterate allowed us to make the most of our runway. It turned out that providing care coordination to caregivers as an employer benefit was a very promising opportunity and is now the core of our business.

A few years ago, employers weren’t necessarily aware of the caregiving challenges their businesses face but through persistence and education, companies across the country and across different industries are realizing they have this silent crisis that they need to address. Incentives are well-aligned since both the employer and the families want what’s best for the caregiver and their families. Employers get increased productivity, presenteeism, retention, and loyalty, while the employees receive invaluable assistance in one of the most important and stressful areas of their lives. That said, we continue to look at other ways we can provide this critical solution to as many caregivers as possible, while never sacrificing the family-first and mission-driven model we have built from the beginning.

Cindy Lee – Founder, President & CEO, LYNC Logistics

Before founding LYNC Logistics, Cindy served as vice president of human resources at a large commercial truck dealership, then as president of a regional freight carrier operating more than 50 trucks. Raising three daughters honed her ability to detect malarkey in all its forms.

Tell us about the early days of LYNC Logistics.

Necessity is the mother of invention. I had been managing our family’s trucking company, Lesco Logistics, for several years and it was time to make some changes. Trucking is one of the most frustrating but engaging businesses I have ever been in. It was a love-hate relationship. I loved the challenges and the drivers but hated dealing with freight brokers. The brokerage model is like insurance – you have to have it but you really just grit your teeth every time you have to use it. I kept thinking, “There has to be a better way.” We needed to be the masters of our own fate. Years ago, the trucking company (in 2000) tried getting into the brokerage business – it was a disaster. Someone in the office forgot to verify if the trucking company had insurance….oops. The truck hauling the freight rolled over ten minutes after leaving the shippers, and the financial and emotional damage lasted a long time.

In the fall of 2013, we bit the bullet and decided to open a brokerage separate from the trucking company. In a really pleasant southern voice, I demanded to start, fund, and run this business. I wanted to build something on my own. I called my grown daughters and asked them very nicely, “Remember all of the good stuff you got as kids – the cars, the trips, and that great college education you got? Well, payback has arrived. I need some money to start a brokerage. You’ll be stockholders. It will be a good investment.”

LyncAmerica was born on May 1, 2014 as a woman-owned business. In 2018, LyncAmerica was rebranded as LYNC Logistics, LLC. The fate of this company was in my totally-unprepared hands. The first hire was interesting to say the least and to say it didn’t turn out well was an understatement. Lesson learned, when someone says that they had a dream they should work for you, it might be other things talking. I moved a couple of people over from the trucking side; we moved a little freight. Six months in, I made the best hire of all – the moment I met Keith Gray, I knew he had the same vision as I did. Lync grew rapidly, Keith brought Mat Soloff into the business, and things began to turn. Hiring has been one of the hardest things in this business. You must find someone who not only has the skills, but also who fits into the culture. In a new business, it is important that everyone, including the owner, understands that all ideas are worthy and that stars should be in the sky, not the office.

The company grew quickly from the start. Revenues doubled every year. The rapid growth quickly brought up the main issue all new companies face: cash management. We were rocking along basking in the glory and then one day reality struck. I approached several banks that my husband and I had both business and personal relationships with in the past. LYNC wanted to get a revolving credit line to help with cash. The first bank wanted a personal guarantee, no problem…then they wanted me to move the money behind the guarantee into their bank. Another lesson learned in this process – women and men are not treated equal in the financial markets. The trucking company had numerous loans given without that kind of ask, but they said it was different with us. I went to another bank in town, who bent over backwards to make the credit line happen. They embraced the fact that we were a woman-owned business and have always been there when any need arises. We have been able to grow with their help.

Starting a company brought out every insecurity I have ever had. Am I smart enough? Bright enough? What happens if I screw it up, and the employees hate me? Would I lose all of my savings? All the people I had convinced to leave their secure jobs and take a chance with me, how could I let them down? If that sounds like a lot of I’s, it is. I took everything on my shoulders. Every day, I would sit in my car in front of the building thinking that today would be the day someone discovered I was an impostor. Once I acknowledged the phenomenon to my team, things got better, but the real saviors were Google, the Internet, and incredible female friends. Because of them, I am able to walk in the building, face the day, and get through it without throwing up.

LYNC Logistics, LLC has been very fortunate. Rapid growth allowed us to place on the Inc. 500 list in the first year we were eligible (2018) – we came in at #415. In 2019, we placed #366 on the list. We were named a Best Place to Work by Inc. and LYNC was named the third fastest-growing women-owned/led company by the Women’s President Organization. Women in Trucking also honored LYNC with 2019’s top woman-owned business.

What are some of your favorite books?

Books have always been a huge part of my life. The first book that I remember reading was Cindy Goes To Space, around 1962. For a child who grew up in the 60’s, the thought that I could be anything but a housewife, teacher, or a secretary was mind boggling. From that point on, I used reading as a way to increase my perspectives, to learn about the world way beyond a small city in Tennessee. Books have become both my escape and my saviors. With the business, I am constantly looking for information that will help in sales, development, and leadership. The one book that I think has had a big impact on our employees is Fanatical Prospecting by Jeb Blount. He states that there is no magical way to make sales but that it takes persistence. His book gives salespeople the tools to achieve more success, especially in the brokerage field where you just make call after call until you get a toe in the door. Several of our employees have done the Dale Carnegie course How to Win Friends & Influence People. I bought the book by the same name (it was exactly what I needed at that moment) and have determined that we will offer all of the managers a chance to take the course. Personally, I found the book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women by Valerie Young, Ed.D. to be enlightening when my anxiety and fear of being an impostor was at its worst. It worked better than the Xanax that my doctor wanted to prescribe. The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman has provided insights into developing the belief in yourself to combat insecurities. Billion Dollar Whale by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope was an interesting read though I don’t think any of Bernie’s tactics would serve me well in business. High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove is on my nightstand currently. Then, of course, there is the fiction on my reader, my phone, and on every flat surface in my house allowing me to always have an escape nearby.

Todd Wolfenberg – CEO, Yoga International

I’m a leader and chief executive with a passion for working with diverse teams to find innovative ways to solve complex issues in the rapidly changing digital space.

I’m currently CEO of Yoga International, a global digital media company that serves 300,000+ members with exclusive content on yoga, ayurveda, meditation, and mindful living on a subscription basis. Our entire mission is centered around helping people live happier, healthier lives by making yoga more available, inclusive, and accessible to all.

As chief executive, I’ve led the organization through a time of tremendous growth. Since 2012, we’ve expanded our user base to over 300,000 members, have established a network of 500+ expert teachers and writers who create content for our members, and have grown our in-house team from 8 to 45+ full-time employees.

Before Yoga International, I worked in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors, where I managed a wide array of businesses from real estate to retail sales to e-commerce.

I believe in using my platform for social good and have a passion for social-impact projects. Most recently, I joined Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and other business leaders to discuss strategies for closing the digital divide.

Outside of work, I enjoy spending quality time with my family, playing sports, meditating, and outdoors activities.

Tell us about the early days of Yoga International.

We didn’t start completely from scratch because we had an existing print magazine. This made it both easier and harder—easier because we had content, but harder because we had to create an entirely new model both for our employees and our customers. When we transitioned to being a purely digital organization, we lost a lot of our existing customer base. This was hard and painful, but also necessary to go where we knew we needed to go.

Three months after we launched YogaInternational.com, we were served with a cease-and-desist letter from another online yoga platform that was patenting its camera angle. At first, this seemed like a major roadblock in that we could no longer film classes in an easy, standard way, but it actually became a blessing as we shared the patent news with the yoga community and received a massive outpouring of support.

In the early days, we leveraged everything in order to maximize growth—our contacts, our assets, our brand, everything. We had no marketing budget, eight employees, and a willingness to do anything to figure things out. We worked from desks that we had repurposed from the doors of an old barn nearby. Non-attachment was a huge factor in our success and growth. We had to iterate daily in order to figure out what was working—marketing, content, strategy, pricing, audience. This helped us organically grow our Facebook reach from 40,000 followers in mid-2013 to 500,000 followers a year later.

As we grew our team from 8 in 2015 to 45 in 2019, we have focused on three key things: culture, innovation, and values. The workplace culture is prioritized above all else. It has to be fun and lively and supportive. Reinvesting in our people has yielded amazing results. Innovation is at our core. We have launched all kinds of new digital programs, new collaborations with yoga teachers, and new technology. Plus, our marketing has to be innovative as trends and technology constantly change. Finally, we have to always keep our core mission of making yoga inclusive and available to all, and keep in mind and remember that our product is for the benefit of the end-user. We want to help people feel better and more healthy in both mind and body, and we have to stay in integrity with our employees and all of the teachers we work with.

These three focuses helped us reach the Inc. 500 list in 2018 and 2019, ranking as one of the 122 fastest-growing private companies in America. We also won “Inc. Best Workplaces” in 2019 and are planning rapid expansion in 2020.

Kristen Denzer – Founder & CEO, Tierra Encantada

Kristen Denzer is the founder and CEO of Tierra Encantada. Kristen has a Bachelor’s in Political Science and Psychology, a Master’s in Advocacy and Leadership, and has completed doctoral work (ABD) in Educational Policy and Administration. Kristen started her first entrepreneurial endeavor in 2008 – an event rental company. She grew that company from 20 events to 500 events annually in just six years. While operating the successful event rental company, she started a second business in 2010 with a childhood friend called The Woof Room – a dog daycare and boarding facility. She managed to grow both to serve thousands of clients each year. She continued to operate all three businesses until 2016 when she sold her event rental company and dog daycare facility to focus solely on Tierra Encantada. Today, Tierra Encantada has four corporate locations in Minnesota (five in 2020), multiple franchised locations in the works, and over 100 full-time employees. Kristen is actively involved in the community and serves on the Board of Directors of Women Venture and the School Board of her children’s school. When she is not working, she enjoys spending time with her family and exploring the world. Her exploits have included gorilla trekking in Rwanda, hot air ballooning in Cappadocia, and playing with seals in the Galapagos.

Tell us about the early days of Tierra Encantada.

In 2013, while struggling to find childcare that reflected my values, the idea for Tierra Encantada first came to life. I had already started several businesses that I was operating at that time. When you start and grow successful businesses as a 23/24/25-year-old, you start to feel a bit invincible by age 29. Like you can do anything. That was how I felt starting Tierra Encantada, and wow I was I wrong. I figured how hard could it be? Well, let me tell you, childcare is A LOT different than other types of businesses. It’s highly regulated and capital intensive. I made many, many mistakes with my first location and I learned a lot.

Tierra Encantada was the first business that I started that needed outside capital and got my first Small Business Administration loan. I grossly-underestimated how much money I needed for pretty much everything – particularly working capital. When we opened that first day in July of 2013, we had more full-time employees than we had children enrolled! It was my first brush with failure, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that I had two other successful businesses in addition to Tierra Encantada, I may not be where I am today. Those first six months I poured money into the business. I exhausted all the working capital I had asked for within the first two months and put every penny I had into Tierra.

Fortunately, after much trial and error, I figured out what worked – and what didn’t – and about a year after we first opened our doors, we finally hit break even. And of course, like any serial entrepreneur, I immediately started thinking about what’s next. That was five years ago, and in that time, we have experienced exponential growth, which is what landed us on the Inc. 5000 (774% growth in three years) this year. I went on to purchase a building and opened Tierra Encantada – Bryant (2016), which went on a waiting list within a few months of opening. In 2018, I purchased my largest building yet – a church – and redeveloped it into Tierra Encantada – Windom, which filled all 200+ spaces before we even opened our doors.

This year has been an exciting year for Tierra Encantada. I opened location #4 (Tierra Encantada – Seward), and launched franchising in late Spring 2019. Within months of launching franchising, we already awarded a multi-unit deal to open locations in Charlotte and Houston and have multiple other deals in the works. We also have our corporation location #5 currently under construction (Tierra Encantada – Hiawatha), our first new construction location. I’m very excited for the future, and I feel incredibly thankful to have a truly amazing team that helped make this possible.

Tierra Encantada is the leader in Spanish immersion early education. Tierra Encantada provides care for children ages six weeks through six years of age. Our fresh-cooked, organic meals are designed to expand children’s young palates and we are proud to use cloth diapers in our program to do our part to help reduce waste.

Deeanne Akerson – Co-Founder & CEO, Kindred Bravely

Deeanne Akerson is the co-founder and CEO of Kindred Bravely. As a mathematician and former teacher, Deeanne has always loved numbers and problem-solving, but she didn’t begin her journey as a business owner and entrepreneur until after she became a mother. A year after the birth of her second son, when she became frustrated with the lack of options in nursing wear, Deeanne started designing her own clothing. Soon after, Deeanne and her husband launched Kindred Bravely, which they lovingly refer to as their third child. Creating stylish, comfortable, and functional clothing is only one part of Deeanne’s vision; she wants to inspire a community of moms who support and empower each other, helping them to recognize their inherent value and beauty. When she isn’t busy with her boys or business, Deeanne loves running, hiking, backpacking, and traveling. She and her family are often found spending time at one of their favorite beaches in San Diego County.

Talk to me about the early days of Kindred Bravely.

Kindred Bravely started almost five years ago when my youngest son was one and still breastfeeding frequently. I was on the hunt for a comfortable pair of nursing pajamas, and they were on both my Christmas and birthday lists that year. After searching in all the stores close to me, I turned to online. While I found a few sets that were passable, nothing was exactly what I was looking for: they had to be comfortable, cute, and actually functional!

One night, late after our two boys were finally asleep, I found myself in the office with my husband (a serial entrepreneur). He was actively looking for his next business idea when I was trying on the nursing PJs I had ordered online. As I sorted the options, nothing was quite right. I liked the top of one set, the bottoms of another, the fabric of a third, but none of them had the drape I was looking for. I casually asked him if he would consider making breastfeeding/maternity clothing, as I knew exactly what a nursing mom was looking for. Well, he did a bit of research, and within a few weeks, we had decided on our first joint business venture together – creating comfort for new and expecting moms!

I started with exactly the product I was looking for, my perfect pair of nursing pajamas. They would be exquisitely soft, feminine, and stylish enough to wear all day even if company came by to meet the new baby. Soon, we were driving to Los Angeles every weekend to meet with a pattern maker and visit the fabric markets. After a few rounds of samples, we were ready to go into production. It took $7,000 of our savings to fund the first production, and we spent our nights getting ready to launch our brand with our first product, the Davy Pajamas in black.

It took a ton of work to do everything; mostly, because we were doing it ourselves or waiting for contractors to help at odd hours. Since we were still working day jobs, most of the work happened after we put our kids to bed. Of the first 500 sets ordered, I probably gave about 200 of them to friends, relatives, and neighbors – anyone who might possibly enjoy them and give some helpful feedback online. Then one day, someone placed an order, and neither my husband nor I had given them a promo code. Our first sale! What an incredible feeling that someone who didn’t know me personally wanted to buy what I had created!

Customers raved about how comfortable my first product was and they quickly gave feedback that they also needed comfort for their changing breasts – so the second product I developed was our bestselling French Terry Nursing Bra. That’s when we really gained traction, and when I realized that Kindred Bravely was going to be a success. Since that day, we have grown our team, which has allowed us to continue growing our product line. Over the next few years, our products were nominated for (and won) several awards that recognized our efforts to make moms’ lives easier and more comfortable. One of the products I’m most proud (and which took 2.5 years to get right from design, to concept, to patent) of is a hands-free pumping and breastfeeding bra.

Two years after launching, we were named one of Shopify’s fastest-growing online retailers, and we were chosen as one of the eight winners for the “Shopify Build a Bigger Business” award. We were honored to ring in the NYSE opening bell and receive mentoring for a week. In 2019, just four years after launching, we were honored to be named #20 on Inc.‘s list of the 5000 fastest-growing privately held companies in the USA! We’ve been recognized for our unique remote workforce of amazing mostly work-at-home moms who are committed to our vision and desire a place where they don’t have to choose between work and family. I’m committed to bringing mom’s comfort and community through Kindred Bravely, and I can’t wait to see where we go in the next few years.