Joyce Shulman of 99 Walks: “Engagement is also key”

Find the Balance between Aspiration and Achievable Goals. Dream big, and look for the sweet spot between goals that are easy to achieve and others that are out-of-reach. Build from there, and raise the bar as you go. As part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Very Successful Lifestyle […]

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Find the Balance between Aspiration and Achievable Goals.

Dream big, and look for the sweet spot between goals that are easy to achieve and others that are out-of-reach. Build from there, and raise the bar as you go.

As part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Very Successful Lifestyle Brand”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joyce Shulman, Co-Founder and CEO of 99 Walks: a wellness and walking lifestyle brand, community and app on a mission to get a million women walking.

A self-confessed idea junkie, Joyce traded her law career as a commercial litigator for an entrepreneurial journey focused on what mattered to her most: family, community and empowering women to get healthy, happy and chase their dreams all through the simple act of walking together.

Throughout her personal and professional life, Joyce’s regular walking practice has been her key for managing stress, fueling creativity and maintaining her health. After discovering that the research bears out all that Joyce learned instinctively, she and her husband and partner Eric Cohen started 99 Walks as a way to help women experience what recent studies have shown: that walking can also improve decision-making and executive function, combat depression, increase creativity and literally add years to one’s life.

In addition to being the “Pack Leader” at 99 Walks, Joyce is an author, speaker, TEDx veteran, podcaster and consultant for companies and women’s group, where she shares her expertise about how a consistent, intentional walking practice is life-changing.

Joyce received her Bachelors in Business Management from the University of Maryland and her JD Cum Laude, from St. John’s University School of Law. After law school, she spent more than a dozen years as a New York City lawyer where her practice focused on complex commercial litigation.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

As the daughter of a high school coach and professional dancer, I was raised to understand that movement and community are two essential pillars of a meaningful life. Moving my body and being part of a larger community of extended family and friends was just part of my life growing up. It’s where I learned first-hand about the power of connection and knew that, somehow, my life’s work would be connected to those ideals. It’s no surprise that all my entrepreneurial endeavors have had building a community at their core.

Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?

Each time I’ve started a business, the first question I ask myself is what kind of world will I be leaving for my kids and family and friends — and how can I make things better.

99 Walks came about after I saw two trends emerging within the community of women I had been growing over the last decade with my previous company. Most women feel isolated and lonely in an unprecedented way — even before the pandemic — while also facing a health and wellness crisis. I believe that these two things are related. We’re not meant to raise our families at the end of a long driveway behind a white picket fence. We were meant to live with connection and community, and oodles of research shows that we do better all the way around when we have it.

I wanted to create a space where women could connect with others while walking, as doing so enhances the experience, boosts wellness, and can help combat depression. It can also have a terrific impact on one’s productively, performance and creativity. There’s a whole bunch of science about this, but essentially walking engages one part of the brain while letting the other part wander and dream and explore.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There have been so many mistakes and so many lessons learned on our entrepreneurial journey.

Back in 1998, my husband and I had just quit very good jobs, sold our apartment, and left NYC to embark on our first business making the world’s first snack bar for dogs. We spent months developing the recipe, packaging and branding. Five months in, we built our first trade show booth in the backyard, shipped it to Las Vegas and days later were greeting buyers from major retailers at the year’s biggest pet industry trade show. We were beyond excited. The first five people walked into our booth and we told them about our new product — the world’s first energy bar for dogs. And five people said, “the last thing I want is to give my dog more energy.” That experience taught us two things. First, the importance of conducting market research before you create your product. Second, how to listen, be flexible and pivot … because when the sixth person walked into our booth, we introduced them to the world’s first nutrition bar for dogs.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World by Dr. Vivek Murthy. In this brilliant and readable book, Dr. Murthy explains why, during his time as Surgeon General, he came to believe that loneliness is underlying so many of our nation’s health and wellness challenges. It validated everything that I had come to believe when I founded 99 Walks.

Book of Joy by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams. So, it turns out that the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu are dear friends, and seriously, who wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall during a weekend that they spend together talking about life and loss and joy?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Over the years, I return again and again to this quote by Winston Churchill: “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” The entrepreneurial journey is, by definition, riddled with failure, and you need to not just learn the lesson that failure is rarely fatal, but somehow you have to discover the ability to maintain your excitement, enthusiasm and optimism. It ain’t easy.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, let’s define our terms.

How do you define a Lifestyle Brand? How is a Lifestyle Brand different from a normal, typical brand?

Community is at the core of every strong lifestyle brand as it elevates the customer experience by creating a strong sense of belonging and connection to something bigger than themselves. It has the power to inform other aspects of their lives, beyond the specific “product.” We often say at 99 Walks that we’re the kind of people who walk in the rain, and our members have taken that message to heart applying it as a of self-empowerment metaphor to other aspects of their lives.

What are the benefits of creating a lifestyle brand?

The power of connection. We are social beings — wired to crave and enjoy shared experiences. If you sell a pair of walking shoes but no lifestyle to go with it, those sneakers will sit unused, in the closet. If you create an authentic lifestyle brand and community where people feel as though they belong to something bigger than themselves — a movement — those worn sneakers will end up symbolizing reached goals and aspirations. Authentic community is the only way to have real impact. And that’s what true lifestyle brands offer better than anything else.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved Lifestyle Brand? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

I’m incredibly impressed with brands that lead with their mission first, community second and products that are intentionally designed, built and marketed with those priorities in mind.

There are several brands that come to mind.

Burton Snowboards has done a fantastic job doing all that and more. Jake Burton Carpenter practically invented the sport and lived the lifestyle he promoted. I’m blown away by his sheer, raw innovation. He had a vision for a product that didn’t exist and then created an entire culture around that product and activity. If you are a snowboarder, you identify as a snowboarder, and that means something to you and others in that community.

FUBU is also an incredible brand. Once again, it’s about creating a product that makes those who wear it feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. Even the meaning of the brand’s name, “For Us, By Us,” is all about inclusion and connection.

REI is another terrific example of an incredibly successful brand that puts their community first. In fact, it was started by a group of mountain climbers who needed products to support their passion. Community is at their core and they’ve grown exponentially by focusing not only on the products that they sell but more so on their customers’ and co-op members’ needs by engaging them in an authentic and innovative way.

And to me, the key that elevates a brand to a lifestyle is the sense of pride that customers feel due to their affiliation with the company and its products in conjunction with a company that honors and values its customers by creating and following a mission to make their lives better.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a lifestyle brand that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

I’ve talked a lot about community, but I also think it’s very important to make the experience fun and interactive.

Engagement is also key. Creating a place where people can not only connect, but also belong. A place where they will be heard and supported and encouraged to crush their own goals in their own time and connect with others who are doing the same thing is not only incredibly satisfying, but it’s also all about making a difference in the lives of those who are participating.

For me, it is about identifying a cohort of people who have a certain longing to learn, grow and evolve. It is about creating a place where people can not only connect, but belong.

I don’t want to create a solely aspirational brand. I don’t want people to look at us and think, “oh I want to be cool enough to be part of that.” I want people to look at us and think “oh, that is a place for me.” People really love a brand that celebrates who they are AND who they can be.

What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a lifestyle brand? What can be done to avoid those errors?

The biggest mistake is when new companies make their product or service all about them — they start with an agenda of what they want.

It’s essential to listen to your community — hear what is and isn’t working for them. And know from the get-go that your job is to help them to achieve what they want most for themselves using your brand to get there.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a lifestyle brand that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Start. Beginning is often the most difficult part of the journey.

Ask questions.

Listen to the answers (and this is where most people drop the ball).


Make mistakes.

Iterate some more.

Keep going.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Very Successful Lifestyle Brand” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Community First

Creating a place where people can come together and connect has never been more important or meaningful than during these challenging times. 99 Walks knows this and has created a space where women can connect both publicly and privately to support each other as they strive for and reach their walking goals.

Listen to Your Community

Always, always put the needs of the community first.

Find the Balance between Aspiration and Achievable Goals

Dream big, and look for the sweet spot between goals that are easy to achieve and others that are out-of-reach. Build from there, and raise the bar as you go.

Innovate and Grow — Don’t Be Afraid To Fail

Never be boring. Always be willing to try new things. I have failed many times and it is from those failures that has come my greatest success.

Don’t Be A B*tch, But Do Be a Badass

Respect your team. Be strong and generous and kind, tough and brave, with humor and passion as your guides. If you lead with these qualities and encourage your employees to feel a true sense of agency about their work, their productivity will be limitless.

Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I envisioned 99 Walks as a movement to get a million women walking as a way for them to actively and profoundly change their lives, and that’s exactly what we’re on track to do. Walking is just the beginning.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Of course Oprah Winfrey and Melinda Gates. They are icons, women whose lives and work underscore their understanding that their role as a global citizen is to do well AND do good. And that the way to make the most meaningful kind of impact is to create the path and way for others to join along in that journey so that we can all rise together.

I also have a bit of a professional crush on Verna Myers. She describes herself as a “cultural change catalyst, influencer and thought leader,” and she really is all those things, including a Harvard-trained lawyer, an author and now the VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix. I love her because she found a way to stay true to her desire to create a new order by helping to eradicate professional and personal obstacles created by unconscious bias, racism, and sexism by working as an advocate, and then by bringing those goals into a very commercial environment where she is able to amplify her impact.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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