“High school athletes are dodging the hard work of academics. They’ll learn, once they’re in the real world, that balls and rackets are a waste of time. You, Jessica, you focus on your grades.”
And with those definitive words spoken by my father during my freshman year of high school, any athletic promise inside of me died as I stuck to extra credit, AP exams, and class elections. I exercised my cerebrum as my snubbed arms and legs stayed skinny, used only to flail a bit for emphasis during debate club.
We all tend to adopt particular things our parents say in irrational ways. Little did I know that Dad’s words would come back to haunt me 10 years later.
Just 2 years after graduating with honors from a very good school on the East Coast, I founded a healthcare startup that enables pharma and medical device companies (enterprise-level) to micro-target individuals on a hyper granular level (way beyond just targeting) so that their products’ marketing messages speak directly to the consumers they want (like compelling whispers, not like those obnoxious billboards). It’s rather brilliant. The thing is, we needed cash to grow.
THE NEED FOR CASH
To prove that our platform could out-platform the competition, we needed to hire another data scientist, someone who could handle operations and finance, and an engineer who didn’t wreak of marijuana every, single, fricking day. I was the one out hustling for funding, and it’s tough out there, especially — in case you hadn’t heard — for women. That’s not an excuse. Look it up. It’s more difficult for us.
After a few dire months, I got an intro to a junior-level analyst at a venture capital firm. That guy passed along my name to another guy, and things started to really lookup. I got an appointment with the bigwig. We met in his glassed-in, fourth-floor office. The junior-level analyst took notes. I fielded the bigwig’s pointed questions.
Regarding my as-yet-meager advisory board, “We have two experts on deck to join the board. Just a matter of a conversation to secure their commitment.”
Our lean funding plan, “We have been playing it safe to establish viability. Now is the time to strike.”
And how we were going to scale, “Funds raised in this first round will be used to build staff and sell into mid-sized markets. From there, we attack a larger scale.”
To use a sports phrase I learned from a book, I knocked it out of the park. Zero flinches.
“Great to meet you, Jessica. Let’s set up a time to meet later this week. It’s going to be beautiful out. You play golf?”
“Of course,” I said, with only a slight flinch.
Inside the elevator outside his office, I studied my reflection in the closing metal doors. My cheeks flushed with victory. A smile stretched across my face. And then the reality that an athletic activity might stand between me and my entrepreneurial dreams. I went to press “L” for lobby but instead hit the red “alert-the-first-responders-cuz-check-out-the-depth-of-this-shit” button. Cancel, cancel, cancel!
THE PANIC SETS IN
It was Wednesday afternoon. Bigwig scheduled a tee time for Friday morning. I had 39 hours to learn golf. On a mastery level of 1-10, I was shooting for an 8.
At home, I Skyped with the team on the incredible progress made today and the next steps. I did not mention the “golf” aspect to Friday’s critical meeting — it would only have completely stressed them out. No need to worry about things you can’t control. I, on the other hand, had this totally under control.
I Googled “golf 101.” “Start on a practice range, not on the golf course,” one expert reported. Got it. I tracked down a driving range 23 minutes from my house and scheduled a tee time online at 10 a.m. Friday, the earliest available. I guess golfers keep banker’s hours. Figures.
Next, I Googled “What do golfers wear?” I don’t own a “golf shirt.” Nor do I have linen pants or a skirt that allows for prodigious movement. I can’t believe someone treats “skort” like a real thing — just no — and I have no idea what culottes are. Lots of erectile dysfunction ads popping up during my golf research. (I made a note to reach out to the manufacturer. They could use a better microtargeting strategy.)
I considered calling Dad to yell at him over his sports advice. It turns out balls, rackets and the like are, in fact, useful in real life. Scratched that. Called Mom instead. Might have cried a little. A high-pressure run to TJ Maxx rounded out the night.
I’LL PLAY LIKE BEN
Ben Hogan was some sort of golf phenom who practiced so much that his hands would bleed. Now that, my friends, is my kind of guy — total dedication to his work. I skipped my Thursday morning self-care routine and canceled meetings so I could Ben Hogan it for the day.
At the practice range a little before 10 AM, I arrived in mint green Bermuda shorts and a navy blue collared shirt. From the ankles up, I looked the part. I could take care of the slick-bottomed sneakers later.
A withered old man at the counter set me up with a set of clubs. They had names: putter, driver, something iron and then he lost me. I tried to make a mental note, but I just needed to start hitting something, getting in those swings so I could perfect that graceful, powerful form I’d seen in the YouTube videos I started watching over coffee that morning. I bought two of the 150-count buckets of balls.
Out on the range, little flags waved way off into the distance, indicating how far each ball fell. I set a goal for 200 yards. That seemed respectable enough to mask my naivete. If I started at 50 yards and gained 25 every half hour, I’d be at 200 yards by 1 PM. But then I would need to feel comfortable at 200, so I would practice, a la Ben Hogan, until 2 PM. Solid plan.
I balanced the first ball on the teensy T-ball stand and mimicked the pose I’d see on YouTube. The club swung low in front of me and I liked its weight in my hands. I eyed the ball, pulled back as far as I could and let ‘er rip! The ball toppled over onto its side, rolling mockingly back toward me.
The day at the range did not go as planned. By 3 PM, I could barely lift my arms and my back was killing me from putting those stupid dented-up balls on that ridiculous T-ball stand. My best swing was 75 yards. I’d do better tomorrow.
I AM OFFICIALLY ON THE INJURED RESERVE
For a nonsporting person, this extreme activity level left me wilted. I know 15-20 minute naps have been shown to reinvigorate people, but I’ve never been a practitioner. They’re only for the feeble, and that’s OK for other people. Nevertheless, I woke up slumped over my laptop in my home office at 6:15 p.m. I might have slept longer, but my neck was wrenched at an unnatural angle, my chin propped precariously on the edge of the desk. When I tried to adjust it all back to normal, a zing shot down my right shoulder. A foreign sound came out of the mouth, like the whine of some wild animal in its death throes. Short, shallow breaths quieted the beast within.
I could fix this. “Slept on neck wrong” I Googled, getting 12,800 results. Clearly this is a thing. The treatment plan: Heat therapy, pain meds, gentle massage and activity modification. An ad popped up on my screen for Soltherapads — a customer of mine! They do these solar-powered heating pads. I had a business class with one of the founders. His cunning around pricing models was so sexy. Maybe he could pop over for the gentle massage? I’m kidding!
I ordered a Soltherapad from my local pharmacy directly via the pop-up ad. Forty-five minutes later, a bike messenger knocked on my door with the package. Genius, right? That’s my company! With the pad on my neck and four ibuprofen coursing through me, I went to bed.
On Friday, I woke up to my phone and an email inbox clogged with messages I’d slept through on Thursday. Among them, a thank you message from my good friends at Soltherapad asking about my health and how well the product worked for me. I did, in fact, have zero pain in my neck. Thank you, Soltherapad!
The rest of my poor body was a different matter. Thursday’s practice had wreaked havoc on my atrophied muscles. I slugged down more ibuprofen and brewed coffee. It was a beautiful day, perfect for “hitting the links,” as I heard someone say at the practice range.
THE DAY HAS ARRIVED
When the phone rang at 7 AM, I was practicing my sales pitch in the mirror, focused on what I was good at instead of trying to make the whole golf thing work. That was a lost cause and I would somehow just have to “play through” (another phrase I picked up on).
“Jessica? Good morning.” I sputtered coffee down the front of my robe. “Something has come up and I need to cut our meeting short today. Just meet me back at the office. OK?”
“No problem. I’ll see you at 9.” Click.
Of the last 30ish hours’ perpetual string of surreal moments — almost getting funded, attacking 300 golf balls, shrieking neck pain and acceptance of utter physical inadequacy — this topped them all. Did that just happen?
I didn’t have to venture onto a golf course, rattled by what to do and how to act, how to convince bigwig I knew and loved his sport. Instead, I was headed back to my safe place: laptops, desk chairs, walls, maybe a ficus tree. It was a miracle, and I had a new plan.
Two hours later, I was in his office wearing the navy golf shirt. I joked that if we weren’t able to “hit the links” I might as well dress the part. It was a lame joke, but I had the damned shirt and knew a little lingo, so I was going to put them to good use.
“You know I woke up with the worst crick in my neck and wasn’t sure I’d be able to play today anyway,” I told him. “But now I feel like a million bucks.” I walked him through how a simple online search led me to a heating pad purchase and delivery in a matter of minutes, all because of the platform my company had created.
I could see it on his face. He got it. Being able to combat something that might prevent you from your golf game was the tipping point. If my startup’s product could help him keep his tee time, then it could help millions of people do countless important things.
“Let’s make this happen, Jessica,” he said.
“I think this will be a fruitful partnership,” I said, leaning forward in my chair to mirror his eager posture. My dad taught me that trick. Thanks, Dad.
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