Entrepreneurial Endeavors: The Interviews - Page 4
Mike Burnstein, 23, of Brookline, MA
Burnstein (right) with co-founder Dave Spandorfer.
Elite marathoner. New trail runner.
Co-founder, Janji: Running-apparel company that raises awareness and money for the global food and water crisis.
1. Tell me a little bit about the history of Janji. What made you and Dave so passionate about the global food and water crisis in particular?
My college teammate Dave and I came up with the idea for Janji while on the bus to the NCAA track championships my sophomore year. We just realized that there was so much potential in the running world. So many people are out there running every day, and we wanted to channel that energy towards something positive. We saw the impact road races have had in raising funds for various causes, but unfortunately that began and ended on race day. We wanted to contribute in a more sustainable way--running apparel.
We chose the food and water crisis because we saw it as the most fundamental problem. Everyone deserves access to clean water and proper nutrition yet there are so many people who go without. Once a group of people has consistent access to proper nutrition and clean water, the social and economic impact is massive.
Also, it’s an issue that hits especially close to home for runners. It would be impossible to get through a three-mile jog, or a 100k trail race without proper nutrition and hydration! It’s our access to these fundamental rights that allows us to participate in our passion, but not everyone is so lucky.
2. What has your running career looked like so far?
I got into running as a freshman in high school as a way to get myself into shape in hopes of making my high school's basketball team. Basketball was my first love, but I soon found more success in running than I ever did in 10 years playing basketball. I didn't love running at first, but over time it grew on me.
I was very lucky to be a part of strong running tradition in high school at Brookline High in Massachusetts. We had a dream season my senior year where we won states as a team, finishing with the lowest point total in state history.
I later ran for Washington University in Saint Louis. I moved up to the 10K race on the track, but cross country was my true love. I finished college with six All-American awards, most of which came after barely qualifying for championship meets. College running was a blast. It was a really special experience to be able to train and race with your best friends.
Post-grad I took about half a year off from serious running, where I had some fun playing in a few basketball leagues before getting back into it with a focus on the marathon. I recently competed in the Boston Marathon where I ran 2:28. I'm planning on doing some trail racing this summer before gearing up for the New York City Marathon next fall.
3. A little bird told me you recently discovered trail running while visiting some national parks on a road trip for Janji.
I focus on marketing and product development for Janji, but being a startup, I have also taken on some work in sales. In the fall of 2012 I was lucky enough to head out on a six-week road trip, visiting running stores across the country. One of my first stops on the trip was in Albuquerque where I stayed with a friend. He took me on a trail run on the foothills outside of the city and I was blown away.
Especially after spending 10 hours in a car driving through Oklahoma, it was an incredible experience. It was very emotionally freeing--like all of the small things that had been bugging me didn't matter because in that moment I was entirely surrounded by natural beauty. Also, more so than road running you need to focus on your footing, requiring an added level of focus that forces you to live in the present. I was hooked.
4. You and Dave are both young entrepreneurs. Where did you pick up the skills to accomplish what you have with Janji?
Honestly, Dave and I are definitely unqualified to do what we're doing. The good thing is, we recognize that we don't know everything. We are constantly seeking advice from our amazing group of mentors who have helped us at every step of the way. Now that we are one year in, we've learned so much and are light years ahead of last year. However, one of the main things you learn as an entrepreneur is how little you actually know. It’s important to differentiate what you should try to do yourself, and where you need help.
5. Do you struggle to find time to run/train while also running a small business?
We work hard at Janji, but fortunately we also have the flexibility to train seriously. Personally, running helps me organize my life making me much more productive. Also, having a training partner as a co-founder helps. Most of our strategy sessions take place on easy runs after work.
6. What has been the most rewarding part of your work?
Nothing is more rewarding then seeing or hearing about the work from our partnering organizations. Each organization that we help fund does absolutely incredible life-saving work, and it's truly humbling seeing their impact on a daily basis. It’s an honor to help them do their work.
7. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Think of it like training for a big race. First you need to decide that you're doing the race. That's the hardest part. Next, you need to set long-term goals, and establish a plan in how to get there. You need to work hard every day to execute that plan, but that's not enough. Once in a while you need to stop and think about whether your plan is working or not. If not, you need to adjust and keep plugging away.