Connecting Through Play and the Big Pivot

By Loralyn Mears PhD Loralyn Mears PhD has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on January 30, 2021

Kristi Herold, founder of Toronto Sport & Social Club and JAM, was recently named as one of the Women of Influence Top 100 influencers in Canada and named as one of Canada’s leading female entrepreneurs. She’s been at the helm of this eight-figure business for 25 years, connecting people through play. Over the years, more than 1.5 million people have joined her community. Some of her members have remained active with the Club since it was launched in 1996.

When I started out 25 years ago, we had 52 teams now we have 11,000. In 2019, we had 40 full-time employees and more than 350 part-time employees and volunteers.

Kristi Herold, founder of Toronto Sport & Social Club

Like most founders, 2020 dealt an unexpected blow. “How do you keep going when the government shuts down your business? The bills don’t stop coming in; you still have to pay salaries, insurance, vehicle fees, facility rentals but you don’t have an ability to operate,” opined Herold. That’s a question that millions of business owners and executives have been forced to consider over the past year.

Herold is smart, resilient and determined. Initially, the Ontario government offered small subsidies as a life-line to businesses. However, those subsidies were unexpectedly changed – without clear announcements stating how those changes would impact business owners – and then Herold found herself in a difficult position. “It was the worst day of my career,” mourned Herold, “Having to lay off people, good people, people that have been loyal and been a part of your team forever is the worst thing that I’ve ever had to do.”

So she pivoted, finding a way to expand her business offering while staying true to her mission of connecting people through play. She formed JAM, taking the team sports and events online, creating engaging and entertaining events designed to unite colleagues, friends and families in need of deeper connection in the wake of the pandemic. Scavenger hunts and other virtual experiences are enriched through the participation of unemployed comedians and actors who now have a new opportunity for work.

Herold also did something that she was unaccustomed to doing – she shared her vulnerable side and asked for help. The response she received was overwhelming. Between DMs and replies to her posts on social media, people in her network stepped up to interview those she had laid off and to broker introductions to employers and family members to sign up for JAM online events.

For women specifically, it’s important to own your voice. Don’t be a victim.

Kristi Herold

To hear more from this female founder, listen to our Grit Daily Like a Boss podcast on Apple, Spotify and everywhere that content is streamed.

By Loralyn Mears PhD Loralyn Mears PhD has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Journalist verified by Muck Rack verified

Dr. Loralyn Mears is a Columnist at Grit Daily and a podcast host (The Grit Files, which aims to shine the spotlight on female founders). She is a content marketer, founder of the WORKtech startup, STEERus, specializing in personal and professional development to address gaps in soft skills - communication in particular. In her consultancy practice, she helps clients with content and strategy. Loralyn spent over a decade playing with mosquito DNA, got her PhD, decided she would rather market science than be at the bench and has never looked back. Along the way, she’s wined and dined her way around the globe. She's authored two books, including the 2018 Gold Medal Indie Book award-winning, One Sip At a Time: a Memoir and the hard science thriller, "The Battle for Humanity: How Science Saved Us." 

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