Veto Power. We have an agreement where if one of us feels very strongly about something they can veto a decision or project. And the other must respect those wishes and go along with the veto even if they don’t fully agree. It’s all about respect for each other and our trust in each other’s ability to make the best decision for both of us, our team and the business in that moment even if we can’t see it at that time. Veto power must be used judiciously and respected by both.
As a part of our series about lessons from Thriving Power Couples, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joyce Shulman and Eric Cohen, the husband and wife team behind 99 Walks.
Joyce Shulman is 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 more than two decades ago 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 groups, where she shares her expertise about how a consistent, intentional walking practice is life-changing.
Joyce received her Bachelor’s degree 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.
Eric Cohen is the Co-Founder and President of 99 Walks, a comprehensive walking app, community and lifestyle brand designed to help women combat loneliness and improve fitness by encouraging them to walk their way to better.
Prior to 99 Walks, Eric Co-founded Macaroni Kid, a mom-focused, hyper-local and national e-newsletter that reached hundreds of thousands of households each month. A digital marketing expert, Eric coached and mentored thousands of women helping them to become business and ad sales dynamos by teaching them how to create unforgettable experiences that also added additional revenue to their family’s journey as Macaroni Kid publishers.
Eric received his Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Vermont. A sales and marketing expert, he has generated tens of millions of dollars in revenue for a robust roster of clients throughout his career including: Disney, P&G, Netflix, Amazon, Viacom and many more.
And in his “spare time?” Eric is a competitive CrossFit athlete, currently ranked 17th in the world in his age group.
If you asked Eric to label himself with one word it would be “coach”. He is a natural teacher and leader and this quality is the cornerstone of his personal and professional success at being the best entrepreneur, elite athlete, husband and parent he can be.
Joyce and Eric call Sag Harbor, NY their home where they live with two teenagers and a slightly unruly dog named Moose.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you two to your respective career paths?
We both left high-powered positions in our prospective fields because we had a shared desire to use our experience and skills to work together on projects that truly make a difference.
The first questions we always ask ourselves when creating something new is ‘how can we make things better,”– and “what kind of world will we be leaving for our kids, family and friends.”
And we’ve really honored that thought process as it has been at the foundation of each of the lifestyle brands we have developed and grown ourselves. And the best part is that we’ve found out along the way that we’re a great team — we inspire and support each other in such a fun and powerful way. And nothing equals sharing it all with someone who you know has your back no matter what.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you two got married?
Within just a few months of getting married, Eric and I cooked up an idea for a business. We quit our jobs, sold our apartment and moved to launch our very first business making the world’s first nutrition bar for dogs. It was fun and stressful — a disaster in so many ways. We lost just about everything — all of our savings, our retirement funds, all of the money we had borrowed from friends and family. And yet it was the best kind of experience as we learned so much about ourselves and each other as we began our extraordinary entrepreneurial journey together as a couple and as business partners.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
Back in 1998, we had embarked 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 our 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 proud of ourselves and beyond excited — until the first five people walked into our booth. When we told them about our new product — the world’s first energy bar for dogs — each one laughed and said, “the last thing I want is to give my dog more energy.”
Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We learned two important lessons in that moment. First, the importance of conducting market research before you create your product, position and brand. Second, we learned how to listen and be flexible so when you need to pivot you can do so easily and quickly. Because when the sixth person stopped by we introduced them to the very first nutrition bar for dogs, which turned out to be the right tone and a big hit for us and our customers.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What sets us apart is our commitment to our community, our remarkable ‘Pack Members,’ and how they have come to support and cheer on one another throughout their own personal journeys. The engagement and vulnerability we see throughout this community is really one-of-a-kind, and this support and acceptance of one another is at the core of who we are as a company and as people.
When a ‘Pack Member’ reaches out with a personal story about how they’ve personally been impacted by being a part of 99 Walks, we are deeply touched as much today as we were when we began this journey. And knowing that we’re having such a positive influence on the lives of others is what drives us to continue to inspire women to crush their goals — all kinds of goals — every single day.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We launched 99 Walks about 18 months ago to help address two major challenges we saw facing women: the loneliness epidemic and the fitness and wellness crisis. We believed that if we created a community in which women were inspired to participate in an intentional regular walking practice with others, where they were encouraged to hold themselves accountable for setting and reaching their own goals that they would access, nourish and grow their true authentic selves and heal some of their issues along the way. And it’s been an incredible experience as we are succeeding beyond our wildest expectations.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Respect and honor and listen to your team. Employees thrive when they are seen and heard while working within a structured environment. And it is essential that every member of your team is committed to the mission and the vision — everyone has to know and agree that they are in it together and have a role in accomplishing something meaningful.
How do you define “Leadership”?
Leadership is about setting the course and then empowering and guiding your team in a way that allows them to take agency and be their best selves during the journey.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It is impossible to identify one person because, over 23 years of entrepreneurship as a couple, we have learned from so many people what to do and what not to do — sometimes at the same time.
In a prior business, we had a partner for six years who was remarkable in the respect that he was able to keep work stress out of his personal life by saying “It’s just business.” Over the years, we’ve learned that he was both right and wrong. He was right in the sense that business will present challenges every single day and you need to realize that a business challenge is very different from a life challenge. But he was wrong because if you are building a business that is creating jobs, supporting families and changing lives, it’s not just business, it’s people’s lives, and that’s a responsibility that we take very, very seriously.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We believe that doing well and doing good are two parts of the same thing, and so paying it forward is at the very core of 99 Walks.
When we realized that we are in the midst of an unprecedented loneliness epidemic where many women feel isolated while also facing personal health and wellness crises, which has only been enhanced by this past year, we wanted to start a company that addressed those issues by creating a community where women could come together and thrive.
We wanted to create a space with 99 Walks 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 productivity, performance and creativity. There’s a whole bunch of science around this, but essentially walking engages one part of the brain while letting the other part wander and dream and explore. And we loved the idea of helping women to find their own fun and wonder while feeling good and connecting with others.
What are the “5 Things You Need To Thrive As A Couple”? Please share a story or example for each.
Well, we actually have 6 things. And respect is at the core of any kind of thriving relationship and must be at the forefront if you’re going to take your personal relationship to the next level and begin to work together.
- This is Your Dance Space, This Is My Dance Space. Have your own distinct roles and responsibilities while also being mindful and cognizant of the strengths that your partner brings to the forefront. It’s important to remember this because there are definitely going to be moments when your partner will drive you crazy. Separate interests are also key. It is critical for us to have our own separate spaces.
- Time/Space Continuum. It’s important to maintain your independence. When you’re living with someone and working with them and building a business and raising a family, it is really easy to give up your independence and become so interdependent that you’re waiting for each other all the time. We often commute separately so that we don’t have to rely on each other for every single thing. It also allows us to have the necessary time alone.
- Veto Power. We have an agreement where if one of us feels very strongly about something they can veto a decision or project. And the other must respect those wishes and go along with the veto even if they don’t fully agree. It’s all about respect for each other and our trust in each other’s ability to make the best decision for both of us, our team and the business in that moment even if we can’t see it at that time. Veto power must be used judiciously and respected by both.
- Never Go To Bed Angry. We try never to let a conflict fester. Sometimes it’s tough, but we really believe in taking a deep breath and communicating. It’s really important to try and work through an issue in a respectful way.
- Talk Time. Set aside time to talk about work. We often brainstorm while taking a walk. And set aside time to not talk about work. And we never talk about work at the dinner table.
- Find The Fun. Have some fun along the way. Especially when you are working together, it is easy — too easy — to let the stresses from work seep into every aspect of your life. You have to work pretty hard to be sure they don’t swallow up your sense of fun and playfulness.
You are people of great influence. 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. 🙂
It’s exactly what we are doing right now! We often say that we’re starting a movement to get a million women walking and it’s happening. So far our ‘Pack Members’ have logged almost two million miles walked and counting!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
We love the Thomas Jefferson quote, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have it.” It really speaks to the foundation of our beliefs about how working hard, consistently, every day is the only way to really create opportunity and ultimately change.
And the great Michelle Obama quote, “Success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives,” because we are driven by our commitment to service and using our super powers to enrich the lives of others.
We also have a funny little inside joke that we often say to each other that continues to inspire us while also cracking us up. “It’s you and me and a trade show booth,” is our silly way of saying that together we can do anything. And it’s a terrific reminder to continue to find the fun while on this journey. And because it’s really just between us, it’s an expression of this deep well of trust and partnership we’ve created over the years. A reminder that we’re in it together and that sometimes that means that the road is harder, but it’s also sweeter.
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 with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Of course if we’re talking about power couples then Bill and Melinda Gates would be at the top of our list. Their focus and dedication to using their influence and financial power to change the world for the better is an inspiration to us all.
How can our readers follow your work online?
Our app is 99 Walks. And our website is 99walks.fit.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
“Lessons from a Thriving Power Couple”, With Joyce Shulman & Eric Cohen of 99 Walks was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.