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Our New Chief Strategy Officer Talks Business and Balance

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“Life’s too short to be unhappy grinding it out all the time!”

Meet Elise.  Elise is our inspirational Chief Strategy Officer and newest member of the mēle family.  She’s had quite the career path and wellness journey, from working in the high-intensity finance world to pulling all-nighters running an AI tech start-up. What started as an intense career path led her to a renewed appreciation for health and wellness—and lucky for us, a position with our team at mēle. We sat down with her to learn a bit more about her roots and plans for the future.

Tell us about your early days working in finance. How did your time at an investment bank and hedge fund shape your career path?

Starting my career in finance gave me a strong foundation for what I’m doing now. Early on, I had the opportunity to analyze the business models of companies like Netflix and Amazon. It gave me perspective on how companies grow successfully. My next career move was to a hedge fund where I helped build-out the firm’s first big data strategy group. In this role, I experienced firsthand growing a business from an early-stage idea to a large division within the firm.  My favorite part about both of these experiences was connecting with some of the most intelligent and hard-working individuals I’ve ever met—and it’s one of the reasons I place a lot of importance on surrounding myself with a solid team. When you’re in a fast-paced environment like a hedge fund or a start-up, it’s so important to be surrounded by a supportive, driven team who will roll up their sleeves with you when it’s time to get things done.

 

You went from finance to starting an AI technology company (UpScored). Quite the change! What made you take that leap to entrepreneurship?

Coincidentally, I met my two co-founders at my last job in finance. I had always wanted to start my own thing, but I wanted it to happen organically with the right idea and the right team. Entrepreneurship goes back generations in my family. It’s in my blood! My mom started an interior design firm, my dad owns a construction company, and my grandfather built a television business. My grandfather’s story was particularly significant to me. He started selling TVs when they were the technological innovation of his time. As a kid, I would hang-out at his store—and I’d watch how he treated his customers like family. He listened to them. He truly cared about them. That’s a lesson I’ve taken with me and is inherent in how I operate. Fast forward several years: I was working at SAC Capital and in the process of building the big data group with two very talented data scientists. We discovered a big problem in a big industry. We had a solution—and that was all I needed to make the jump into the startup world.

 

What was the biggest lesson that you learned on a personal level from running a tech start-up?

How much time do you have? I learned so much! But, my most important personal lesson is about balance. In both finance and tech, my hours were long. I worked constantly. While running UpScored, there was a point right before my wedding when I realized I hadn’t taken a day off in years. I still believe in working hard—and I’m not saying that the occasional all-nighter isn’t necessary sometimes. However, working on Christmas Eve, checking emails on my honeymoon, and not getting sleep for days should not be badges of honor (and for a while, they were for me). Life’s too short to be unhappy grinding it out all the time!

 

How have your thoughts on wellness and balance changed?

Here’s the thing: when you’re constantly in the weeds, you miss things. I could have benefited immensely by stepping back more often and letting ideas settle. When I think back, the best ideas I had came on a long run, while hanging out with friends, or after reading an interesting book—not in a conference room or at my desk. Over the last year, I’ve started to think about life a little bit differently. Spending time with friends and family should be a priority. Self-care should be encouraged. And sleep should be celebrated. 

Another major part of our health and wellness is our relationships. Harvard recently completed one of the world’s longest studies of adult life: an 80-year look at happiness. The research showed that close relationships—more than money, fame, or success at work—are what keep people happy. The people in the study who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. There’s certainly something to that report. I’m starting to find that balance (at least some balance) can actually be a better route to creativity and growth.

 

What is one of the ways you find time for self-care now?

It’s not easy. I still have a habit of prioritizing work above all else. But, to help, I take proactive steps. The goal is to make new behaviors realistic so they turn into habits. For instance, I plan my workouts at the beginning of every week to be sure I get them in. I actually put them on my calendar. I also try to schedule workouts with a friend, which serves two purposes. We hold each other accountable and get to spend time together.

 

Outside of wellness, what are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?

I learned how to navigate challenges and mistakes without beating myself up. I also learned to “respond” rather than “react.” On days when those lessons don’t come easy, I have meditation as a tool to help.

 

Before starting with mēle, you went to Bali to get your yoga certification. What led you to do that?

In all honesty, after selling my last company, I was burnt out. Going through an acquisition process is an emotional roller coaster—and I internalized all of it. I wanted to move into my new role at mēle with the best possible mindset. A few years back, I had started to incorporate yoga into my life. It made a huge difference in my stress levels and became more than a physical practice. I wanted to expand on what I had already learned about yoga so I enrolled in an 100-hour teacher training program in Bali. The other students in my class were from all over the world—a yacht stewardess from South Africa, a mechanical engineer from Russia, a grad student from Sweden, to name a few. Spending six days a week for 12 hours a day with such a diverse group was transformative. Being around people who are different from ourselves is a good way to “unlearn” thought patterns that we’ve been conditioned to think.

 

That’s incredible! Let’s chat more about your life now. What drives you every day?

At the core of my drive is gratitude. Even during frustrating situations, I try to circle back to being grateful. I’ve found that a consistent flow of gratitude comes easier when I prioritize three aspects of my life: surrounding myself with positive people, stepping outside my comfort zone, and focusing on being mindful.

 

What’s your favorite wellness hack (other than mēle, of course)?

Breath work! Call it what you want—practicing pranayama, inhaling and exhaling, counting breaths to a beat—it works!  I’ve found that even 1-2 minutes can be extremely useful. It’s scientifically proven that mindful breathing lowers the heart rate and improves energy levels. And the best part is that you can do it anywhere, at any time.

 

What are you most excited about in your new role? 

Nutrition is something I’m extremely passionate about. I truly believe that food is medicine. What’s really cool about this new role is that I’ve been learning a lot more about the mind-gut connection and how what we eat can have lasting effects on our bodies. We’re building a company that offers functional food, which is something I’m naturally curious about.  It’s also incredibly fulfilling to be a part of a team with the mission of providing better food for more people. Everyday I get to work closely with a team that is motivated to make that mission a reality. We’re all on the same page: dream big!

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