In this week’s A Career Choice is a Life Choice Q&A, we talked with Lauren Demarest, co-founder of Sweat Vacay, a brand new fitness company based out of Mykonos, Greece, that puts together group-style workout classes in exotic locations. She quit her advertising job to move to Greece and start this company with her business partner, Veronica Kennedy. Read about her career path and what brought her to starting her own company.
DB: Thanks for speaking with us today, Lauren! What is your current position?
LD: I am the co-founder of Sweat Vacay, a fitness company that puts together group-style workout classes in exotic locations so people can stay in shape while on vacation! We are launching in Mykonos, Greece, this May.
DB: Starting a company can be scary. What brought you here?
LD: I left my corporate NYC job and moved to Greece to conquer the growing global wellness travel market with no fitness background.
I got my BA in photography with a minor in communications from Guilford College, a small Quaker Liberal Arts school in Greensboro, North Carolina. I graduated during the 2008 economic crisis when it was as difficult to find a job as it was for people to buy into the idea that Paris Hilton was a “savvy businesswoman.” So I moved back home to Naples, Florida, where I worked at a coffee shop and did not use my degree very much. This was depressing to the max and I knew I was no closer to living my dream life in advertising.
So I applied to grad school at the Savannah College of Art and Design in historically haunted Savannah, Georgia. There I earned my MFA in advertising with a focus in copywriting. And this charming Southern experience changed my life and my career trajectory completely. A few weeks before graduation, I was called by a talent recruiter from McCann Erickson in New York City. She had seen my portfolio online and wanted to offer me a job. At the time, McCann was the largest agency in the world, with offices in 136 countries. This was my dream. And I took it.
I worked at McCann for eight years, touching almost every brand we had, from Choice Hotels to General Mills to Lockheed Martin. There I was the founding creative member of the digital and social arm of McCann, now called McCann Live. I created social brand voices for Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Nature Valley, blogged for Chex Cereal, produced a million dollar global campaign for L’Oréal, and landed a huge Pharma account. I worked my way up to Associate Creative Director. And then I had the skills to build a brand of my own.
Thus, a new dream was born. My co-founder, Veronica Kennedy, and I came up with the idea for Sweat Vacay on vacation in Greece when we wanted to take a beach yoga class and found that there was a lack of easy-to-book classes on the island. How could this be? All these American tourists take fitness classes every day. There’s nothing here to meet that need? Between my branding and advertising expertise, and Veronica’s background in IT and operations as the VP of Operations at a NYC investment bank, we had the combined skill set necessary to build a business that offered daily spin, yoga, bootcamp, barre, and pilates classes outside in exotic, picturesque locations. With our fitness mentor, a woman who launched two of the largest and most popular indoor cycling businesses on the planet, we were poised to make some very real changes in our own lives, and in the wellness tourism space.
I quit my job in October of 2018 and Veronica is leaving her firm in April. We are moving to Mykonos and launching Sweat Vacay with a team of Greek trainers in May. Boom. Three location partnerships, 22 custom spin bikes, and 100 yoga mats later, we’re in business.
DB: Wow! That is exciting. What do you value most about starting your own company?
LD: The thing I value most, is that I am both the creative director and client. So the approvals process that can water down great creative is no more. If I like it, it goes live. But it’s not without its challenges. I am doing the work that would normally be done by an entire team as the social strategist, media planner, art director, copywriter, designer, photographer, videographer, editor, prop stylist, producer, publisher, and community manager. I’m learning a lot, including Greek. That’s the hardest part.
DB: What have you learned the most in your career path?
LD: Learning that you always have to stay on your toes since technology, tools, trends, and social media best practices are changing every. single. day. (throws hands up in exasperation)
DB: What’s different about hiring people for your company?
LD: It’s funny, because now instead of interviewing creatives or strategists for the team, I’m interviewing Greek trainers, Greek lawyers, tax attorneys, accountants, and people I never thought I’d be interviewing as we build out dream team.