Lead(H)er - Jan Bruce, Co-Founder and CEO of meQuilibrium
“Starting my own company wasn’t a lifelong goal. I didn’t get started in the world of work thinking I wanted to be an entrepreneur. What happened is, I eventually thought, ‘I can do this, there’s a need for this and I can do this better.’ I think those are also three things that really motivate entrepreneurs,” Jan Bruce, Co-Founder and CEO of meQuilibrium, explained.
Jan grew up in New York, but she likes to say she grew up in media. Starting work first as an editor, then as a marketer and a publisher, she worked in a number of different types of print media such as magazines, news, and books.
When digital media first started out in the 90s, she began working with websites and broadcast, distributing content via the internet and working for big companies like Hearst and The Washington Post Company’s Newsweek.
“I left school thinking I’d be a journalist but I actually gravitated towards the sales and marketing aspects of publishing and ended up being more of a marketing, finance, and salesperson as opposed to the content creator. I enjoyed working for larger companies but over time, I found my passion was working in the health, wellness and fitness space. They’re fields that I understood intuitively and fields I was genuinely interested in.”
Jan’s career took a turn when she was recruited to work for a venture-backed startup that was a collection of health and fitness properties.
“When I accepted my first startup position, three things happened—I left the big media world for a venture-backed business, I moved into a field that I personally loved and related to, and I got to make a real impact.”
Although she had a major media company behind her, Jan had a newfound autonomy and more opportunity to quickly start and change things.
When I asked her to explain her experience with the health, wellness, and cognitive space, she explained her journey following and predicting the different trends.
“I started working in fitness, which was one of the first great consumer-driven health trends. Then, I started working in the alternative medicine and the mind-body space, things like mindfulness and yoga. Suddenly, it was 2000 and everybody was talking about internal, intrinsic well-being instead of ‘feeling the burn,’ looking good and losing weight. Now, in the last ten years, I’ve turned from that to the mind and the cognitive. To develop this, I started thinking about how we could essentially deliver personal growth and cognitive performance for the masses via technology and that’s how we founded meQuilibrium.”
With Jan’s media and journalistic instincts, as well as her understanding of the health and wellness fields, she’s seen the beginning of the adoption curve and has been able to skate to the puck ahead of most with these trends.
Jan saw how people were becoming overwhelmed, burnt out and constantly overloaded and she realized that they wanted to get in touch with themselves and bounce back from constant setbacks and stress.
“As a publisher, I was very aware of consumers’ demand for information about how to live better, how to be healthier and how to be more in balance. My vision for meQuilibrium came from the rise of what I call the ‘quantified self’ and stress being off the charts compared to the prior ten years. To address this we decided to create software that helps people track their behaviors and therefore become more aware of them in order to improve them. The stress problem was getting worse and worse and we needed a solution.”
Coming from a publishing and editing background, Jan was well trained to look at the trends and the various disciplines, studies, and methodologies. After looking into cognitive wellness and stress management for about a year, she realized that there were some really successful methodologies in the field of cognitive behavioral therapy, the idea of retraining your thinking styles so you can hone in on the root cause of what is causing you to stress.
“Cognitive behavioral therapy isn’t new but our claim to fame is we started to automate it and figure out how to do it with algorithms as opposed to doing it with coaches. That’s how we started meQuilibrium.”
Rapid Fire Questions
BS: How do you manage stress?
JB: I definitely take it in stride. People are always saying to me, you just don’t seem very stressed. I tend to be able to calibrate my thoughts and if there’s something that’s really stressing me out, I can put it in a bucket and get to it when I have time to address it. The other thing I would say is when you love what you do even if it gets busy or stressful, you think of it as flow. But if don’t love it or don’t feel like you have control over it, that’s when you can get stressed.
BS: How many cups of coffee do you typically drink in a day?
JB: I drink 1.5 cups in the morning. I usually drink half a cup pretty quickly and then I never finish it and then I get a second cup and I coast on that for most of the morning.
BS: What do you like to do in your free time?
JB: I work a lot because I really like what I do. I also workout a lot, I like to cook and I love to really veg out and watch stuff on Amazon and Netflix.
BS: Where is your favorite spot in the Boston area?
JB: I love this little ramen restaurant called the Little Big Diner. Ramen is good for two things; first of all, it’s completely restorative, and second of all, it’s slow and it lets people talk to each other. So head to a ramen place! It’s in Newton Center.
BS: If you had to choose one thing other than your family, what would you say is your greatest accomplishment?
JB: This is going to sound a little bit tongue-in-cheek but it’s not: I think it’s developing the habit of slowing down and showing my work. All my life, I’ve had this ability to get to the answer but a tendency not to tell you how I got there. I have found in leading teams, however, that the art is to explain and to engage and let people participate. So my greatest accomplishment is learning to show my work and help others grow with that.
BS: Ten years ago, is this where you would have seen yourself?
JB: Absolutely. I was ready to dive into software. I felt like content was not getting the job done. Content is the beginning and the end in some ways but software makes it all three dimensional and I just had to get here. So running a software company is so much what I love and what I wanted. I was tired of advertising.
BS: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a college graduate?
JB: I would say, be prepared to try a lot of things right now. The only way you’re going to know what truly puts you in flow is trying a lot of things. Work is going to be hard enough for the next thirty years and that you might as well get on a path that really engages you.