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CEO Tanya Maslach: Her Path to Entrepreneurship

by Danielle Berman, MBA ’12


Tanya Maslach is the founder and CEO of GOTRIbal, a unique organization dedicated to connecting and empowering women through endurance sports. She was recently nominated by the San Diego Business Journal as one of the “Most Admired CEOs.” It is easy to see why GOTRIbal, which launched in 2010, has since captured the hearts of women across the globe who are looking to build relationships through healthy, active lifestyles. As Maslach put it, GOTRIbal isn’t about “racing.” It’s about journeys that positively impact women, their families and their communities. Below, Maslach discusses her success as an entrepreneur.

How did you decide to build your own company?

I saw a huge hole in the market. Women were pushing the explosive growth in endurance sports. They alone were changing the marketing, sales and development plans for the running and fitness shoe/apparel, biking and race categories, and improving their bottom lines year over year; but there was no resource that served them with educational, entertaining and empowering experiences in a community setting. Before I started GOTRIbal, I selfishly wanted to mentor a woman in another city that didn’t offer women the rich resources in endurance sports like San Diego did. I couldn’t find a quick way to find that woman … so I built a community that would forever be a place for other women to find and give mentorship, expert advice and support.

Is entrepreneurship in your blood?

You mean besides sushi and gnocchi? Seriously, though, I think it is. Wherever I’ve gone, in science or business, I’ve always thought, “How can this be done better?”

Why is the endurance-sport space important to you?

It’s where I see women having the most impact in the area of changing health in America. It’s not about racing. It represents a simpler opportunity for women to live active, healthy lifestyles and, by doing so, positively impacts their self-confidence, power and influence on their families’ way of life. And besides that, you can’t beat the ridiculous outfits we have the pleasure of squeezing our bodies into every once in a while. There’s so much room for the fashion industry to come in and play!

When building your business, did you have doubts along the way? How did you deal with them?

Oh, never. Okay, really? Anybody who says they didn’t doubt along the way is … Steve Jobs? Before speaking at the espnW Summit, where I sat on a panel with Microsoft, Blogher and Sugar Inc., I had a panic moment of “What am I going to say that’s better, more important, more valuable … etc.?” I turned to my board of advisers. They’re like my personal coaches, cheering squad and mentors. Only they are also wicked smart, extremely accomplished and have great hair. Another time I was going to pitch my company to a group of potential investors, and as I rolled through the car wash, I started to wonder what I was doing and if it was truly valuable. I knew I couldn’t go to a pitch not believing in my own creation. So I called up a GOTRIbal member in Colorado. Just picked up the phone and called her. I asked her why she enjoyed being a member, why it was so valuable to her. (After that call she told me to cut the crap and go kick some butt.) I try to practice what I preach to GOTRIbal members — surround yourself with people [who] believe in you and your mission, ask for their support often and with sincerity and then pay it forward when you can.

How do you market GOTRIbal?

We market using a variety of channels, but at this early stage it’s been primarily organic. We have an “Ambassador Squad” of women, ages 19 to 55, that reflects our membership base’s age range and ability; and they are our social connectors and chief evangelists. They are constantly spreading the news, stories and highlights of the women, and their accomplishments and journeys with their networks.

We have an “Expert Coach Team” of sport psychologists, triathlon coaches, run coaches and more that are accessible to women around the world whenever they want. They publish content and connect via our website, newsletter and our Facebook page to support women in their athletic journeys and [their] desire to live an active lifestyle.

We have strong relationships with partners in and out of our industry who allow us earned media spots to highlight the impact of our company’s services for the women members. Also, our partnership with a world champion athlete, who was undefeated in her career as an Ironman distance triathlete, has been integral to us reaching and connecting with audiences we would have not reached out to before.

What keeps you motivated?

The stories I hear about how women’s lives are positively transformed by their interactions with GOTRIbal members and fans. Women I’ve met who, because of a GOTRIbal scholarship, are now running along the same river walks where they were physically abused years ago. Or women who’ve left abusive partners in order to get strong in mind and body, losing pounds and shedding self-destructive relationships in the process. I love seeing the collective power of active, healthy women chip away at society’s obesity problem, by living and breathing a lifestyle that changes their friends’ and families’ beliefs in what is possible.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start his or her own business?

Three Things:

  1. Relationships and character matter more than anything. Who you are, who you hire, who to build the company with and who invests in your company. It isn’t just the number of people who know you, but the quality and character of the people who are in your circle. Don’t be afraid to not connect with some people.
  2. Be ready to celebrate the seemingly mundane: like getting a return call after trying to reach an all-important contact, or the moment a customer could successfully use your website to buy your product (bonus: if it successfully ships).
  3. Be ready to flex: your model, your plans, your ideas for what works, who’s “the best for the job” and even your role in the company.

Currently, GOTRIbal members include swimmers, triathletes, runners and cyclists from San Diego to Sydney. The company hopes to continue expanding worldwide, providing a supportive network for the more than 60 million women engaged in endurance sports.