As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jasmine Maietta, Founder and CEO of round21.

Jasmine is the Founder and CEO of round21, a sports lifestyle brand that merges recreation (sports) with expression (art) for today’s outspoken generation. She believes that brands serve their community best when they elevate & celebrate the diversity within culture, sports, arts, and entertainment — and has built round21 to do exactly that.

While many sports products are “blank” and “functional,” round21 gives identity to the player through expressive art that reflects who they are and what they value. round21 intentionally partners with a roster of multicultural creatives and artists who spread positive ideas that unify communities, believing artistry in sport is about meaning and story, not simply decoration.

Jasmine has spent more than 20 years working in sports and fitness giving her a deep understanding of the athletic lifestyle. Prior to taking the entrepreneurial leap to start round21 in the spring of 2020, she was Vice President of Global Brand Marketing at Peloton where she led a team of talented marketers and creatives driving acquisition and engagement for the tech start-up. Before Peloton, she spent 6 years at Under Armour as Head of Brand Marketing for Men’s Training & Running, and also held key marketing roles at Hasbro and Reebok earlier in her career.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My entire career has been spent in marketing for brands centered in locker rooms, gaming and points of sweat simply because this community and culture gives me so much joy. It was while working in sports and fitness I constantly saw people expressing who they are through hoodies or sneakers, but what lights them up is what they play with. It was this pattern and passion around sports & self-expression that led me to launch round21.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you founded your round21?

Building a brand during COVID has undoubtedly shaped so many stories, but one that sticks out to me most involves round21, three artists and the NBA. As the NBA shaped their season around a “bubble” while also driving the message of Black Lives Matter through every touchpoint, they looked to find ways to do two things (1) bring players together safely while off-court, and (2) reinforce the larger message around social justice. round21 was called upon to help support these goals through one of the leagues other favorite sports — ping pong. Because NBA players loved to challenge each other in ping pong games during down time, the NBA commissioned round21 to help reinforce the messages of social justice through ping pong paddles in partnership with three artists who came from Brooklyn, Miami, and Philadelphia. Within 36 hours the artists, round21 and the NBA had agreed upon the artwork, the message, and the meaning behind the stories. The speed of execution was completely based on all of us sharing the same values and belief in the larger mission and experience it would mean for the players and fans. I’ve never seen a project like this happen so quickly and so deeply rooted in a common set of goals.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh, where do I begin! Launching a startup after having 20 years of marketing experience in the comforts of corporate America, I’ve spent just as much time unlearning things I knew as I am learning new things. One learning experience has been around the position round21 can take in partnerships compared to the position of my prior brands — Peloton, Under Armour, and Reebok). Ultimately, round21 is at ground level and the value exchange with people we interact with needs to come from a place of growth versus scale. In conversations I had earlier this year, I think I underestimated how small and unproven the brand is and quickly adapted to helping my artists partners, other brands, and even my suppliers understand the potential versus our current position. Lucky to say that, so far, there’s belief in where we’re headed.

What do you think makes round21 different from other sports lifestyle brands? Can you share a story?

round21 is for people who are rich in “creative currency” and one way these people spend their time is by playing sports. The problem is no brand offers deep, rich creativity and artistry in products people play with in sports — until now. That’s what makes round21 different.

Sports brands (and derivatives that are aligned to sports lifestyle) that came before round21 were born from the values of being “better.” These brands tell stories of those who are at the top of their game and how they spend time on- and off-the-court/field/pitch.

round21 believes that being better is good, but being different is better. And, we believe that inside all of us there’s originality and creativity and that’s the currency round21 value’s (not performance). We build products for and with those people who live creatively in sport and in life.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

round21 has a great lineup of new products and art for 2021. The goal is to stay centered around our community wanting to connect through play, while still stuck at home, and also express who they are through a relevant collection of artwork that speaks to them. So, we’ve got an incredible roster of multicultural artists lined up — some established and some emerging artists — as well as new additional sports coming to the round21 product line including ping pong, basketball and more. We think the power of play and self-expression will lift people up, bring communities together and create a more inclusive society. That’s the mission behind round21 and we’re focused on bringing it to life. In addition, we just wrapped a successful Kickstarter campaign and our 100+ Founding Members will be showcased through social and other content as they are a reflection of our community and the diaspora of voices, backgrounds and stories that make up round21.

What advice would you give to other female thought-leaders or experts to help their team to thrive?

Today, more than ever, the idea of co-creation is at the heart of modern brands. Having an openness to explore how others would help your brand stay relevant, be reimagined, and ultimately bring joy to your community is required. This includes co-creating with your teams and employees and letting them be the face of the brand. I am increasingly convinced that employees are influencers for a brand because of their authentic position as a shareholder / developer of the company. Allowing them to present themselves openly about where the brand is going, their beliefs in what’s being built is a strategic and important way for brands to grow in today’s society. round21 has an evergreen student-athlete internship program and allow our interns to be co-creators internally and externally which helps us reflect our values and theirs to our community.

What advice would you give to other female entrepreneurs about the best way to manage their business, no matter what the size?

Advice is tricky because every situation is different. But, I’ve found incredible power in building a network of other female founders who are sounding boards, peer resource support, emotional strength and more because they’re experiencing similar, but different challenges and successes which helps me in my journey. I share the same learnings back. Lynn Le, Founder of Society Nine and Gaia Giladi, Founder of Hilos Shoes both play this role for me and I also know I’m helping them in a similar way. There’s plenty of room for all of us to succeed and we share in each other’s journey to provide what help we can.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m fortunate to have worked for brands my entire life — including round21 — that are helping people connect and grow through sports, fitness or gaming. Utilizing the power of play and creativity, round21 does a powerful job lifting people up. That’s goodness we’re proud of and know is needed.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

5 Leadership Lessons are rooted in stories of Faith, Connection, Belief, Curiosity, and Humility.

1) Faith: The experience of starting something from scratch requires unwavering faith. In the early days of round21 — which I still think we’re in — there are days that the Shopify site analytics suggest very few people care or the Instagram data suggests that very few people like what I’m building. The reality is, it takes 10 years to become an overnight success so if I don’t believe in what I’m building, who will? Regardless of what the data says, my Faith will always suggest I believe in what we’re building and that’s the data point that will hold the majority of my belief.

2) Connection: “It takes a village” is a statement that has always made sense to me, but even more so as a Founder. In my experience, the network you build in your life (career included, but not limited to) is your “net worth,” that is available when you start something new. When COVID hit, everyone was curious about what everyone else was doing because it’s in shared moments that we understand mutual value. I can’t tell you the number of people that have extended a hand to support round21, but Kevin Carroll of Katalyst comes to mind. He was referred to me by a former colleague, Pam Catlett and her generosity of introduction has resulted in him informing and inspiring so much of what round21 is building. Those connections come from an open mind and heart around who you surround yourself with and ultimately results in so much more than one may realize.

3) Belief: Some may say “faith” and “belief” are synonymous, which may be true, but in business, I find belief comes first. Belief is rooted on a set of experiences, data points, and proof that establishes the foundation for faith. When I decided round21 was an idea worth pursuing and that it would somehow merge art + sport for today’s outspoken generation, I had to make some tough decisions on product and experience strategy and took in a lot of other people’s opinion which created a bit of swirl. From that experience, I learned that Founders/Entrepreneurs have to have belief in what to build from within.

4) Curiosity: Curiosity is the single most important characteristic of a successful entrepreneur. In learning how to build a modern brand, constantly asking questions and pushing the norm reveals opportunities to build strong, differentiated positioning for new brands. I’ve had to consciously “unlearn” some of the things from my 20 years in marketing to stay curious and current with how round21 should be brought to life. We want the brand to stand for something that doesn’t exist yet, so coming at that with humble curiosity keeps us both fresh and relevant as we chart our own unique path.

5) Humility: I don’t believe that you can have drive without humility. Entrepreneurs are intrinsically driven, and when we succeed or feel a moment of failure, it’s important to EQUALLY have humility in both situations, failure and success. When success hits, humility keeps us pushing more into the unknown to create a future that doesn’t exist yet. When failure hits — and it will — it’s reminding ourselves we don’t have all the answers, but what we do have is the will to keep going. I recall in 2020 when I got feedback from an advisor about looking at the business in a way that was different from how I saw it. I trusted this advisor a lot and his direct feedback was important to me. Instead of dwelling on the feedback, I listened to his perspective and went back to the drawing board and had two major brand breakthroughs around storytelling and partnerships. Staying open to learning and humble in the process is critical to building anything in life — especially new brands.

You are a person 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?

I would inspire a movement around inclusivity. I believe that the more we see each other’s differences and celebrate them, the better society will be. We’ve grown up in a culture that’s extremely competitive and in some ways cut throat. Social media has created “personas” where many people often look past the “person,” We all have gifts, stories, and history to make and I believe that each of us deserves an equal voice and support to live our authentic lives fully without judgement. I would love to lead that movement and believe round21 has an opportunity to do just that.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Being better is good, but being different is better.

Not only is this quote core to round21’s reason for being, but it’s critical to how I’ve lived my life. The first moment I realized this would be my path was when I decided what job to pursue out of college. I grew up as a daughter of two immigrant parents from India and my first job out of college was to play professional basketball overseas. That story was one-in-a-million compared with peers growing up. Convention suggested that the first job out of college was to be in education or business or pursue medical school, law school, business school, etc. I chose to be different. And, for me, that was a better choice.

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