THE BLOG

Women in Business: Lorna Borenstein, Founder, Grokker.com

03/19/2015 07:43 am ET | Updated May 19, 2015

The idea for Grokker came to Lorna Borenstein while on a multi-year sabbatical, traveling the world with her husband and three children. Hoping to utilize the internet in order to practice yoga and fitness while on vacation, she became frustrated with the lack of high-quality instructional videos available, as well as the difficulty in finding them aggregated in one place. In 2012, Lorna founded Grokker.com, the expert video network, to address this need.

Prior to her sabbatical, Lorna was President of publicly traded Move Inc. (NASDAQ: MOVE). She also held a number of executive positions at Yahoo! including Chief of their global personals online dating service and Head of Marketing for their multi-billion dollar worldwide Search & Marketplace businesses (Shopping, Travel, Autos, etc.). Lorna entered the Internet world back in 2000, when she launched eBay Canada out of her guest room in Toronto, Canada and went on to serve as eBay Inc.'s Vice President & General Manager.

Before discovering her passion for consumer technology, Lorna served as Assistant Legal Counsel at Hewlett Packard and practiced law in both the U.S. and Canada. She is fluent in several languages, an avid yogi, and an active supporter and fundraising member of various charities.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I have always been one to take risks, even when they are scary. I'm a "recovering lawyer," who studied and practiced law for years before discovering consumer technology and risked it all to dramatically refocus my entire career. In the late 90's, I resigned from my secure position at HP to start my own internet consulting firm. My mother and my boss were very skeptical. Yet that risk is what directly led to my being recruited to launch eBay Canada in their early days, out of my home, in fact -- and I've never looked back. All of my experiences have helped me become the CEO/founder I am today, but risk taking has made the most difference.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Grokker?
This may sound odd but the best lesson I learned from my previous work experience, was the importance of living joyfully. While I'd been running hard and advancing in my career, I had never stopped to evaluate my own overall happiness. After leaving my role as President of Move Inc., I took a break from a long and fruitful career in the tech industry, to give myself the time to assess how I wanted to live the next 40 years and how to infuse more joy into each day. That led to a multi-year early retirement that I spent as my family's "Chief Travel Officer." It was during this time I realized that in pursuing professional success I had failed to focus on daily joy. Even more profoundly, I realized that happiness is not a reward at the end of a life well played, but something to be savored all along the way.

So when I decided to exit retirement and found Grokker, it was important to me to establish a company culture that emphasizes relationships and workplace happiness as well as results. My goal is for 90% of my days at work to be joyful. I want the Grokker office to be a place that I, and everyone on the team, truly wants to come to every day. Where we know each other and feel supported both professionally and personally. A place that is filled with laughter and a clear sense that our work is bringing joy to the world. Grokker is unlike any place I've ever worked before and I believe our success is in no small measure a result of this special work environment.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Grokker?
Some people believe that becoming an entrepreneur is all about "being your own boss." While that's definitely a benefit, you are also the one responsible for everything, so you better love what you do day in and day out. As the founder of Grokker.com, the wellness video network, I get to wake up each morning and practice Yoga at home on my tablet with some of the world's best Experts, then go to the office and figure out how to make the experience even better. That is a highlight that never gets old. I can also tell you first hand that spurred on by my personal passion for wellness and my natural impatience, I push myself and the team hard as we strive to change the world. This drive generally inspires others to action, yet I am keenly aware that it simultaneously creates the very real danger of burnout -- both in me and the people on my team.

To counterbalance this I keep personal wellness as a priority, and try to lead by example - getting enough sleep, exercising daily (at home as well as at the office with my co-workers) and eating healthy to maintain peak physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

I love hearing how Grokker is enhancing the lives and wellbeing of our Members. My vision for Grokker is to help people everywhere advance their personal pursuit of physical, spiritual and emotional wellbeing. Truly, to help everyone Be a Better You. We've learned that Grokker's thousands of Expert-led wellness videos have allowed people to lose weight, cope better with emotional struggles, recover from serious physical ailments, reduce stress, master new techniques, and simply, find the time to make personal wellness a priority in their own lives - to help them feel better.

But the biggest highlight hands down has been my great fortune in building an amazing team. I knew the kind of culture I wanted to develop, and took my time hiring people who share and live our values. I do love coming to the office every day!

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Starting a company is a lot of work, no matter how passionate you are about it. I have to admit there were a few times where I thought to myself, "What have I gotten myself into? I came out of retirement for this?"

As a leader you must be able to think clearly, communicate effectively, and maintain a consistent stream of focused productivity each working day.

1. Take care of yourself - Eat 3, Move 3, Sleep 8. You need 3 nutritious meals per day, 3 workouts of 30 minutes per week, and 8 hours of sleep a night to be at your best.

2. Take fun seriously. As I mentioned before, joy isn't a reward at the end of a life well played, but something to be savored all along the journey. Make sure you and your team have time for some laughs as it will help everyone bond, feel happier and ultimately be more creative and productive.

3. Take your vacation. Do it to recharge your batteries as well as arm you with fresh perspective and energy to tackle the waiting challenges when you return. Plus it sets a good example for the rest of the team that vacation time is something you expect them to take and gives them the opportunity to grow and develop as they handle things without you around!

4. Encourage your team to make personal wellness a priority too. As the leader, you set the tone. Talk about your own wellness regimen, or create a friendly co-worker fitness competition. If you can organize post-lunch walks or team yoga breaks, so much the better. Increasing your team's personal wellness, will quickly lead to increased job satisfaction and engagement.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
I've learned that resilience is key. The ability to bounce back and continue to be tenacious after setbacks has been and continues to be a useful skill. Plus, the desire and ability to make and maintain friendships at all levels of the organization throughout my career. The back you're stepping on today is likely the butt you're kissing tomorrow, so be nice to everyone without an agenda, it can make all the difference.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
As CEO of a growing and evolving wellness video network and mother of three, I have a lot of people and priorities vying for my time. At one point in my life, I found myself being pulled in different directions and feeling guilty for taking what little time I had for myself.
However, since taking a few years off, then exiting retirement to start Grokker.com, I've discovered that making the conscious decision to invest time and energy into my own wellness was vital to properly managing my commitments in all areas of my life.

I let go of my feelings of guilt and learned to never neglect "me." My secret was to accept the simple notion that taking care of myself is not selfish, it's necessary to keep me both mentally and physically strong enough to deal with my busy life. This mindset has allowed me to maintain a well-rounded lifestyle, effectively balancing my personal and work life.

So what do I do? 1) I practice yoga or workout daily; 2) I make time to bake for my kids in the evenings even if my email box is calling me; 3) I prioritize hanging out with my friends, my husband, and my family on the weekend; and 4) I make sure to sleep 8 hours at night.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I've encountered my fair share of issues in the workplace. For a short but difficult period of time I had a manager who was emotionally unstable, he shouted and even threw pencils at me! Another manager I had openly disliked women in the office. Over the years I've been hit on, invited to strip clubs, you name it.

Early in my career, when I was a young attorney, clients would often see me in the office and assume I was a secretary, and ask me to fetch them coffee. It became so normal an occurrence, that when asked I would simply smile and say, "I'm sure we can find an assistant who would be pleased to get you some coffee." The client would realize their mistaken assumption, be embarrassed, apologize and thank me, often telling me of a niece or female cousin studying law. Challenges like these are what test you and make you stronger, though they are hardly fun.

As sad as it is to acknowledge in this day and age, women still face hidden and overt biases. Whether it is harsher or sexist personality criticism in performance reviews, fortune or lack of equal pay, women are grappling with plenty of issues in the workplace. Here in the Silicon Valley we are fortunate to have a culture where women in tech proactively seek to help each other out. Professional women everywhere need to continue to mentor and support each other and professional men need to ask themselves what they can do to help women have equal opportunities. A more gender diverse corporate landscape is just good business.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have been fortunate in my life and career to have had the opportunity to work with many mentors and they have all been extremely encouraging. A mentor often sees greater potential in you than you can yourself. Having people you respect and admire believe in you is a wonderful gift. One of my former Directors from my Board at Move Inc. was and continues to be a tremendous mentor to me. She encouraged me to start a business of my own and "never work for anyone else ever again." Without her advice, I don't know that I would have started Grokker.

I have also enjoyed being a mentor to dozens of younger men and women over the years, and have benefitted enormously from those relationships. Giving time to help others is remarkably rewarding, especially when I am able to make a positive difference by using my own experience to assist someone else or help them see new possibilities.

In my personal life, I am lucky to have a small group of very close friends whose advice I count on. I can let my hair down and share my ugliest truths or most embarrassing fears. Time and time again I turn to these intelligent, intuitive, loving men and women, and they gently blow away the fog so I can see things clearly. A willingness to be vulnerable and seek out honest feedback is a tremendous life skill. It is in my view, the opposite of weakness.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
One of the female leaders I most admire is someone I only met once, Brenda Barnes. Brenda rose up the ranks at Pepsi-Co eventually becoming CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America. Brenda resigned from this position in 1997 to spend more time with her young family, a move that made national headlines. Brenda weathered the media storm and after 7 years with 3 children eventually returned to corporate America where she pulled off a most unlikely comeback becoming CEO of Sara Lee. Brenda's confidence in making the right personal choice in the face of enormous societal pressure is inspiring to me. Her success was undeniable, her standing at the top of the Most Powerful Women lists impossible to miss, yet she had the strength to choose the right path for herself and that in my view is the mark of true power and freedom.

Before I took my retirement years off, I worried what people would think, what people would say about my choosing to bow out of the working world. I worried that people would view me as a cop out who was stepping out of a race others would give their eyes to qualify for. But in the end, I chose joy, I chose happiness, and I chose me over all the other voices. I think Brenda had more than a small part in helping me make that choice and for that I am deeply grateful.

I often tell young women I mentor to choose joy. If that means having children early in their careers, then do it. If that means leaving a nasty manager by taking a lateral move, do it. Life is too short to live it by anyone else's rule book.

What do you want Grokker to accomplish in the next year?
I'm so proud of what Grokker has accomplished to date and that our culture embodies our company's philosophy of personal wellness. In the coming year and for years to come, we want to continue to find ways to make wellness accessible to everyone who is seeking it, so they can lead happy, healthy lives.