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Students vs. Startups Ep: 21 Stress, Startups, and Mindful Meditation

Students vs. Startups Ep: 21 Stress, Startups, and Mindful Meditation


Featuring Recharj

Read Time: 15 Minutes

Welcome to Episode 21 of Students vs. Startups. This week, moderator John Gilroy talks with the founder of  Recharj, Daniel Turissini. After hitting a wall in the federal contracting space, Daniel looked for a way to unwind and Recharj was born. Part yoga studio, part drop-in nap center, Recharj seeks to help Washingtonians find energy through relaxation.

[audio src="https://easternfoundry.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/students_vs_startups_podcast_episode_21-final.mp3"][/audio]

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John Gilroy: Welcome to Students Versus Startups Showdown the Potomac. My name is John Gilroy and I'll be your moderator today. Believe it or not Claude we've actually finished 20 episodes. We are starting number 21. And we actually have people who are coming back and wanting to be in the same room as me. Round of applause for these people that want to be in the same room as me for a half hour. Wow I don't understand it. This is pretty crazy.

If you haven't heard this podcast before it's very simple. We are in the Washington D.C. area. In fact we are sitting in a meeting room at the Eastern Foundry. Which is a startup community in the Washington D.C. area.

One side of the table we have graduate students from Georgetown University in the Technology Management program. On the other side of the table we have a start-up. We introduce the students, introduce the start-ups and have a little conversation. And about 26 minutes later we all walk out of here friends. Hopefully, normally friends.

Our students today, we have two students. We have Obi Ukaegbu. And Obi, how are you? Tell us about your background please.

Obi Ukaegbu: I am doing well today, thanks for asking. I come from a background as being a tech analyst in the fin-tech space. I previously worked for a fin- tech company in New York for about two years. And then moved back here to the Washington D.C. area. Before I also have experience with strategy and e-commerce as well. Bachelor’s Degree in Information Systems from New York University.

John Gilroy: Both these people are candidates for Professional Studies Degree in Technology Management from the Continuing Studies School at Georgetown University. And Obi is our money man. He's really good at finance and money and stocks.

Obi Ukaegbu: I will get at you for the finance questions.

John Gilroy: He's the money man. Watch your wallet there.

Phil you have done this before tell us about your background please.

Phil Crawford: Thanks, we are happy to be here today. I'm a first year Technology Management student part time, then full time. I actually work for the Federal Government. Basically I have been supporting agencies to make technology accessible to all American Citizens regardless of disabilities. I've also been on this podcast several times. I am happy to be back. And excited to join you guys today in this conversation.

John Gilroy: So Phil, as part of the class he has to interview CEO's of local companies. And so he interviewed the big, big dog at a local company. And on Thursday he's going to meet some of the smaller puppies at the company. So we'll see how you compare with the big dog thinks and with the smaller puppies of the company things. That's good.

And on the right side of my table. I have a gentleman by the name of Daniel Turissini. And he is a founder and CEO of a company called Recharj. Daniel tell us about your background please. Recharj

Daniel Turissini: Sure, so Recharj is a modern meditation and power nap studio located in Downtown D.C. We essentially provide a dedicated space for regenerative and restorative activities throughout the day. And it's really a space where folks can go to either take a power nap or to meditate. And really find some reprieve throughout their day.

John Gilroy: You have some degrees too. Tell us about your education and background, please.

Daniel Turissini: Sure, so I went to James Madison University. Undergrad as a Integrated Science and Technology major. And I stayed alongside to get my Master's, my MBA.

John Gilroy: So let me get this straight you have a strong MBA background. And you  involved in a business that involves meditation. Isn't that unusual?

Daniel Turissini: Oh absolutely. I think for many people, I didn't start out as a meditator. In fact this completely new and foreign world to me up to a few years ago. I was working as Government Contractor locally here in D.C. And as many people are very familiar with, I hit a wall. And I was incredibly burnt out. Just working stupid hours. And I was really along this journey of just looking for a place to rest, looking for a place to power nap. Just looking for a place where I could go to stop and take a break. And I couldn't find anything in the city. So I kind of went along my first initial route of validation. Where do you go when you hit that wall after lunch? We all have our natural circadian rhythm which dips after lunch time. So we all get tired and need to recharge our batteries. So where do people go?


IMG_8692 Daniel Turissini- Founder of Recharj


And I found out that in fact people were napping, they were taking breaks. It was just very bizarre places they would go. For folks lucky enough to be in Downtown D.C. with a car, some folks would escape down to the garage. Others would go to the Mother's room or a conference room. And some even admitted going to the bathroom. Just for a ten minute break.

John Gilroy: Well great I am going to toss this to our students now. Obi, you have a question for our startup here please.

Obi Ukaegbu: Yeah. My first question for you is, have you ever heard of this phrase called the "itis"? It's the feeling you get after eating too much food. You get to become into a food coma, so to speak. I feel like a lot of Millennials are guilty of having this food coma between the hours of 12:00 p.m. and let's say like 2:00 to 2:30. So my question to you is what is your primary target audience time? If that makes sense as a question. When do you really aim to get your top revenue. If you are looking for individuals who are looking to take a power nap or looking to use that portion of your product scope. Who do you target and when do you target?

Daniel Turissini: That's a good question. Our schedule right now, as it is, is divided into two segments. One is the power napping and one is the meditation. And we really don't see them as two separate groups. Because we really brand this as restorative and regenerative.

"There are different adoption rates for the two different activities at first. We've seen for the power napping we really comply with all the National Sleep Foundation criteria of 25 minutes of Power Nap."- Daniel Turissini Founder of Recharj

Because afterwards you get into a deeper stage sleep. Your sleep cycle can be aggravated and you can wake up feeling drowsy. If you wake up past a half hour to 45 minutes. So we've really fixed our nap times to 20-25 minutes.

Now those folks are generally located within a half mile radius, two mile radius of where we are. And we are in Downtown D.C. So the density there is pretty ripe. There is a lot of folks banging their heads against the wall. Trying to find out their next break. And there is a lot of really open-minded people who are looking for new ways, and decision makers too, who are looking for new ways to engage their employees. To find out how they can get their employees a career instead of a short term job.

I think one of the most damaging parts, strategic shortfalls, of any company is using your employee base for short term gain. What I mean by that is it's incredibly expensive to have employees that are constantly experiencing burnout. And burnout turns to turnover. And that's extremely expensive problem to solve. So you've seen a lot of companies recently open up and wake up to the idea of either developing some type of wellness amenity, and that's where we fit in. Initially we were developed to be a wellness amenity in commercial office space. And so we are focused on providing that "recharge" for employees to get through the rest of their day without blankly staring at a computer screen, for instance.

John Gilroy: Phil, want to jump in please.

Phil Crawford: Absolutely. I think you have said this a couple times, the word "recharge". Tell me the story behind the name. Actually Recharj, is that just the verb there? Or is there some other meaning behind it that you were thinking of when you were first developing this company?

Daniel Turissini: Yeah, I mean I wish it were so much more creative. But you hit the nail really on the head. The intention is really in the name. It's really meant for folks to broadly recharge their mind, body and soul. And I know it sounds a little cheeky. But it's kind of been really fashionable lately to really work until you are up against a wall. And then work further, work harder, work faster. This really provides folks the opportunity to take a step back and look at what does productivity mean. Is it just the amount of hours that you are working in a day? Or is there some piece of the puzzle that deals with energy management. How do we manage our energy throughout the day? It really provides a wellness aspect that fits in well to most corporate strategies.

Phil Crawford: Obi.

Obi Ukaegbu: So you mentioned this sort of end vision about improving the activity, productivity of the workplace. Right? I don't know too much about where your company is at right now as far as the level of funding. Are you a Series A, Series B? Have you escaped C funding right now? So where do you see yourself two to three to four years down the line when you are further down the funding line trying to reach this end vision of your company? How can you allocate individuals on the finance side and the funding side sort of match this end vision of yours?


IMG_8700 Obi Ukaegbu


Daniel Turissini: We have a couple different primary revenue streams. One is our B to C which is our brick and mortar business. Our in-studio business. And then we also do, and it's starting to explode which is great to see, our corporate mindfulness program. Which play really well into growing corporate wellness programs across corporate America.

And we're focused right now regionally. The project for the brick and mortar and the initial launch is bootstrapped. Right now as we look ahead strategically we are looking at a few different things. We are looking one for the corporate wellness side to really explode as companies increase their adoption. And kind of understand how mindfulness fits in to the well-being of their corporate citizens, of their employees. And also as an elective activity.

We project that meditation studios as a business are going the way of Yoga studios. Where you are going to see them replicate very quickly. Because American Yoga studios are very different from traditional Yoga studios East. It's more of a physical practice here.

"What we focus on is more of the mental exercise and emotional stability."- Daniel Turissini Founder of Recharj

That's something that folks are more and more understanding that that can't be neglected as part of our overall health.

John Gilroy: Phil, might fit in as part of your daily activities. What do you think?

Phil Crawford: Yeah, I think it's a very interesting concept. And I am now curious to know exactly where it is. I also work downtown. To my actual kind of question. You talk about your personal stress which kind of helped you push towards this idea of creating a company. Did you do any market research on D.C. being a particularly stressful city versus New York versus San Francisco or some other major city throughout the world?

Daniel Turissini: I am a native Washingtonian. I feel like I have my finger on the pulse of the prototypical Washingtonian here. My motivation for starting my business here in D.C. was more emotional than logical. I love this city. I travel a lot. And every time I come home this is really the city where I want to have my footprint and make the most impact. This is really where I wanted to start.

And yes, I think the nature of the power, commerce, entertainment, everything that D.C. has to offer and continues to grow in its offerings makes it a unique city that comes with unique stressors. And I think that is part of the problem that we are trying to solve.

John Gilroy: Quick question here, Obi, before we go on the break.

Obi Ukaegbu: Yeah as someone who is also a native Washingtonian. I went to high school downtown D.C. at Columbia Heights. Are there specific neighborhoods in D.C. that you're looking to target versus other neighborhoods or commercial strips to suffice for your revenue stream as you continue to grow?

Daniel Turissini: Yes, a visibility on the business side is crucial for us. That was our preeminent strategic play was to have visibility from corporate entities. Currently we are in Downtown D.C. right across from the White House on the corner of New York Avenue and 15th Street. And if we were going to look to expand into other locations. There are a lot of other prime locations that have spaces on the consumer side that think would be very ripe for the Yoga type model, business model. One of those would be Capitol Hill. Another would be DuPont Circle.


IMG_8722 Daniel Turissini- Founder Recharj


For me, I would really like to, I am really focused right now on the business and corporate side. Mostly because that's my strategic day to day responsibility. I've hired somebody who does the operations from day to day in studio. And she is fantastic. She has 30 years in integrated therapy. She is really my subject matter expert. She handles and deals with all the instructors. And so I really think that this is something that is easily replicable. Not only in D.C. but abroad. And so I am looking forward to the next challenge.

John Gilroy: Hey Daniel, if people are listening to this podcast and want to get more information. What website should they go to for your company please?

Daniel Turissini: Absolutely. You can go to recharj.com and that's spelled recharj.com.

John Gilroy: Great job Dan. Great job students. The founding sponsors for Students vs. Startup is the Radiant Group. If you enjoy solving problems and like to work with bright people, the Radiant Group is a place for you. Contact Al Di Leonardo or Abe Usher at the radiantgroup.com. We are hosted by the Eastern Foundry of Government Contractors who are bringing innovative solutions to the Government Marketplace. For more information go to eastern-foundry.com.

Welcome back to Students vs. Startups Showdown in the Potomac. You know our students, we have Obi and Phil. And we have our start up Daniel Turissini.

I have to ask you the obvious question here. You went to Bishop O'Connell High School which is a Catholic school. And I teach at Georgetown University Jesuit School. And Jesuits of course are famous for their spiritual exercises. Which seems kind of like a meditation to me. It would make sense that you'd stay within the Catholic tradition, doesn't it? Or you branch off to a different tradition? How does this tradition fit with your background?

Daniel Turissini: Yeah, to me there is absolutely no conflict. I still am Catholic. I still go to Catholic Church. This supplements actually a lot of what I practice. And different people can get different things out of meditation. For me, it's a productivity enhancer and it's something that alleviates stress and anxiety.

Meditation traditionally is the calming of the mind. And what I like to use to illustrate that is a type of meditation that is very common, very popular right now. It's “Mindfulness Meditation.” And Mindfulness Meditation really is the practice of being aware of our moment to moment experience without judgment.

So to unpack that, what does that mean? It's a practice. Very much like the first time you get in front of the piano you are not going to be able to play Mozart. Right? You are going to struggle. You need practice. In order to achieve a desired outcome it's something that takes repetition. And then being aware of our moment to moment experience is really tethered to a couple different things. One of them is curiosity. And curiosity specifically with an object of meditation. An object of meditation can be something like the sensation of part of our body, can be a candle, can be a sound. Often times the object of meditation is the breath. And the reason the object of mediation is often times the breath is because the breath is very portable and it's constant. Hopefully, otherwise you have a problem.

John Gilroy: Inspire, spire breathes spirit.

Daniel Turissini: There you go. So the second, or the final part of that definition is without judgment. And I like the analogy of the sun being your mind and the clouds being your thoughts. Right, so the sun doesn't really care about the clouds whisping by they just go by. And you don't have to tell a story about your thoughts that come up and come down. Which by the way is a natural human experience. So it's a common misnomer that meditation is removing, or resolving or getting rid of all your thoughts. That's actually not true. It's actually an exercise of the mind.

So when our mind naturally wonders, the practice of bringing it back to the object of meditation, back to the breath is actually that bicep curl for the mind. That's the exercise. That's really where you are getting your training. And it's kind of a really exciting time right now. Because it used to be this really, woo-woo hippy, Yogi, ethereal, California thing. And it's not that any more.

"The past two decades of research from Harvard scientist researchers alike, have really shown that the brain physically changes with meditation."- Daniel Turissini, Founder of Recharj

So parts of the brain such as happiness, creativity, focus. Or if you are practicing a loving kindness meditation for instance the parts of the brain such as empathy and compassion grow. Whereas parts of the brain such as that are associated with stress and anxiety shrink. And this is a physical phenomenon. So it's really interesting how this has evolved in our understanding and education over the years in terms of what meditation is.

John Gilroy: Great. We got to jump in here. Phil you have a question for our meditator here?

Phil Crawford: Sure, absolutely. Maybe kind of switching to the business and partnership side of things. I for example am a member of a co-working space. So for people who are listening on the podcast out there what that means is I pay money every month as a service to have a productive space, essentially an office. It's all the necessary things that I would need. It seems to me co-working spaces, different organizations that are providing kind of similar type spaces, would be good potential partners out for a company like yours as an add on. Like hey, I am a member of this I get 10% off discount. Are partnerships, other kind of companies providing services to a certain type of demographics that you are looking at down the line?


IMG_8708 Phil Crawford


Daniel Turissini: Absolutely. In fact we are doing that now. So we have partnered with several co-working spaces in the D.C. area and regionally actually. To provide this service as essentially a perk or event for co-working space members. And it's fantastic because it kind of breaks the habit of working through your full day. It gives you a little bit of a break, gives you a little education, gives you something to think about. And it goes back to the fact of just introducing just a little bit more productivity throughout your day.

The other partnerships that we have explored and been very successful at recently has been partnering with the larger more comprehensive wellness companies. That provide other services such as fitness, smoking cessation, biometric screening, all that fun stuff. And now they are getting asked questions from their clients. Hey, I heard about this thing called meditation. I heard it's good for our employees. Can you look into doing that for us? And so we partner with those companies and we are essentially a vendor for them to provide those services.

Phil Crawford: Hey Obi, I just thought about insurance. Think this may fit in the conversation anywhere?

Obi Ukaegbu: Yeah, that could be part of my next question. I was going to ask you exactly what do you think is your competitive advantage when it comes to other players in your space? Maybe it's the way that you package insurance on the strategy side? Perhaps it's the talent that you hire? The access to information concerning meditation or the access to location. You are in a pretty prime location in Washington D.C. In the real estate space we call that 100%. That's one of the highest locations that you can get for purchasing property, by the way.

So what are those attributes that you sort of bring together and allocate in order to bring that competitive advantage better than other individuals in your space?

Daniel Turissini: Sure, I think you mentioned a few of them. I mean location for us is crucial. As I mentioned before it gives us that visibility in the corporate space. And we have got a lot of attention just from footsteps in our space. So that's been an incredible marketing exercise all on its own.

The other thing has really been our people. I was really lucky to find Christine. Because she has been in the space for a number of years and she is really my subject matter expert. She knows what's she's talking about. She knows how to hire the right people who are legitimately trained and certified in the meditation field.

The other great advantage is that we were really a first mover in this space in D.C. And that comes with its own set of advantages. Right? We're having to do a little bit more educating than we would like to do. But it's coming along. The adoption rate is really looking optimistic for us. We are very excited to be in this space.

John Gilroy: Does insurance cover it by the way?

Daniel Turissini: Not yet. Actually there are some major insurance agencies, if you look at the headlines recently. So Cigna has just announced that they are going to start providing coverage for meditation.


IMG_8693 Daniel Turissini- Founder of Recharj


John Gilroy: That's a big break through.

Daniel Turissini: Yeah, so I've started working and talking to Cigna to see what type of arrangement we can have to cover folks' meditation. Now the other major player in the insurance game is Aetna. And Aetna's CEO is famous for introducing mindfulness and meditation to his own staff and his own group. And he is huge believer, huge champion of meditation. So we are looking very much to piggy back on the big players to provide this as an insurance vehicle for folks that may not have the means to do so.

John Gilroy: Phil

Phil Crawford: Who do you see as your biggest competitors in this space?

Daniel Turissini: That's a good question. Right now there aren't any major players. So that is yet to be seen. I personally like to think more of a collaboration model. I think there are a lot of folks that are in similar space. The business model is very similar to Yoga studios. And the Yoga studios of course, competing for students. And on the corporate side we are all competing for clients.

Right now we are kind of the only game in town. So it provides us that kind of breath to be able to really establish a foundation. So that's what we are working hard to do. We are working to establish a foundation of bringing in the right people and having the right processes. So that we can really scale moving forward. So we really have been lucky that there is a luxury of not very many competitors.

Now there are competitors that are really in the digital space. And that's fine because we don't see ourselves as a conflict with any company providing a digital meditation experience. I think we are a compliment to that. I think something live is a lot more effective. It connects with people differently.

And there are also other studios on the consumer side in New York and L.A. and they have been players for many, many years. And we have been able to draw from some of their lessons learned and experiences. To really kind of build an experience in D.C. that is unique. But where there is also a demand. And something that is really rewarding for folks when they come in and they leave.

John Gilroy: I was at their website. And one of the phrases that their website says, "Is to inspire humanity with a smile." Question for him?

Obi Ukaegbu: He's smiling right now. That's a good sign. Another question would particularly be, you talk a lot about bringing the right people. And having the right people on your team. You mention Christine, who is a very important person when it comes to sufficing for your customers’ needs. Now, when it comes to surrounding yourself with the right entities, right? I am talking about corporations, companies. Who are some individuals, who are some companies that you are looking forward to working with to potentially help you reach your end vision?


IMG_8711 Obi Ukaegbu, Phil Crawford


Daniel Turissini: Sure. I think I mentioned before really partnering with kind of the big players in the corporate wellness space is huge for us. And I think that's kind of the vehicle that is going to make us the most successful.

I think on our own we are at the point where we are reaching our limit of in-bound request. We are looking to establish our own sales team to do more outreach. It's been fantastic because there has been that pent up demand and questions coming in. We have been able to really establish, as I mentioned, a foundation to kind of launch from. A point of when we are really able to establish a sales team to really kind of go after those kind of prime sales leads.

And some of those are kind of the major companies that don't already have an internal meditation or mindfulness program for instance. So we see folks that have "got it" for many years. Like Nike, Google, Ben and Jerry's that have internal programs. And in fact we actually got a contract with one of those large companies on their D.C. side because they are a San Francisco based company. And their office in D.C. is growing. And this is something that's been in their corporate culture for a number of years, since inception. And they loved what we do, they loved our people. And so that's been a success so far. And we are looking to continue to do that.

John Gilroy: More leads than you can handle. I like to hear that. That's great. Some use meditation for understand. Tell us more. Where can they find more information? That website please.

Daniel Turissini: Sure. We are at recharj.com. Recharj.com

John Gilroy: Thank you Daniel. We are running out of time here. If you liked the podcast give us a review on iTunes. I would like to thank our founding sponsor the Radiant Group, our host Eastern Foundry. Signing off from high atop a nondescript building in lovely downtown Rosslyn, Virginia. I am John Gilroy follow me on Twitter @raygilray. And thanks for listening to Students vs. Startups Showdown in the Potomac. This is a special after the interview with Daniel Turissini. We are going to have an example of a Tibetan sound, what is this exactly Daniel?

Daniel Turissini: Sure, Tibetan Singing Bowl.

John Gilroy: Well go of the Microphone and do it.

Daniel Turissini: Here you go.