Tech entrepreneur Meghan Chayka is one of the most influential women in Canadian sports.
The co-founder of Stathletes, a sports analytics company that harnesses the power of data to provide powerful insights to athletes across the NHL, NWHL, MBA, and MLB, Meghan has spent the last decade growing her company and team to become an organization with over 50 employees.
We caught up with Meghan to discuss growing up in Ontario, the biggest challenges when scaling Stathletes in the early 2000s, and some of her best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Tell us about your childhood. Was hockey a big part of your life growing up?
I grew up in the Niagara region, about an hour south of Toronto. I was always very involved in sports and had a lot of exposure to hockey throughout my childhood. My main sports were basketball, baseball and volleyball as I’m very tall (over 6 foot). I still take a lot of ideas from other sports and try to apply them to hockey. So, I’m also a very big fan of many leagues/teams outside of the NHL.
Do you remember how you knew that you wanted to pursue economics/finance in school? Or was it a decision that was already made for you, and you found a passion for after?
I was always interested in more technical subjects. I took a wide variety of courses in university, spanning math/stats, business and the economics department. To this day, I try to read and learn a lot outside of my daily business focuses. I think having a “lifetime student” mentality goes a long way in your career.
You founded Stathletes in the late 2000s. What was the hardest part about turning your idea into a reality?
Every entrepreneurship story is different, but I think there are general themes. With Stathletes, we were already successfully working in hockey with a few clients in the late 2000s so we had to figure out how to scale and become a true “startup” company. There are always people who will not get what you are trying to accomplish, but I focused on the people that did. There is a lot of business work that’s not as glamorous, but it certainly is important and the foundation for being successful.
In previous interviews, you’ve talked about failure and rejection. How did you overcome that initial fear of failure when launching your business?
I think it’s important to acknowledge failure as part of the process of building a business and innovating.I think if there is not a risk of failure, you’re not dreaming big enough.
I don’t have a fear of failure. I just see it as feedback for what doesn’t work. Every road bump or block is a lesson. Also, my work is not an indication of my worth as an individual. So, I get over any rejection pretty easily and am onto the next challenge.
Stathletes is now a company with over 50 employees. What is the hardest part, or the part that you’ve found most surprising/challenging, about managing people?
I’m not sure there’s one area that’s the hardest part. There are always new challenges and needs. We have scaled well past 50 employees and have a wide variety of departments. In COVID times, making sure we are all still connected and communicating effectively has been challenging.
In your opinion, what makes a good leader?
Leadership is a much-studied topic and is a crucial skill to succeed in business. For me personally, I admire leaders that are inspiring and bring out the best in others. I think being able to have direct reports that are also great leaders is really important for any “boss”. You can’t manage everyone but you can put in the processes, resources, and people to succeed at every level.
How did it feel to be on the cover of The Hockey News, as one of the 100 ‘People of Power’? You’ve also been named among the most influential women in Canadian sports. What does that mean to you?
I am always humbled to be included on lists. The Hockey News was a big cover for me and I am very grateful to be on it. I think, especially as an entrepreneur, that you are only as good as the people you recruit and the company you build. So, I attribute these covers and recognitions to my team, not just myself as an individual. They have all helped immensely in building Stathletes.
You’re fairly active on social media. What’s your best advice for others to keep in mind about social media?
I have a couple purposes for social media. 1) Connect with people that have similar interests and learn. 2) Communicate who you are and what you do. I try to post about what I do in my day to day life. Some of it is fun but a lot of it would be considered the daily grind. I think being authentic and interested in learning from others goes a long way in building a social network.
Tell us about this year’s partnership with the NWHL?
Every year for the last 8 years, I have set goals on working in women’s hockey. My first major breakthrough was working at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics for the same dollar amount as the men’s tournament. Providing these elite level women’s athletes with the same data and products as the men, I believe is crucial in moving the game ahead. The NWHL just completed their tournament with the final games aired on NBC. Stathletes was able to be the official data partner and worked with them every step of the way. It is very meaningful to me as a woman in sports to support women athletes when I can.
You’ve recently been working on a virtual conference, HANIC. How did this idea come to be and how is it going?
I took COVID as a period to try new remote ideas and HANIC was one of them. It is an entirely free series of workshops on various sports analytics topics. We even had the NFL and MLB host different events. It’s important to me to have low costs and barriers to entry when learning and I hope the participants got a lot out of them.
I was also lucky to speak at the Women’s Leadership conference for the NBA and at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference. This year has been challenging, so it’s nice to still connect with peers virtually.
After achieving so much success at such an early age, what’s next for you?
I truly believe Stathletes will continue to grow exponentially. We are now an international company and work within 22 leagues worldwide. I am excited about continuing this growth and designing new products to bring to market.
What’s your best advice to any young women looking to achieve the size of success you have?
My advice is always: find what you’re passionate about, learn as much, both formally and informally, as you can, and don’t limit yourself to what you can accomplish. Incremental gains every day add up to huge goals being accomplished.