Made in Tribeca: Startover

About a year ago, with our lives ground to a halt, friends (and local residents) John Rolander and Srini Venkateswaran noticed a trend: business people they knew and admired were finding ways to change things up — try out a new angle, or a new way of doing what they were already good at. Pivot is the obvious descriptor, but what they observed was that some were even starting from scratch late in their careers.

As business consultants who worked together for 15 years, they started to think of how those folks, who had shown a good amount of creativity and gumption, could share their knowledge. The result is Startover, a sort of repository and online meetup spot for people who want to explore new approaches and ideas on a variety of topics related to wellness, work, wealth and lifestyle.

“The pandemic threw everyone a wrench, but some were able to turn things around and do creative things,” said Srini. “We wanted to create a forum to have conversations about starting over.”

Launched officially in early February, Startover has hosted 15 seminars so far on Zoom ranging across all sorts of topics: from the after effects of covid to standing up to Asian hate; to the health benefits of humor, the origins of chocolate and ways to get the attention of executive recruiters. And for the local crowd, Tribeca resident and trainer Gene Schafer discussed the benefits of exercising even if you only have a spare 15 minutes.

Next up on May 18, an educator from Sonoma who lost two parents to Alzheimer’s will present “Dementia with Dignity.”

There’s no business model right now — they don’t charge the audience and they don’t pay the experts. And while they are not opposed to the idea that Startover could make money in the future, “it was clear that we shouldn’t think of that during the pandemic or even what follows in the near term,” said John. “For now, we wanted to buy into the idea that it provides interest and value. And ultimately provides hope.”

They started out with their own contact list — about 200 people — for identifying both their experts and their audience. For a moderator of the discussions, John enlisted his wife, Susie Rolander, a literacy teacher and a college professor at Bank Street who specializes in online teaching. The first seminars attracted about 20 to 30 people, and they thought the intimate feel was working. But for the anti-Asian hate discussion, they had more than 200 sign up. That’s when they knew they could successfully expand the circle.

Long term there could be a business-to-business connection: once people listen in to a topic, how do they apply it? “How do you diet? How do you invest your money? How do you breath properly? We want to be able to measure the impact of these discussions,” said Srini. There could be something like a “Startover Stream” where participants can measure their progress on any number of themes or topics. “When we dream dreams, we think this is something we could take to businesses or institutions as turnkey solutions for engaging with employees, but that’s thinking further out,” said John.

For now and the medium term, the team is testing and learning: talking to focus groups, finding out what provides value, what attracts an audience, what other services could fit into the same theme. For everyone involved, it’s a side gig for now — they have folks helping, but everyone is working for free. So it’s really about the connections they are making and the excitement behind the idea.

“We want something that works and provides value,” said Srini. “Overall, it’s this feeling of helping people pivot a little bit in their lives — hopefully helping them make changes that they wouldn’t be thinking about it. Maybe that can grow and be something that really helps their lives.”



  1. Congratulations Srini and partners for launching this informative series!

  2. This series sounds great.