Rupa Mohan is on a fitness mission. After years of traveling and being dissatisfied with her options for working out, she started The Sweat Social as a way to maintain your fitness goals on the road. She believes that you shouldn’t have to suffer from boring workouts when you’re in a new city, and decided that New Orleans, a city full of amazing people and culture, was just the place to launch her new business in 2014.
We spent some time with Rupa to learn how her love for fitness and travel inspired her to create a very unique business concept. Read on for our Bootstrapper interview with Rupa Mohan, and follow The Sweat Social on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
InCredibly: You went from Wall Street executive to entrepreneur when you launched The Sweat Social. What motivated you to make this switch, and tell me a bit about the transition phase?
Rupa Mohan: I started working in finance on Wall Street right out of college. It was great and taught me so many lessons, but my heart was not in it. I spent most of my 20s trying to figure out what I wanted to do and had always been a fitness junkie. There was a gym in the office so I took advantage of it.
At that time, working out was my hobby, but my passion kept on growing. I became a Certified Group Fitness Instructor and a Certified Personal Trainer and got my MBA. During that time, my husband and I were talking about how great it would be to live abroad. I read some great books, talked to digital nomads, and got inspired to save money for long-term travel with a mission to invest in myself and figure out what I really wanted to do.
My husband and I bought one-way tickets to Bangkok in 2014 and set off to travel and explore the world. Through that experience, one important lesson that I learned about myself was that I really like to work. The idea of sitting on a beach all day sounds great, but I get stir-crazy and need to contribute in some way. I wanted to find something where I could work and make an impact.
I started designing workouts that could be done anywhere without equipment so we could stay fit while traveling and eating our way through amazing destinations. I quickly realized there was a niche there. Who knows how big it will be in the future?
The fitness industry is booming, but you’ve developed a very unique niche for your company. What makes The Sweat Social so different from your typical gym experience?
We really focus on creating effective and fun workouts that are 30 minutes long. We wanted to offer workouts that are equipment free. You can always work out at a fancy gym when you’re at home, but we wanted to offer unique experiences and workouts that also involved the destination and meeting fellow travelers as well as locals. We offer all sorts of classes ranging from High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Tabata to Boxing to Pilates and Yoga. It’s about making a workout something fun, convenient, social, effective and something you will want to add to your itinerary.
Another great aspect about our model is that travelers get to mingle with locals and learn about great restaurants or places they should visit. It’s fun for both the traveler and the local to share in that experience. We have customers ranging from 17 to 65 years old, so that brings a well-rounded group to each workout with lots of different opinions and ideas.
You choose to launch first in New Orleans, which is becoming an entrepreneur hub these days. It’s amazing after Hurricane Katrina how the entrepreneurs have breathed new life into New Orleans and created a dominant entrepreneurial culture. How does this vibrant community support your business, and do you feel like this is a critical element to business success?
New Orleans has this contagious energy combined with amazing, genuine people. It’s a place that we would always come and visit as a tourist and so it seemed like a natural place for us to start The Sweat Social. Coming from NYC where no one would look you in the eye, New Orleans was breath of fresh air.
There is an unbelievable support system in New Orleans community for entrepreneurs. I really feel like that is the most important piece when you’re running a startup. You need people around you that will support you, but are going to ask hard hitting questions that you need to think about to be successful.
We had heard about the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week and that is what brought us to New Orleans from overseas. I remember at the NOEW Festival we met Tim Williamson who runs the Idea Village, and he asked me to pitch my business. I didn’t know what to say, I hadn’t formulated it into a pitch yet, but I was thankful that he made me think on my feet.
What are your long term goals for The Sweat Social? I always hate the question, “Where do you see yourself a year from now,” but it’s always a fitting one for an entrepreneur.
Right now, we’re really focusing on optimizing product market fit and building the right team. We have a broad idea of what that looks like, but we don’t want to make too many assumptions at this stage. The mission of the company is “keeping you fit wherever the road may take you.” So we’re looking at new service offerings and other cities where travelers would benefit from our unique and exciting way to maintain health and fitness on the road.
What’s been your proudest achievement as a business owner?
We were really fortunate to secure some hotel and group partnerships pretty quickly. Right now, we are working with Starwood Hotels, W Hotel, Le Meridien and Windsor Court as well as a number of group planners. This was a big win for us because these organizations saw the value in what we are doing and they get it. I think having B2B partnerships is key in growing and expanding a company like ours.
Take me through the process to launch. How much of an investment was required and where did you turn to secure those funds?
We began by throwing some darts at the wall, talking with travelers and figuring out what they would want to do to stay fit when on a business or leisure trip. We then spoke to hoteliers and group planners on how they could offer more value to wellness travelers. After we had enough information and general market validation, we put together a barebones offering and refined it until it fit the market need. The biggest lesson I learned was to deliver services based on your actual customers’ needs — not what you think they need.
We learned how to hustle early in our careers and bootstrapping was something I had to get good at. Our company is based on a lean model and required very low investment initially, but now we are looking at expansion and hiring and will hopefully be able to do that from revenue.
If you could wave a magic wand and propel your business in one direction, what would that be? Would you want more customers, a bigger staff, more locations, etc.?
For us, it’s all about building the right team to steer the bus, creating services that exceed our customer’s demands, and to continue to build partnerships to service more customers. We are trying to stay nimble and listen to our customers so we can pivot whichever way we need to as we grow. As long as we stay focused on that mission, I’m confident we will continue to grow.