Tiffany Mason, founder of Harlem Pilates, was absolutely buzzing and could hardly sit still when I spoke to her for an upcoming episode of the Get a Real Job podcast. It makes sense when you consider that she runs an exercise studio devoted to getting people moving and also that she was just named a winner of the Make It Awards.
Harlem Pilates is one of four winning businesses that Squarespace and the New York Knicks are giving a $30,000 grant, a one-year subscription for Squarespace, use of select Squarespace marketing inventory, including a yearly Unfold Pro subscription, and a feature segment on MSG Networks.
“It is so exciting,” she told Entrepreneur.
“And honestly, I’m still processing it.”
Entrepreneur spoke with the inspiring Mason about the launch and growth of Harlem Pilates and got her inside tips for any entrepreneur who is about to pitch their business to competition judges or investors. These are highlights from that conversation, which have been edited for length and clarity.
It all starts with passion
“Before I started this business, I was an executive assistant working for an advertising agency. And as much as I loved my job, what I really love to do is help people. So there was a bit of a void there for me. The passion was lacking. So I decided to try to launch Harlem Pilates. But I didn’t just jump in. I founded the company two years before we even started looking at brick-and-mortar spaces. I kept my job and did a lot of careful planning. My apartment at the time was basically a one-bedroom with a big closet. So I moved all my personal stuff to my closet and was going to make the larger space the studio. But when we had our first class at my apartment, I was like, this is so much bigger than what I’m downsizing it to be. That’s when I started to take it seriously. I moved a little bit faster with the paperwork and started to look at funding options. Then I started to meet with brick-and-mortar spaces and here we are!”
Having a unique vision
“I definitely think that being a woman of color gives me a perspective of certain things that particularly black women are looking for when they go to these spaces. But at the same time, we’re available and cater to all people. I’m very intentional about all of the little things in the studio, such as the soaps, the lotions, the scent, the feel, the colors, the music. We have a very clean, minimalist feel because I have had experience with spaces where pictures were up and I just couldn’t identify with them. This way, everyone feels welcome.”
Pitching your business
“My biggest advice is to never count yourself out. When I first thought of applying for the Make It Awards, I thought there was no way they were going to notice my little application. We’re just this small little studio in the middle of upper Manhattan. No way! But you can’t disqualify yourself. I was looking for ways to fund Harlem Pilates without going into debt and learned about this contest and tried. Now, I love paperwork — that’s my strength! And I think that helped me stand out.”
Support all around you
“The $30,000 award is based on the fact that Anthony Casalena, the founder and CEO of Squarespace, was loaned $30,000 by his dad to get his idea up and going. That story really resonated with me because when you have someone — a family member, friends, the bank — invest in you and believe in what you’re doing sometimes, it fuels your passion to figure out the rest.”
Empowering your business and the community
“The most powerful marketing tool for us has been word of mouth. Good things travel fast! You know, people across the street who grabbed their coffee after dropping their kids off at school might see the sign and peek in the door and then they become a client. And then they tell another parent at the school about it, and then they come in. It is very old school, but word of mouth has helped us tremendously. And that sense of community building is what I plan to use the award money for. We’re going to offer scholarships for people who may be experiencing financial difficulties to access a class for little to no cost. We want them to feel empowered and be around community members, so they don’t feel so alone.”
“When our classes end, my clients get a great workout and they’re kind of beaming. And I’m beaming with them and I didn’t even do the class! The energy in the room is something that can’t really be explained, but it definitely can be felt. There’s a lot of gratitude. There’s a lot of alignment as it relates to like me just feeling like I’m exactly where I should be, that I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing.”