Female Disruptors: Cat Kom is helping you SWEAT

The CEO of Studio SWEAT onDemand is disrupting the fitness industry.

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What is your “backstory”?

With a bachelor’s degree in business administration and technology, I graduated from college and went directly into the IT/tech field. I went into this field for two reasons, 1) I was good at it, and 2) I was young and had recently had my first son, little Anthony. So, I knew I needed to apply myself to a career where I could pay the bills without question. I wanted to be an English and Drama teacher in high school, but things changed. I had to get responsible, and fast.

Everyone assumed I would quit college when I had Anthony. I get it, most do. But, they were wrong! I never even took a break. I worked my tail off as a waitress (yep, no state or parental financial assistance), went to school full time, and rocked my boy to sleep with a book in my hand, only to get back up at the crack of dawn to press repeat.

Then, I graduated, and it was like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. I thought, “Man, now I just have to work full-time and be a good mom. Much easier.” It’s all relative right? So, I went straight into IT, where I held numerous titles in the field for over ten years: IT consultant, Instructor, Corporate IT Engineer, etc.

The entire time I was in the IT field, I was teaching fitness classes on the side, which really sparked my interest in, and in the end love of, fitness, especially Spinning®. Plus, I totally needed the free gym membership.

There finally came a point where I learned that I wasn’t passionate about the work I was doing in the IT world, I was settling for “pays the bills,” versus “what gets you up in the morning.”

I decided to take a huge risk, take money directly out of my retirement, and I bought the gym I was working out at in Washington State. I added group fitness to the gym amongst other things, and within a year, turned it into an incredible environment where people actually wanted to spend time. While there, I added to my accreditations, and got my personal trainer certification. Then, I decided to take my next risk.

I picked up my life in Seattle and moved to San Diego, my dream city. I thought I could make the move and start a new life in San Diego as a housewife and stay at home mom. That lasted about 11 seconds. It only took a few short months for me to realize that my heart was still in fitness, and with my background I quickly had moms in San Diego asking for me to train them. What started as one or two moms, quickly grew to dozens, with multiple “classes.” They’d never been trained like I trained ’em. Careful what you ask for my friends!

With my background in business and fitness, coupled with the inability to find a Spin® studio in San Diego that I liked, I opened up a studio which I called Studio SWEAT®. The studio was set up as group fitness classes and featured a number of different variations, with Spin® being the specialty.

The studio quickly grew in popularity and I was able to pay off my “debt” from starting Studio SWEAT® within four months… which as any business person would know, is unspeakable. I was pumped, but my clients left behind up in Washington were not. They missed me, and I missed them too.

My friends and clients that I left behind in Washington wanted me to send them video classes, so they could continue to workout and be trained by me. They pleaded for a CD. Yeah, that was still a thing then.

Anyway, my mind began to spin, (pun totally intended), thinking of the possibilities. From there, stemmed Studio SWEAT onDemand®, an on-demand solution that allows users to stream Studio SWEAT® fitness classes anytime, anywhere. What started from a webcam in the ceiling, became an online community, around the world, growing from 10 personal friends to 100 strangers united in their fitness quest, to now thousands of subscribers, tens of thousands of followers and millions of online viewers. I found a way!

I had coupled my tech and business background (which I had fallen into because of need), with my love and passion for fitness. This marriage of skills allowed me to build this amazing new arm to my business.

The tech background helped me build the IT platform, and grow and challenge the development team. My fitness industry experience helped me recruit and develop a world class fitness training team. Because of that, Studio SWEAT onDemand® has now grow into the incredible community and business that it is today.

I now operate an incredible team, including support and admin, IT staff and contractors, marketing agents, video experts, sales team reps, and about a dozen trainers who are just as invested in Studio SWEAT® and Studio SWEAT onDemand® as I am. That’s good stuff.

Why did you found your company?

I really wanted to find a way to expand that didn’t take me away from my family every night. I could have opened multiple brick and mortar fitness studios, but then you basically become a babysitter, the facilities you don’t personally visit/mange onsite often are almost never as well run, and then you spend more time travelling than you do working. Work harder, not smarter, right? Ok, I do some of both.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The workout videos that I create and share with the world feature everyday people, not fitness models or actors. Think about the fitness videos you’ve seen — all fitness models in a scripted, staged environment.

What I do is share real live workouts with real live people (not handpicked by a talent agent) that we professionally film and produce for our clients to stream on any screen or device. I feel like everyone else in my industry is too scared to do that.

I mean don’t get me wrong, me and my trainers that lead the workouts are superheroes, but we don’t all look like Barbies.

So, yeah, this is disruptive and different, but this form of reality TV is genuine, and it really helps the people working out with us from home feel like they’re in the studio working out with us and others like them. It’s so motivating! And, it’s also being good role models for our young people. Fit is where it’s at, and that doesn’t mean skinny. Fit comes in all shapes and sizes, and fit is what matters.

There are other things I’ll do to shake things up, like never let fear be a reason for making a decision, but we can talk about that later.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

To be honest, when I began this journey there were no other people doing what I’m doing, but I did have this boss when I first started in the IT world named Bonnie that I learned a lot from. She was tough, but nice. She always dressed to impress and I could tell that she really believed in me. That belief pushed me to want to do my best. I keep that in mind now that I’M the boss lady.

Beyond Bonnie, it’s really more my clients that have inspired and helped me. I’ve had people share that what we do at Studio SWEAT and Studio SWEAT onDemand has changed every aspect of their lives. They tell me that they sleep better, they eat better, they’re healthier, they’re off their meds, their confidence is up, they have more energy to play with their kids, and even that their marriage is better. C’mon, how motivating and inspiring is that.

Those people, sharing their gratitude and stories have helped me more than anything else, with the exception of my husband.

How are you going to shake things up next?

The same way I’ve done in the past, and am doing now… I live with a constant healthy sense of paranoia. I’m also going to dig into reaching the masses more than the one door at a time approach. Dialing in on the ‘influence the influencers’ kind of thing.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Always follow your heart and your gut, but take your head with you. Recently I was hiring for the highest position I’d ever hired for at Studio SWEAT onDemand and I didn’t do that. The person I ended up hiring had all the right answers, his resume was practically perfect, and he had the most qualified experience. BUT… my gut told me not to hire him. Did I listen? No. Major mistake. Not… good. Wasted tons of time training him then had to let him go and start from scratch. Now if my gut ever tells me no, I listen!

Never let fear drive your decisions. To own your own business is to take risks, but sometimes those risks are incredibly scary! It’s me on the line if something goes wrong.

One time I had a really tough decision to make and I was so conflicted on what to do. I was talking to a friend about it and she hooked me up with her business/life coach. In our first conversation she asked me why I was considering option A. I told her because I was scared of what would happen if I didn’t. She told me that it was totally fine to be scared. It was good actually, but that I didn’t get to where I was by making decisions out of fear. I went with option B. It was a good call. She was right!

Never be satisfied with okay. One time my first husband said to me, “Cat, can’t we just leave things how they are with the business? We’re doing fine. Things are steady. Let’s just ride the wave.”

My response, “Do you even know me at all?” Okay doesn’t drive passion. Okay doesn’t give you a reason to jump out of bed every morning. And, okay doesn’t keep you ahead of the competition, that’s for sure.

What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking?

I’m just now starting to listen to Podcasts more, so, as cliché as it seems I’d have to go with Twighlight. Kidding! I’d have to go with 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In particular, the chapter on first seeking to understand before seeking to be understood.

When I bought my first gym I really struggled with the being a boss stuff. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like when I felt employees did things “wrong” and then I had to address it. You’d think years later when I opened my second business I’d have figured it out right? Nope, not really. So, I decided to try the self help book I remembered reading way back in the day. It was like I was reading it for the first time and with a fresh set of eyes. That was the wisdom of experience I was feeling.

After that I wrote the quote “Seek first to understand” on my home gym whiteboard. It’s still there. I never erased it. It’s this constant reminder of a phrase that has really done me well. And not just me, everyone around me.

I’ve been working on doing this and it’s honestly made me a MUCH better leader.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Michelle Obama. She’s amazing and the epitome of excellence. She’s intellectual, artistic, a great mom, the wife that you know helped advise and keep her husband sane during their 8 years in the White House. Plus, she’s got swag, a killer sense of style and amazing arms.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on Instagram at @komcatherine. To learn more about the studio, you can follow @Studiosweat on Instagram or Studio SWEAT on Demand, on Facebook at @studiosweatondemand.

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