“From Avocation To Vocation: How I Turned My Hobby Into A Career” With Elise Caira of Sweat Fixx

An interview with Phil La Duke

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Don’t take things personally. At the end of the day, this is a business, and it’s yours. No one is going to love it as much as you. Eventually, people will move on or things will happen, and you need to remember this is a business and it’s not personal.

As part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elise Caira. Elise is the owner and founder of Sweat Fixx, overseeing all five of the Sweat Fixx locations throughout Massachusetts. After receiving her master’s degree in accounting, Elise spent several years in the corporate world working at one of the most highly-sought after accounting firms in the Boston area. After realizing that her current career path wasn’t going to allow her the flexibility to pursue her passion of opening up her own fitness studio, she decided to quit her “9–5” to enter the world of entrepreneurship. Sweat Fixx was born in January 2017 — just four short weeks after deciding that she no longer wanted to work in finance. Today, in addition to overseeing Sweat Fixx’s operations, Elise also manages the company’s financials, new business development and a growing team of 40+ employees. Despite all that, Elise still manages to find time to lead classes on a weekly basis, spending time at each location as much as she can in order to stay connected to the tight-knit community she’s built.

Thank you so much for joining us Elise! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory” ?

I was always that super competitive kid. I played every single sport that I could sign up for and from an early age — I just wanted to always be the best. As I started to get older, I really narrowed my focus in on basketball. I would practice for hours! While other kids would be out playing with friends, I would be practicing — always trying to get better. Athletics and fitness seemed to be just a part of who I was from an early age and I craved the competition.

I ended up earning a full scholarship to play college basketball at Bentley University — just outside of Boston, MA. Unfortunately, during my time at Bentley, I tore not one — but two ACLs. At that time, I felt like I lost a piece of who I was when basketball was taken away during the surgery and rehabilitation process, but during the time I really started to fall in love with the strength and conditioning part of athletics. I was forced to rehab for six months for each knee (two different years), so that meant months of 1-on-1 training and rehab with personal trainers and staff at Bentley. I got to see a completely new side of fitness — one that I was ignoring when my focus was solely on basketball. After coming back from both major surgeries, even though I was entering the Public Accounting world after I graduated, I had the fitness bug and knew eventually that I wanted to make that my career… just wasn’t sure how yet!

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us, if you had one?

After college, I worked in accounting for about four years and during that time I was still always trying to be in the fitness world. That meant waking up at 4:30am to teach early morning bootcamps, or spending my Sundays getting my yoga certification etc. Anything I could do around my full-time job — I was doing. At the time, fitness was a side hobby, and while I was making a little bit of money from it, it was nothing I could live off of. But that was okay for me because it was my passion. I looked forward to teaching a 5am bootcamp to handful of people. I enjoyed following other boutique fitness studios on Instagram to watch how they marketed themselves or what type of community events they would hold. I wanted to learn and take in as much as I could so that if I ever got the chance…I would be ready!

Then, one day I got a phone call from a woman I previously taught bootcamp for. She told me her space in Wakefield, MA (just north of Boston) was going to be available because she was leaving, and she asked me if I wanted to take it. I remember sitting at my desk thinking — if something ever really bad happened, would I be happy with how I was spending my days? Would I be happy that I never took a chance on myself? The answer was no. I would always regret it. I decided that after the last few years of teaching, making business plans, reaching out to other owners across the country, doing anything I could to fuel my passion for fitness…it was time to take a chance on myself!

I quit my job and in four weeks — with no investors or partners (or even a fully baked plan!) I opened the first Sweat Fixx.

There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

I think the hardest part is conceptualizing what you want your business to be and always staying true to that. I think the years that I spent watching other business owners and seeing what they did — good or bad — really helped me, because I had a clear vision for who we (Sweat Fixx) wanted to be. A lot of people get caught up trying to mimic other businesses they see as successful. Since day one, I wanted us to stay in our lane. Be very good at what we do and stay true to who we are, and I think that has really worked for us.

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

Just start! The hardest part is always starting. There will never be a perfect time, or a red carpet laid out for you. You need to start now. It can be as simple as just doing your research; going to check out similar businesses, talking to owners, getting experience in the field. You want to start now so that when an opportunity comes and you have the chance to pull the trigger, you’re ready! You need to fuel your passion with planning and preparation, and that starts before you make the leap and begin doing it for a living.

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

Every day for me is different because we are never complacent. We are always looking to be better, so my days aren’t very routine. Sure, we could’ve stopped after one location and perhaps then the days would become very routine and eventually something I would dread, but I surround myself with a team of go-getters, so we are always pushing for that next level. We opened five studios in under three years because we refuse to settle. Right now, I can confidently say that I’m excited to get up for work every day because we’re always able to be creative and inspire each other within this community we’ve built.

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

What I enjoy most is creating the new studios and watching the new communities grow. I love coming up with marketing strategies and local community collaborations to get the word out. It’s exciting to see a new location open and take on a whole personality of its own. The most challenging part is getting that new location to succeed without thousands of marketing dollars. At the same time — I also find it the most rewarding. Watching first timers walk into the studio and leave feeling like a boss, and eventually watching it spread like wildfire through a community — is such a great feeling.

The downside of running your own business is that you can never turn it off. Once you open your own business, it will never be “9–5” again. There will be no such thing as vacations, at least in the beginning. This is your baby and you are on call 24/7 or it won’t succeed in the beginning. Over time you will learn, as I have, in the power of finding awesome people and giving them ownership of their roles and parts of the business. Give them authority to make decisions and feel empowered to treat it like its your own and eventually you can step back a little bit. It’s all about finding great people and empowering them. That said, it’s still hard for me to turn my brain off when it comes to the business. Something I’m still working on!

Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I definitely underestimated the amount of time I would spend on my job and how it would become my life. When you’re a business owner, your business is everything to you and you are consumed by it all the time. I knew I loved fitness and helping people, but I didn’t account for the amount of time running a business would actually take. Knowing it now though, I still wouldn’t change a thing.

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore; I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?

I think everyone has probably felt that way at one point. I remember I was having a crazy week once and to top it all off — the one day I designated to be at home to eat dinner, I got a call that the toilet was overflowing at one of our studios. I ended up being there until 1AM with the plumber, cleaning up the mess. At that moment, I thought I will sell Sweat Fixx to the first person who walks by! I was so tired and so burnt out. That feeling quickly went away because the very next day, I woke up to a message from a client saying that she just wanted to let me know how much Sweat Fixx and our team has changed her life. She said she never thought she’d find a place that she could feel comfortable working out at and that Sweat Fixx was her place. It’s messages from clients and moments like that — that make it all worth it. It forces you to remember why you started in the first place.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t know how funny it was but my first lease I knew nothing about leases at the time, obviously. And I was just so excited that I walked into the office and signed. Never had a lawyer or anyone look at it. Just signed the lease and went and got wine and sushi to celebrate! Now, I always have a lawyer take a look at the leases I’m signing because you never know what’s in them!

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

I honestly can’t pinpoint one person. But over the years, I’ve just been so impressed with how certain companies are run and how their leaders set an example. I truly believe the culture and brand of your company comes from the tone set at the top. I look up to strong leaders who walk the walk and aren’t afraid to get in the trenches with their team in order to raise others up with them.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

One of the initiatives that I’m most proud of is our launch of “Karma Fixx” — an arm of Sweat Fixx where we give back each month to different local charities and foundations. Our instructors donate their time for free and we host classes where all the money going to local causes that mean something to the communities in which our studios are in. We have raised more than $15,000 to date to causes such as the local Boys & Girls clubs and Pancreatic Cancer research.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each — bullet w/ 1–2 lines is fine!)

  1. Surround yourself with awesome people. At the end of the day, you can’t do everything yourself and you can’t do it alone — especially if you want to grow. The saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” is so true!
  2. Prepare yourself for ups and downs but know that you will weather the storm. This is especially true at the beginning. There’s going to be a lot of doubt from others and a lot of hurdles that you’ll need to overcome. Things will never go perfect, so just get ready to handle the bad when it comes and never get too high during the good. Stay level and keep focused on your goals.
  3. Don’t take things personally. At the end of the day, this is a business, and it’s yours. No one is going to love it as much as you. Eventually, people will move on or things will happen, and you need to remember this is a business and it’s not personal.
  4. Your budgets will be most likely wrong, and you will vastly underestimate your revenue and expenses — so prepare for it. Expenses you don’t see will pop up, so make sure you have extra money set aside in case a toilet pipe bursts or an AC breaks, etc. It’s never going to go as planned, so leave some wiggle room in your budget.
  5. Finally, I wish someone told me to follow my passion and trust my gut sooner! Looking back, I wish I would have made the jump even sooner because I think of all the progress I could have been making while the boutique fitness industry was still just ramping up.

What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love? You’re an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

What I’ve been trying to preach to people is that anyone can make a healthy change in their life. Anyone can start. It doesn’t matter where you are starting from — just come as you are. There’s this misconception out there that you need to already be in shape or make sure the time is right before you make a change in your life. That’s just simply not true. I would love to inspire people to just start. Forget what you see on social media about what “fitness” people look like. Being healthy looks different for everyone and I want to inspire a movement where people are just coming as they are now, and not feeling like they need to be something better before they can start their health & fitness journey.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“A rising tide lifts all ships”. I have seen numerous business owners trying to tear each other down. People tend to think you need others to fail in order for you to succeed. When I started my business one of our four cornerstones was “community” — both within our fitness studio but also in the area. We support and collaborate with other fitness studios, and before us, we didn’t really see that happening very much. When people see that we genuinely show support to other businesses, it’s something they respect and also want to support. I truly believe in never covering someone else’s light to make yourself brighter. I think there’s space for everyone to succeed.

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 with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. ☺

I’d love to sit and chat with the founders of Soul Cycle — Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice. They started a movement that flipped the cycling industry upside down — which is what are trying to do with our rowing style. I’d love to pick their brain about their journey and how they stayed true to their brand even when they probably had a lot of doubters and hurdles along the way.

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