Balanced Hustler: Meet Heather Camille White, CEO + Founder of TRILLFIT
Being an entrepreneur can seem glamorous. We own our schedules, build our companies based on work we love—and sometimes we can even work beachside. But the glamour is second in command to the hustle.
The hustle is what really defines the ups and downs of the entrepreneurship journey. And to shed some light on the work it takes to build a business, I’m interviewing fellow entrepreneurs who are ready to get real about their journeys. I’ll ask them how they manage to balance the hustle with the passion of what they do, and they’ll share what they had to overcome to get where they are today. It’s all in service of inspiring, supporting and illuminating the path for you, and we’re calling it the #BalancedHustler.
Heather Camille White is a visionary in the Boston fitness scene, one who could drastically change boutique fitness across the country, for the better. When she didn’t see many people who looked like her in the workout classes she was taking, the former marketer realized that was part of why she wasn’t motivated to attend those classes as much. She was searching for something that was a good workout and a good time.
That’s how TRILLFIT was born. What started as a pop-up cardio dance class that blends sweat-inducing HIIT circuits with Beyoncé-inspired choreography is now a full-fledged studio in Boston’s Mission Hill neighborhood. They offer five different classes that target specific muscle groups and workout methods, including their signature cardio dance, and the Fight the Power boxing boot camp, which incorporates punch sequences into a 10-round program and also donates proceeds to organizations that empower women of color. Each class is meant to inspire fitness junkies to twerk away their troubles, judgment not included.
Heather’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity, as well as to expanding the definition of accessibility in the wellness industry, makes her a true Balanced Hustler. Here’s how she dances her way to that balance.
Fast Facts: Heather Camille White
When did you launch TRILLFIT?
We launched the brand in late 2015, but just opened our flagship studio in Mission Hill a couple months ago.
In one sentence, tell us why you started TRILLFIT.
There was a terrible lack of diversity in the wellness industry and I felt that as a marketer and a woman of color, that I could create an experience to promote the inclusion I was missing.
How much did you invest to get the business started?
$5,000 from my savings account.
How did you get capital to start?
I think it actually came from a bonus I had…
How long did it take for the business to get profitable?
We had great margins at our pop-up events and were running at about 71 percent, which felt really good. Opening the studio flagship is a beast and a completely different business model—we’re still very, very new and understanding what success looks like in this model.
Are you growing your business to sell? Or this is your dream job and you want to be doing this in 10 years?
I want to be doing this—and growing the leadership team at TRILLFIT—forever.
How many hours a week do you work when you started versus now?
I work constantly, to be honest—if I’m not physically working on something in the moment, my mind and my spirit are probably racing with ideas. However, I’m on the constant search for balance and through the process of opening the flagship, I’ve been working to really champion the people on my team to step into leadership roles on their own so that I have the ability to be more strategic and help them learn and grow.
How many employees do you have?
We have about 16 instructors and a couple interns.
What two business goals do you have for 2019?
Increase our MoM attendance rate overall by about 13 percent, and launch our retreat business.
How Heather Balances the Hustle
TRILLFIT was a pop-up class and now you have your own space. How did you know it was time for a physical location? How were you comfortable taking on the costs to build out a physical location?
I realized pretty quickly that we wouldn’t be able to truly scale and prove out our revenue models unless we had a physical location. We were renting a random assortment of spaces and it was hard to get a consistent schedule going. After a few months of looking we found a beautiful, brand-new space and absolutely fell in love with it. The only catch? It would require an entire construction build out so we’d need more than just rent money, we’d need money for construction costs, architects, plans, insurance, permits—the list was so long.
The process and the prospect of learning everything from scratch was absolutely terrifying for a young woman of color with an even younger business. We didn’t qualify for a loan, we had no outside funding and to be honest, we had a lot of factors counting against us. What did have (and still do) was a super-loyal following, support of the community that we serve, and mentors and local heroes who kept pushing us to go further and reach higher.
What is the process of getting a physical location?
- Most important: Make sure you have a solid business plan that can support a physical location. Our landlords and their bankers had to approve our entire business plan before we could even sign our lease—because the business was so young.
- Find your location that suits your needs. For us, it was very important that we were in a location that served our target consumer. We stand for diversity and inclusion and we are a place to offer comfort and wellness to people of color. So we placed TRILLFIT in the heart of Mission Hill, just a few blocks from Roxbury.
- Review your business plan and get your finances in order. Pull your previous business taxes (and if you haven’t done them, find an incredible accountant who can file them late for you); look again at the operating costs of your business plan and make sure that they’re spot-on. Start to get real-life estimates to understand what you’ll need to bring in on a monthly basis to cover the bare minimum (your operating costs).
- Find your architect and have your plans drawn up to code. In my case, I assumed our contractors would do this (news flash: they don’t) and I was completely unprepared for the cost, the timeline and process. Your architect will take your vision and translate it into reality—provided it aligns with your local city code. Our process with the architect probably took about a month, but ultimately it set our whole project back because by the time we realized we needed an architect, we had already signed the lease and it put us into a situation where we were paying for a space without actually being able to lift a hammer in it.
- Find and pick a contractor for your buildout if your space calls for one. We had six different companies bid for the project and went with the company that fit within our budget and that came with solid recommendations.
- Finalize your timeline or potential opening and confirm that your GC will be gathering all permits. Get this in writing.
- Develop your marketing plan for pre- and post-construction. You’ve officially taken ownership of your space—just because you’re not open yet doesn’t mean that you can’t run promotions, plans and the like until you are.
- Be vigilant with your contractors and follow up on your timeline. We visited the site every single day for the entire construction process to make sure what we were told was happening, actually was.
- Pass your inspections. After your buildout is done, the city inspectors (fire, water, electrical, life safety, etc.) will all need to come out and visit and inspect your space so that you can open. You’ll need to pass with flying marks before they’ll give you a certificate of occupancy.
- Receive your certificate of occupancy.
- OPEN! Party, celebrate, open your business and get the register ringing.
How has it been so far?
It’s been an incredible learning experience and the most gratifying experience of my entire life. Watching our clients thrive and meet their goals is incredible. Seeing our team elevate and level up is beyond inspiring. The way the community has held us on their shoulders? It’s everything. This has been the most challenging but the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
Heather’s Advice to Entrepreneurs
What do you want to leave our readers with?
I’d love to leave your readers with the idea that sharing the struggle and being open about things like finance, operations and logistics is so important for marginalized and under-represented communities. There was so much that I didn’t know! So many questions that I never even thought to ask! There are kernels of knowledge that people may be collecting and I fundamentally believe it’s our duty to pass them along.
What is your number one piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
Find a great mentor and cultivate the relationship. Find someone in your field who can look at your business plan, make introductions and generally be a sounding board for you as you learn how to grow your business. Find someone who believes in you, but also pushes you to be better.
What does being a #BalancedHustler mean to you?
For me, being a #BalancedHustler means that despite how crazy and how fast we run the business and move from stage to stage, I have to take care of myself.