Jessica: Hey there. It’s Jessica Honegger, founder of the socially conscious fashion brand, Noonday Collection and this is the Going Scared podcast where we cover all things social impact, entrepreneurship and courage. We’re right in the middle of our restart series. Oftentimes when we’re beginning something, we’re actually re-beginning it, and I absolutely love this conversation because it’s with Anne Mahlum.
Anne is the is the founder, owner, and CEO of a fast-growing boutique fitness company she founded in DC called Solidcore, which if you followed me for a hot second on Instagram you’ve seen that I am doing Solidcore and it is absolutely killer. But the reason I wanted to interview Anne is because this is actually her second startup. She is also the founder of an organization called Back on My Feet, which was a running club for those people impacted by homelessness.
And she came to a point in time where she realized she was actually holding that organization back, and it was time for her to move on to something else. I think it’s so brave to actually come to that realization and then have the audacity and the courage to leave something in order to start something new. So, I really can’t wait for you to learn from our conversation today.
You are our first double entrepreneur, is what I’m calling you, that we have had on the podcast. And I’m really fascinated to talk with you because … well, I’m a little bit of a double entrepreneur but you really went all in with your first gig and now you’re going on with your second. So, I’m fascinated to hear your story. And I know you grew up in Bismarck, North Dakota, which I think is how we got connected. I started posting about how I was doing this new workout in town called Solidcore and then a couple people DMed me. They were like, “I grew up with Anne. You have to have her on your podcast.” So, I was like, “All right, let’s do it.” So, tell me a little bit about your life growing up in North Dakota.
Anne: Just like anybody, when you grow up, you know, you have the perception or you have the experience of however old you are, and whatever you see. So, I thought everybody grew up like I did in North Dakota. I really thought everybody had a yard and could walk to school and could play with kids till midnight. We left our doors unlocked. Like, it was just really easy and fun being a kid there. You know, we played a lot of sports. I played a lot of sports when I was growing up. I was really active, younger brother, older sister, you know, two parents, and yeah, I loved it.
Now that I’ve moved on and live in, you know, DC in New York and whatever, when I look at children and walking around, I’m sure they would say the same about their experience of like, “Oh gosh, I’m really glad I got to grow up in New York,” but now that I have these two worlds to look at, I mean, I had a really fantastic, simple upbringing that I’m really grateful for.
Jessica: When you go back, do things feel pretty similar to how you grew up?
Anne: You know I left pretty soon after college. I went to college in Minnesota, and then I went up to DC for grad school. And I really have never been back there. So, all of my memories, at least up until recently, because we have opened Solidcore there are of me being a teenager. So, I would find that I would revert back to this 16-year-old brat when I would go there. And I would just be, like, snotty with my mom because she’s lived in the same house that, you know, that we grew up in. So, there are all of these memories that are there that make me nostalgic and I’m like, “Why am I behaving this way?”
So anyway, it’s been fun to bring a Solidcore back to North Dakota. Everybody’s been very supportive of the brand and the experience and really grateful I have something new in different to work out to. So, it’s been evolving and now I have a business relationship with the state and just some more, again, memories of being an adult because I go back quite more often now.
Jessica: That’s nice, building adult memories in your childhood home.
Running Right from the Start
Jessica: So, when you look back, do you have some memories of events that sparked your entrepreneurial tendencies?
Anne: You know, I’m a big Tony Robbins fan and I really got into Tony Robbins in the last sort of 18 months of my life after going through a bad breakup, and just sort of looking for, you know, more personal growth, why, sort of, I am the way that I am. And I would be lying if I didn’t say that I wanted to be an entrepreneur because I wanted to feel special and I wanted to feel significant, and I wanted to feel like I was different than the rest of the world, and that I wanted to have impact. But for most part, I was really looking to feel like I was significant.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say that I wanted to be an entrepreneur because I wanted to feel special and I wanted to feel significant, and I wanted to feel like I was different than the rest of the world, and that I wanted to have impact. But for most part, I was really looking to feel like I was significant.” Anne Mahlum
And for 10 years of my life, you know, my dad, as I said, my childhood was so great and there’s parts of that story that is obviously very true. But when I got to be a teenager my dad went through some pretty bad addiction as it relates to gambling. And my dad suffered through drugs and alcohol when I was a kid. I never saw my dad go through that because I was too young. But when the gambling surfaced and that became a focal point for him. I mean, it ripped my family apart. And that’s when I became a runner.
And really, sort of, the metaphors that surround that sport, about taking things one step at a time, putting one foot in front of the other, really helped me, I think, create the way that I live my life. And so, 10 years of sort of never having really good answers for why my life had to take that turn and why I had to have such a tumultuous relationship with my mom, why my parents had to go get divorced, why my dad had to be an addict. There just was never anything good that came of that. Like, you know, when bad things happen, they always tell you it’s for a reason. And I’m like, “I don’t have any good reason here. It just sucked.”
“The metaphors that surround [running], about taking things one step at a time, putting one foot in front of the other, really helped me, I think, create the way that I live my life.” Anne Mahlum
So, 10 years later, when I was sort of on this real aggressive journey to figure out what the hell to do with my life as a 24-year-old. And that’s when I really began to feel like I don’t wanna get married. I don’t wanna have children. I don’t feel like these things that I’m supposed to want are gonna provide me with happiness.
So, life starts to get a little bit harder, right? Because you realize you’re taking a very difficult, different path than anybody else, and no one really gets what you’re doing or why you’re searching. At least that’s how I felt at that age when a lot of my peers were going out most weekends and drinking a lot, and that’s fine. But I just never felt satisfied through that. I’m like, “This isn’t enough for me. I got to figure out what, again, I’m here for,” and there was a massive part of me that just wanted to feel special and I didn’t.
Finding Strength on the Road
So, I was a runner, I ran every day at this point in my life. It was something that made me really happy and made me very certain of myself. It was one thing I knew about who I was, was I was a runner. And when I was in, again, this massive sort of identity crisis of who I was, that’s when I started to pay attention to these guys outside this homeless shelter. And this homeless shelter was a quarter a mile away from my house that I had literally walked by it to work. I had to walk by it to get to work. And I’ve been living in this place for two years.
“I was a runner, I ran every day at this point in my life. It was something that made me really happy and made me very certain of myself. It was one thing I knew about who I was, was I was a runner. And when I was in, again, this massive sort of identity crisis of who I was, that’s when I started to pay attention to these guys outside this homeless shelter.” Anne Mahlum
So, I walked by it hundreds of times. And I ran by it hundreds of times, and never … nothing ever did anything for me. You know, I always saw the people out there and I had some sympathy for them, but never thought that there was anything I had in common with them. And then for whatever reason, May of 2007, these guys started to wave at me and I waved at them and this idea started to form about how running had really challenged me to become a better human and a disciplined human, and helped me get through a lot of difficult times in my life and I thought, “Why can’t this do the same thing for them?”
And that was initially the first spark that was like, “I’m gonna start a running club for that homeless shelter.” And with that one simple thought and putting some action behind it, that thing grew in six-and-a-half years to a multi-million-dollar privately funded, nonprofit organization with 50 plus staff members and helping thousands of people find self-sufficiency by first helping them believe in themselves differently and creating a new identity for who they are.
Jessica: You know, what I love about the story of Back on My Feet is, Noonday Collection, we say that we’re building a flourishing world. And a flourishing world is a world where moms not just have enough to send their kids to school, but they can actually throw birthday parties for their kids. Or a man doesn’t just make enough money to get by, but he can actually have a wedding for his wife, which one of our Ugandan artisans was the first in his entire family to actually get to have a traditional wedding.
And I love that you had this aha moment. You kind of had been walking through life maybe with your … a little bit sleepy and suddenly you’re awake and you’re seeing the world differently and you’re not just thinking, “OK, how am I gonna, maybe help create opportunity for shelter?” but how can these guys run?
Anne: Right. And not just run, Jessica. It’s more like running was a vehicle, right? I had no interest. Even from the beginning, I had no interest in creating a running club within the homeless population. I knew the power of that sport and it was I can use running to help those experiencing homelessness change the way that they look at themselves so that they can actually change the way that their life is because I went through it personally.
I had first-hand experience of just knowing, again, that the power of that sport and how it made me operate, not just in those 60-minutes when I was running, but how that translated into my confidence and my capabilities, and how I showed up outside of those 60-minutes with my job, with relationships, with my tenacity. And I was like, “I have to get these guys to see themselves different than somebody who’s homeless.”
“I had first-hand experience of just knowing, again, that the power of that sport and how it made me operate, not just in those 60-minutes when I was running, but how that translated into my confidence and my capabilities, and how I showed up outside of those 60-minutes with my job, with relationships, with my tenacity.” Anne Mahlum
I mean, it’s not a surprise when you think about the unfortunate stereotypes of individuals who are homeless, right? Everybody’s like, “Oh, they’re lazy. No, it’s their fault. They’re drug addicts. They’re this and this and this.” And it’s all this negative connotation. There’s nothing positive about that. But when you think about somebody who’s a runner, especially a morning runner, you’re like, “Oh, that person’s definitely focused, ambitious, driven, reliable, responsible.”
And so, it was like this whole concept broke people’s brains. They’re like, “Somebody who’s homeless cannot also be a runner.” It doesn’t it doesn’t make sense in a theoretical standpoint because if you were a runner, you wouldn’t be homeless. If you’re homeless, you wouldn’t be a runner. So anyway, that whole oxymoron and paradox is what got people to pay attention to the idea and that’s when all of the media started.
And frankly, listen, I believe in the power of when an idea makes someone raise their eyebrow, here you have this young, white, blonde woman from North Dakota who is connecting with these individuals, mainly black men who went through a ton of shit in their life, and most of the guys in this particular shelter had suffered from addiction or currently were. So, it’s drug use, alcohol, jail time, all these things.
You’re like, “How are these two people connecting like this? They don’t look the same. What do they have in common?” And obviously, the commonality for me was my dad who is an addict. And then the running piece when we started running together, you couldn’t tell by looking at us which one of us was homeless, or which one of us was going through a divorce, which one of us had a challenging upbringing. All you could tell was who’s the fastest and who’s the slowest. And that’s about it. So, all of those stereotypes about who we are as individuals just sort of evaporated in the summer heat in Philly.
Drive vs Driving Circumstances
Jessica: So Powerful. So, tell me what you learned about your abilities and limitations as a result of starting Back on My Feet, because it just … I guess that idea, which it is, it’s disruptive, and it’s an equalizer. And it’s a way to really honor human dignity in this really disruptive way. So, I know the idea just took off and it grew probably a lot faster and bigger than you had expected. What are some of the lessons that you learned from that?
Anne: Well, the lesson that I learned around humanity is … and it was great because I felt that from kind of the beginning that we all do want the same thing, all around the world. And me and those guys, it’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, right? Food and shelter are the first two things that are these basic priorities as Homo sapiens. And when we’re hungry, it’s like nothing else matters. We need to eat, right? When we’re freezing or we need shelter that becomes top of the priority list.
But once those two needs are met and you don’t have to worry about those on a daily basis of where you’re gonna get food from or where you’re gonna sleep at night, then it’s this emotional need that comes in, of this desire to be loved, appreciated, valued and cared for, and we all want it. We all want that. But we have different ways of going about it.
And this is sort of what makes me so mad around politics. You know, I’m very vocal about my politics. This an old adage, right, but we are all not given the same opportunities and we are all products of our environments. When you can sit down and think, “Gosh, I had two stable parents, dinner on the table every night. I was involved in all these extra-curricular activities. My parents had the financial means to be able to do that. I grew up in a safe neighborhood. You know, I had great teachers and schools in North Dakota. The dropout rate there is 2%.”
I had constant pillars of responsible examples around me all the time. And that is not true for a lot of people. If you’re growing up in a household where you don’t have maybe two parents there, your mom or your dad is working two jobs to try to support the family. You’re barely making ends meet. Family time is not … it’s a luxury that’s just not an option. Maybe you don’t live in a great neighborhood where, again, you’re seeing other examples of people living a life in a certain way and those are your … then you tell yourself in your head as you’re growing up, “All these are my options.
This is what everybody else around me does for work. So, these are my options. Everybody’s dropping out of school because they’re living in poor neighborhoods where their property rights are the taxes that are going to feed the schools. You’ve got 50% to 60% dropout rates, which is again, something that I that I talk about. I’m like, “What? That’s not even possible that that’s 50% to 60% of kids dropping out of school. So, most of us have this myopic view of how the world works based on our own experiences. And it goes both ways. You know, those guys also had a lot of stereotypes around me coming in there. And it’s very difficult for someone to think beyond their own bubble in their own world.
So, if you can allow yourself to do that and really think “this person did not have the same opportunity or upbringing, therefore, the way they think about the world is different than I do. How do I connect with this person and how do I seek to understand that?” And first things first, you have to find something in common. And for Back on My Feet, that was running. Once we had that in common, awesome. Then we could actually build from there and say, “What else do we have in common that we can connect on while we’re running?”
“If you can allow yourself to do that and really think ‘this person did not have the same opportunity or upbringing, therefore, the way they think about the world is different than I do. How do I connect with this person and how do I seek to understand that?’ And first things first, you have to find something in common. And for Back on My Feet, that was running. Once we had that in common, awesome.” Ann Mahlum
“Do you have kids? You know, OK, cool. Someone also has kids.” You know, “Did you run track in high school? Are you in a relationship right now? You know, what are your talents? What are your skills? What’s your sense of humor?” And it was just unbelievable how all of a sudden, we didn’t look for differences, we looked for commonalities. And as I just think about, sort of, what’s next in Solidcore and I get really excited around these social and political issues. And we have got to figure out a way to get people to look beyond their own bubble of the world and just think that like, that’s all that matters.
We have very little patience for people who are different than us. We have little patience for choices that people make. For example, Jessica, when ask, you know, some when, I’m like, “Oh, would you ever steal?” What do you think? Most people say?
Jessica: Probably, no.
Running: A Vehicle for Empathy
Anne: Of course not. I would never steal. Are you kidding? And it’s like, it’s because they’ve never been in a position where they had to. You can make all these values and principles for yourself sitting in the comforts of where you are today and it’s very easy to have a sort of reputable moral compass. But when you’re in positions, if you don’t have any money, like think about all these furloughed employees from the government this last month who are sitting there being like, “I’m having to sell stuff on eBay. I like, can’t pay my rent.”
This was never an option in my head that I didn’t think for a second that I would be one of these people I read about that missed a paycheck and now I’m behind on bill payments, and my credit score is going down, and I’m having to make decisions that I never thought I would make before. So, it’s just all of this judgment toward people. When we can, again, we look in the confines of our own comforts, and we make this moral compass and then we judge others for maybe some of the decisions that they made not understanding that their situation, of course, is very good.
Jessica: Well, and I love how running became this vehicle for empathy because it really is about relationship, and there is something about physical activity that … it becomes a vehicle for relationship and for equalizing people … or not equalizing. I mean, there’s a lot of ladies lots stronger than me in my Solidcore class.
It doesn’t matter because we’re all just in it together, supporting one another in our strength. And so, I think it really is about choosing empathy and empathy begins with relationship, which is really what Back on My Feet did. So, it surprises me, because you’re super passionate, you’re obviously still passionate about homelessness and social justice issues. But you actually made the decision to change your role at Back on My Feet. So, can you tell …? Tell me that story.
“I love how running became this vehicle for empathy because it really is about relationship. …It doesn’t matter because we’re all just in it together, supporting one another in our strength. And so, I think it really is about choosing empathy and empathy begins with relationship, which is really what Back on My Feet did.” Jessica Honegger
To Run Your Course and Run on Still
Anne: Yeah. You know, I remember in the beginning when this whole thing was starting, and when I was thinking about doing this full-time, I had this massive position offered to me at Comcast. I just quit my nonprofit job. I was gonna go work for Comcast when this idea for Back on My Feet happened. And I had six weeks off for my transition. I actually asked for six weeks so I could get Back on My Feet up and going and then I would be able to go work at Comcast. And I was, after a few weeks off participating in this running and seeing this vision and understanding that this is not just, again, running. I had this whole theory around helping people. I was like, “This is what I’m supposed to do with my life.”
And I called, as any respectable 26-year-old would do, I called my mom and like looking for her, you know, seal of approval on this idea. I’m like, “Mom, I’m not gonna take this job. I’m gonna build this nonprofit.” And she’s like, “No, you’re not. Like, what are you talking about? How are you going to pay your rent? What are you gonna do for money? You’re gonna raise money and pay it?” People couldn’t grasp it, or they couldn’t understand how it was going to work programmatically. And they couldn’t understand how it was going to work from a business side of how I was actually going to pay my bills.
And so, once I got through that and was like, “I gotta make this choice for myself. I know I can do this. This all makes sense. My life story is here. This is what I’ve been looking for. This is my window of opportunity. I either take this or regret the rest of my life.” And I jumped in, two feet, and just started building and growing. And one thing I have learned about myself is I’m a very convincing person, is something I’m genuinely and authentically passionate about that I know I can make a difference in. So, it was very successful in raising money and getting people to get on board with this idea. And it was awesome. And then, six years in or so, I began to feel like it’s time to do something else. And I was really pissed off with that voice in my head.
I was like, “What? Like, this is … no, no, no.” I took my big risk. You know, my life story could be built into a movie based off of how this happened. I help people every single day. I obviously have this feeling now that I feel special enough. But it just kept coming back, that it was like, “Anne, you are a creator. You’re an entrepreneur. It is time to go create again. You’ve done your part. You’ve built this thing.” And frankly, Jessica, I’m not like a brilliant operator. It’s not my skill set. You know, I’m not a very organized person. I’m extremely creative. I like to think big, and I like to think innovatively.
So, after we grew to 12 locations across the country and the board was really challenging me to think about how to stop growing horizontally and start growing vertically, and I don’t really get excited by that. I want to see growth, again, on this level, like 15 cities, 16, and that’s sort of what would get my heart rate going. And then I realized there’s a mismatch here with what actually the organization needs and where my talents are. And it’s the responsible thing for me to do, scary thing. I’m making this sound like it was so graceful. Trust me, it wasn’t. I had many emotional conversations and like, “Oh my god, I peaked too soon. How do I top this? What if I got lucky? You know, do I go start something else again? Again, what if I fail?”
“After we grew to 12 locations across the country and the board was really challenging me to think about how to stop growing horizontally and start growing vertically, and I don’t really get excited by that. I want to see growth, again, on this level, like 15 cities, 16, and that’s sort of what would get my heart rate going.” Anne Mahlum
And everybody has those conversations before they do or start anything new. It’s scary. But I was like, “Listen. You know, I got to figure out what it is I want to do next. It’s time for me to go.” And I could stay here the rest of my life and no one would question if I lived my life in a purposeful manner. But I just felt it in my being that it was time for me to evolve my role, step down as CEO, let somebody else come in and for me to go push myself and see if can try my hand.
And I knew I sort of wanted to try something in the for-profit space. I just didn’t know what. And then I discovered, sort of, this pilates workout. And I’ve always been a person who loves working out and I thought you had to beat up your body. I was like, “I’m a runner. I’m a boot camp.” Like, I’m jumping, I’m pounding, and it felt like a rite of passage to be injured every few months. I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I work out. I’m injured.”
And then once I discovered you could challenge your body in this magical way of moving slowly with no impact, I was like, “Oh, my god, I’m going to build a business around this idea. I can do this really well. I understand community. I understand brand. And I have to share this workout, especially with women,” who as a woman myself who went through bulimia, and shamed my body for years and had very unhealthy habits with food.
Once I discovered this sort of form of C-level type of business training and watching my body evolve and change into this lean beautiful machine that I didn’t have to obsess over constantly figuring out what am I eating? What am I not? What am I working out? And it’s all I thought about. I felt it was almost like an obligation of like, I owe it to other women out there to introduce them to and exercise.
Making the Most of Your Story
Jessica: What were those fears? Because I’m just imagining so much of your identity had to have been wrapped up into Back on My Feet. And I get that you realized, I mean, most entrepreneurs, serial entrepreneurs are not operators. So, I get that you’re like, “OK, I’m not an operator,” but there still could have been another way for you to find your role within that organization without leaving it completely. So, what were some of those fears? I mean, I’m just imagining like me leaving Noonday and I just, I can’t even imagine that.
Anne: Yeah. Well, identity is a real thing, right? So, your identity gets caught up in whatever it is you do, whoever you think you are. We all tell ourselves a story and usually it’s around, sort of, again, our core values of this individual that we’ve created when someone says, “Tell me about yourself.? And that was happening with Back on My Feet for me. And I just began to feel that … I’m like, “This is a chapter in my life. It’s not my whole book.”
And again, the first few years, if you would have asked me that at Back on My Feet, I’m like “I’ll do this forever. This is like what I’m going to do with my life.” And I tell people that when they’re desperately searching for their purpose, and I’m like, “I think that’s a great journey. Go look underneath the proverbial rocks and do that. But just know when you find it, there is probably going to be a time when you let it go, and you have to find your second purpose in your life,” and like just being prepared for that because otherwise it rocks you. And I think people stay.
I mean, Jessica, this is why people stay too long in relationships, they stay too long at jobs even though they’ve outgrown them and they’re not learning and growing from them anymore. They’re in this relationship where it’s like, a six and it’s like, “Oh, it’s fine, nothing really wrong with it.” But if you’re not growing and contributing and showing up and advancing together, that’s like, there’s no point in it. And I sort of had felt with Back on My Feet. Listen, I’ve opened 12 of these chapters in four-and-a-half years.
I have no doubt that I could open several more of them in new markets, in new cities and be really successful doing that but that’s not what the organization needs. So, I either be selfish here and turn this into, sort of, you know, well, this is what I wanna do and what my talents are. So, this is where the direction of the automation is gonna go. Or I step away.
And again, the biggest fear for me was going back to the significance in the special piece, right? I mean, when I would go around my friends’ cocktail parties, they would be like, “You need to meet Anne. Anne, tell them your story. Tell them what you do.” “Oh, my god, you have to meet Anne. Guys, have you talked to Anne?” I just like, again, I felt like overload special and I’m like, “Are people gonna think I’m special? How long can I hang on to, “Oh, I’m the former CEO of Back on My Feet.”
It’s sort of like, “OK, when is your next book coming out? You know, like it’s time to do something else. And frankly, that was my motivated at the beginning of I need to prove to myself that I am an entrepreneur, and I need to have another successful venture. And I’m thankful for that motivation because it really drove me to really search for sort of where I’m best aligned to do something next. But I have to tell you, it was like, I remember telling people when I was leaving and they’re like, “Oh, what are you doing? Are you are you moving to Africa to save all the children because that’s the only next step for you.” And I’m like, “I am moving back to DC to open a high-end fitness boutique studio.” And people were like, “What?” Like…
“I need to prove to myself that I am an entrepreneur, and I need to have another successful venture. And I’m thankful for that motivation because it really drove me to really search for sort of where I’m best aligned to do something next.” Anne Mahlum
Jessica: Couldn’t connect the dot?
Anne: Yeah. It was like, “No, no, no. That’s not the image we have of you, Anne,” like, “You’re not a capitalist.” You know, you’re a martyr and you are somebody who’s sacrificing and like building for others.” And so, I had to really drown those voices out and I’m like, “You can build a company and also give back and do well at the same time.”
And frankly, the same with the idea for Solidcore, I never had the vision to like, “I just want to own a fitness studio.” That’s fine for some people. There’s nothing wrong with that. Trust me, it’s hard. But I always set out … I wanted to build an empire. I wanted to put my energy and time into something that I could scale and build and grow and also know that I wouldn’t find myself in the position again, where growing it is going to be in conflict to what’s best for the company and for my talents.
And when you have a for-profit business that is doing really well, it’s like, “Awesome, let’s keep growing this thing. Let’s keep bringing this to the masses.” And, one thing I feel like I am good at is building this sort of structure and sustainability and putting people in rolls around me that complement my talents and also help with my handicaps of things I’m not good at.
So that’s why we’ve been able to grow so fast. We’ve got 41 locations open in five years. We’re opening 27 more locations around the country. And I feel really good about the ethos and cultures of Solidcore. I mean, people, one, love working here. Two, every employee that works here is part of a long-term investment plan that when this company sells, everybody will get a check.
And that got implemented this year. It lined up with my politics that, right when I took an investment in end of 2017, it was a little over a year ago, I sort of looked at the structure of that and I’m like, “Man, we now have the funds to be able to put the pedal to the metal even more, and when we sell this thing down the road, the only people who are really going to benefit are me and my investors.”
And I’m like, “There’s nothing wrong with that.” Like, if my politics are so liberal and about working for the greater good and making sure the top 1% isn’t just getting fed and wealthier and wealthier, then I need to put my money where my mouth is and build the structure for my company that everybody gets something when we sell a substantial amount based on your role here, how long you’ve been here. It will incentivize people to come along for this ride. And they’ll be a part of this journey.
And, hopefully, it’ll help inspire them for whatever they go on and do next, if they start a company or look and say, “Gosh, you know, I just got this check for X amount. How did I get here? Who helped me get here? And how do I share this with other people, and also build that upon what Anne did because she didn’t have to do that, and that’s the right thing to do. And now it’s my turn.”
Jessica: So, I was gonna ask you about that. You said you moved back to DC to start a fitness studio. So, did you bootstrap it at first or how did you begin to fund this idea? Because I feel like that’s where a lot of people get stuck.
Anne: Sure. And I, you know, money is a little bit of an Achilles heel with me because my dad went through gambling and pretty much drained our bank accounts when I was a teenager. So, over the course of Back on My Feet, I saved my money. I started to do some speaking, getting paid for that. But I put money in the bank, and I had about $175,000 saved up by the time that I had left. And I took it out of my retirement.
I was like, “I’m all in, you know. And I’m gonna put all my chips on the table because if I’m not willing to invest in myself, then nobody else is gonna wanna it down the road.” And frankly, for anybody listening who’s an entrepreneur, I’ve had many people that I’ve had conversations with who tried to pitch me on investing in their stuff and they’re not putting any of their own money in, and I’m like, “It’s 100% no for me.”
Why should I bet on you when you’re not willing to bet on you? Mortgage your house. Borrow 25 grand from the bank. You need to have some financial pressure on your ass to be able to be motivated and to convince me that it’s worth putting my money in. So anyway, I put all my money in it and I actually had a couple of offers in the beginning from people who wanted to invest from the get-go, and I considered them because it’s like, “Oh gosh, having another hundred grand as a cushion would be nice.” And it’s one of the smartest decisions I make.
And again, if you feel confident in your idea and your capabilities do not give away equity in the beginning of your company. I remember having an offer for $75,000 for 33% of the company. This was before we even opened. And if I would have done that deal, I mean, again, you can’t always predict how things are gonna go but I know myself…
Jessica: But 33% is a lot.
Anne: It’s a lot. But their logic was sound. You don’t have anything right now and this thing could tank. And I’m like, “But it’s not.” And, I’m like, “There’s no way it’s going to.” And so just my debate with that person, I’m like, “I don’t need your doubts, and I don’t need your money. Like, you’re trying to negotiate with me by putting doubt in my head and that’s not healthy for me because you’re trying to get a deal here. I’m doing it myself.”
And our company, I won’t share the valuation but our company was valued at an exponential rate. But obviously, besides this 75 for 33, and it was one of the decisions I’m most proud of is to back myself, figure it out on my own and it serves the company well and, yeah. Don’t give equity away in the beginning if you don’t need to. Take loan, figure it out, do credit cards. Honestly, it’ll kicking yourself especially.
Jessica: I pawned my gold jewelry. I went and pawned jewelry to fund my first website. So, it’s true. It’s like you have got to be the absolute … you got to believe 100,000% in your idea because no one’s gonna believe for you, so…
Anne: Yeah. And if you think you want to be an entrepreneur at some point, you like feel it’s in you, you better start saving your money. If you’re going out every night and throwing 20 bucks here and 50 bucks there, and five years goes by pretty quickly and you’re like, “I don’t have any money saved to be an entrepreneur.” Like, you got to start now. Like, be responsible with your money and plan ahead to invest in your future.
And again, having $50,000, $75,000 for an idea that you have, there’s not a greater feeling than that to know that you’re putting your money behind yourself and your capabilities. It’s pretty special.
Jessica: It is special. OK. So, you open … now why DC? You said you went to graduate school there. What did you go to graduate school for?
Anne: Political communication. Yeah. Politics was something I want—I love politics. I mean, I say I loved politics back then. Politics today is a shit-show and I mean, it’s… I don’t know if I’ll get into politics the way that it is right now because it’s very bureaucratic and monolithic and I don’t think I’d be able to actually make the impact that I would wanna make, but who knows.
Yeah. So, I was in DC and then I moved to Philly to start Back on My Feet. I moved back to DC when we opened Back on My Feet here and moved to New York. And when I first opened Solidcore, the machines that I used was part of a licensing agreement and DC was an open market. And I’m like, “That’s perfect. I’ve always wanted to get back to DC again and the market is open. I know the market.” So, it made a lot of sense to come back here.
Jessica: Well, you did get a shout-out in Michelle’s book, “Becoming.” I noticed that. I was like, “This is a great shout-out. That’s awesome.
Anne: Yeah. She missed a class this past weekend. So, I haven’t seen her in a while because she’s been on a book tour. But yeah, she’s just a wonderful human. I told her when I saw her, I’m like “I know that it can sound condescending when people say this. And it’s something that people like your mom say to your kids. I’m like, ‘I’m so proud of you.'” Like, you know, it’s just so fun to see her shining and putting her light out there and it gives … you know, she’s been a massive part of our Solidcore community and we’re all rooting for her and it’s lovely to just see her on stage lighting people’s lives up, and so it’s great.
Jessica: It’s awesome. Well, it’s awesome to have her arms associated with your brand.
Anne: Yes, it is.
Jessica: I mean that’s what got me, girl.
Jessica: I featured in this Austin magazine in the fall. And so, I was like reading through it and seeing what pictures they used. And then I saw the advertisement for Solidcore, and it said like, Solidcore, Michelle Obama, was like, “Yup, I’m in. “I’m gonna go check that out.”
Anne: Yes, amazing.
Jessica: So, it’s awesome. OK. So, you opened the studio and then how do you go about opening multiple studios after that? And then you decided, “OK, I am gonna take on funding. My company’s still bootstrapped. We’re about 20 million in revenue.
Jessica: And so, at what point did you decide, “OK, you know, I’m gonna take on?”
Anne: Yeah. This studio was profitable from the get-go and it just sort of started to spit off cash. I didn’t have a lot of overhead, right? I didn’t have any employees. It was just me. I had coaches there who were contractors and so they were obviously getting paid. But there was a lot of money left over and I was, like, “I’m gonna roll this into the second studio right away.”
So, I had my second studio open within about three months of my first studio and then the third studio opened in May. So that was about six or seven months. And then I kept opening a studio every four or five months. And the profits of the studios kept funding the growth. And then I wanted to grow faster. So, in 2015, I just took sort of a smaller amount of money to be able to, again, not open one-by-one, but two-by-two.
And then when we were at 20, you know, 25 Studios or so I was like, “OK, like this now has the opportunity to make it across the country, maybe, international,” and I wanted a partner. I wanted like an investment firm that knew how to do this, had experience in it, people that I trusted that I wanted to work with, that I wanted to learn from.
And so, money … this is also an important piece of advice that someone gave me, that money isn’t the same color green. And I didn’t want just money. I wanted people. I wanted their experience, their talent, their input, their intelligence, their connections. I wanted someone who’s gonna be as excited about this brand as I was, who trusted me. I wasn’t looking for a majority partner. I wanted a minority partner, I wanted to still have complete control over this company and I’m the CEO and the chairman of the board. There was no other way I was gonna do it. I found this company called Peterson out of Utah, of all places, and just fell in love with their entire team.
“Money isn’t the same color green. And I didn’t want just money. I wanted people. I wanted their experience, their talent, their input, their intelligence, their connections. I wanted someone who’s gonna be as excited about this brand as I was, who trusted me.” Anne Mahlum on choosing a business partner.
Joel Peterson is one of the founding members of JetBlue and also teaches at Stanford. And everybody on the team, I was just like, “These are my kind of people. I feel like I can be myself. They embrace me,” and so yeah, we had a lot of offers on the table from several firms in New York. And it has been nothing but a very harmonious relationship for the last year and a half and I’m loving what I’m learning from these guys. And, yeah, it’s been awesome. No complaints.
Solidcore Workouts: Gentleness in Strength
Jessica: So OK. Let’s talk a little bit about the actual workout because this … I hurt my ankle like a year ago and I was like a boot camper. But I’m not like you. I mean, listen, I’m physically fit because it keeps me off antidepressants basically. Like, I am never … I’m not after winning a race or, I don’t want to say, I’m not an athlete, because I guess we all have an athlete inside of us. But my motivation is not … it’s different than like an athlete, athlete. And so used to go out into cycling.
I was doing spin class here in Austin, and I got really into that, but I wasn’t doing any strength training and then pop in the Michelle Obama plus Solidcore and I start going and I’m like, “This is insane,” like, it is one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done. But to your point, it is gentle on my body. And I wanna know a little bit more about the actual workout. Like, how often should we work out in this way? And is it the same as lifting weights as far as results? And how often should someone do cardio versus strength training? Like, because I’m just curious.
Anne: Sure. And I mean, everybody … listen, we’re all different beings and we also have different … Some people love running and then some people are like, “Oh my god, I can’t. I wanna shoot myself after running for a mile. I can’t. I just like, I get too bored.” So, the key, obviously, is finding something that you enjoy doing. I don’t think you should be miserable when you’re working out. That’s not the point. Working out should make you happy and you should feel good when you’re done, and your body should be vibrating.
“The key, obviously, is finding something that you enjoy doing. I don’t think you should be miserable when you’re working out. That’s not the point. Working out should make you happy and you should feel good when you’re done, and your body should be vibrating.” Anne Mahlum
So again, as somebody who’s done all the homework, I mean, I’ve done 11 marathons and I haven’t run in five years. I just started running again because I signed up for my Antartica Marathon, which is in six weeks, and I’m like, “I gotta get this thing done. It’s my last continent.” So, I picked up running again and frankly, my running has been so easy because of Solidcore. All my little muscles are…
Anne: Oh my god, I went for 90 minutes this past weekend. I’m not kidding. I have not run more than three miles in six years. And I’m like, “How do I feel this great?” Like, cardiovascularly, I feel great. My legs aren’t tired. It’s kind of crazy. So, strength training and getting all those muscles nice and strong to support you in endurance training and sports is no joke, and it’s real stuff.
So listen, I do Solidcore four to five days a week. It is my primary form of working out. And my body has never looked better at 38 than it did in my 20s. And so, this is why resistance training is so much better than cardio. When you’re doing cardio, and don’t get me wrong, cardio is good for your heart, right? Like, getting your heart rate up, strengthening your heart, awesome. It’s not gonna change your body in ways that you’re gonna create muscle tone or lean or have the shape that you want. When you’re done with cardio, you’re looking at your elliptical machine or whatever it is, and you’ve burn 600 calories. OK, great. But that was for 40 minutes or whatever it was.
Think about you have 23 hours and 20 other minutes in the day and 600 calories is fine, but it’s a piece of pizza and a glass of wine. And that now is depleted and you’re back at zero. So, you really have to do a ton of cardio to make the math work. The thing about resistance training, which is why it’s so efficient, and people take Solidcore and put a calorie burner, they’ll be like, “I only burned like four hundred and some calories.”
I’m like, “You’re looking at it wrong. We need to look at Solidcore as an investment.” I’m like, “Did you feel your body working here? Did you feel your muscles shaking? Did you feel the discomfort?” “Oh, yeah.” I’m like, “Do you ever feel that on your elliptical?” “Well, no.” I said, “You have to aggravate the muscles, right?”
So, what’s happening in class when, if you can think, Jessica, like, back to a class you’ve taken when you’re in a lunge, you’re like, “I can’t. I can’t hold this any longer,” you have ripped your muscle. It happens to me still when I’ve taken over 1200 classes.
So, when you’re in that lunge and it happens, it happens to me every class, you’re ripping the muscle fibers. The slow-twitch muscle fibers, when they have to repair, your body after class is working to reattach your muscles. You have this increased metabolism for 24 to 36 hours after Solidcore where you’re burning all of these extra calories, where cardio you don’t. When you’re done with cardio, you’re done. You did not, again, activate the muscles in any kind of way to make the repair happen or to increase your resting metabolic rate.
And so, you think about, again, from an investment of time standpoint, it’s so much more bang for your buck. And then when the muscles grow back, this is where you get shape and definition from. They grow back stronger. They have convinced themselves, because our bodies are brilliant, that you’re gonna do that again. So, they’re trying to make sure that they can support … for whatever reason, they’re like “You’re doing this for a reason, for survival. So, we actually need to get stronger and healthier. And again, that’s where the definition comes in, in the body and the legs and abs and arms.
So, resistance training, much more efficient use of your time and money as far as I’m concerned. I tell women, like, stop. I’m like, “Just stop doing cardio for me for a month and just do Solidcore four times a week and tell me what happens to your body.” And people are just like, “I don’t want to get big and bulky.” I’m like, “Guys, how many women do you see going around that are big and bulky?”
And one, you’re not doing explosive movements here. I’m like, “I’m not big and bulky. I do this thing four five days a week. I also eat hamburgers. I also drink tequila. You don’t have to starve yourself, but you have to create your body to be this calorie-burning machine on a consistent daily basis, not just for 40 minutes on a stair climber.
Jessica: Well, I am testing you out because I’m doing Solidcore three times this week…
Jessica: …which I think is the most I’ve done. Yeah, and I’m gonna start doing it really consistently like that. I love what … and obviously you train your people to say this, like, “Yes you can. Yes you can.” And so, I hear these voices in my head like throughout the day, like, “Yes, you can,” I mean it’s kind of that same concept that you’re saying about running. I mean, I think strength training, it filters into so many other places in your life to and you think, “No, I can’t hold it any longer,” but it’s like, yes, you can.
Starting, Restarting, and Reframing
Jessica: So, I wanted to go back to something that you said earlier that a lot of times, we all say everything happens for a reason. And you look back on this period, this really devastating time in your family’s life and your dad has completely burned through all of your family’s money. And you’re like, “I don’t see the reason.” Have you been able to reframe that now through that you’ve built?
Anne: Yes, I mean, absolutely, right? Like, there’s a period of life I think we all go through and we can look and blame people and it’s really easy to be like, you know, “My dad was this way or this is whatever, and I wish I had a different family and I wish blah, blah, blah”. But if you’re not gonna look at those things and say, “Man, this is also why I am the way that I am. This is also why I’m a fighter. This is also why I’m so compassionate.” This is also why I am empathetic and all the things that I love about myself.”
You know, if I would have had a “perfect family” and no hiccups or pain in my life, those things wouldn’t have happened. I wouldn’t have cared about those guys on the corner. I wouldn’t have had the drive that I would have had. And so, blaming is just a fool’s errand. And it’s part of the process. I get it. We all do it once in a while. But when you start to look and say, “Because of all those things I went through…”
“If I would have had a ‘perfect family’ and no hiccups or pain in my life, those things wouldn’t have happened. I wouldn’t have cared about those guys on the corner. I wouldn’t have had the drive that I would have had.” Anne Mahlum
I mean, all the great art, all the great songs are built out of pain. You’ve got to figure out a way to channel it and you become massively motivated when you’re in pain because you don’t want to feel that way anymore. And you start searching and you get to this emotional threshold with yourself and you really start to do the hard work and you start to make these little adjustments or changes in your life that are gonna make really amazing differences for yourself, how you treat yourself, how you spend your time, who you spend your time with. And that’s something I look back and I’m really grateful for.
I was also horrible to mom was a teenager for three years. I blamed her for, you know … I first blamed my mom because she ruined my life and kicked my dad out who was like my number one person and my biggest fan. And I’m like, “You’re ruining our family. Dad messed up. But you guys are married. Figure it out.” And I just was so resentful for her. I mean I felt it in my bones.
And, you know, now she is one of the closest people to me in my life. And she’s definitely one of the first people that I call if I need to talk about something or I have a problem. I trust her and she’s just full of amazing advice for me. And then once I was done with my mom for years of blaming, and then I went to my dad. And I’m like, “Why did you have to be this way?” you know, “Grow up and be an adult. I can’t believe you put us through that.”
And anyway, it was just sort of unhealthy finger-pointing and realizing, “Gosh, my life is amazing. I like who I am. I’ve gone on this self-improvement journey all the time with myself and I wouldn’t ever do that if my parents weren’t who they are.” So, you learn to just practice gratitude in that. And then you learn to contribute. People talk a lot about gratitude, too. And I’m like, gratitude is great to have. But it’s also passive, right?
So, if I’m grateful for the things in my life, I better start contributing. If I’m just gonna sit there and be grateful, that’s not anything that’s gonna help the person next to me, right? How do I make their gratitude list? How do I make sure when that person is talking they’re talking about like, “This is what Anne has done for me. This is how she has enriched my life,” and I have a responsibility in all my relationships and the people that work for me in this company to do that. And if I’m not, then this company’s not gonna be as successful or even be around frankly, if you’re not looking at how you can contribute in a massive way.
Jessica: You guys, I am not some crazy athlete. I have never run a marathon in my life. And I most likely, almost 100%, I can say this, I definitely never will, and it won’t be in Antarctica. That is for sure. But I love physical activity. It really is this equalizer. In fact, a lot of times when I’m needing connection with my kids, I’m like, “Let’s go swimming together,” Or “Let’s go get back rubs together”.
And I just love how physical activity can also be this place to discover empathy for one another. So, I hope that this also inspired you to work out, maybe incorporate some strength training into your life. Thanks so much for tuning in on today’s episode. You guys, I love doing the Going Scared podcast. I love bringing this content to you, week after week, after week and it would really, really, really bless me if you could go over to iTunes and leave a review.
When we leave reviews on iTunes, it helps iTunes get this podcast in front of more people. So, if this podcast has helped you even one bit, could you just take one second for me today or tomorrow or tonight and go leave a review? I read all of them and it would just really mean a lot to me. And I’m gonna be reading some reviews live on the podcast. So, head on over there and I can’t wait to check out and learn what you are learning because it helps inform our new tracks.
Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend, Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz, and this is Jessica. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep Going Scared.