Zoe Sharp / Fold London
First up in our Mondays series is the lovely Zoe: yoga teacher, yoga studio owner, impressive lady all around.
Rachele: Zoe talk to us about how it all started with the Fold.
Zoe: I have been teaching yoga for seven years, and I was happily freelancing and teaching but just having one class a week with people never felt quite enough. I knew at some point that I wanted to develop rather than just teach. And then my hand was forced a bit… 3 years ago I was attacked when someone threw a brick at my head. I had a hairline fracture, lost most of my peripheral vision, had a severe concussion and post concussion syndrome. It was a nightmare and I took a step back from teaching for about a year after that.
Then as I got back into it, I started teaching at this tiny almost - studio (it was really a room in a co-working space): a colleague of mine had started running classes there and she called it Fold London. After a few months she asked if I wanted to come on board as a business partner. This was about a year after the accident, and I was like: Yes! I was looking for something to fall into my lap and this felt right.
So I came onboard then, we worked together for about six months and then she did a slow transition out of the business. About six months after that I found a new location, two minutes away from the old one. So I took a leap and signed the lease on the last working day before Christmas and we opened on the first Saturday after new year. It was a great turnaround, loads of time! We had no floor, no loo… ugh.
R: How did you set the studio up? Did you do it yourself or did you get people involved?
Z: I did most of it myself, although we did have someone come in and install the toilet and help us put the floor down. But I painted it in a day, whilst listening to a lot of the Guilty Feminist podcast and Taylor Swift. I was like: we will have all the good vibes here, we will paint them in. And then a couple of my best friends brought a ladder with them on the overground from Shepherds Bush to Canonbury! We ordered some pizza and had a ceiling painting party. That’s how we finished it off. And from there on we doubled our 2018 turnover in less than ten months.
R: Which is crazy, so impressive! If you go back to these first few months now, what would you say were your main worries?
Z: It was a vague sense that I had no idea of what I was doing. I now know that I didn’t know what I was doing! A
general sense of overwhelm I would say. I couldn’t really identify what wasn’t working. It was this really weird, vague disconnect. I had just jumped in and I had never run a business before, so it was a general sense of uncertainty.
R: And if you had to pinpoint one specific issue during these early days - and it could be practical or psychological or anything - what would you say was your number one challenge?
Z: I think the real challenge is disassociating yourself from the business enough to understand the customer experience, and to be able to take criticism on board effectively. It’s really hard at first. And, like, there’s no platonic idea of a yoga studio, or anything else really.
So you make this thing which is the best you can make it at the time, and for a 100,000 different reasons, including limitations of the space or financing or whatever, it is not going to be quite like you had it in your head. But it is the best you can do.
None of us go into this half-heartedly and when we make compromises we probably agonised over them. So you make those choices and you feel really strongly about them. They are the things you went to bed thinking about, and you had shower thoughts about or bothered your boyfriend about.
And then someone comes along (and this is exactly how it should be) and they don’t see any of that. They just want to take a yoga class. And it’s slightly the wrong time for them or like it’s 3 minutes in the wrong direction or anyone of a million things which would put people off - maybe they don’t like the colours of the walls, that kind of thing.
And it’s perfectly justified. And actually you don’t want all of your clients as personally invested in the business as you are! But it’s really really hard to take a step back and be like: you know what… I have made this thing and it is separate from me, it is not me and I have to learn to accept praises and criticism and advice, without letting it affect me personally.
R: Which is so hard to do! I personally find it very challenging.
Z: So hard! But you can't get too defensive about it. You have put something out there and I really believe that you can’t control the way people respond to it and you shouldn’t ask that of them either. if it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough.
R: And now that few months have passed, how have those challenges changed? What keeps you up at night now?
Z: It takes a lot to stop me from sleeping to be honest, but it is all cashflows now. And I think the more you get a handle on the business and the more you start understanding numbers and how the market works, the more you start to identify specific problems. So now it is always cashflow and I always know what the problem is, which is refreshing!
R: Given you wear many different hats and are super busy, how do you prioritise? With everything you have going on, how do you decide what to focus on?
Z: It’s always the most immediate problem first. And running a studio, that’s very practical: if the next class is starting on time with people in it, then we are alright as far as the next class is concerned. Any physical problems in the studio, for example when we had a leak, has to shoot up to the top of the priority list.
And then from there on is a mix of finding ways which will grow the business in the short to medium term and keeping on top of admin; for example, by having a day at home when I don’t leave the flat until I finish my to do list. Usually by bribing myself with coffee and cake, it’s very effective! Also I do the thing I don’t want do first. Any crisis and then swallow the frog. And then everything else falls into place.
R: When you are your own boss lines are very blurred between personal life and work life, so do you allow yourself some pre-set chill time during the week or do you take each day as it comes?
Z: I take each day as it comes. If I have an hour where I can, I am quite happy to go hide in a café and read a book. I don’t work for the sake of working.
Also, I don’t teach on Sundays. I make a point of having a day when you don’t have anywhere to be. And when you are running around and teaching part-time, a lot of the pressure is getting to places, being in places 10 minutes early and that kind of thing. So that helps.
Still though, if it’s Sunday afternoon and I get an idea for an event I want to start planning, I just start writing down few thoughts and work on it. And I would never actually stop myself from doing that just because ‘I am not supposed to be working’. I also make a point of still practising yoga. I love it more now than when I started teaching I think.
R: If you have had a stressful week and you are at home and need to relax, what do you do? What’s your routine?
Z: A glass of wine in the bath. Candles everywhere.
R: I definitely approve of that!
Z: If I am not too stressed reading a book is another option, but when my brain is really wired I like watching space movies on Netflix. Because no matter how bad it gets, it’s never going to be as bad as being stuck on Mars! Also, in romcoms somebody always goes to bloody yoga. I don’t want to think about yoga if I am stressed about a yoga studio!
R: If you were to give some advice to your younger self or to someone who is just starting up their own business, what would be your number one piece of advice?
Z: Learn who to listen to. I think you get advice from everywhere and sometimes it is incredible advice and it actually comes from people who are not in the same industry as you - I think you do need to think very creatively and laterally.
But sometimes you get advice from people who either are well meaning but don’t quite understand what you are trying to do, or they are not entirely convinced that as a young woman you can actually do it and they want to sort of use the advice to put you back in your box. I will always listen to what people say, but I had to learn how to filter it.
R: What has been the most rewarding experience so far?
Z: I always like the moments when I come in after a class has just finished and it’s been running really well without me being there. And you get to walk in and think: I know that I created it, but nobody else really needs to. I love these moments.
R: What is next for you and for the studio?
Z: For me, I want to cut down on teaching a bit more next year hopefully. By the end of next year I would like to be teaching 5 classes a week max. For the studio, it will be our first full year in the space on January the 5th, and I would really like to consolidate the success of 2019 and then focus more on our events and workshops. We have run a few very successful ones this year and I would like to do one a month next year. Sort of opening it all up a bit more and kind of deepening the experience.
Firedrill Round with Zoe.
- If you had to describe yourself using three words, which would they be? Sensitive, idealistic and tenacious.
- What about Fold London, would you use the same ones? No, Fold is unpretentious, cosy and very simple.
- Most interesting thing about you? Oh gosh, I am not sure there is!
- Most unexpected thing about you? I once got locked in a pyramid! I was 5, it was really dark and quite scary.
- Top 3 skincare products? Embryolisse moisturiser, Alpha H Liquid Gold Serum and By Terry lip balm.
- Top 3 items of clothing? Lululemon leggings, a really good scarf and Uniqlo's cashmere range for men.
- Most treasured item of jewelry? My grandmother eternity ring.
- Favourite brunch place in London? Pavillion in Victoria Park.
- Favourite yoga pose? Forearm stand.
- Favourite scent? The beach, on a really cold morning.
- What's your earliest memory associated with a scent? The smell of my grandmother cooking.
- Favourite travel destination? Florence.
- Favourite in-London escape destination? Hampstead Heath.
- Favourite luxury items? I like little things you can use everyday: really good candles, nice socks or bed linen.
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