“I’m very proud of my community — it’s thanks to them that we are recognized.
Tiffany Mason, founder of Harlem Pilates, was absolutely buzzing and could barely keep still when I spoke to her for an upcoming episode of the Get a Real Job podcast. That makes sense considering she runs an exercise studio dedicated to getting people moving and was just named a Make It Awards winner.
Harlem Pilates is one of four winning companies that Squarespace and the New York Knicks are awarding with a $30,000 grant, one-year Squarespace subscription, use of select Squarespace marketing inventory, including an annual Unfold Pro subscription and a features segment on MSG Networks. “It’s so exciting,” she told me, “And honestly, I’m still processing it.”
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I spoke with the inspiring Mason about the launch and growth of Harlem Pilates and got her insider tips for any entrepreneur who is about to pitch their business to competition judges or investors. These are the highlights of this conversation, which have been edited for length and clarity.
It all starts with passion
“Before creating this company, I was an executive assistant in an advertising agency. And even though I loved my job, what I really love doing is helping people. So there was a little void for me. The passion was missing. So I decided to give Harlem Pilates a try. But I didn’t just go for it. I founded the company two years before we even started considering physical spaces. I kept my job and did a lot of careful planning. My apartment at the time was basically a one-bedroom apartment with a large closet. So I moved all my personal stuff into my closet and was going to expand the studio space. But when we had our first class in my apartment, I was like, this is so much bigger than what I’m shrinking. That’s when I started taking it seriously. I went a little faster with the paperwork and started looking at financing options. Then I started encountering physical spaces and here we are!”
Have a single vision
“I really think being a woman of color gives me perspective of some of the things that black women are looking for especially when they go into these spaces. But at the same time, we’re available and responsive to all people. I’m very attentive to all the little things in the studio, like the soaps, the lotions, the scent, the feel, the colors, the music We have a very clean and minimalist feel because I’ve had experience of spaces where pictures were displayed and I just couldn’t relate to them, that way everyone feels welcome.
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Present your business
“My biggest piece of advice is to never count yourself out. When I first thought about applying for the Make It Awards, I thought there was no way they would notice my little application. We’re just this little studio in the middle of upper Manhattan. Not at all! But you cannot disqualify yourself. I was looking for ways to fund Harlem Pilates without going into debt and heard about this contest and gave it a try. Now, I love paperwork, it’s my strength! And I think that helped me stand out.
Support all around you
“The $30,000 prize is based on the fact that Anthony Casalena, the founder and CEO of Squarespace, was loaned $30,000 by his father to pitch his idea. This story really resonated with me because when someone – family, friends, the bank – invests in you and sometimes believes in what you do, it fuels your passion to understand the rest.
Empower your business and the community
“The most powerful marketing tool for us has been word of mouth. Good things travel fast! You know, the people across the street who had their coffee after dropping their kids off at school might see the sign and peek at the door and then become a customer and then they tell another parent in the school about it and then they walk in. It’s a very old school but the mouth at ear has helped us enormously. And that sense of community building is what I plan to use the prize money for. We will be offering scholarships to people who may have financial difficulty in accessing a course at little or no We want them to feel empowered and surrounded by community members, so they don’t feel so alone.
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“At the end of our courses, my clients are training very well and they are radiant. And I’m radiant with them and I haven’t even done the course! The energy in the room is something that can’t really be explained, but it can certainly be felt. There is a lot of gratitude. There’s a lot of alignment in terms of, like me, feeling like I’m exactly where I should be, doing exactly what I want to do.