by erin paruszewski
Erin Paruszewski is the founder & CEO of Alkalign Studios, which recently raised $100,000 from 125 investors on NextSeed.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu
This is my favorite quote, and one that aptly sums up my journey as an entrepreneur and small business owner. Getting married, buying a house, having kids – these were big decisions in my life. But the most significant decision I have ever made was to take a tremendous risk and open a new fitness concept, Alkalign Studios, in 2015.
I grew up around small business: my dad is an entrepreneur and a generally innovative and crazy guy, and I was running payroll for the family business when I was 12. He created several businesses from the ground up in completely different industries, and working hard was never an option in my family – it’s just what we did. When I was a kid, I started babysitting and lawn care businesses, and later worked as a waitress and bartender throughout my college years.
Towards the end of my time at Georgetown, I decided I wanted to work in finance. It was 2000, tech was booming, and I wanted to be in Silicon Valley. It wasn’t easy to get a job in finance without a very specific finance background. It was a frustrating process, I felt like I was smart and capable and could think outside the box – but I had a History degree and we live in a very “if this, then” world. I applied to dozens of firms and didn’t get a single interview.
I didn’t realize this at the time, but I think that’s why I’m an entrepreneur: I don’t believe in walking in a linear path. I’m a reflection of all the experiences I’ve had and I believe that if you’re of a growth mindset, you can do anything you want.
I eventually fought my foot into the door at Piper Jaffray and started my first “real job” there as an Equity Research Analyst in their Menlo Park office (ironically, right around the corner from the first Alkalign location). I met some of my dearest friends at Piper and am grateful for everything I learned, including that no matter where I work, I will never be a 9-5er. I’m more of a 5-9er.
I left Piper for another bank, and then for a finance position at a healthcare company, and continued to work my way up the corporate ladder. I became Six Sigma Black Belt certified and transitioned from finance to product development and marketing positions at Health Net.
Fitness has always been a part of my life. I was athletic from a very young age; I ran track and cross country in high school and got into marathon running and then cycling and triathlons when I was in college. But I was always an individual contributor, until I joined a gym for the first time in 2003 and got really into the community and camaraderie and started taking group classes.
Now that I look back, this is when the puzzle pieces started falling into place for me to have my job today, which I think is the best job in the world. But things don’t always make sense at the time, and it’s important to trust the process.
I became close friends with an instructor at Equinox, who thought I might make a good fitness instructor and brought me on to start teaching cycling and other classes there. She was launching a fitness concept of her own, and I helped her develop a business plan. She didn’t know how to open a Word doc, and I traded dozens of hours of business consulting for a BOSU ball, which costs $120. But I felt so excited bringing my experience in business and passion for fitness together, even if it was just to help someone else. And by the way, I still have that BOSU ball.
It was also around this time that I got introduced to barre classes, which I initially thought were total B.S. because I wasn’t sweating and burning a thousand calories per hour. But then I started to change my mindset about movement – I realized that I didn’t need to beat my body into ground.
The day Obama was inaugurated in 2009, I left my corporate job. I felt like that was a big day of change. I opened two barre studios and loved everything about it: impacting people’s lives in a positive way, being a part of the local community through my business, meeting new people.
But I wasn’t happy with the underlying business operations of the franchise, and hired a business coach to help me do some soul searching. I wanted to take my experiences with barre and other fitness programs and create a better product based on functional fitness, and a close friend who ultimately ended up acting as my branding firm convinced me to make the jump. Seven weeks later, we had branded the concept, created a website, done photo shoots and launched Alkalign.
I have more than found something I’m passionate about – I have created something I’m passionate about. It’s amazing to have the freedom to live and work in an environment where I can positively influence peoples’ lives in so many ways. I care about my team and my clients like they are an extension of my family and will do whatever it takes to help them live a more fulfilled life.
I’ve had plenty of failures along the way, and failure presents the best opportunities to learn and to grow. I think my biggest failure was moving forward with a franchisee who I didn’t trust. It was our second opportunity to franchise and something in my gut told me not to do it. While I feel great that we called it off before it got further down the road, I regret that I didn’t listen to my gut sooner. On the flip side, it confirmed that I will never compromise the culture of Alkalign, the integrity of the brand or my core values for money.
This isn’t for everyone. When you own your own business, there is no such thing as punching the clock and checking out. Alkalign never sleeps, and I think about it all the time. I love it, so the trade-off is worth it, but there’s no doubt that passion is critical to success as an entrepreneur.
My goal with Alkalign isn’t to be the biggest fitness brand but rather the most trusted and respected when it comes to doing right by our clients both short and long-term. I’m all about investing for the long-haul, which I think differentiates us from other fitness brands which tend to focus more on the here and now. I believe we are providing something unique to the health and wellness market that is unlike anything else out there.
Not only is there a huge opportunity in functional fitness and offering sustainable workouts that appeal to a wide range of people (men, women, old, young…everyone can benefit), there is an opportunity to facilitate connections and community in every Alkalign studio. I hope that Alkalign catches on and we can replicate what we’ve started in our four current studios across other communities nationally and internationally.
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