The Founder Of Cult Fitness Brand SLT On The Pressure To Succeed And The Future Of Wellness Entrepreneurship

We’re halfway through the week, and it’s time for a boost of inspiration to keep us going. Our #WednesdayWisdom Thought Leadership series taps into the minds of industry leaders and disruptive visionaries who are working to build the future of entrepreneurship.

Amanda Freeman is the Founder and Creator of SLT, a total-body workout that melds together cardio training, weight-bearing activity and Pilates to create a one-of-a-kind fitness program that burns calories rapidly and leads to toned and defined muscles. SLT has been named one of the toughest workouts in New York City and is gaining in popularity with 25 locations in six states. We sat down with the busy mother of two to chat about serial entrepreneurship, the future of fitness, and the secret to building a cult brand.

You’re a serial entrepreneur and a mother —what is an average day like for you?

Thankfully, every day is so different for me.  Some days I’m in the office, some I’m at studios, others I’m running around to meetings.  But, I try to keep my before and after work routines consistent to ensure I get quality time with my kids.

Both of my children are early risers (5:30 AM), so I’m up early and get a few hours of hang time around the apartment, in the courtyard of our building or at the bagel place.  I’m off to work at 8:30 AM and I grab an oatmeal on my way. I’m full-on obsessed with Cha Cha Matcha’s ginger tumeric matcha latte, so I Postmate it to my office. I try to make it home by 6:00 PM on the nose to do the night time routine with my kids before their 7:00 and 7:30 PM bedtimes.  Then it’s either eat in and hop back on the computer, or head out to meet friends for dinner, my mommy group or Mahjong.

SLT isn’t your first wellness company. Can you tell us a bit about your previous ventures and how they ultimately prepared you for founding SLT?

My career has been a true progression into the wellness world.  My first job was as a trend forecaster focused on Generation X and Millennials.  I interviewed and studied young these generations in an effort to help companies create products, services and marketing that spoke to them.  In 2006, I documented a trend we observed, calling it The Rise of Well-consciousness. That year was when people started shifting to a preventative health mindset.  That was also the year I decided to co-found a business called Vital Juice—a healthy living e-newsletter that focused on the latest in fitness, nutrition, beauty and wellness.

While overseeing the marketing and ad sales sides of the business, I got very interested in the emerging concept of boutique fitness.  While I loved the idea of a studio dedicated to offering the best version of one workout, I didn’t love the offerings. I wanted a workout that delivered Pilates results in a fun, music-fueled group setting.  Thus, I started SLT.

I’ve spent the past seven years running and growing SLT to 25 studios.  And it was my time in our studios that generated the idea for Stretch*d.  I observed how so many of our clients leave class at the start of the stretch section of class.  Yet, when I see people working out with their trainers, they relish the last 5-10 minutes of assisted stretch.  Hmm…thus Stretch*d, the one-on-one assisted stretch studio was born.

What was one thing you didn’t expect or had to learn when you started SLT that you hadn’t experienced in your previous career or as a founder of your other startups?

Well, if you had told me eight years ago that I’d be a fitness instructor, I would have laughed in your face.  But, I learned early on that if I wanted to have credibility amongst my instructors and valuable insight into our programming, I had to be an instructor…at least on occasion.  Learning how to teach the SLT workout, which is super detailed and technical, was a serious challenge.

I’m also basically a real estate lawyer at this point.  I can read a lease like very few non-attorneys can 🙂

You describe SLT as what would happen “if cardio, strength training and Pilates had a baby.” What advice do you have for female founders who are hesitant to pull inspiration from or improve upon existing concepts?

Ha, ha!  That is literally all I know how to do.  I am not an inventor of anything, and I rarely have truly innovative ideas. My talent is for identifying opportunities that exist to adapt a concept for a new market and do it better than it’s been done before.  Sometimes I feel a little bad about that, but there are very few truly original ideas around at this point.

My advice to someone contemplating doing the same is, do it!  If you don’t, someone else will, and you’ll be kicking yourself that you didn’t pull the trigger.

Interest in SLT has started to ramp up in the last few years and has gained enviable cult status, even though you started your business in 2011. To what do you attribute the boom in attention?

Why thank you.  It’s actually felt like a pretty steady build.  But, for the first 5 years, I felt like I was explaining it to everyone I met and now people seem to know what it is without my elevator pitch.

I think our success is due to the combination of a few factors; our commitment to delivering a results-driven workout, the brand and clientele we built, and a consistent client experience..  We’ve stayed focused on training our instructors to teach a best in class high intensity Pilates-style workout and aim to combine that with an amazing client experience.

What does it really mean to have a cult brand, and how have you maintained SLT’s aspirational status over time?

We are very fortunate at SLT to have a devout following of men and women who swear by SLT and have been loyal and enthusiastic about the workout for 7 years now.  I think we’ve been able to maintain our popularity because the workout truly works. You stick with SLT and you will see results and changes to your body. We also count a number of models, celebrities and influencers amongst our clients and naturally, that’s helped too.

Earlier you mentioned Stretch*d, a fitness studio you recently launched in Manhattan, where the sole focus is stretching. Do you feel any pressure to repeat the same level of success you have with SLT?

Ha, ha!  If I didn’t before, I do now. 🙂

Yes, I do feel pressure to make Stretch*d a success.  Both because it comes on the heels of SLT and because as I’ve gotten older, the financials of success become increasingly important.  I have so much more to lose now.

I think people assume that “success” is this amazing blessing and all sunshine and rainbows.  In so many ways it is, but it also comes with a lot of pressure, responsibility, and loneliness.  When you’re at the top of your game, it’s only down from there.

In your expert opinion as someone who’s been in the industry for years, what’s next for the wellness space? Is there an area that seems primed for disruption?

I think we’ve entered a new “self-care” focused phase of wellness.  For so long it was about pushing yourself to your limits with high intensity and high impact workouts being all the rage.  But, people are starting to see some of the negative effects of those workouts and looking for more ways to take care of their bodies, minds and souls.  Meditation, stretching, infrared sauna, face massage are all manifestations of this movement.

I also see wellness cheats becoming more of a thing in the near future.  Doing a 15 minute workout that is as effective as an hour workout or daily cryo[therapy] for recovery from the wear and tear of life.  Short cuts to performance and recovery are going to be hot, hot, hot.


Photos courtesy Amanda Freeman/SLT