In honor of International Women’s Day, we sat down with Shama Patel, Chicago entrepreneur extraordinaire. Shama left her career as a corporate attorney to revolutionize the fitness industry. As the creator of AIR and the brand new Mud, Shama is busier than ever. We caught up with her in a chamber about inspiration, innovation, and her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.
VHC: How did the concept of AIR come about? It’s so innovative!
SP: When I first left the corporate world, I opened a boutique fitness studio where I developed cutting-edge fitness classes and healthy culinary classes all under one roof. There, I developed AIR and it was the most successful fitness concept in the entire studio so I took a chance and opened the first freestanding AIR studio in Chicago’s Lincoln Park in September 2013. Since then, we have opened several AIR studios in Chicago, Los Angeles and Charlotte, developed three more brands (Mud, Floor Lab and Uptown Yogi) and started a franchise company earlier this year.
VHC: All of your ventures are very creative. Where do you go for creative inspiration when you’ve hit a roadblock?
SP: At my core, I’m a creative so luckily, I never have a shortage of creative ideas. As a matter of fact, I constantly have to tell myself “no” to keep from producing new concepts.
VHC: What advice would you give to other young entrepreneurs?
SP: For your first business, have experience in the industry you’re interested in starting a business in. Don’t leave your 9-5 without any experience–you could be setting yourself up for failure. Get that experience any way you can–talk to owners in the industry, do your research, volunteer to work the front desk on weekends–anything.
VHC: If you could ask Richard Branson anything, what would it be?
SP: Does your brain come with an “off switch” or is “sleep mode” as close as it gets to turning off?
VHC: We have something in common. We just celebrated our one year anniversary, as you did with MUD! First years can have a lot of ups and downs – what did you learn this year?
SP: I learned that all successful entrepreneurs have one thing in common: their hustle. They roll up their sleeves, put in the hard work and hustle to ensure their business is set up for success. Many people do not know this but for the first 6 months of opening, I worked the front desk at Mud 7 days a week (and by that point, I already had several successful AIR studios around the nation); I did that because I was observing buying patterns, interacting with my core client base and tweaking the business model to ensure its success. Without that attention to detail, Mud wouldn’t be on to its third location in a short 12 months.
VHC: You’re jetting off to LA right after this shoot. What are your must-have travel essentials?
SP: Bose noise canceling headphones, sleep mask, Nike kicks, Tombow pens and sketch book.
VHC: What’s in your dream hotel room?
SP: A luxurious bathroom with amazing products, comfortable pillows and TV with a sleep timer.
VHC: Where’s your favorite place to travel?
VHC: What about if you have a staycation?
SP: For a staycation, I care more about the hotel’s common areas than the actual room itself. I want a hotel with a great cocktail lounge, restaurant and spa.
VHC: Where’s your favorite spot in Chicago to eat/drink and/or unwind?
SP: Sable has a special place in my heart –I’ve celebrated my last 5 or 6 birthdays there. Sable’s lucky I’m not a summer baby otherwise I’d surely flock to a rooftop!
VHC: Go to pick-me-up song?
SP: Britney Spears “Toxic”
VHC: Drink of choice?
SP: Goose Island Matilda
VHC: If you could teach AIR to any celebrity, who would it be?
SP: Bethenny Frankel (because she’s awesome but mainly, because I’m sure I’d experience some pretty colorful commentary during class)
VHC: Favorite way to warm up a chilly Chicago winter?
SP: Curl up with my laptop next to the wood-burning fireplace.
VHC: Who inspires you?
SP: Sophia Amoruso. I’m late to the party–I’m just now getting around to reading her book, #GIRLBOSS, and learned in the last chapter that she built her company from the ground up, debt-free (and here I thought I was the only one).
VHC: What’s your life’s motto?
SP: Start before you’re ready!