Founder Focus: Ariana Alexander-Sefre of Sweat & Sound
In both London and New York City, Sweat & Sound is leading the way in diverse, multi-sensory fitness events. Founded in 2017, the brand focuses on immersive, live music-led sessions with an aura of secrecy, with each event’s location only being revealed to attendees just before the event.
We caught up with company founder Ariana Alexander-Sefre to learn about how the brand came to be, the difficulties of launching a start-up and what impact Sweat & Sound has had on the fitness community.
What was your eureka moment?
Sweat & Sound began as a movement inspired by the small pieces of magic I observed at festivals, well-created wellness classes, passionate teachers, gigs such as Sofar Sounds, and more. We started with a few events having little idea whether they’d work or not, but people kept coming! I knew we were doing something right, but for the first couple months I didn’t know exactly what it was…
The eureka moment occurred during one of our very first ‘Yoga & Meditation with Live Orchestra’ events with Okiem & Hannah Mae. During the meditation at the end, in our candlelit church, I took a look around and maybe half of our guests had tears streaming down their faces. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’ll never forget the first time we captured this synergy – the space so majestic, the music felt deep within our bodies, unpicking all the knots we’d built up, and the pure relaxation that can only be felt after movement. If magic exists, this is it. This moment led me into the research behind music and movement, and how, combined in the right way, can have huge benefits for our mental health, creativity and well-being. Our events, albeit incredibly cool, are very much based on the science behind multi-sensory experiences – creating a synergy that taps into a higher emotional sense of being. Whether it’s yoga, HIIT or other, our classes are made to be emotionally uplifting first, then mentally and physically.
This research around combining music & wellness in unique ways is what led us to Rapitation: our concept (that is now a brother company) that combines rap music with meditation. The aim being to normalise mindfulness practice for younger men in a language that they may be more likely to relate to.
What was your elevator pitch?
Sweat & Sound merges live music talent with fitness classes to create sensational, multi-sensory experiences that aim to improve the emotional, mental and physical health of our community. As of this year, we have been building our brother company called RAPITATION; the world’s first rap & spoken word meditation movement that aims to help solve the youth mental health crisis, using world-famous [urban] artists to create inspirational meditative experiences delivered through an app.
How do you test ideas?
I’m a big believer in just getting out there and doing it! At the very beginning, an idea needs to be run through the mill and tested out – the more you plan and strategise, the more fearful you’ll become of failing. And you probably will fail – many times before you get it right.
At the beginning we took big punts on ideas and risked a lot of capital to trial them out, then analysed feedback. Now, as we have such a great active following, we test ideas by reaching out to groups of users and asking! Plus we have various experiences that we know work, so build on them.
What advice would you give someone thinking of starting a business on their own?
Ensure it comes from the heart – I think the best businesses are run by people who put their heart and soul into it. Not only does the idea need to be solving a real problem, but the solution should be an extension of the founder’s personality and essence, which will in turn make the business dynamic impossible to replicate fully – you can’t replicate passion. These days a business isn’t just the product or service, but the people and story behind it.
Be prepared for constant trial and error, the first idea will probably not be the best one! Asking the right questions is the most important thing before starting a business – I’d recommend reading The Mom Test (book), it describes perfectly how to ask the right questions to test whether your idea is good or not.
There will be loads of insecurity at the beginning too, which you’ll need to get comfortable with. There’s no doubt that it is tough to be constantly motivated and optimistic even when the odds are stacked against you, which statistically, they are. But as a founder, you must persevere in optimism and remain a visionary. 95% or more businesses fail, and out of the 5% or less that succeed it is unlikely that any of those founders lost the belief, motivation and evidence that they are building something incredible.
Unless you have a massive stash of money, sacrifices will probably need to be made too. It is unlikely a business will make profits in the first year or two, so having a contingency is crucial to save you from burning out. Either save enough to live for 3-6 months where you can build and test your business or build the business gradually while you’re still working.
Lastly and most importantly, surround yourself with a like-minded community; other people who passionately believe in their projects, are ambitious and creative, and strive to make a positive difference in the world. Your passion is your strongest tool, it’ll set you apart from the crowds and like a butterfly effect will inspire others to do great things too.
Do you have a mentor or are you one?
I have a couple of great mentors, who have become friends. In the startup world, most people really do look out for each other, and successful founders want to help new founders. I mentor some friends in small ways but I’d love to do more mentoring.
What is the book you would recommend that everyone reads and why?
The Untethered Soul and The Alchemist I feel are crucial reading for everyone – they are 2 of the few powerful but light-hearted books that reignite the voice inside us that needs to be listened to.
What is the most worthwhile investment (time, energy, money) that you have made?
There’s no doubt it’s on travel & experiences. I believe that experiencing beauty/music, nature and different cultures is crucial to the human experience. Personal development is important, but I sometimes find I don’t always know exactly what I need, so I try to push myself out of my comfort zone.
I think it’s important to divulge our curiosity – for most people, curiosity stops after childhood, but this shouldn’t be the case. If I feel intensely curious about something or a place, the investment to discover it is always worthwhile.
What one failure are you glad you experienced?
Learning that, in the bigger picture, each failure is ultimately is a good thing has been a brilliant realisation. I’ve made lots of failures; the wrong decision with people to work with, signing contracts that have got me in financial hot water (whoops), events that just didn’t work & lost us money, and more. As startups are so hands-on and fast paced, I have had to become good at making fast decisions and moving with the momentum – each failure really does make you sharper and stronger.
What piece of industry advice do you hear often that you disagree with?
The wellness industry is an incredible place for introducing and guiding people through practices and experiences that can hugely benefit their lives. It does, however, sometimes sell the promise of a better life once you become more mindful/sharp/organised/quiet/stress-free/less anxious/relaxed etc etc.
I, however, believe in occasional bouts of chaos. If we try too hard to build, for example, ‘strategies that help us manage our stress’, when we feel stressed, we feel like we’ve failed!
The best and most important things in life will probably stress you out or send you into a bit of a chaotic whirlwind – so I say embrace it & enjoy the ride.
What’s your plan B?
Creating an adventure agency that takes people to Iran. This will include treks through the mountains, skiing, visiting ancient temples, seeing some of the most beautiful places most of the world doesn’t know about & eating some of the best food in the world..
Talk us through your morning routine?
I have very vivid dreams every night, so I usually wake up feeling a bit disoriented, but within 5 mins I rush out to the 7am yoga at MoreYoga Hackney just round the corner, and by the end of the class feel a lot more awake.
Afterwards, I’ll get ready and head to the office to settle into the morning tasks. I try to do my most creative tasks first thing, as my mind is least cluttered, and then save emails, meetings and admin for the afternoon.
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