Our London Lead and this month’s SERENE editor and co-founder Tegan Bukowski caught up with Leila Francis Coleman, the founder of Aquaphysical. We wanted to know how a woman squarely in the hustle and bustle of corporate London made the leap into starting her own (fabulous) fitness company. Aquaphysical is a new type of workout that is different from anything we have ever tried. Tegan took her class at the Barbican a few weeks ago, and it was one of the funnest, most challenging workouts she has had in ages. Basically you stand on a board (that Leila designed) in a pool while doing bootcamp/crossfit style workout moves. Keeping your balance is tough (but not impossible) and you constantly hear people accidentally launching themselves into the pool off of their boards as they fail to keep their balance in a burpee or squat. Such fun, and so refreshing. Learn more about Leila’s journey in the interview below!
Tegan Bukowski: So what lead you to start your own business? What was the spark?
Leila Francis Coleman: After four years in bustling London I was ready for a change. The grind of the daily commute and my frustration waiting for others to increase my responsibilities had palled. I wanted to create my own business, make the decisions and work at my own pace. My enthusiasm was boundless.
I definitely underestimated the huge leap I had to make. I left London last year and plunged myself into bringing our idea into being. Not remotely understanding the struggle to start a new enterprise – especially with a completely new concept.
Tegan: So what challenges did you face from the start? There are so many challenges with starting a business, what were the toughest things from the get go?
Leila: Looking back I realize that I was immediately submersed in my venture to the exclusion of anything else. The learning curve was very steep and I missed all the things I loved about London. A wonderful social life and a great group of friends. These friends had no understanding of the workload and commitment I needed and I could see from social media the parties and gatherings continuing without me. I missed them. I tried to join in occasionally but knew I needed to be beavering away elsewhere if we wanted to succeed.
My laptop was glued to my side as I struggled to come to grips with all the necessary realities of starting my own business. Down on the coast of Dorset it was beautiful, peaceful and dark at night. I felt isolated but determined. My family and boyfriend were invaluable, as the kernel of my idea became a viable concept. Chocolate became very attractive too!
Tegan: So how did you come up with the idea for your Aquabase and the Aquaphysical routine?
Leila: I knew from years of sailing that exercising on water was unpredictable and a harder workout than it looked. Unknown muscles ached, then strengthened and the close proximity to water could be both exhilarating and calming. The germ of our idea incorporated all of this and I wanted to pursue it. A revolutionary waterborne workout was what I envisioned. Perfect for so many different reasons.
Our idea to transfer exercise onto water would create an effective, intense experience. Perfect for rehabilitation to balance up muscles, for stretching and realigning the body with yoga and Pilates, or for just chilling. We designed a floating base and needed to find a manufacturer, decide on dimensions, run trials, discuss with professionals, write a business plan… All before we could even consider setting up a website and launching on to an unsuspecting world. As the idea took shape other advantages and uses came bubbling up as well.
Tegan: That is really impressive, I love it when A leads to B and new things are created in the process. The creative process is so valuable! When you decided to do the Aquaphysical company, what was the hardest thing about actually getting the project to become a company?
Leila: Finding and consulting experts in their field, making up and testing prototypes of our design and analyzing the industry was laborious. I wanted to run fast with my idea but the background work was essential. Being taken seriously and not treated with kind condescension was rare to start with. Searching for the right people and gaining credibility took an inordinately long time. When all this was in place having to decide on the final product and then scarily putting in the first order was a time when I held my breath for ages.
Tegan: So what keeps you ticking…what is the thing that drives you most?
Leila: I have, of course, an overall plan – dream – to dominate the world but the reality of my weekly goals keeps me on the straight and narrow! Stay on top of correspondence, address requests, attend meetings, become more efficient and organized, as I keep all the ever-increasing balls in the air. (I don’t want to drop any….)
Tegan: Any last comments?
Leila: For all the drawbacks and reality checks the rewards are innumerable. The challenge of working for yourself and knowing that you are in the driving seat is intoxicating – if scary at times! The tangible evidence of burgeoning public awareness is wonderful. The knowledge that you have created something is a phenomenal feeling. I recommend it because even with the troughs between the peaks during the last year I wouldn’t change my decision to jump out of the rat race for the unpredictable life of an entrepreneur. (An entrepreneur – surely only people like Richard Branson can be called one of those!) The expression ‘the buck stops with you’ is addictive.
Harder work but so much greater rewards. Just do it. Starting a business is a leap in the dark but I am so pleased I made one.
Tegan: Thank you so much for this, Leila! We are excited to do some Aquaphysical soon!!!
Find out more about Aquaphysical at aquaphysical.com.
Love, Tegan Bukowski
Tegan is a vinyasa yoga teacher, architect and product designer, insatiable traveler, and co-founder of SERENE.