So this is how you turn a negative into a positive…

Jo Mathews set up TenPilates after being involved in a serious car accident. Here we find out more about her story and get her top tips for taking the plunge and setting up your own business.


Desbribe your typical working day.

I usually wake up before my alarm goes off – as a morning person early starts are easier for me and it’s also when I am at my most creative. I take a glance at Twitter, run a bath and check my emails and then look at how busy the studios and physio team is for the day. This allows me to sense check what is going on in the business. I then review my diary for meetings and plan my day/rest of the week. As Managing Director of Ten, there is not really a typical day, as I need to be able to react to issues and be flexible when needed. However, I do ensure that I always plan my week, as quality-working time is precious. I like to see as many of my team as possible and to be out and about in one of the studios at some stage in the day. I also like to talk to clients as much as possible – they really tell me how we are doing and what is going on.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t say maybe when you mean no.

How did you come to set up TenPilates?
Setting up Ten had more to do with a ‘happy accident’ than anything else. Whilst driving on the North Circular late one night in October, 2005 – a woman made a spur of the moment decision to do a U-turn, with no indication or warning at all. She piled into the side of my car. If she hadn’t made that split second decision I wouldn’t have end up signed off work for three months with a fractured coxxcyx, twisted pelvis and whiplash. I wouldn’t have found myself in a rehab gym in Highgate and I wouldn’t have met a personal trainer called David Higgins or have be introduced to what we now know as dynamic Pilates and David and I wouldn’t have set up TenPilates together. The incident – difficult at the time – turned out to be the defining moment of the next stage of my life.

Did you have any prior knowledge of the fitness industry?
I didn’t know the fitness sector but I knew I was strategic, and I know how to make things happen, and that defining a brand, having a great product would be a solid starting point. Prior to Ten, I worked in the marketing industry. I worked both in agencies and on the client side, ending up as Head of Marketing & PR for Habitat and as a consultant to Austin Reed. I left school at 18 with A levels, but knew that I didn’t want to go to university – I just wanted to be financially independent. That was my main motivator. I learnt on the job, and had some great mentors along the way. I studied for my marketing exams at night school and did a year of Open University.

Who inspires you?
Being adopted and seeing what my mother went through to have a family leaves me in awe of her strength and tenacity. I also admire Jo Malone; to be in fragrances for a second successful time – it’s genius.

Did you have any set backs along the way?
Trying to get the bank to support us when we started Ten was impossible, so we had to scale back our initial vision of Ten to be able to start and to prove the concept. This lead us to decide that we would grow organically – which means that we have control of what we do and why we do it.

What have you learnt along the way?
Running a business can be isolating, so you do need to believe in your vision and decision-making. You won’t always get it right but it is better to make decisions than not. Momentum is key – as is the ability to take a step back and reflect. It’s important to step outside of the business, to gain perspective. Problems are never as bad as they initially may seem, there is always a way round. Have a talented, and capable team around you. I look to recruit people that are better at the role than I could ever be. Being a small business its sometimes difficult to pay the salaries needed – but don’t skimp on talent. It should pay dividends in the long run.

What do you do to unwind after a tough day at work?
I have a long hot bath, followed by a movie, or dinner with friends after a Pilates class. If I have planned it in advance then a trip to the ballet is an amazing place to escape and marvel at the sheer expertise and talent of the dancers.

We’re always obsessing over our work/life balance – how do you manage it?
I don’t obsess about work/life balance – I get a huge amount of enjoyment from what I do as a day job and I get to exercise and be around like-minded people.

How would your colleagues describe you?
I would like to think my colleagues would describe me as driven, fair, visionary, motivational and challenging… but it’s probably best to ask them!

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