VENTEUR spoke with Melissa Bentivoglio, who was immersed in elite classical ballet training and competitive dancing from a young age until attending university. Then, pilates was prescribed for rehabilitation while healing from a sports-related injury. In 2018, Bentivoglio designed her custom reformer, which eventually entered her boutique fitness studio in the heart of Toronto. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Bentivoglio closed her boutique fitness studio and returned to an earlier idea of a digitally-connected pilates reformer she had begun working on. 

Frame Fitness co-founders Melissa Bentivoglio and Lee Belzberg

The Journey

The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?

Amidst the earlier days of seed fundraising, a potential investor waited until I finished my lengthy pitch to tell me that even though the concept had a relevant market value, a female mother of three without prior CEO experience would not be able to lead a company of this magnitude (given the hypergrowth in the competitive landscape and the market comparables that we would be going up against). 

I became very combative and tried to substantiate my value. This unfavorable perception of me could have negatively impacted my confidence and ability to raise capital. Still, instead, I focused on my affirmations and my unwavering belief that I could do anything. 

Two months later, I completed a successful seed raise after one hundred hours of pitching. I have learned that if you have to try too hard to persuade a potential investor of your value, it's the wrong fit. Instead, it would be best if you convinced people who will listen. 

The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur? 

Lee, my partner in life and this new venture, has helped provide a lot of support throughout this journey. His positive attitude compliments my competitive type A personality, and it has been invaluable having him by my side. 

What role has intuition played in your success as an entrepreneur, and why do you think this is the case?

Women, in general, have the propensity to be very intuitive beings and are very focused on understanding their teams and consumers. In addition, women bring unique perspectives and viewpoints to revolutionize products and industries. As a result, female-founded companies are more likely to succeed when considered as a group, with higher dollar-for-dollar returns on investment.

The Psychological Warfare 

Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur?

A successful founder has many traits that correlate to success, but the most critical traits are resilience and a strong sense of self (because you will be told you can't do it more often than not). I'm a huge proponent of visualization, and it's helped me envision the success of Frame and cultivate belief in myself. 

In founding Frame, it's taken many hours of travel and less sleep, but I have an unwavering idea in Frame and myself to bring my vision to life. With this, it's been invaluable to instill balance wherever I can. With the digital and work-from-home world, it can be effortless to slip into work mode 24/7. Eventually, you will run out of energy and focus, which can only hurt you in the long run. So be sure to continue to work on yourself; a work-life balance and your mental, physical, and emotional health should always be a top priority. 

The Mistakes

What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid them?

1. Find people who believe in your vision!

I have learned that it's the wrong fit if you try too hard to persuade a potential investor of your value. You can't convince people who won't listen. 

2. Celebrate your wins!

My partner, Lee, always reminds me to celebrate each win along the way. I can be so quick to move on to the next thing, but I've been cultivating a practice of celebrating successes throughout the journey. 

3. Don't be afraid to ask for help! 

When you start your own business, it feels like your baby, and allowing others to get involved can be difficult. However, asking trustworthy people for advice and help may lead you down a more substantial road than you thought.

What are some things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?

Trust your gut instinct

That intrinsic feeling evokes emotion for a reason. Trust your intuition.

You don't have to be the most intelligent person in the room

As the CEO, there is a lot of pressure to be a strategic innovator, visionary, and exhibit leadership. I constantly learn, iterate, and re-evaluate the strategy, operations, and business. It's incredibly valuable to recognize your strengths, lean into them, and accept advice and insight from others, where their strengths lie. 

Allow yourself to say no!

As a CEO and business starter, it is important to have a clear, passionate vision, and if something comes your way that deviates from that vision, it is okay to say no. 

Photo courtesy of Melissa Bentivoglio

The Successes

What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you've faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?

1. Product development!

While this may seem intimidating for many, I had already embarked on the journey of industrial design and prototyping for my studio reformer. The first time around, there were many lessons learned. Still, when prototyping for Frame, I could use everything I had learned previously, making bringing Frame to life smoother than it would have been if I hadn't designed my studio reformer. 

2. Reframing!

I had put hours, days, sleepless nights, and more into my boutique pilates studio in Toronto, and, like many, when COVID-19 hit, having to close the fitness studio brought all of that to a halt. I could have let this leave me feeling defeated, but I stayed inspired to get something that could change the lives of many to live.

3. Visualization!

Bringing a product to the market that has never been made or seen before can be incredibly daunting and, at times, difficult. To overcome potential challenges or moments of doubt, I practice daily visualization for around 20-30 minutes to visualize where I envision Frame being years down the road and the company's success. When I visualize what this looks like, I know it's possible, and I will make it happen. 

The Advice

How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems impossible?

You have to allow yourself the freedom to do it. Of course, there's always going to be another task to tackle, another email to send, or another call you can take. Still, you must rip off the Band-Aid and set healthy boundaries to ensure you don't burn out and continue finding inspiration outside of work. 

What three key pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey easier, and why?

1. Lean into your strength and resilience

Believe in your vision and use your intuition alongside tactile, strategic steps to bring it to life successfully. 

2. Surround yourself with the right people

Who you surround yourself with throughout your entrepreneurial journey is key. Surround yourself with people in your personal life who encourage balance, support you in your vision, and can be someone to lean on; fill your professional life with people who are experts in their fields, who you not only trust but who can make more robust and more insightful decisions than you might have the capacity or knowledge to. 

3. Continue to believe in yourself

You must have an unwavering belief that you are doing something meaningful and impactful. Statistically speaking, start-ups have a disproportionately high failure rate, but when someone is passionate, there is no stopping that person.

What do you think the most significant difference is between how an entrepreneur sees their career path versus how an employee at a company sees their career path, and why?

I wouldn't encourage anyone to seek a "regular job" as an employee versus an entrepreneur. If I had listened to the peripheral perspective, I would not have raised a $5M seed round with fitness veterans. Entrepreneurs must believe in the mission of what they're creating and continue to cultivate resilience along with a strong sense of self. 

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