I always think the most inspiring women-in-business stories arise when life circumstances lead to new career opportunities borne of passions. And this is certainly true of Mel Bound, who founded fitness-based This Mum Runs when she popped a Facebook post up to search for new running buddies while recovering from a back injury.
Fast-forward three years and TMR has become the leading running community for Mums not only in Bristol, where Mel is based, but in London and Bath, too. Their weekly runs are women-only, of varying lengths to suit all abilities and are all about finding time for you in the hectic-ness of life, and through these runs Mel has inspired literally hundreds of women to embark on their own fitness paths.
Mel also runs an online shop that retails technical sportswear, and a range of courses for women at different stages of their running journeys with the overarching message of promoting health and happiness via getting out there and pounding the pavement.
I spoke to Mel to find out a little bit more about her voyage to This Mum Runs, and to discover what the future holds for her on the business. I challenge you to read this and not want to get your trainers on!
Can you tell me a bit about you and your work background?
My name is Mel Bound and I’m 44. I’m Mum to Lyla, 7 and Rafferty, 3.
I went to a really academic school and everyone went to top universities to do things like law and medicine. I nearly did too, but had an epiphany just before applying that I’d rather do something I really loved – which was sport, so I applied to study Sports Science at Birmingham University. My Mum was quite disappointed I think.
Afterwards I spent 3 years on a fast track management training programme with a national chain of Health Clubs – and having a lot of fun running a health club in Chelsea – before heading off travelling solo for 18 months! I later joined a sports marketing agency where I managed the event team for televised athletics events across the UK. This led to a 15-year career in marketing and events, working on event and engagement programmes for many household names and sporting events including the Manchester Commonwealth Games and London 2012. Around the time I had the kids I was heading up a global account team for Grass Roots, one of the biggest brand engagement agencies in the world.
What was the trigger that led to you starting your own business? Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Since I was a kid, I’ve dreamt of having my own business. I had all kinds of hare brained schemes to make money, from setting up games in my garden and charging 2p to play (it was the 70s!), to creating a homemade magazine to sell to school friends. I had a Saturday job from the age of 14 and would save every penny I earned to pay for school trips abroad including a slightly hairy trip to Russia in the late 80s.
When I left university, I don’t remember ‘being an entrepreneur’ being an actual thing you could go off and do. It was very much, join a management scheme, work your way up. It felt like a very set path and although I had some super exciting jobs that allowed me to travel and work on interesting campaigns, I always felt boxed in and that there was something missing.
When I had my daughter and wanted to work more flexibly, it was made clear that any career progression would be unlikely. So I left and worked freelance for a while. In 2011 I slipped a disc in my back and the following year had surgery which meant I was unable to work for 6 months. When my old boss offered me a job I decided for financial stability I should take it.
Throughout this period I had also gone from being really sporty to completely inactive – my back rehab lasted for 12 months and initially I struggled to walk to the end of the road. Eventually I lost total confidence in my body and was terrified I would injury my back again.
After I had my son in 2014 and when I was on maternity leave, self esteem, energy levels and mental wellbeing were at an all time low. I really struggled to adjust to being a Mum and missed doing regular exercise. In desperation I put a post on a Mums Facebook group to try and find an unfit running buddy and the response was overwhelming. When I arranged a meet up later that week, more than 75 Mums turned up to run with me. This was my lightbulb moment; I realised there were lots of women who felt exactly like me. I set up a Facebook group and called it This Mum Runs, at the time just to let people know about our weekly runs. Within a few weeks we had hundreds of members and women wanting to join us from other areas.
When I was offered redundancy a few months later, I jumped at the chance. In a weird sliding doors moment I applied to and was offered a place on a business accelerator programme called Entrepreneurial Spark and started working full time on This Mum Runs with their support in August 2015.
Two years later we have grown to a community of 25,000 Mums. We’ve trained 200 Mums as volunteer Run Angels and as qualified running coaches. We offer hundreds of social runs every month from 30 locations across London, Bristol and Bath, plus award winning coaching programmes for total beginners upwards and have recently launched an online store with our in-house designed active wear.
I pinch myself on pretty much a daily basis, I literally cannot believe where that innocent Facebook post for a running buddy has led to in such a short space of time!
It must be incredibly inspiring to have built such an enthusiastic community of women. Does that help spur you on in your mission?
Yes, its all about our community of amazing Mamas! We don’t do anything without their support, we run everything past them first before making any major decisions and two hundred of them became investors last summer when we crowdfunded.
There are literally hundreds of inspiring stories of women in our community who’s lives have been transformed after decades of inactivity – a hangover from bad experiences of PE at school.
The sense of community and support is overwhelmingly strong, the friendships that have grown and the amazing things that women in our community are achieving is just brilliant to watch.
On the many days where I feel stressed or overwhelmed, I just have to check in with the community and I immediately remember why we’re doing this. We want to empower Mums everywhere to be healthier and happier, and I honestly cant imagine anything I’d want to do more with my life.
What does a typical day in the business look like for you?
Even with young kids, I struggle to get moving in the mornings so I try and do a short bit of meditation with the Headspace app as soon as I wake up, to get my head straight before the day starts. It’s then kids brekkie and school run – I really treasure the simple quality time walking to and from school after years of being away from the family with work. I usually get to the office at 9.30 and we start every day with a team catch up to look at what happened the day before and what we all have planned that day. I’m very involved in most aspects of the business from launching runs in new areas, recruiting and training volunteers, to writing coaching programmes, new clothing designs and all aspects of the shop. I try and limit time in my inbox otherwise I’d get nothing else done, and make sure as a team we get outdoors every day. No two days are the same, which I love!
Who else inspires you in the world of business?
I am inspired by every woman who has the guts to take the first step and give running their own business a go, especially Mums who are juggling so many other demands on their time and energy. One of my business role models is Julie Deane, founder of The Cambridge Satchel Company. She started her company to raise the money to get her daughter, who was being bullied, into a new school. She’s since built a multi million pound business, but is really authentic in how she shares her experience. I heard her speak at an event recently and was blown away. I thought ‘finally, someone very successful being really honest about what it’s like!’
What one piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of starting their own business?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help! I really struggled with this at the beginning and felt like I needed to know everything (or at least pretend I did!). There has never been a better time to start a business than now, though, with fantastic accelerator programmes like Entrepreneurial Spark, communities like Enterprise Nation and campaigns like Facebook’s She Means Business which are all designed to provide training, support and networking to entrepreneurs around the UK. So, be like a sponge and take all the help you can get; not only will it transform your business, it will connect you with other businesses going through the same challenges as you, which in my experience has been invaluable.
What’s been the biggest surprise to you in the process of entrepreneurship?
I’ve been surprised at how hard it is! I used to look at people in the public eye who are successful and naively imagine their journey had been easy. It’s the classic ‘overnight success’ that has taken fifteen years of hard work that no-one sees. It is honestly the hardest thing I have ever done and there have been countless times when I have thought of giving up. But I feel like I’ve found my place in the world at last, so I’ll know I’ll keep going despite the tough days. Also, I think I’d be pretty much unemployable now!
What’s your favourite part of running your own business?
I love the fact that I’m doing something that is making a small difference in the world. Being in control of my own day and having plenty of flexibility to fit work around my lovely family is pretty incredible too.
One of the best things of all though is being able to share this journey with my kids. I involve them in the business and talk to them about decisions I’m trying to make. I hope they see that no-one has all the answers, that they watch me make (many!) mistakes and pick myself up when things don’t go well. I hope that all of these things help them become compassionate, resilient, hard working kids who believe following your dreams is within everyones grasp.
And the least favourite?
I have a pathological hatred of spreadsheets and have had to come to terms with not being able to reply to every single email and message I receive (which is a lot!)
What’s next in 2018 for TMR?
We launched in London recently and by Christmas will have a team of 50 and runs taking place from 13 locations. We’re going to be working hard throughout 2018 to get thousands of Mums across London running with us.
We want to take our fabulous run programmes and communities nationwide over the next couple of years, so we’re in the process of raising investment to help us do it. Exciting times ahead!