Running two businesses, parenting five children, caring for aging in-laws, and working in the community – Lisa Whitman’s busy life seems like it could keep her under water. It doesn’t. Just the opposite, in fact. Lisa Whitman is floating.
When the stresses of everyday life become too much, Whitman “takes it to the tank” at A Place to Float, the float therapy spa she co-owns in downtown Indianapolis. The much-needed R and R gives her the opportunity to recharge, regain her creativity, and ready herself for any challenges ahead. Thousands of other Hoosier clients feel the same, which is why the business of relaxation is so rewarding.
The Startup Ladies invited Whitman to share the ups and downs of her journey and what she’s learned along the way. Honest, inspiring, and insightful – her story is one worth soaking in.
You’ve launched and currently co-own two businesses. What are A Place to Float and Digital Stories Media Group?
A Place to Float launched as a premier float therapy spa in January 2017 in downtown Indianapolis (425 West South Street #110) and is going strong. It has serviced thousands of floats, as well as hundreds of members and “frequent floaters.” The center operates six private rooms with three pods and three open pools/tanks, has a large lobby, and offers a quiet room for guests to relax and feel refreshed.
Float therapy, or "floating," is becoming a mainstream practice for busy professionals, overworked entrepreneurs, stressed individuals as well as athletes, first responders, and other high-demand professionals who float regularly for focus, better sleep, stress reduction, pain reduction, and mental/physical enhancement. Floating is a relaxing practice of being suspended “weightlessly” in 10 inches of purified water and 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt in a clean, warm, silent space.
There are three pillars to health and wellness: nutrition, movement, and the pillar we champion through floating – rest. Studies, data and wellness experts have reported that we need more rest for the brain and body. Floating provides the most concentrated and simple means to get that needed rest emotionally, mentally and physically.
We operate with three goals. Our first goal is to educate people on what floating does. Floating helps those suffering from stress, anxiety, chronic pain, injuries, sleeplessness, and overwork. Those who make a practice of floating report many physical and cognitive benefits.
Second, we want to make floating accessible to everyone. We use a membership model of just over $100 per month for unlimited floats. This reduces price as a barrier to therapy. A Place to Float serves diverse people with unique needs including those with PTSD, brain injuries, busy caretakers, and stressed entrepreneurs.
Finally, we want to bring awareness to the chaos caused by the “hustle culture.” We are inundated with technology and are celebrated for moving at Mach 5 with our hair on fire. It’s causing disease because we can’t control being constantly on. A Place to Float creates a better way. Floating provides time to reflect and rest. It provides sustained mental clarity, heightened creativity and better sleep. It gives people time to be unscheduled. We work to calm the chaos!
Before starting A Place to Float, I co-founded Digital Stories Media Group in 2007, which is a full-service video production and strategy company. We help companies share their business stories, elevate their expertise in their industry, and amplify their message.
What's been your biggest aha moment in your entrepreneurial journey with A Place to Float?
Sometimes this isn’t possible, but start with more operating capital than you think you will need.
Find the moments amid the struggle that remind you why you are doing what you’re doing. That may mean going back to how you solve a problem with your business, or the people you are impacting, or the solution you are contributing to just one person. When you feel like the company might be on its deathbed and are feeling really disheartened, remind yourself (and have others remind you) why you started the business in the first place. Be proud of the idea and the effort behind it.
Find the moments amid the struggle that remind you why you are doing what you’re doing.
It’s important to gain perspective and find someone smarter than you. We get myopic when things start spiraling. When you feel that way, it’s easy to start making poor decisions. Push the pause button on being reactive and seek out people with more experience. We did that. We sought out people who came on board as consultants to tweak and alter the things that we missed. They humbled us in the greatest way. They said, “You’re not doing it right and that’s okay.” That’s what you need to learn – it’s okay.
Tug on your weak links like LinkedIn, Facebook, and networking connections. Find people you feel safe enough with to ask for a referral expert who can advise you. There is someone out there waiting on you to ask them to share their knowledge. It’s those people who you don’t often think of, but they might be well-connected. Most people are altruistic in nature and want to be helpful, especially if they have gone through an entrepreneurial journey. They’ve been there, know what it feels like, and want you to succeed.
What opportunities and challenges has founding a business with partners presented?
A Place to Float has three primary partners – myself, Aaron Douglas, and my husband Travis Hartman. We also have more than a dozen important investors.
It sounds so romantic to work with your partner/spouse/best friend. Sometimes it is, especially when you both are operating out of your strengths, ideas are free-flowing, and clients are abundant. Sometimes it’s anything but romantic – when there are deadlines, the bank account is depleted, the kids need to get to three places at once, and no one went to buy eggs. The key for us is knowing that we're both risk-takers, enjoy entrepreneurial endeavors, and that we admire each other's characteristics and approaches to problem solving. When you look at each other at the end of the evening and say, "Would you do it differently?" and the answer is "Nope," then the hard work is worth it (even if food in the fridge is a bit scarce).
Two businesses and five children. How do you respond to the saying, "Women can't have it all"? What advice do you have for other working families, especially moms aspiring to be entrepreneurs?
The bumper sticker phrase is true: You can have it all, just not all at once. For most people, the attempt at having it all puts us into that hustle culture. That should not be the achievement. Ask yourself, “Are you content with what you have and are you happy with what you’ve got?” The goal should be to answer “yes.”
I have to remind myself that as women, we are trying to do so much. There is still a gender gap. As women, wives, and mothers, we carry 80% of domestic work at home. It’s not just laundry, cooking, and cleaning, but remembering the appointments and permission slips. It’s the mental strain. It will push us to a place where we are in burnout mode and we won’t be doing what we were created to do.
Ask yourself these questions:
What do you really love doing?
How can you better serve who and what is most important to you?
How can you be the best version of yourself?
I often don’t follow my own advice, but that’s what I’m trying to teach myself. The flight attendant’s advice is a good application for life: Put your own oxygen mask on first, then help others. When applied, this advice pushes you in the most lovely way to take care of yourself first.
What's the best piece of advice you've received as an entrepreneur?
Be honest about your struggles. Seek out a safe community. Take time to celebrate small successes.
We like to posture. We have a false expectation for ourselves that we must always be “on,” always achieving, and never struggling. That does a great disservice to our growth. When we are vulnerable and ask for help, especially in areas where we are not experts, people will rush in to help us succeed and want to be part of watching us grow. We can’t do it alone. We weren’t created as human creatures to be islands among ourselves. We need to have safe, trusted peers and advisors who see us at our best and worst. The phrase I am learning to say that’s really hard for me is, “I don’t know, but let me find out.” It’s humbling to say, “I don’t know.”
What resources have aided your success that other entrepreneurs should know about?
My mentor right now is NPR. I love the podcast How I Built This with Guy Raz. The world’s leading entrepreneurs are amazingly transparent about their journeys of failure and success. It makes me feel so much better about where we are in our journey. If Crate + Barrel almost closed their doors, you know you are in a good place.
I am a voracious reader. A great book is The Power of Small: Why Little Things Make All The Difference. The other podcast I enjoy is called Business Schooled, which is incredibly relevant for entrepreneurs.
Another resource is networking and trade organizations. If you cannot afford a membership into an organization, volunteer and serve. You will gain so much wisdom from serving and rubbing elbows with people. Get in the door somehow. Sometimes the best way is lending your time and talent. It reaps great benefits.
You've been a Startup Study Hall Executive Mentor twice. What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs looking to create their 30-second founder's story?
1. Find your hook. This is not clickbait. Think of your authentic solution where you had your flash of genius to solve a problem, make something more efficient, better someone’s life, or enhance a community. Figure out a way to summarize that hook in one sentence. That is the foundation of your story and it needs to pop.
2. To use the words of Gary Vaynerchuk, “Content is king, but context is God.” As a storyteller, you must know your audience. You can put out great content, but you have to know who is receiving it, because the context of how they receive it makes all the difference. Tailor the message to the receiver.
3. Brevity is everything. We live in a socially noisy world and a culture of chaos. To be heard and listened to, you must be brief.
Most entrepreneurs have a blind spot, because no one is good at everything. What skills have you had to learn as an entrepreneur to tackle your blind spots? What should the entrepreneurs whose blind spot is marketing do to fix it?
We started with a “Field of Dreams” ideal. Because we loved it so much, we thought if we built it, they would come. You might have a great product or service, but if no one knows you have this ballfield in the middle of Iowa, no one is going to come. Leverage what you know how to do and find consultants and advisors who know how to do the rest. Get the word out about your product. Whether it is earned media, social media, or connecting with an individual who can be an influencer, seek them out and have a strategy for selling your product. You can’t rely on Kevin Costner to make your business a success.
What person or life event sparked your entrepreneurialism?
I was going through a difficult point in my life and started thinking about my future and what needed to change. I spoke to someone very close to me about my feelings, and they said I would never survive on my own two feet. My first reaction was fear. I thought, “They’re right. I am going to be devastated. I can’t handle this financially. I can’t sustain this.” I had been a stay-at-home mom for 12 years. I had been out of the marketplace and didn’t have a back-up plan. I didn’t have an updated resume or graduate degree. Fortunately, my second reaction was much stronger than my first, and I said, “Watch me!” There was a fire in my belly in that moment. I knew I had to go out and make my own path. The only way I could do that was being an entrepreneur. I had grit and the incentive of someone telling me I could not make it. I thought, “It can’t get any worse than this, so here we go!”
There was a fire in my belly in that moment. I knew I had to go out and make my own path. The only way I could do that was being an entrepreneur.
You work as an entrepreneur, but how have you made being an entrepreneur work for you?
My kids grew up with a very hands-on mom. When I had to get a job, things changed. It shifted very quickly from Mom being there for it all, to Mom probably not being there for every single thing. We found a new normal and I’m proud to call myself a second-shift parent. What I mean by that is that I get up in the morning and take care of the kids. I then do my work once they are off to school. At 3 p.m. I’m back with my kids for activities, talking about their day, making dinner, doing homework. I then start working again at 9 p.m. until around 1 a.m. I love having my own time to be flexible and present for my family. Even as more companies get better at understanding work-life balance, there is something so special for entrepreneurs to be able to control and manage their own time. Whether feast or famine, steady income or not, I can look at my kids’ faces every afternoon. As an entrepreneur, I have no ceiling or barrier to my time or achievement.
I was 40 years old when I invented a new career for myself with no “on-ramp” plan back into the marketplace. It’s scary, but it’s definitely possible. You take one thing at a time. When women feel they haven’t achieved enough, their definition of success is wrong. We base success on growth, financial security, and titles. However, if you asked loved ones to define success, they would say success means spending time with them, caring for them, and working in the community. If you lose yourself and the people around you by not being present for important moments, you’ll never find success.
Why do you devote time to support The Startup Ladies?
The Startup Ladies is all about empathy and energy. You are with a group of women walking the same road as you and they “get it.” They understand and mentor. They are vulnerable, wise, and willing. There is no shame. No judgement. Only empathy. It is inspiring when you get the synergy behind that many women doing that many diverse things from different journeys, ages, backgrounds, and races. The Startup Ladies is one of the only organizations I know with the purpose to dig deep, start where you are, and help you continue growing from there.