For many queer folks, the local gym is a no-go area. Macho culture, body policing, wall-to-wall mirrors and the feeling that everyone but you knows exactly what they’re doing can make a mainstream gym feel like a pretty unfriendly place for folks with non-mainstream identities.
Enter Nathalie Huerta, founder of The Perfect Sidekick, the only queer gym in the US. Nathalie’s approach to fitness and her commitment to creating safe spaces for LGBTQ people to work out flies in the face of conventional gym culture. With a focus on building a supportive community and addressing the specific needs of queer and trans customers (whilst remaining open and welcoming to all), The Perfect Sidekick has developed from one-to-one home training to an Oakland gym grossing $250k per year in six years…and things continue to grow.
Nathalie’s uncompromising attitude to queer fitness mirrors her awesome ‘fuck it, just do it’ approach to business and life. In this interview, she shares the challenging yet exciting reality of starting up such a venture, how the strong work ethic she inherited from her parents drives her, and the importance of being 100% yourself in your business.
Nathalie Huerta, Chief of Making Shit Happen, The Perfect Sidekick Queer Gym
Age 31, Oakland, CA
Hi Nathalie! Can you describe your business/organisation? What’s your mission? Who do you serve?
I’m the sole owner of The Perfect Sidekick LLC founded in 2010. This is no side hustle for me, I’m a big believer in “all in!”
The Perfect Sidekick Queer Gym is the first and only queer gym in the nation. Our mission is to make happy, healthy homos by providing a safe space to workout at with a community that gives a damn about you and your goals.
Our main jam is to create a safe space for the queer community to workout at and to build a community around that and we do just that through small group training sessions such as Oakland Booty and Hard Core Homo, to name a few. We also host events like Pain and Champagne, a workout to a live DJ followed by mimosas!
How would you describe your approach to business? What personal qualities inform your approach?
My approach to business is best described as: fuck it! Just do it. I tend to not overthink too much. I shoot from the hip. I’m not scared to be edgy with our marketing by doing shit like this:
It’s just being me. The more comfortable I am with myself, the more authentic my brand becomes. I simply have the GUTS to execute and I Google the shit out of how to do it!
What does a typical day look like for you? Do you have a routine? What’s your workspace like?
I’m an early bird. I wake up, do a 5-10 minute meditation (this is new for me), I roll over and cuddle and kiss my fiance, I get my ass in the shower, I go through a little gratitude list. I get swagged, I make coffee, I open my front door because I fucking love the morning dew and I like hearing the birds in the am. I workout at the gym or go for a run.
Then I get to the gym. I have a loft space there I work from. It’s pretty simple, just my stand up desk, my laptop a white board and a couch. I’m a minimalist, no, better yet, a functionalist. I can’t have too many things around because I get distracted. I sometimes work from home, but that’s my girl’s work space. She works for the gym too, but she works from home. We need space as a couple that works together, so we work from different space.
Once I get to the gym to work, I mostly get admin stuff done until about 5 p.m., then I sale my ass off! I meet with folks that wanna join the gym and I give them the mothafucking red carpet treatment. I hang out with my members and trainers and just have a good ol’ time until I get home around 8 p.m. in time for Modern Family, Scandal or Empire.
When did you know that this was what you wanted to do? And what were your early goals, your first steps?
There was never a plan for this. It just kinda happened. I followed my gut, I listened to people’s feedback and I adjusted and innovated my ass to where I am today. Oh yes, and Google, I Googled my ass to where I am now too.
I literally started with nothing. I had a mat, a set of dumbbells and a jump rope. I trained people at their house or outdoors and built it from there. One dumbbell at a time. We have now been operating for 6 years!
I started the gym in my second semester of grad school and my only goal at the time was to feed myself. I didn’t have intentions to become the first and only queer gym in the nation. I didn’t think we’d end up on BuzzFeed or the Associated Press. Shit…I was interviewed by Forbes last week. That’s crazy! I’m just a hard working Mexican here trying not to suck at life!
This place has really come together organically and by taking the right risks at the right time.
Why do you do this? What makes you spring out of bed in the morning? What’s the best thing about the work you do?
I’ve always been a self-starter. I’m motivated by my burning desire NOT TO SUCK AT LIFE! I do it to make my parents proud, who worked their asses off to raise me and my nine siblings in a foreign country. I do it because now me and my girl have a family to provide for. (Who would’ve thought my former self would now be responsible for raising two kids?!)
I do it because my queer community still has to put up with a lot of bullshit for no fucking reason. I do it because fitness is life. The best thing about what I do is bringing people together who would have probably never spoken to each other at a bar or party. I once heard a gay guy member say, “Oh damn, I had no idea lesbians where sooo cool! I’ve been missing out all these years!” Needless to say, he has found plenty of lezbros here at the gym.
And the worst?
The worse part of it all has been meeting my own damn expectations. And I’m not going to lie, one of the hardest things has been not going ‘chola’ on haters who don’t know what they’re talking about. Taking the higher road gets old, but I have dreams and that’s the only road that gets you there.
What are the key challenges you face in your work? What are your tactics for overcoming these?
The key challenges I face at work is financial literacy. Do you know how many taxes there is to pay? I swear, they make some of these up or something….There’s always some sort of tax to pay. WTF?! You know, growing up a poor Mexican, we didn’t sit there and talk about money. And we all know damn well the school system doesn’t teach you shit about money management. So learning how to always stay cash positive has been a learning curve.
Also, managing people! People management is some intense shit. They have feelings, opinions, ideas and thoughts and you have to take them into consideration, but that doesn’t mean you have to agree!
How do you approach time management?
I make a list of the top three things I gotta do that day. I work alone. I keep a calendar. I’m currently working on not over-booking myself and giving myself travel time to get places and deal with parking.
And what about work/life balance?
Ugh, for years I was trying to keep the two separate, but then I read something by my boy, Richard Branson saying that there is no separation for him. It’s all the same. That resonated more with me, so that’s what I’m striving for.
Can we talk money for a moment? How was your financial situation when you started out? And what about now? How do you feel about the money side of ‘following your arrow’?
I didn’t get any funding until year three and it came from a member who truly believed in me. Now in year six, funding opportunities are coming from multiple places, thank you baby Jesus, but all of those opportunities are coming my way from relationships I have formed, not from banks or investors.
These are all people who I became friends with and through our friendship got to know my business better, but more importantly, it’s my character and my work ethic and that lead to trust, and trust leads to funding.
Right now the gym grosses about 250K. Most of that at this time goes to meet our financial liabilities (aka: we’ll be debt free soon.) From there, profit is going straight to the piggy bank for a rainy day or for a second location.
I will say this…I was fortunate enough to have a strong background in sales before I started the gym. And that was truly helpful because in the beginning, the only type of funding you get is what you hunt: you don’t sell, you don’t eat. I think had it not been for that one single skill, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Also, the fact that I’m a minimalist goes lovely with starting a business. I’ve always lived a pretty chill lifestyle. I spend my money on experiences. I only have a week’s worth of clothes in my closet. So being so financially fluid, has also given my business a lot of wiggle room.
Where would you like to see yourself in five, ten years’ time?
A potential funder asked me this today and I told him, “fuck, let me meditate more on that and get back to you.” So I guess I gotta give you the same answer.
How do you market your business?
We market the same as most business: referrals, social media etc, but I think what sets us apart is that we are pretty confident in our brand and it’s voice that we’re unapologetic about it — and that turns people on. Confidence is sexy and I think that’s what people like about our brand.
What’s the most valuable tool in your kit?
My “I don’t give a fuck, I’m going to fucking do it” attitude.
How does being LGBTQ impact on your business?
Absolutely. It’s what’s made my business!
What three websites, blogs, books or people do you rate for business advice or ideas about your work?
Barbell business — they’re cool, they know their shit and they’re not too bro-y or fuck boys.
I always go back to re-read The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris when I’m feeling a burnout coming on.
The Law of Attraction keeps me positive when I’m feeling down or defeated.
My twin sisters, they’re down to roll up their sleeves and help me with anything. Same for my girl, she’s a rider!
What’s your hot tip for queer women who want to start their own business?
Never lose focus on sales. You don’t sale, you don’t eat.
Don’t get caught up in the sexiness of owning a business, aka your website or biz card design. That shit don’t matter.
And finally just fucking do it. Don’t ever, ever, ever bitch out.