We spoke to Caoimhe Bamber, mother of two, ex-lawyer, accomplished age group endurance athlete, and now founder of Digme Fitness, a state of the art indoor cycling studio in Richmond, London. She talks about the challenges she faced, being a new mother and starting a business simultaneously. Her story is truly inspiring and a great reminder that success is a product of courage and hard work.
Q: Cycling in the UK has taken off and indoor cycling is experiencing a renaissance. What led a successful lawyer, marathoner, ultra marathoner, triathlete , and new mum (x2) to open her own studios? Clearly it wasn’t because you had time on your hands!
A: My husband Geoff and I have always been fitness enthusiasts and have always dreamt of building a company in the sector. We had spent time in the USA and loved some of the indoor cycling classes in places like Flywheel and SoulCycle. We thought it would be fun to do something similar in the UK. I was happy working in the City though and it was just a bit of a dream. It was only when I was on maternity leave with my first son during 2014 that I started to contemplate a career away from law and the City. My husband and I drew up a business plan while we were on a cycling holiday in France in summer 2014, I quit my City job at the end of that year, and I started to work on turning Digme from dream to reality.
Q: It must have been challenging simultaneously launching the studio, raising your son Alex and being pregnant with your newborn son, Ben?
A: It has been crazy! I was working three days a week while Alex (my two year old) was at nursery, and trying to pick up work in the early mornings and evenings on the other days. I then discovered I was pregnant with Ben and he was due on 18 June, the same day as the Richmond studio was scheduled to open. I worked through to midnight on 2 June and Ben arrived the following day, beating the studio by a couple of weeks!
Juggling everything over the last couple of months has been very tough but incredibly rewarding. Geoff and I are really lucky to have an amazing team working with us. They pulled out all of the stops, working early mornings and late nights to get Digme open and running. We couldn’t have done it without them.
Q: What’s your ultimate vision for Digme Fitness?
A: Our ambition is to be the best pay-as-you-go, no-contract fitness studio operator in the UK. Our immediate focus is on Indoor Cycling (“spin”) and HIIT as we believe we can really enrich the customer experience in these formats. However, in time we could see new formats come into the fold. The common thread is about having an authentic, high quality and enjoyable workout in gorgeous and inspiring environments.
Q: As a serious marathoner/ultra-marathoner and now triathlete, how does Digme indoor cycling now fit into your training plans?
A: Right now, my focus is getting back to race shape after my second child. Indoor Cycling is brilliant because it is low impact, high intensity and time-efficient so I can fit an effective workout in to small windows in my schedule when I don’t have the kids.
I have always used Indoor Cycling for cross-training purposes though. When I used to run ultra-marathons, I would always have a couple of spin sessions a week as active recovery. Ultra-running is hard on the body and having something that allows you to keep your cardio system active but is low impact is great when you need to give your knees and calves a rest.
Q: What are the most important lessons you have learnt with launching Digme?
A: Two things.
The first is that everything always takes longer and costs more money than you think.
The second is that people make any business. If you don’t have good people you’re pushing water uphill. Luckily we have brilliant people.
Q: Your background would suggest you don’t shy away from challenges. What sources of motivation do you draw on as you encounter the inevitable unexpected road bumps that come with launching a new business?
A: Learning to run very long distances teaches you a few things, but the most important is that life is full of setbacks. It’s not how you manage the good times, it’s how you manage the tough times that defines you. Building a business is a marathon and you’re almost certainly going to have bad patches. Knowing they are going to come and having strategies for managing them is important.
Q: What has been your proudest moment?
A: As far as Digme is concerned, seeing Dan (our Head of Fitness) teach our first class. Up until that point it had all been theoretical. When I saw him leading our first class, it was very emotional as over two years of hard graft had become a reality. Nothing beats seeing a dream become real.
Q: What do you think is the biggest barrier most ambitious mums face?
A: Making hard choices. The truth is that if you want to have a career or build a business as a mum, the time required needs to come from somewhere: there are only so many hours in the day. Time spent on building your career is time away from your family and that can be extremely challenging. I love my family and I try to balance the requirements of Digme with what I want to achieve as a wife and mother, but there is a constant process of trading off and there is no magic formula. I only wish there were more hours in the day!
Q: What advice would you give a mum wanting to launch her own business?
A: Firstly, make sure you are realistic about what your capacity to focus on the business will be and about the time required to make it a success. It is very easy to under-estimate the time required.
Secondly, spend time and money making sure you have the best people around you to help you build your business. You will work long hours and endure tough times with these folk, so make sure they are prepared to come on that journey with you.
Lastly, as a mum you are choosing to spend time away from your family to build your business, so make sure it is something you are truly passionate about! If you’re ambivalent about the business you are trying to create, you will grow to resent it as it pulls you away from your family. Passion and authenticity go a long way when trying to create a successful company.