Lottie Whyte from Myo Master talks to workingmums.co.uk about how she co-founded her business and why there needs to be more investment in black businesswomen.
Lottie Whyte is the co-founder of MyoMaster, the first business of its kind to bring elite level recovery and knowledge to everyday athletes. At the beginning of Covid with gyms closed the business faced a huge challenge. “We had to become an e-commerce business in 10 days,” she says. That work paid off and the business has grown by 302% in the last year, fuelled in part by a growing interest in running during lockdown, the closure of physiotherapy businesses, problems accessing GP surgeries and the fact that MyoMaster products are very easy to use at home.
Lottie’s background is in PR and advertising and she had reached partner status at a PR agency before she launched her business in 2019. The business came about as a result of her and her partner’s sporting injuries.
Lottie, who is a finalist in this year’s Natwest everywoman awards*, has always been what she calls “an everyday athlete”, playing hockey and going to the gym regularly as well as running marathons. At one marathon she tore a muscle in her foot. At the same time her partner Joe Gray, a professional rugby player, was suffering from achilles tendonitis. Both were keen to get over their injuries as fast as possible, but they had very different experiences when it came to their recovery. Joe was treated by top therapists because he is a professional athlete while Lottie had nowhere to turn. “It became really obvious very quickly that there was a lack of provision for everyday athletes who get injured,” she says.
Lottie has long been “a frustrated entrepreneur” and had thought of all sorts of ideas to start a business, but before MyoMaster nothing felt worth pouring all her energy into. However, she remained open to the possibility of a worthwhile idea coming along. While Joe was recovering from his injury, he was supposed to be fitting a kitchen. He was playing around with a bright yellow B & Q drill. He dismantled it, welded on a stool leg and made a make-shift massage gun to treat his achilles at home. It worked. His rugby teammates saw him using it and started teasing him. But when they tried it out they were keen to get one too.
Seeing the difference the massage gun made for Joe and his team mates got Lottie thinking about the transformative impact it could have on everyday athletes as well as professional ones. She quickly realised that people lacked knowledge on the benefits of recovery and that existing products were incredibly expensive. The product has been tested by both professional athletes and physiotherapists. After deciding to take the plunge, Joe and Lottie started to lay the foundations of the business, investing their money in it, finding a manufacturer, registering a company and laying the legal foundations.
They created a basic website, but the day the website launched Lottie found out that she was pregnant.
Through her pregnancy, Lottie and Joe were touring all the trade shows and various sports events telling people about their product. They went to the National Cycle Show when Lottie was three months pregnant. It was really intense work with lots of heavy lifting, but they ended up taking three thousand pounds. After that they were at an event every weekend, fitting it around their full-time jobs. They attended a show at the NEC in Birmingham three days before Lottie gave birth.
By that point the product was established and during her maternity leave Lottie focused on building the business and scaling up by pitching to investors, coming away with 60 thousand pounds from two angel investors in that first round. Lottie says asking for investment is very different from PR pitching. “You have to be super hot on your numbers and business strategy,” she says. She went back to work and it was not until the start of this year that she could devote herself full time to the business.
Lottie says pitching for funding has been difficult because there are few other businesswomen of colour who have raised venture capital. “Representation matters,” says Lottie, “and it’s one of the reasons I am excited about the Natwest everywoman awards. I was looking for people like me who had done it. We need to build a pipeline. Black women are the fastest growing entrepreneurial group in the UK. We need to do more to make them feel comfortable about asking for advice and support so they can nail their pitch. It’s about us supporting ourselves as an ecosystem.”
Without investment, the businesses of many black women cannot grow, says Lottie, even if they are built on incredible ideas. She would like to see investors making more effort to find those entrepreneurs too.
Lottie, whose investors include Chris Robshaw, the former England rugby captain, is now working on the business’ third pitch for investment in January and says the funding MyoMaster has already obtained means they have been able to expand the products the business offers and grow their team of seven. Next week MyoMaster is opening its first shop at Westfield in White City and has been working with the best sports clubs and athletes. The next round of investment will go towards international expansion – a European launch and expansion into Asia – as well as the development of an app for home recovery.
Lottie says that all of this has been the result of 15-hour days six days a week. Her son Otis has been in childcare, but last year due to the lockdown her parents moved in temporarily to help out with the childcare. At the same time she has had to negotiate the Covid/Brexit nexus of challenges, including transport and export problems and rising prices. “It’s like someone wants us to fail,” she says.
She’s not giving in any time yet and, as the business continues to expand, despite all the challenges, she has learnt to pace herself. The Christmas run-up is a busy, stressful time, trying to ensure customers get their products on time. She could work round the clock, but she says: “We can only do what we can do and be honest. It is not wise to be permanently stressed. We have to find the joy in the journey.”
*Lottie is one of three businesswomen who are up for the Aphrodite Award in this year’s Natwest everywoman awards which will be announced on Tuesday.