Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Tom Lev, Owner of Sotaki Dance School, located in Houston, TX, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I own Sotaki Dance School - a dance school and community with the motto of "Everyone can dance!" Our customers are people who think they can't dance but also people who have had experience with dance and want to be a part of an awesome, safe, and welcoming community of diverse people.
Tell us about yourself
I became better to help people. I help people to become better. I grew up in Israel, pushed to excellence with competition and a "no pain, no gain" mentality. I never understood people. I couldn't look people in the eye or read most, if not all, social situations. I think the "don't trust anyone, only yourself" mentality my dad instilled in me did not help me open up and make a lot of friends. I really felt everyone was out there to get me. I joined the Army and went on to be an Air Traffic Controller – lots of work stress and responsibility at age 19, learning to work hard, plan, and work with others.
A few years later, I lost my dad. He lived a carefree life in the most unhealthy way – eating candy while diabetic and unable to plan more than a week ahead. He was unhealthy, but he did what he wanted to do. After having to sell his business and looking into his life, I started valuing life and being more present with my experiences, making my happiness a top priority. Soon after, I found dance. I started dancing every chance I had. I learned so much about people through dance - I was able to interact with them more and understand them more.
I left the comfort of my home country and flew to LA, trained to be a Locking teacher with a Soul Train gang member, Shabba Doo. I continued to Brazil, where I lived for 3 months, learning the language, culture, and Brazilian Zouk. I settled in LA for a while and became a teacher for another dance company, traveling while teaching and DJ-ing. Then I decided that traveling isn't the life for me, and I moved to run a franchise branch of that company in 2019 until COVID hit. I decided I wanted to build a community – I found that people and that sense of belonging really are the secret to happiness, not just the dance. What made me fall in love with dance was the fact it was easier for me to connect with others through it.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Seeing people overcome their biggest fears and achieve incredible goals in personal growth. I have students who suffer from various levels of social anxiety, and our classes provide a stable anchor for them as a safe space for meaningful experiences with other humans. The direct impact usually makes me feel most proud - I also have students who reached out to tell me how they took the 3 rules we repeat every class - "Be curious, be kind, be gentle" - and implemented them in their everyday lives, setting boundaries for their well being, improving their communication skills, and more.
I have many days where I pause for a second during classes and admire what we've created so far. I'm proud of the fact I created something that helps people learn new things and that it's making me extremely happy and grateful.
The biggest accomplishment so far, and the one I'd like to keep, is the feeling of community we have. The trust people have in each other, the feeling that I can share the happy and the sad things with others who will listen, to have a network of support and people who care - that is the biggest accomplishment, which ties directly to my goal of providing that experience to others. It's happening now, and I hope to maintain this feeling even as we grow.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Finding a way to ground myself when success isn't linear or consistent. Sometimes it seems like nothing new is happening, and growth isn't visible. We need something to remind us to be patient. As a business owner, you find yourself alone in that front many times, so mental resilience is important.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Prepare mentally and emotionally for the instability and uncertainty of running your own business.
- Really know that starting your own business is the right choice for you. For many, it seems great, but when you get there, you realize you actually have to work harder than when you work for others to achieve the same peace of mind.
- Have a system to support you - people, habits.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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