Heidi Benham & Toby Marshman, Co-founders, Form
– Career –
Toby Marshman: What made me want to start my own business? Well, my dad started a business when I was around ten and ever since then, it’s been my goal. Seeing the freedom it gave him was my main motivation, now I realise there are a huge number of other benefits too.
Heidi Benham: Yes, it’s the freedom that having your own business gives you that attracted me too. Although we say that, we actually find ourselves working more. (Laughs)
Toby Marshman: The amount we are learning makes it worthwhile though, and the work itself is never boring.
Heidi Benham: True! I love that you can just be creative when you work for yourself. At my previous workplace if you wanted to make a change, the proposal had to go through all these levels of management to achieve something. Whereas, with Form, if we have an idea we can put it into action almost immediately.
Toby Marshman: Plus, what’s a better idea than working together on something we are both passionate about?
Heidi Benham: Yeah. It’s great to be able to work on a project that combines both or our passions – Fitness and sustainability.
Toby Marshman: I remember one day at the gym, we were looking around and realised that all of the products and equipment we were using were really unsustainable.
Heidi Benham: The mats we were using in the gym, for example, are made of plastic and degrade very quickly.
Toby: Soon, we started looking not only at what products we could create to help people perform better whilst also help the environment. The round mat is the first product we settled on.
Heidi Benham: We wanted to create something different, something that could improve people’s experience. For us, the round mat is the perfect example. In our yoga class, the instructor kept having us turn our mats around and it just disrupted the whole class. We thought it would be so much easier if the mat was round, allowing you to stay in the flow and to focus on your movements and breathing.
Toby Marshman: Sometimes you see people having two mats crossed, but with a round mat, you get 360 degrees of movement without the risk of you tripping over! On top of that, the round shape itself has been shown to have a positive effect on the mind. You have to try the mat to really experience its benefits, and I promise you won’t want to go back!
“There will never be a perfect time to do it. You just have to do it.”
Heidi Benham: Once we started developing the product, we started to look at how we could make the mats both beautiful and functional. We decided that we were bored with the black and grey slabs you see all over the studio or gym and started to look at the mats as blank canvases. From there, we began to develop the unique works of art you can see on our mats today.
Toby: And do you know that the Form Grid (the white geometric shapes) is designed to help the user improve their alignment and consistency? Of course, the grid can be used as whatever you wish but there are just a few tips we often give – to straighten up your body with the lines across the mat; check how far your hands and feet are from the centre line; place hands on the same line intersections to ensure planks and press-ups are consistent between workouts and so on.
Heidi: We developed it by studying many poses across different forms of yoga and Pilates, as well as conditioning exercises and stretches. We then marked outlines that would help these movements with chalk and tape. Then tested it with people of different heights and modified it to ensure that it works for everyone. The designing process was really exciting!
Toby: Yeah, it was really exciting. But one of the biggest challenges I face currently though, is trying to fit Form in around my full-time job. It means that I have to squeeze work in before and after work and at weekends too.
Heidi: For Toby, it’s really hard because he has rigid work hours and he has to stick to with little flexibility. For me, I have my Graphic design business, Aitch & Co. to fit in around everything as well, so I have to prioritise what needs to be done on both businesses.
Toby: There is a positive side to this for me, as I can really focus on the task in hand, whereas Heidi has to be very self-disciplined and master time-management. To make sure we are working well and efficiently, every Friday evening we review the week, plan for week ahead, set goals we need to achieve in that week. The planning really helps reduce the stress and the overwhelming feeling, it makes me feel like everything is under control. We use tools like Asana for task management, where you have a board for each topic. For example, mat designs, sales, and website development. And you can set a reminder, make a visual plan and assign tasks…
Heidi: And, if I don’t want to do something, I can assign Toby!
Toby: The other thing I find helpful to keep us focused is to have dream boards in front of our desks. This is something I have been doing for quite a while. I got the idea from The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. It works by using visualisation – when you see and believe that things on the board are going to happen, they really do! It’s amazing to see how quickly a lot of the things do come true.
Heidi: Yeah, and it’s good way to focus on the bigger picture as well. You can get tied down on the small things on a daily basis, but if you can see what you’re actually aiming towards, it definitely makes you feel more motivated.
Heidi: As well as using this as a focus tool, I find the best way to be efficient is to make a plan. Both of us used to be perfectionists. We always wanted everything to be amazing, and we’ve quickly realised that it doesn’t have to be amazing. I think a lot of people have the same issue as well. They’re always waiting for everything to be perfect, but you know, ‘No, you just have to get it done.’ There will never be a perfect time to do it. You just have to do it. Along the way, I think it’s important to realise what you’ve done already and how much you’ve achieved as well.
Toby: Yeah 100%. Celebrate successes, no matter how small!
– Work-life balance –
Heidi: What’s that? (Laughs)
Toby: Well…One thing we priortise is to have ‘no Form time’, during which we can’t talk about Form.
Heidi: Then we have nothing to talk about.
Toby: Because we’ve got to feel like a normal couple, not just business partners at the time.
Heidi: The thing is, we love working together and find brainstorming sessions really fun, especially when there’s no pressure to do it. Sometimes, we would say ‘no Form time’ then have a glass of wine, suddenly we would come up with loads of ideas and start talking about Form again. For me, one of the challenges at the moment is making sure that I do take a break that I need. There have been times where I’ve been up in the middle of the night at 3 a.m. speaking to suppliers and customers all over the world, but now I am forcing myself to put my health first.
Toby: Me too! The work schedule has to be sustainable in the long term as well. If not, you won’t enjoy the process that much and eventually burnout.
Heidi: But luckily, there are two of us, so we can constantly remind each other to take breaks and we keep each other going. I definitely couldn’t do this without Toby! We take it in turns to motivate each other and help each other through the tough days.
Toby: Yeah, we have our moments!
Heidi: It’s probably the biggest lesson we’ve learned this year. At the start of this year, we weren’t as healthy as we are now – people were concerned about how much we were working and neither of us had energy – we ran out of steam! That was a huge sign, so we made it a priority to put our health first. We have got ourselves into a good routine of eating, sleeping and going to the gym together. I think it has really paid off now, because compared to the start of the year, we both definitely feel a lot healthier.
Toby: And it makes us more productive.
Heidi: Although we work a lot, we do try to get away from work for a holiday a few times a year.
Toby: Even on holiday though we have to keep on top of the businesses, I still find myself working for a couple of hours in the mornings. So, before we go away, we try to get as much work done as possible, for example, we schedule everything for social media in advance with Hootsuite. And you know, she’s been known to slam my laptop shut and force me to stop. (Laughs)
Heidi: Yeah, because I’m on holiday, it’s really annoying.
Toby: I’m seeing it as a good signal though. I know when to stop as soon as Heidi gets grumpy.
Heidi: We need a good balance. (Smiles)
– Self-care –
Heidi: We work out at least five or six times a week, but we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t have each other’s support and encouragement.
Toby: We use a 12-week program with bodybuilding.com – Each day it tells you what to do. It makes everything easier because you don’t have to go and motivate yourself like, ‘Oh, what exercise am I going to do now?’ You just follow the app.
Heidi: Six-pack in 30 days, that kind of thing.
Toby: Normally start with weights then cardio.
Heidi: We do different things each time, but mainly HIIT.
Toby: We sprint, cycle or use the prowler. We push it like 10 meters, and then turn around and come back, add weights and repeat.
Heidi: That’s so hard!
Toby: I just can’t walk by the end of the day.
Heidi: That’s why I love foam rolling! It’s important to look after your muscles.
Toby: We’ve got one on the floor of our office. If you’re ever feeling a bit like blah, and that helps.
Heidi: We’re not really into ‘diets’. Instead, we try to be more consistent, so we’re always eating healthily. I like to eat whole grains, sweet potatoes, sourdough, that kind of thing, because it keeps my energy levels up throughout the day.
Toby: For me, I try to eat as little meat as possible, especially red meat as that’s one of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint. And you know, there are so many good alternatives to meat.
Heidi: Yeah. Before it just used to be tofu and it doesn’t really have that much flavour.
Toby: Now there are loads of great fake meat options like Linda McCartney’s puller pork burgers. It used to be very hard to get the right amount of protein if you weren’t eating meat.
Heidi: That’s the good thing about the trend of being vegan. But I think vegan restaurants have to work harder to make their food tastier, because people expect more and more.
Toby: I normally have a protein and oat shake from MyProtein a couple of times a day. It’s quite a balanced snack to have considering you’ve got protein and carbs, and I sometimes blend peanut butter in as well, for fats.
Heidi: Yeah, peanut butter is great in anything! I love Morrison’s Own smooth peanut butter. No palm oil, 100% peanut! If you mix a bit of coconut oil in, it’s delicious. Sadly, I can’t really buy it, because I can’t trust myself in it. (Laughs) I just eat it out of the jar.
Toby: Heidi’s quite good at making a few snacks as well. She makes very delicious energy balls.
Morning or evening rituals that make you mentally stronger
Heidi: Every Sunday night I plan out the whole week in my journal. I map out my day-to-day appointments and personal agenda, and then my to-do list. I wake up at 6:30 on Monday mornings, meditate for a while and then have breakfast. I really enjoy writing things down like what I’m grateful for, small successes that happened that week or just random things that are on my mind. I think it’s really good to do that if you’re stressed. Sometimes, it’s just stream of consciousness and just write, and write, and write. It’s good to get stuff out of your head and onto paper. But Toby likes to start work straight away in the morning, before he’s even had breakfast.
Toby: Yeah, I like to get cracking and then take a break for breakfast, but something we’ve introduced recently to our mornings is, we go for a quick walk after we eat breakfast.
Heidi: It’s great to get some fresh air! We currently work from home most of the days, so it’s kind of like a little commute for us!
Toby: In the evening, we try to have ‘no screens’ from 9:00 p.m. because when we first started Form, we used to work until we were too tired or until we had got the work done, but then we found we could not sleep. The next day we would be so tired that we couldn’t work properly or be focused anyway, so even though you’ve got that extra hour of work done the day before, the next day you lose three hours of efficient work. So, it’s definitely worth stopping early.
Heidi: If you work too late, you end up dreaming about your work, which is never good!
Toby: Another trick we use is getting up at the same time everyday. This really helps you naturally fall into the same cycle of sleep. And it’s quite important to get up at the same time on the weekends as well, so that your body is in a routine.
Heidi: Once you’re in a routine, it’s much easier to get out of bed in the mornings and you feel a lot less tired when you wake up.
Toby: Before we sleep, we use the Headspace app to meditate.
Heidi: It’s a really good app because it has different topics like a meditation on focus, anxiety or stress. So, if you feel like you can’t sleep, you can use the sleep one. We also use Neal Yard’s Lavender Essential Oil, one sniff of that then we’re asleep.