Spend approx. 40mins with the founders of the Live Louder Podcast and the creators of the original Hang-Fold-Go by FITKYT. Melissa & Katie have a close bond forged at Harvard Business School. They know how to have fun, laugh, talk business and connect with others through their deep desire to help and lift others up to Live Louder.
Our why for starting FITKYT, Hang-Fold-Go and Live Louder.
FITKYT is the story of two successful women who believe fitness products can empower people to be resilient and healthy. It started when Melissa found herself turning to exercise to calm her mind, relieve anxiety and stress—and most of all, to do something for herself. Recreational swimming became Melissa’s outlet.
The movement was helping a great deal to clear her mind, but she couldn’t find the products to keep up with her. She needed a workout bag where she could leave her goggles, ear plugs, swim cap, flip-flops, toiletries and kick board, without having to pack and unpack everything. But it didn’t stop there. The perfect bag had to be versatile for using in the showers and stowing in a gym locker. And at home, it had to hang easily on a door or a cupboard, so that it could dry out between workouts. She scoured retailers for the perfect bag, and when she couldn't find it, she decided to make her own.
Using her daughter's sewing machine, she started designing the very first concept for the patent-pending sports utility bag, Hang-Fold-Go, and that’s when Melissa’s Harvard Business School classmate Katie Duffin got on board. Katie, a former collegiate softball player and long time sales and supply chain leader, immediately saw the utility in the design for other sports, fitness and the wellness industry. They both left their full time jobs and with this, FITKYT’s journey began.
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Hello, everyone and Welcome to our first live louder by FITKYT podcast. My name is Katie Duffin. I am a co-founder of FITKYT and this is......
Oh sorry, that was me. Do you want to start over? Although that was awesome!
We bring amusement fun, and energy into our lives.
Yeah, it is.
It's like, when we first met and I think I was crying, blubbering my way through. Do you remember? And you were listening to me? So intently and we forged a very strong bond, from that moment. And we're always here to support each other and we just get, each other. Even though we haven't seen each other since 2018, I think it is. So it's been a while.
It's funny how we both live in two very, very different locations at extreme ends of the world, (almost opposite ends of the worlds) and have so much in common in terms of life experiences and our life journey. And that's what was really connected us
Maybe for everyone to understand a little bit more about each of our journeys, from your perspective, Katie. It's really powerful.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think everybody has a story and that's one of the reasons that were super excited to launch this Live Louder podcast. As we want to bring everybody's story to the table because everybody has something really important to say and all of our Journeys are important. But, you know, my journey, I think in many ways, it's typical but in some ways maybe a-typical, right?
So, I was born and raised in the middle of the United States, St. Louis Missouri, I still live in St Louis today and I am the oldest of four. I grew up in very much a working class family. My dad worked in a in a manufacturing facility, my mom became a teacher over the course of my life but mostly stayed home with us. As I was growing up she actually went back to college and become a teacher.
When I went to college, after I graduated from high school. You know, I think I experienced some trauma in my life as a teenager that really deeply impacted me, my mentor and one of my closest relatives, my dad's sister, my Aunt passed away from malignant melanoma when she was 29 years old and I was 14 and she really was somebody that I looked-up-to a lot in my life. You know, it was really hard to understand. It's hard to understand as a 45 year old person sitting here today. Why that would happen to a young, very healthy person in every other way? And there you kind of recognize that over the course of your life that some things just will never ever make sense and maybe they're not for you to understand but I would say that really deeply impacted me.
And then, I went to high school!
And I was a little bit of a fish out of water in the high school that I went to. I was fortunate to have a really awesome friend group and the support of my family. But at the same time I was, I would say, really, relentlessly bullied. Ah. You know, standard course bullying or physically assaulted. Shoved in lockers. I was actually like, shot at arm with a gun at one point. Ah. So really, really frightening experience. In the first couple years of high school, I really wasn't prepared to cope with it, at all. It was certainly, well outside of anything, that I had ever seen. So that's really when I learned to make myself as small and as invisible as possible, just to not get any attention. So, I figured out how to sit in the back of the classroom, always do my work, but never raise my hand, really just try to be as invisible as possible just to not draw attention to myself.
And that's really when I would say, I first intentionally stepped away from that core being of who I am as a person. Before that time, I would have been described as a kid with a lot of moxie and a lot of energy and that's really naturally who I am as a person. And, being unnoticed is how I really started my first and second year of high school and that theme continued throughout my life.
So I graduated high school. I went to college. I played sports in college, (sports has always been a huge part of my life). Without sports, I don't know where I would be today, when I look at my life, this is where I could really be in the flow and be myself and bring my Live louder energy. Like on a softball field. Even to this day, it is somewhere where I can just be me and be in that flow and be in that space somewhere that I'm just totally comfortable.
Throughout my college years I tried to fit into this box of what everybody else expected me to be. Somebody that got good grades and who was going to go to law school. I had all of these plans. I started interning at this great business in college. It was a family owned business here in St Louis. They offered me a job right out of college. And I worked there for over twenty years. It was a really interesting and incredible experience. Which I'll get to in a few minutes. But, I think, right around graduating from college and into my twenties, I really started to grapple with my own identity and figuring out what that meant. And really, I would call myself almost a late in life, gay person. I finally realized that I was gay. When I was thirty, (which is pretty late in your life to really figure that out).
Figuring out who I am, I still find it a little hard to talk about because of the societal pressures. are really, really hard, especially for people in my generation and the generations before me. I'm so inspired by this new generation that are really so open and accepting of each other. It's just incredible to see, but that was really not what my experience was like. Figuring that out about myself was really really hard. And I just had this moment, I had met my future wife, we were not dating. Fortunately, she was dating somebody else. And I say fortunately because when the very first time, I like shook her hand to meet her, the thought that went through my head was, oh my gosh, (now you're going to have to deal with this).
And you know, fortunately she was dating somebody else and we didn't start dating for a couple of years later, but I really started to struggle at that point and I would say, at that stage in my life.......I really this is pretty, this is pretty heavy Mel......but I really thought about, you know, should I even stay on Earth? I mean, if this is, who I am. Should, I stick around. I felt that I really didn't deserve to stay. All that really negative thought process and I just had this moment where I was just kind of sitting with that thought and I just had this overwhelming, feeling of peace, knowing that you are exactly who you're supposed to be. So from that moment forward on, I'll never forget it. I was sitting in my my first house by myself. Just a very peaceful moment at the dining room table. I'm really thinking about, what am I going to do here, legit? Because, I felt like I would disappoint my whole family with all these built up fears that you make for yourself. That never ever come true. And I had this very just calming overwhelming feeling that I was exactly who I was supposed to be.
So not too long after that, I started dating my future wife and I had all of those (what I thought would be) really hard conversations with my family, which is really funny. I've been met with nothing but acceptance from everyone. I mean, literally everyone in my life. It was like, hey, Katie, no kidding. Like we all knew this about you forever!
Way to go to figure it out, you're really late to the party. So, you know that I think that's really when I started, I would say, that that time period of 14 to 15 to 30. I was trying to become as small as possible and just not get noticed and just get by and try my damndest to check every single professional and personal box, so that I would not have to be who I really should be. My full mission centered life commenced the second I started accepting who I was. I think that was my own first step to truly start to Live Louder again. And from that point, it is really been a journey!
This journey of self-acceptance and self-awareness, which really does develop over time. I wouldn't say I'm there yet or anything. Other than to say, that I do totally accept myself for who I am all the flaws and maybe the positive aspects to try and stay focused on as much as I can. The journey, development, learning and just being who I am, all the time. Let the chips fall where they may, but yeah, it's been a trip for sure, but that's that's just a little about me. One, thing I would connect to Mel is, when I was a little girl, my dream, when I grew up was to go to Harvard Law School. I told my mom that when I was in kindergarten, I never made it there. I started working after college. I worked for this company and I was checking all the corporate ladder steps. I had this opportunity. I'm in my early forties to go to Harvard Business School. That is where I met Mel, and that's also to me, like part of my own self-acceptance journey and returning to who I really wanted to be as a child.
Stepping on the Harvard campus and being able to engage with all these amazing people like Melissa. Was really to me, like the achievement of a childhood dream. I can talk a lot about our journey together there and forward. But, that's how I became connected to Mel. We were actually in the same living group at Harvard Business School and we'll talk more about that later. But at this point I feel like I bare my whole soul to the podcast audience! Mel, tell us little about yourself.
To the podcast, God's! You've always got such a beautiful way of putting things and I've always admired the way that you can be concise and clear and I feel like I go-on-forever.....let's wait and see what I do! I've always got so many thoughts rambling on in my brain and it's really hard for me to put them into some form of clarity and I can go off on tangents and, but I I try really hard to sort of connect the dots, but you do that extremely well.
So I suppose going back to my journey and where it all began. Gosh, I grew up in a farm in Moree, I wouldn't even know what the equivalent in the USA would be. Maybe, you can have a go at this Katie but it's like a real farming area. We lived about an hour out of town. No shops around us whatsoever. My mum and dad ran a piggery (I don't know if you even knew that).
No, I did not.
Yeah. Sheep, wheat and pigs. That's what we did. It was a great life as a kid. So my mom had three children before her 21st birthday, which is quite amazing now. But back then that's what people did. Particularly regional rural families and my mom was raised Catholic. I went to a Catholic primary school and was baptized and we had our family around us, my grandmother ran the Moree Steam Laundry and we serviced a lot of the motels around the area. It's mores like hot springs on the artesian planes. They have natural, hot water that comes out of the ground. A lot of the Italian migrants love them, in Australia, so they would actually travel to Moree and stay just for the springs. I haven't been back there. I should really go back there and have a look at the differences.
Moree is based on an Aboriginal name and it's culturally a large Aboriginal community as well. It was very interesting place growing up. Life was good. Well, I thought it was good as a kid.
And my Dad, (this sort of connects us as well) ended up getting melanoma and he needed treatment. Because of where we lived, we couldn't, he couldn't get the treatment that he needed. So we had to go into Newcastle, where his parents were, which is sort of like a City (a large country town). It's not even like a City really in American standards. He ended up getting treatment there for approximately 12 months, and he passed away just before Christmas. He was 31. I remember the date the 13th of December. So the number 13, runs in our family. I don't know what it is about the 13th, but it just seems to pop up.
My aunt passed away in December too. December 19th.
Yeah, and my mum was a ballet teacher. So my mom's very creative.
he was 26 when he (my Dad) passed away. 26 and three children and no husband. Living in a new town that you don't really have a connection with many people. Oh and no money.
How old we're you Mel?
I was seven. My oldest brother was eight, I was seven and my youngest brother was six so very young. It was a very tumultuous time for us. And we struggled, I suppose. Looking back now, mom was obviously depressed. I had experienced that myself, but then also being a support for my mother who needed help. Back then mental health and support wasn't even a thing. Like there was nothing for her and she had actually, looked after my father throughout that whole year of him deteriorating. And there's some, pretty difficult and challenging childhood memories of seeing your father, not talking and not able to walk, I really feel for anyone that goes through that. I think at any age, it's difficult. But when you're younger, you know, your parents are like God's.
You think very highly of them. Change is a challenging thing. And then mom wanted a life change. I went to, I don't know about 10 different schools from that moment, transitioning and going up to Mackay. So, we ended up in Mackay which is in North Queensland and I ended up going to school there. I just, to be honest, never thought that I was good enough. I always thought that, I was okay but not good enough. Sorry. Ah. There was always something that would stop me. And so I just tried. I had that instinct of trying to prove people wrong. And that was my competitive spirit or competitive nature. I suppose you don't realize, until later in life when you've been through everything.
My current partner enticed me to go to Harvard, it was never even on my agenda. I just never even thought that it would be humanly possible. People said to me (supposed friends) I knew you were smart Melissa but, I didn't think you were that smart. Maybe I've got my friendship groups wrong!
It's just interesting and I think you change a lot through your life stages, you know in the early years I was still really traumatized but what I did I hid all that and just pushed it down and worked hard and did what I was told to do. And I never really thought probably for myself, which is really stupid now, but that's what you do. And it wasn't until I really had a breakdown and that was probably about nearly five years ago now, I really thought about it. Yeah, about five years ago, it must have been. When it really hit. I literally could not get out of bed. I couldn't lift my head. I couldn't walk 10 meters. I literally broke down and it was really hard for me. Everything that I thought I knew seemed to be a lie, like it seemed like, it wasn't, true.
I worked so hard, doing something that has driven me, thinking that this is the right path and then something triggers you. For me. It was a divorce that triggered that and I just totally collapsed. It totally floored me. It seemed like everything fell apart.
Once you're out of the PAYG system, you're forgotten. It's like you don't exist.
And it's very, very challenging to get back and it has it's taken me a long time. If it wasn't for you Katie, I don't know where I'd be. This is what's really driven me to Live Louder. To me it means, like you said, living as your authentic-self. I don't think you really truly understand your authentic, until you go through those depths of despair, until you hit rock, bottom. Then you go, that's what actually is driving me. That's what life is about and what it means to me, and it's peeling back the skin of the onion. One of my analogies, that's probably wrong, but......Katie you always laugh at my analogies because it, they're always wrong.
I think you're spot on though, definitely. Yeah.
So that's a little bit about me and my journey and why Live Louder is so important to me. I really just want to, take the time to listen and hear other people's stories because it's inspiring and makes you want to try better. It makes you want to, get up the next morning and give it another shot. I believe that you and I can help other people, that's how we can create a community and a voice.
Yeah. Absolutely. Your story is amazing. So thank you for sharing that with everybody. I am with you. The Live Louder podcast is all about bringing everybody's story to the table. Everyone has an incredible story, no matter how old you are, what your walk of life is, the fact that you're here and fighting another day tells me that you have a great story. No matter who you are.
So just having the opportunity as a business and as just the two of us to come together and hear other people's stories and to bring those to the masses through this platform. I think is so powerful. If we just Inspire one person or support one person to get up the next day and fight another day. I think it's a job well done. So yeah, that's why I'm excited about the possibility to listen and hear other people's stories and that they can bring us all together in these very divisive times. I mean I no matter where you are in the world people are getting further and further apart, right? Everything is highly politicized excetera.
But an amazing thing happens, when you listen to somebody else's story, almost always, you can identify with the piece or part of that story, you see their humanity. So when you see that, that's a person that you can build a community with and that we're all in this together, even though, we are all different. Like pie food analogies are my thing. So we're we're all representing different slices of the pie. Being able to bring that to the masses on this platform is incredible.
I do think that it has the power to bring people together and to build that community.
Even with our first product, and what brought us together from the FITKYT perspective, our first to thirtieth product? Katie was doing something else and I was doing my own thing. Katie said, sport and fitness is something that drives me and helps me to switch off and just to clear my head. It's my form of meditation.
Ah. I struggle with meditation. I think I've got a bit of ADHD where my brain just doesn't stop it physically can't switch off. It's always on. I've done exercise my whole life, so I was a gymnast and I did ballet, volleyball you name it! Touch football I've done it. I was lucky I was born coordinated so I can pretty much pick up anything form of sport and do it. I loved swimming! So I haven't been in the pool for a while, because of covid and the lockdown. I love swimming, but hate the change rooms, so I developed a bag using my daughters sewing machine. It is a bag that sits on the back of the door and the top compartment is waterproof. So you don't get your clothes wet and then the middle section is for cosmetics or toiletries and then the bottom is for your flippers or goggles and things like that.
It is so funny that I actually got out the first bag the other day because I just bought a new sewing machine. At the time, I thought I did a really good job and I'm like, oh my God. That is so bad.
Oh you did a good job on the prototype. Absolutely.
I don't think you take the time to really look back at far we've come. It's such an amazing product that it's hard to look back and go oh gosh, that's where you started from. We've come so far in two years from the very beginning of a really bad prototype.
I'm in supply chain management and being able to get a manufacturer headquartered in the U. S is no easy feat either. Yeah. I mean, I think the journey of the hang-fold-go is so interesting. So I mean, Mel had this incredible experience. And what I love about Mel, like one of the many things, is that she's a problem solver. So when she was swimming for her own, go workout regime and mental health she needed a product that would meet her needs. Essentially a hanging closet that can keep her what stuff away from her dry stuff and she couldn't find it. She literally did like a global search to find a bag and could not find one. So what did she do? This is something I would never. Do she pulls out her, her daughter sewing machine, and sews one. I mean, unbelievable. I would have just stuck with whatever I had and go on about my day and dealt with it, right? Like so many other people do.
What's great about Mel is this Ingenuity to say forget that! I'm just going to solve this myself. The result of that you're right, is we had a great initial prototype. And one of the benefits of covid is that we were able to take our time to really create an incredible product and now we're at a place where we're manufacturing ready to launch, this amazing hang-fold-go. This bag is really revolutionary. I think we've created a new category within sports bags, honestly. So that's super exciting to me.
But what's more incredible about this product than anything else? Is the story behind it?
I mean, how many products on the market when you look at everything that were inundated with, to actually have a new Innovative product that actually resolves an issue, not just for swimmers, but for any sport, any traveler, anybody who wants to to keep their clean stuff away from their dirty stuff. Which is everyone.
You know, I think it's just an incredible thing and I feel so fortunate to have connected and to be on this journey. So yeah. That's amazing.
It sounds so good when you say it.
When I worked in banking and finance and I worked in that industry for over twenty years, I was sitting on the other side, and I saw a lot of businesses and you think it's easy to sit on the other side and be critical of others that start a business. But when you start a business you realize there's no money in the bank account and your responsible. When you haven't had a salary for a couple of years, and you've got children, and you've got school fees, and you've got all these expenses the mortgage and the dog barking, you know, it is easy to think, I'm totally crazy. Why am I doing this? This is insane. I need to go and get a job. It's easy to listen to what other people say and go back to your normal day job, you know, seriously, stop wasting your time.
But the fulfilment you can get and what you can bring to others by doing this, it's not easy. I don't think owning a business is for everyone. I would love to inspire and motivate others to do it, but I think you need to definitely have the right mindset. You need to be in it with a partner. I think, without you, I would have definitely quit. There were moments that I was happy to give up and you will like no stop.
Likewise. Right? You play off each other, right?
Yeah, that's right. I think you really need to have a business with someone else that you can do that with that on as very similar pot. Ah yeah. Otherwise well one. It wouldn't be as fun but are either be hard to stay. Inspired and motivated to get up and give it another go.
Do you have any thoughts on, two people starting out in small business sport. Some lessons that you learnt along the way?
Yeah, for sure. Just like Melissa coming out of a corporate career and then transitioning into, a two-person operation where you know, literally everything that is going on. It's just very very different.
I've learned so much about myself and how I show up. I'm going to call it the price of admission. That Discovery process is so incredibly eye-opening that I would call it one of the best learning experiences of my life.
I was going through my own personal crisis and I'd never really thought I had depression before, but I think I was grappling with aspects of depression throughout my life and as Melissa said, without her and going through this along with the global pandemic!
You know, we're the brilliant people who started a fitness company, two months before a global pandemic, right? And figuring out how to navigate through that it gave both of us something to focus on, but I think just the learning about yourself. Be prepared for that.
And if you're not somebody who really wants to be self-aware or think you already know everything, then probably starting a small business is not for you, because you're going to learn a lot about yourself. You're going to learn a lot, how savvy you need to be to operate at this level and to really scale. And you really need to have creative solutions like you. You don't have all the answers yet even between Melissa we don't have all the answers. So you know, asking for help you need to do.
It is not only about the business aspects, it's a very deep personal journey around resilience and learning about how you show up and the good the bad and the ugly, because trust me, you show up in all those ways? So that's sad. That's been incredible for me. It's a very humbling experience.
When you do something different, it makes such a massive difference. Don't be a copy cat!
It is easy to, do you know, I'm sure people make money, good money, being copycats for example, even yoga mats, there's a thousand yoga mats. The only difference really is your brand. You can make the same quality, you can charge different prices for your target market. But really it's that brand and what that brand stands for as a small business. It is you as management.
So our brand is us. That's who we are and if we're not ourselves and we're not authentic to that brand and Living Louder ourselves. Then what are we?
You are right. So it's like connecting with us personally, our personal journey and personal story. And I remember when we first started Katie and we were it was hilarious.....
I look back now and just go oh my God that's so bad that we just assumed that you put up some awesome product on the internet and people would buy it! And when like know one buys it your like that's not right, how did that happen? Lots of learning's from that first year, that's for sure.
It's it's definitely made me understand the real, true meaning of running your own business and connecting with people. And it's gotta be through something unique and something different. We've created a new category and a new brand. It's something that's driven us personally.
We have given everything and we truly believe in this product. And we are given everything, what's the analogy that you use Katie....
Oh yeah, we're leaving everything on the field. That's that's my softball analogy. Yeah, that's the one.
That still resonates for me because you know, I want to make sure that I've given everything and no stone unturned. So yeah. Absolutely. Hopefully everybody now has learned a little bit about us and you're excited about this this podcast, but we'll be bringing all of these stories.
If you have an interesting story too, just reach out to us, we would love to hear from you. It's firstname.lastname@example.org so reach out to us. We would love to hear from you.
Again, this is Katie and Melissa the co-founders of FITKYT and and we will be bringing you stories to Live Louder.
Self Help Addict / Founder / Mum / Animal & Nature Lover
A self help addict. I like to see the good in everyone, even when most can't. I am always learning something new, about myself or the world. I have a special love for all animals (my dog, my cat, my sheep, my alpaca and cows). I feel most connected when I am in the water or in nature.
Founder / Supply Chain Expert / Mom / Wife
Katie, a former collegiate softball player and long time sales and supply chain leader. For Katie, the unfulfilled yearning was knowing that she was not living her true life calling. A deep desire to live a life of service and to truly raise up individuals, families and communities - is what drives her. By actively participating in everyday life with them, being present not just physically, but by sharing those little moments that are truly precious and so meaningful. ‘’I know that living authentically is the most powerful thing I can do for myself”, says Katie.