Dana VanPamelen, Co-Founder of NYC’s Muay Thai Kickboxing Studio Hit House, is an All-Around Boss
The Co-Founder of Manhattan’s hottest kickboxing studio, Hit House, talks about how she’s helping to bring the art of Muay Thai to NYC — and how she rolls with the punches of being an entrepreneur in the nation’s biggest city.
This blog post is part of our “Shop Talk” founder series, which celebrates Word of Web clients as we dive into what drives them and how they embrace the entrepreneurial spirit.
Tell us about Hit House. What’s your elevator pitch?
Hit House is Muay Thai for everybody. It’s a traditional sport from Thailand that’s known as the “art of 8 limbs” because you can throw strikes with everything. So, not only are you throwing punches and kicks, you’re also throwing knees and elbows. It’s a little bit more intense, and that’s where the full-body element comes in. We’re not on the ground grappling. It involves more standup striking. It’s an amazing sport, but it can also be a little violent. When you work out at a traditional kickboxing gym, you are absorbing shock from other people’s kicks. My husband and co-owner Tyler designed a special hybrid heavy bag called the Bishop (like the chess piece!). We like to say, “Beat up Bishop!” It connects floor to ceiling, so when you throw a punch, it snaps right back into place. There’s no swing back or bruised shins, or anything like that. So, we’ve created a fun Muay Thai-influenced group class format in a boutique setting with curated playlists. It’s great for any level, whether you have a ton of experience or none at all.
What sparked the idea behind your company? How did it come to fruition?
Ty has a traditional Muay Thai background — he’s 5 and 1 on the Muay Thai scene. You know, in New York City, we all have side hustle jobs. One night, a friend asked me to cover a job and all she said was go to this address and bring a black dress. So, I went and it was Friday Night Fights! I had no idea what was going on, but I worked as a ring girl and saw people throwing knees and elbows and just said to myself, I need to do this! So that’s how I got interested in it. But, I also realized that a traditional gym setting is not for everybody. After I took Ty to a cycling class, we kind of realized that we could do something similar, but for Muay Thai.
What unique problem does your company solve or what gap does it fill?
Boutique Muay Thai doesn’t exist anywhere else, so we created our own space. One of the challenges we face is that people don’t really know what Muay Thai is. It’s becoming more popular because boxing workouts are getting some attention, but our goal was to really open up Muay Thai to a new audience.
How have you gotten your message out to the world?
Branding! We had a lot of fun creating our brand. A lot of fighters can have a tough guy image, and we wanted to show another side to people. In addition to our website and other social channels, we just got on TikTok and also have a Youtube channel.
What are the most challenging and most rewarding parts of being an entrepreneur?
The best part is seeing people with zero experience come take a class and get better and learn a new skill in 45 minutes. Kicking in Muay Thai is a very specific movement and not a motion that’s very common, so it’s really cool to see.
The most challenging part is what everyone warns you about – being a “jack of all trades.” If an instructor can’t make it in, guess who’s stepping in? You’re handing out flyers on the street, you’re playing janitor — you’re really doing it all.
How do you handle burnout? What’s your favorite thing to do outside of running your business?
I think everyone has their own version of self-care and for me, there’s nothing like working out in a group setting. I love to spend time training here in the studio, but also doing yoga and pilates. I often tell people, if you don’t like working out, you just haven’t found a workout you love yet!
Where would you like to see your company in 5 years?
Hopefully expanding! We actually have two licensees in Cape Town and Johannesburg, which is really exciting. We’d also like to introduce our Bishop Bag to more gyms and studios.
How do you stay motivated?
There’s no other option. Even if you don’t love part of the job, you have to accept that it’s part of the greater picture. Part of my job at Hit House is bringing people onto the team and hiring great instructors, so I get to surround myself with awesome, inspiring, badass people all day which makes everything much easier.
What’s the best advice and worst advice you’ve ever gotten?
The best advice I heard was from the founder of Y7 on a panel I went to. She was talking about branding, advertising, and marketing, and said that your best consumer advocate is your actual consumer. Utilizing the people in your community is priceless! The person that loves Hit House is our best advocate.
The worst was probably to spend tons of money on influencers — they might give you a shoutout, but they aren’t in your community and it doesn’t feel genuine. People can tell when something isn’t authentic.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting your company?
This might sound basic, but it needs to be said. You’re doing ALL the jobs, so time management is very important because you’re basically working 24/7. So, delegating tasks to others and having people you can trust to take things off of your plate is really important.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs just starting out?
If someone is just starting out, I would say that finding your differentiating factor is very important. Ask yourself how you’re different and how you can stand out and really resonate with people. Secondly, I would say being able to accept feedback and learn from it is really important. This sounds like a small thing, but when we first started Hit House, we were playing pop music and kind of a mashup of music styles. We got a lot of feedback from people saying they love to workout to just hip hop – so giving the people what they want is really important.
What about your company are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of bringing together an authentic community where people feel good. We’ve searched around and found great instructors who have years of traditional Muay Thai training — they’re all about form and focus, and know what they’re talking about inside and out. Creating a welcoming atmosphere with friendly and fun instructors makes people feel comfortable, and with that, grows a sense of community.
The Muay Thai community in NYC is so eccentric, but also very respectful and inclusive. Someone can literally get punched in the face and then smile and tell someone, “Hey, great shot!” Our Hit House motto is to be a lover and a fighter, so it’s about this interesting duality. We promote self-confidence over self-importance, and I think learning a skill set like Muay Thai really does something to you inside. It’s having the confidence to feel good and that changes you.
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