It’s not every day you find a girl who embodies the perfect trifecta. A Badass with Beauty and Brains. It could pass for a movie title, but no one in their right mind would want to see a movie as intimidating as that. We’re drawn towards them, we stare at them, we want to be them. They exude the kind of confidence built from years of internalizing a “you do you” mantra with what appears to involve zero effort and zero fucks.
Voila, meet Grace Esses.
Upon meeting her in a cafe called La Columbe on Lafayette Street (one of her *faves* she reveals) amid the hustle and bustle of NYU students, she seemed native to the village scene. “It’s a dream,” she says about dorming there for two years. Before making conversation we peruse the menu and Grace immediately suggests I get a midday tequila. In lieu of the optimal pick me upper we settle for a chamomile tea and a green juice—although I can’t help admiring her laid back vibe. Growing up with the balance of a slinky and an equally appalling SAT score, I couldn’t relate to the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate junior and USAG competitive level 8 gymnast sitting across from me. Since her move back home to expand her ever growing business, Grace Esses Gymnastics, (NBD at 19 she built a gymnastics studio in her basement), her entrepreneurial spirit only seems to be going up from here. She catches me up to date on all things bizness and the journey that lead her there.
On her Gymnastics Background:
"My mom reluctantly enrolled me in a recreational gymnastics Sunday program in second grade with my friends [Nova Gymnastics]. I guess I showed a little bit of talent when I was younger because shortly after I joined, I was invited by the the gym director to join the pre-team. The pre-team practice increased my weekly commitment to four times a week. Soon I graduated onto the actual competitive team beginning at a level 4 at age 9. By level 6, I had switched gyms and began training at Aviator Gymnastics. My younger sister eventually joined me on the team and we were a terrific support system for each other. We had to overcome the challenge of attending a full day of a dual curriculum school as well as the extensive hours of gymnastics practice. All I remember was doing my homework under my desk in school. I left my house at 7am and didn’t return until 9:30 pm when I ate dinner, showered, finished homework and collapsed in my bed."
On competing as a level 8 gymnast:
"All competitions were scheduled on weekends. I had to pass on many of the Saturday competitions so that was kind of disappointing. The more important competitions, I remember staying in a hotel and walking miles on the highway to the meet. That was memorable. The competitions were at different gyms across Philadelphia, Maryland and the Tristate area. I continued as a competitive gymnast all through high school. The meets were extremely nerve wracking and intimidating making me question why I did what I did.
I’d say I had a very limited social life until maybe college. (laughs)."
How she felt Being Outside her Bubble:
"There were no Syrians. And no jews. So it was interesting. Since I was young I've always seen outside of this bubble that we lived in. I had the opportunity to be teammates with girls from all different backgrounds and was able to develop a very close relationship and a strong work ethic with the guidance of my amazing coaches. I think that really helped me understand and appreciate the lives and hardships of other people. I think it is very important for our community members to have some experience of what it’s like in the outside world."
Her Dream College Trajectory:
"Initially my dream was to go to an out of state college. I loved the team sports and the spirit that went with it. I always wanted to dorm. My dream school was Boston University where I encountered my first rejection in life. But thanks to my strict gymnastic discipline I broke down crying and consumed copious amounts of donuts and pizza. Coincidentally, while I was in Syracuse for a gymnastics competition while also visiting Syracuse University, I received the most exciting email, that I was accepted to NYU! I had to forward the email to my college guidance counselor for confirmation because I actually thought it was a prank. After threatening my parents that I was going to move to Syracuse if I wasn’t allowed to dorm in NYU, they quickly relented and I was happy that I now had the best of both worlds.
I was accepted to the Steinhardt school where I intended to study nutrition. I realized quickly that my interests were in business so I transferred to the Gallatin School of Individualized Study to create my own personalized major. I decided to focus even more and decided to pursue a study in business and real estate so I transferred once again this time to the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate."
Being on the NYU Cheerleading Team:
"NYU doesn't have a gymnastics club so in order for me to keep up with my tumbling, I joined the NYU Cheerleading team. The practice was intense and also allowed me to continue meeting other people from around the country and enjoying the camaraderie that goes with being on a team. It was an exciting experience for me to be cheering at a basketball game because it was so much less stressful and non competitive than a gymnastics meet. I was actually supposed to travel to Daytona Beach, Florida to compete in cheer for Nationals last March, but unfortunately I tore my ACL the weekend before and couldn’t participate.."
How She Started her Business:
"I was 18 at the time. I had just graduated high school and had my gymnastics goodbye party. I was sad that my gymnastics career had just come to an end. It was my first summer back in Deal after three summers that my family traveled the world and two summers at International Gymnastics Camp. I had no plans for the summer except a random idea to work as a waitress, but I couldn’t figure out how to even get a job.
I had an idea to teach gymnastics privately once the summer began, but I felt like the logistics didn’t make any sense. I had no equipment or space to teach. I started out with one student practicing on her grass when I decided to post on my mom’s instagram account. I realized that I needed to target the moms, and advertise that I was now teaching private gymnastics lessons. I quickly acquired six students and decided it was time to invest in a mat. I would literally take my mat around deal, open it on the student’s grass and begin teaching my lesson. By the end of the summer I was teaching 50 students per week. Back in Brooklyn, this model was no longer going to be feasible."
Juggling School and Managing her Business:
"Back in Brooklyn, I knew that going to houses was no longer going to be realistic for me, but I still loved to teach. I quickly changed the business model and consequently made a studio in my basement by tossing all my mom’s new furniture in order to make space. I figured I would come back from my dorm in the city every Sunday and teach in my house. Soon I was booked for 11 hours on Sunday consecutively. I knew I needed more help and enlisted one of my old teammates, Brenda to come on board. Soon she was all booked on Sundays as well as Wednesdays and Fridays. Slowly but surely, we grew to a staff of six amazing instructors as well as over two hundred students enrolled each semester.
I basically manage all the back end office work as well as teach now 23 hours per week in addition to school. I think the work ethic and the grit that I've been brought up with from my gymnastics training has prepared me to do what I do today. Till today, Brenda and I will each teach for 11 hours on Sunday. 9 am-8 pm. It’s not like sitting at a desk, it’s a lot of patience, encouraging, and heavy lifting. It’s physically draining. We actually don’t know how we do it. By the end of the night our bodies literally shut down. But I was trained for this juggling act. I’ve done it all my life."
Envisioning the Future:
"Right now, everything's amazing. My plan in the future is definitely to open a gym. I mean yes, that's definitely been a goal. That would be incredible. I would probably have to graduate college first to be able to take that step. Right now I'm so busy as it is. Also Brooklyn is hard, the space is so hard to come by. It’s not like opening up a store, you need a lot of space for a gymnastics studio. You need a warehouse.
Because of this idea to expand my company and open up a much larger studio, I began to learn how real estate works. That’s basically why I decided to study real estate in college. I’ve always had this curiosity about finance, business and entrepreneurship from an early age so I felt comfortable in this decision. I would eavesdrop on the men’s conversations every Friday night since I was younger always trying to understand what they were talking about."
Getting Into Real Estate:
"I think it would be kind of cool to get a corporate job. I’m saying that now but I probably won’t like it once I start being that I am already so independent and in control of my own business. It would be interesting if I got a job at a bank, working for a hedge fund or for a real estate developer. I definitely want to experience that once I graduate college. The awesome thing about my Gymnastics studio is that our classes are offered after school and on weekends so my schedule is flexible if I ever decide to pursue a corporate job--I have a huge fear of free time by the way. I’m young and I want to do as much as I can while I still have the time and energy."
Where she got her Ambition:
"My mom's amazing! She's a really talented florist and she has a business of her own. She’s passionate and she loves what she does. She's actually super smart too. She just began graduate school. I think I received a lot of positive reinforcement whenever I succeeded at what I was doing. This definitely gave me the motivation to keep working hard, and pushing my limits. I get inspired by relationships that I developed at school, professors, as well as fellow students. I think you just have to surround yourself by the right people who can enhance your life every single day. I’ve learnt to surround myself with people smarter than I am. I know that every girl should be their own independent woman, you should, and could do whatever you want."
A Piece of Advice:
"Find a passion and market it. Seek advice from experienced people that you trust, and educate yourself. When you're starting a business try to be new, try to be different, and definitely don't go with the flow. Work hard and do your job well. And never forget that hustle.
It's crazy when your reality is better than your dreams--it really happened on its own. I had no expectations, it just unfolded on its own. I was going into college, I'm like I'm going to get an education, my master's and then I'm going to have a good job. ....I never expected this whole entrepreneurship thing to happen. It just kept growing and growing and growing.”