The word "yoga" means "union" in Sanskrit, suggesting that in some ways, yoga and business were destined to be interwoven. But as these six entrepreneurs in the business of yoga can attest, maintaining inner peace and while managing to turn a profit can be quite a balancing act.
Jeff Krasno and Sean Hoess founded the Wanderlust Festival in 2008 after noting a lack of large-scale music gatherings for the yoga community. A hybrid celebration of music and movement, Wanderlust is part music fest and part yoga immersion, allowing yogis to practice with renowned instructors such as Jonny Kest and Shiva Rea in tranquil settings while enjoying live performances by familiar bands. From 2009 to 2010, the festival has nearly quadrupled in size.
Hoess credited Wanderlust’s popularity to grassroots marketing, direct outreach, and its symbiotic relationships with yoga studios.
“In year one, we had less than $30,000 to market the event, so we developed a database of literally every yoga studio within 200 miles of Wanderlust California [held in North Lake Tahoe]and then got on the phones,” recalled Hoess.
The pair offered free tickets, group sales discounts and cross-promotion tools to studios online and in e-mails, in exchange for their display of signage and flyers promoting the event. Hoess and Krasno also invited the larger studios in California to "name" various areas at the festival where classes are held, and send their top instructors to teach. While Hoess admitted that the process was extremely time-consuming, he said it was worth every minute to help build the credibility in the yoga community that Wanderlust enjoys today.
One of the great ironies of running a yoga business may lie in the audience itself. While it offers a passionate, involved consumer base that most small businesses only dream of, it also violates the age-old axiom about keeping business and personal interests separate since most yoga business owners are also practitioners themselves.
Regardless of how large a yoga business might become, Hoess advised fellow entrepreneurs to maintain the passion for the practice that its students share and expect. “When it [business] gets beyond the personal to general marketing, I've observed that many yoga businesses fall short. You can see this in things like graphic design, which often falls into a 'typical yoga' look and feel, clunky websites, poorly designed e-mails, the use (or lack thereof) of social media, and other issues,” said Hoess. “Yoga entrepreneurs need to figure out what they want to do, then figure out what makes them different from everyone else -- and show it.”
5 Jade Yoga
While many yogi entrepreneurs begin as students and evolve into the business, Dean Jerrehian, founder and CEO of Jade Yoga, maker of environmentally friendly yoga mats, towels and blocks, took the opposite path. At the start of 2000, Jerrehian was in the business of natural rubber rug pads. A chance encounter with a yogi who said that existing yoga mats made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) material lacked proper slip resistance inspired Jerrehian to turn his rug pads into yoga mats. The mats, which were the first natural rubber yoga mats, were well-received in the yoga community. It was only after that time that Jerrehian began to realize the wellness benefits of yoga.
Jerrehian said one of the great benefits of being a yoga entrepreneur is the nature of the industry itself.
“Being in the yoga world where people are so balanced, peaceful and giving has actually brought more balance to my life," Jerrehian said. "Yes, we are here to make profits, but there is no question that we can do good and do well at the same time – especially where your audience really cares." The disposition of his clientele has created the success of his eco-friendly yoga mats and his “Buy a Mat, Plant a Tree” program which funds the planting of a tree for each mat purchased.
“Being health and environmentally conscious,” yogis recognize the value of quality and sustainable products,” Jerrehian said. While some might mistake the yoga industry as being too “serene” for business success, Jerrehian has found the converse to be true.
"I used to think that being calm, relaxed and easygoing might reduce my effectiveness in business, but I now think the opposite is true," he said. "Nothing diffuses any situation better than calm and it is much easier to ‘get to yes,’ which is ultimately what every business transaction is about.”
4 Blissoma by Iriestar
Julie Longyear is a self-described “lifestyle businessperson,” has always believed in integrating her business pursuits and spiritual beliefs. That philosophy guided her to start Irie Star in 2001 directly out of college. The company introduced its Blissoma Yoga Mat Cleanser in 2005. Along with a network of studio customers, single location specialty boutiques and estheticians, Blissoma Mat Cleanser is sold in select Whole Foods Markets.
The strong spiritual-based beliefs Longyear holds have been reinforced with yoga, and have been crucial in helping her stand her moral ground in the business world.
She has been asked to “sacrifice our morals regarding the use of organics in order to achieve a better price point for large businesses. We said no. I just don't produce products that don't represent my values. I can't live with the burden on my conscience, nor can I just produce something strictly for the marketing value of it,” Longyear said.
Perhaps the greatest lesson Longyear has learned from her yoga business is to focus less on riches and more on the intrinsic rewards. “'Get rich quick' was never on the list. The money is just a means to keep going,” she said. “I won't mind if eventually things are a little more comfortable, but I think discomfort often helps produce growth. I try to view the sand I'm currently chewing on as the source of my future pearls."
3 Tracy Columbus, Columbus & Company
Even the most well-intentioned yoga businesses owners can use guidance in the form of best practices. That’s what makes Tracy Columbus, a lifestyle, branding and strategic marketing consultant serving the entertainment and yoga industry, a valuable asset. Based in Los Angeles, Columbus observed that the yoga studio population had taken on a consumer shift in the early 1990s.
“Yoga had gone mainstream and the new yoga devotee was more likely to be a stressed-out business person in search of a place to unfurl — and willing to pay for it,” said Columbus.
While there are millions of business consultants who can advise on growth and operational models for small business, Columbus is “focused on traditional bottom-line goals while concurrently serving the authentic needs of this discerning consumer.”
She guides her clients though the strategies, partnerships, marketing activities and products that will serve their overarching objectives, while assuring that all those ventures maintain rooted in the beliefs of the yoga lifestyle community.
“Yoga in America has become a business. That is neither good nor bad, it just is,” Columbus said. “Business is business. It requires income to create good outcomes.”
Columbus advises other yoga entrepreneurs to be honest about what they want from their work and focus on leading instead of following.
“Take the time to innovate and bring to fruition a brand that can sustain the test of time and circumstance,” she said.
In 2009, Linden Schaffer was leading distribution for a multimillion dollar fashion shoe brand. Traveling the globe and struggling to find time for yoga led her to create Pravassa, a New York City-based retreat planning company that brings teachers and students together for healthy retreats.
Schaffer said that by serving a niche within the travel market, Pravassa has found particular marketing value through its blog, which reviews classes around the world. That in turn, creates valuable buzz and viral activity, when reviewed instructors share the blog with their students.
Schaffer’s greatest advice to yoga entrepreneurs is to be involved in the yoga community. Develop relationships with instructors, studio owners and students to hear what they like and what is missing from their practice or studio space.
Schaffer also credited yoga’s calming benefits as integral to how she approaches her business dealings.
“This alone has helped me as a business person in the way I react to people and their ideas or questions. I am able to stop and think before I react to anything. Yoga helps me gather my thoughts and present my ideas in a positive nonconfrontational way. Yoga also teaches you to see the good in everyone,” Schaffer said.
1 Embrace Activism Embrace Activism
While training for a Seattle breast cancer fundraising walk, the phrase “embrace activism” entered Karen Whittier’s mind. By the time she finished her training walk, the registered yoga teacher had a plan for that phrase and decided to found her own company based on the name. Embrace Activism provides yoga products and accessories and donates ten percent of all sales to causes including breast cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.
“A yogi might just be the best kind of business owner,” Whittier said. "Yoga is oppositional by nature and the yoga student is always seeking that balance; finding the ease within the effort. Yoga hones concentration, allowing for clear thinking.”
Involvement in the community has been integral for Whittier’s pursuits, particularly with Yoga for Hope, an event that benefits City of Hope, a leading research and treatment center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases. Additionally, she has made a name for Embrace Activism by connecting with support groups that incorporate yoga in their recovery and treatment programs, offering their members the chance to direct an additional five percent donation to the support organization.
Whittier has also found social media to be helpful in finding and educating like-minded prospects who share in her purpose of meshing business and philanthropy.