Elevator Pitch is a regular feature on Lifehacker where we profile startups and new companies and pick their brains for entrepreneurial advice. This week, we're talking with Ann-Marie Johnston, founder and CEO of the global yoga therapy platform YogaMate.
In 128 words or less, explain your business idea
There’s a sweeping misperception in the West that yoga is just something you do at the gym for exercise or stress reduction. But yoga extends well-beyond the physical practice it’s become known for; encompassing mindfulness, meditation, breath work and philosophy; and can be used to relieve physical, mental, emotional and spiritual suffering.
YogaMate champions the therapeutic application of yoga. Our global platform consists of apps and websites that educate about yoga’s therapeutic benefits and marketing tools that connect highly qualified yoga professionals with their communities.
It’s our mission to help the world understand that if you can breathe, you can practice yoga. That you need not be young, thin or flexible; but that yoga is for everybody, no matter your age, sex ore physical ability.
What strategies are you using to grow and finance your idea?
I was fortunately in a position to originally fund the business myself; and my growth strategy from the beginning was to align myself with key industry stakeholder, to give the business credibility and tap into a larger, engaged audience.
Before and since launching, I’ve focused on continuously conducting customer research to drive business decisions.
The initial product was created as a subscription service so that it would generate ongoing revenue. Then, over the years I added additional educational features such as hosting webinars, marketing programs, and most recently hosting a global event all as part of my ‘pull’ marketing strategy.
I’ve built the platform so that all services and features can stand alone, but also integrate with one another so that I can extend a customers’ lifetime value.
I’m All revenue has gone back into development and extending the platform.
I’ve also recently release an app (Yoga for Better Health, a freemium product) to serve as a pull marketing source for the business. It helps build brand awareness and trust and serves as an entry point for developing more a relationship with my customers.
How do you differentiate your business from your competitors?
Yoga is a big industry, but there aren’t any businesses focused purely on the therapeutic aspect of yoga. This is a growing field; yoga professionals who are therapists or specialists in bridging yoga and healthcare. We focus on offering global solutions that provide both professional development and marketing tools and resources for practitioners. But it’s also unique that we focus on educating the community about yoga’s therapeutic benefits. In this way, a key point of difference that we amalgamate students with professionals and provide practitioners clever and memorable ways to engage with their students. From the foundations or marketing, to tools and resources to connect and stand out in the industry; YogaMate provides a bit of a one-stop shop for the serious yoga professional focused in the therapeutic application of yoga.
What's the biggest challenge facing your business?
It only took me about a year into my business to realise that being a non-tech solo founder of a digital business brought with it some serious challenges.
My original product was a custom-built six-figure website build by an overseas developer. That process was challenging, slow and in the end, highly flawed and the code base ended up being something that I couldn’t grow with.
It took me another year to accept that, even though the concept had proven itself with uptake – I had a product that I couldn’t advance.
The upside to the challenge is that it encouraged me to expand my offering and bring in new services that I could manage and sustain myself, whilst trying to plan my strategy for moving forward with the original code base.
In the end it was clear that I needed to bring on a tech partner. It cost me equity in my business, but I’m now able to shift my focus to the areas that I’m good at and leave the tech side in more capable hands. We’re presently going through the challenge of sorting through multiple interfaces to get the tech better aligned and optimally running.
What one phone, tablet or PC application could you not live without?
I couldn’t live without Zoom. Most every week I’m having global meetings and there is no comparison between a phone call and live ‘face to face’ meeting. Having that personal connection makes all of the difference.
What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?
I was encouraged to build my social media accounts many months before I was ready to launch my beta product. I did, and then I shared in my development journey. (It’s a similar theory to creating landing pages before you have a product to sell). It allowed me to begin the conversation with interested parties and conduct customer research as I went; so I could iterate and tweak rather than wait until I launched to ascertain if I’d actually built something that people wanted. When it came time to launch my beta product, I had an audience that was engaged and interested. And then when I actually launched the product it meant I was in a position to generate strong sales from the first day I launched.
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