Rebecca Weible was enduring at a corporate job, slugging the days away while she realized the job wasn't for her - but after numerous interviews, it dawned on her that it wasn't just the job, but the corporate world that wasn't for her.
In the Yo Yoga! founder's story there lies an uplifting break from the Wall St-esque trundle of the corporate world to a calm, eloquent New York City rooftop that now houses the Yo Yoga! classes everyday. It is here that Weible created a mid-city sanctuary for the masses in the demanding heights of the Big Apple and has profited from the hyper-stressed and under active atmosphere of an office-laden Manhattan. We sat down with the flexible (in more ways than one) entrepreneur to find out more about her uniquely-positioned fitness-meets-meditation business.
Why did you get interested in Yoga? How did it start?
I had taken dance classes since I was about 3 years old and loved it but never quite excelled past an intermediate level. I grew up in South Carolina in the 80s and yoga wasn't prevalent at the time but I knew it about it from books and media and the calming, stress-reducing aspect of it interested me as much as the physical aspect, which seemed similar to dance. My mom bought me a book about yoga - it was one of those 'Eyewitness' brand informative books - and I poured through it learning more and teaching myself some of the poses including crow pose. There weren't many opportunities for me to take regular yoga classes but I took one at any chance. I began to practice regularly during college at a studio in Charleston, SC. The spiritual and peaceful part of the practice hooked me and, for me, the alignment and the more precise body instruction and mindful movement seemed to be what was missing from the practice of dance.
"There weren't many opportunities for me to take regular yoga classes but I took one at any chance."
Why did you decide to open Yo Yoga? What was your main point of difference?
From the first time I stepped into a yoga studio, I knew that I wanted to run a studio of my own one day. I was interested in creating a peaceful, sacred space to spend time in and share with others. After working for a handful of years in the corporate world, I wanted a career where I could see the impact I was making on people's lives. Opening Yo Yoga! was a way to offer something meaningful to anyone who was interested.
For those of us who can't be there can you briefly describe the space and the programs on offer?
Our space is clean and white with lots of windows to let in natural light. We keep the space relatively bare with minimal decor to prevent distraction, provide room to breathe and so anyone practicing can find their own version of zen during their time in our space. ur large, rectangular roof deck is accessed by sliding doors located in our lobby. This third floor roof top space is covered with green tiles that are firm and supportive yet yielding for knees and joints. We plant flowers every year and hang simple string lights. We also set up the mats so students can face the tree whose branches and leaves extend over the deck adding a touch of nature in the middle of the city.
Our main offerings are Open level classes and Basic level classes. Open level classes are vinyasa-based classes where we offer options for every level of yogi in the room so you can choose to make the practice more or less challenging as needed. These classes break down more challenging poses and offer the chance to remain in the most basic expression of a pose or take it deeper. Our Basic level classes are our beginner-level classes that break down the most common poses and move at a slower pace so you can learn how to do each pose correctly for your body.
Can you talk about the partnership with Sound Off? What does that entail?
Yo Yoga! is the first studio in NYC to offer Sound Off yoga classes as a regular part of our weekly schedule.
In these classes, students wear Sound Off Experience's Bluetooth, noise-cancelling headphones throughout class in which they hear curated playlists and the sound of the instructor's voice. This allows total focus throughout class and almost feels like getting a private lesson.
Students will wear the headphones throughout a 30 minute listening to ambient sounds and binaural beats along with guidance from the instructor. This allows space for the energy of a group meditation without the distraction of city sounds or sounds from your neighboring meditator.
Can you briefly discuss your transition from corporate to Yoga? Was it Zen or was it more difficult than you anticipated?
Strangely, I always felt more excited than nervous about leaving my corporate job and opening Yo Yoga!. When I began to feel restless and annoyed at my last corporate job, I began a half-hearted attempt to search for a new job. After a couple interviews it hit me that if I took any of these new jobs, I was going to find myself restless and annoyed once more after the initial challenge of being new wore off. I decided it was time to open my own business and the prospect of pursuing something I was passionate about gave me a sense of relief and happiness that overshadowed the fear of failure.
Walking out of the office building on the last day felt like I could finally stop pretending to be someone I wasn't whether Yo Yoga! was successful or not.
What was your first step to creating your own business? How did you get funding? How did you pick a location?
For me, the first step came in setting my mind to making this happen. From there, my business partner (my older brother who helped me open the studio and is now my silent partner) and I put together a business plan to get organized and solidify our vision. Our funding came from our savings and a small loan.
We worked with a commercial real estate broker to find the space. Initially, we wanted a space on an avenue and close to the subway but when we saw the outdoor space, we knew we needed to take it. Although at the time the roof did not look like anything special, my brother and I knew we could make it into something worthwhile and beautiful.
People tend to be afraid of Yoga. Can you tell us why they shouldn't be? What are the benefits?
Yoga's popularity has made room for lots of studios and different styles of yoga. This means that no matter what you're looking for from yoga, you'll be able to find it. From conversations I've had with those new to yoga, a big fear seems to be the unfamiliar and not knowing what you're doing. I always tell people to start with the beginner's classes which will break down the basic poses and move at a slower pace. These classes are designed for people that 'don't know what they're doing' when it comes to yoga and are the best option for learning your way around the mat.
The benefits of yoga are increased flexibility and agility, strength building and stress reduction. Flexibility helps prevent injury and keeps our bodies supple and mobile, especially as we age. Leveraging your own body weight builds strength without adding bulk. Stress is the number one cause of disease and illness and yoga gives us tools to handle stress as well as get rid of it.
What is your growth plan? Where would you hope to be in 5 years?
Currently, we're working on catering to our growing community at our current location by adding more classes to the schedule along with more workshops and innovative offerings such as Sound Off yoga and meditation. We led our first retreat in Fall of 2016 and have a Costa Rica retreat scheduled for the end of January as part of our plan to offer retreats on a regular basis. From here, the hope is to franchise to another location(s) around the tri-state area.
What is the biggest learning lesson you would tell to young entrepreneurs hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Get yourself a good accountant, one who specializes in small businesses, who can go over your business plan with you and answer your questions along the way. No matter how hard you work or how creative your vision is, numbers don't lie so make sure you have a handle on them.
What is your business and life philosophy?
Im a huge believer in work/life balance. Opening a small business certainly sways your life towards work but it can still feel balanced if you love what you do and recognize when you need to take a break. Life is too short to spend 40 hours a week wishing you were somewhere else or clock-watching the day away.
I have always been in love with all things art- I was obsessed with drawing and painting before I was even walking. In high school, I started a career selling art through various gallery art shows and on Etsy. I then went on to study fine arts at the University of Southern California, with an emphasis in painting, but took classes in ceramics, printmaking, cinema and architecture to get a really well-rounded education on all sorts of art.
During my senior year of college, my career path went through a huge transition; I started my own temporary tattoo brand, INKED by Dani, which is a brand of temporary tattoos based on my hand-drawn fine art designs.
The idea for the brand came one night after a themed party at college. My friends, knowing how much I loved drawing, asked me to cover them in hand-drawn doodles using eyeliner. The feedback from that night was overwhelming, everyone my friends saw that night was obsessed with the designs. In that moment, a lightbulb went off in my head... I could do some completely unique here and create chic temporary tattoos with an art-driven aesthetic, unlike anything else on the market. Other temporary tattoo brands were targeted to kids or lacked a sleek and millennial-driven look. It was a perfect pivot; I could utilize my fine arts training and tattoos as a new art medium to create a completely innovative brand.
Using the money I made from selling my artwork throughout high school and college, I funded the launch of INKED by Dani. I had always loved the look of dainty tattoos, but knew I could never commit to the real thing, and I knew my parents would kill me if I got a tattoo (I also knew that so many girls must have that same conflict). Starting INKED by Dani was a no-brainer.
I started off with a collection of about only 10 designs and sold them at sorority houses around USC. Our unique concept for on-trend and fashion-forward tattoos was spreading through word of mouth, and we quickly started growing an Instagram following. I was hustling all day from my room, cold calling retailers, sending blind samples and tons of emails, and trying to open up as many opportunities as I could.
Now, we're sold at over 10,000 retail locations (retailers include Target, Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21 and Hot Topic), and we've transformed temporary tattoos into a whole new form of wearable art.
My 4 best tips for starting your own business are:
- Just go with your gut! You'll never know what works until you try it. Go day by day and do everything in your power to work toward your goals. Be bold, but be sure to be thoughtful in your actions.
- Research your competitors and other successful brands in your category to determine how you can make your product stand out. Figure out where there is a need or hole in the market that your new offering or approach can fill.
- Don't spread yourself too thin. Delegate where possible, and stay focused each day on doing the best and most you can. Don't get too caught up in your end goal or the big picture to a point where it overwhelms or freezes you. You're already making a bold move to start something new, so try to prioritize what's important! I started off in the beginning hand packing every single tattoo pack that we sold and shipped. If I wanted to scale to align with the level of demand we were receiving, I needed to make the pivot to mass produce and relinquish the control of doing every step myself. I am a total perfectionist, so that was definitely hard! From that point on, overseeing production has been a huge part of my daily schedule, but by doing so I've been able to free up more time to focus on design, merchandising, and sales, allowing me to really focus on growing the business.
- Prioritize great product packaging and branding. It's so important to invest time in customer experience- how customers view and interact with your product. The packaging is just as important as the actual product inside! When we were starting off, we had high demand, and I definitely jumped the gun a bit on packaging so we could deliver product to the retailers when they wanted it. Since then, we've completely revamped the packaging into something upscale and unique that reflects what the brand is all about. Our product packaging is always called out as being one of our retailers' and customers' favorite part of our product!