Beau Bergeron and Robin McIntosh were both graphic designers when they met at IDEO. It was there that they first started talking about the counterintuitive possibility that technology could help yogis get offline faster.
Ever since yoga was brought to the attention of mainstream American culture in the early 1960s, the way teachers set up shop hasn’t changed much. With the proliferation of small business innovation and the sharing economy, we have a world primed for a re-invention of how and where yoga classes take place.
In the last few months, YogaBuddy has developed an app that enables teachers to set up their business and schedule classes instantly and easily. Students are able to see all the classes near them with a glance, read about each potential teacher, and see who their friends follow.
I recently got to talk about all of this with YogaBuddy cofounder, Beau Bergeron.
So, what is YogaBuddy?
YogaBuddy is a mobile-first marketplace and a SaaS platform for yoga teachers and students. For teachers YogaBuddy is a way to open up for business in five minutes, and then manage their business. For students it’s a great way to take independent creative classes anywhere anytime. We’ve seen great usership in the Bay Area where we started, as well as four other markets where we’ve had pilot teachers. With Thinkapps we just finished our 2.0 app and we’re looking to pump up our web presence. Specifically, our teacher listing sites, where students can book classes and follow their teachers.
How did the idea for this come about?
I was a yoga novice and I started taking yoga classes in Millennium Park in Chicago. I enjoyed having this big community experience outside the studio. And then when I moved to the Bay Area I was inspired by all of the companies—like Lyft and Airbnb—that are creating community where previously it wasn’t, connecting people offline in really interesting ways. So I brought that inspiration and Robin certainly shared that as well. Her sister is a yoga teacher and many of her close friends are certified yoga teachers. We felt there was an opportunity to give teachers the control over their businesses and create a community around yoga like never before.
Is it more focused toward small studios, or someone teaching classes in a backyard?
Our focus has been independent teachers. Many of them also teach in the studio, but our primary focus has been on teachers creating independent classes outside the traditional system. Longer term our vision is to create a competitive product to the software that studios use. Our goal is to offer them a great alternative to the current industry monopoly.
And what would you say is unique about YogaBuddy?
As of seven months ago there was no way for yoga teachers to create classes, take payments, manage their students, and manage their bookkeeping. For students there was no local or even national marketplace for classes. YogaBuddy charges no membership or drop-in fee. We’re not gouging students for dropping in. This way they can socialize their practice and explore our awesome marketplace of classes.
When you were forming the idea of YogaBuddy, was there a moment when you committed to the idea? When it all became clear that you were to going put everything into this?
The decisive moment came when we knew that there was something promising in our user testing. I left IDEO end of 2013, and we certainly did a lot before I left, but drawing on our IDEO backgrounds we did quite a few user sessions. We were basically prototyping the full experience of having independent classes and mocking up the convenience of paying as well as the mobile experience. And we knew we were on to something. We discovered that students and teachers had a lot of interest in this product and it was solving common problems. So we went for it.
What was the first thing you guys did when you started YogaBuddy? What was your first step?
For me everything starts as sketches in my notebook. And from there it was about talking to real teachers and real students, and showing them the rough mockups to get feedback. From there, prototyping the experience.
How do you and Robin split your time and what are the differences in your skill sets?
We’re both designers but Robin leads the product side and product design. She’s been really great at industry partnerships. Through her diligence we’ve landed the partnership with Yoga Journal, which is huge for us. They are the bible of yoga. And all credit goes to her for really pushing that. I lead the marketing, and I lead community development. I also work with her on product design but my silo is more so on marking and community where she leads product, industry relationships, and we both do our best on fundraising.
How did you validate YogaBuddy?
We validated it with user testing. We had probably ten faux YogaBuddy classes, classes that replicated the experience. We had classes with friends but also with people we didn’t know, then we followed up with all of them using surveys and ethnographic research. You know, “What did you like?” “What did you not like?” That shaped the product and we knew we were on to something because everyone had very positive responses, and in teachers’ cases we heard them saying, “I love this.”
What are you currently doing to grow your app?
We’ve always hustled on social media. Instagram is such a huge channel for us. We get about three to five teacher applicants every day just through social media and word of mouth. Teachers identify with what we’re offering and it’s absolutely the solution to their problems. There are tons of teachers every day—both seasoned teachers as well as newly certified teachers—that need YogaBuddy’s disruptive innovation.
And were there any major discoveries after going through version one, or things that you wish you could have known before you dove in?
Sometimes, in retrospect, I wish that we made a web app (as opposed to an iOS app); It would be easer to take all payment types. Our capabilities to take all payments with our 1.0 were incomplete, and that was a big headache for teachers and for students. We also we had a weird payment metaphor in our 1.0 app—we were inspired by a lot of donation based classes, where you pay afterward. But with 2.0 we’re changing it to pre-booking, whether it’s a donation or a fixed-fee class. It’s all pre-booking, just like a concert, so you pay before you go.
Can you share any future plans for YogaBuddy?
Our product pipeline is giving teachers the teacher sites and a suite of tools to manage their businesses. Then activating the Yoga Journal partnership—that’s going to help us launch on a more national level. There’s also some internal talk of opening it up to be FitBuddy. We already have teachers hacking the product to be more diverse than yoga, and we’re certainly not opposed to that, but we do love yoga and we do want to create a solution for the yogis. In making our product we’ve seen that it’s useful beyond yoga.
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Images courtesy of @kaylala88 on Instagram