(Part 1) (Interview with Alex Klein & Alex Jaton)
What you’ll learn from this episode
Kristy: [00:00:00] I’m super excited to have Alex Klein and Alex Jaton on today’s show. Well, I know that you guys are very much into the yoga industry and today we’re going to talk about what you’re seeing as the state of the yoga industry now that we’re well into COVID. Before we get to that if you could just tell me a little bit how you got into the yoga industry and you have a couple of businesses, very focused on fitness and even yoga.
How Alex Created a Yoga community of 80,000 teachers & students
Alex Klein: [00:00:28] To make it short, eight or nine years ago, one of us was really into yoga and the other one was into entrepreneurship, and we had this idea to create sort of a Yelp for yoga, like a portal for where people could find yoga teachers, classes, and studios and stuff like that. That became a big thing called YogaTrail, which is still running, and 80,000 teachers are using it now. It just sort of happened by chance. Since then, we’ve been running YogaTrail.
We just recently created a whole new platform for teachers called Ubindi, which is mostly being used by yoga teachers right now, but it’s for any kind of teacher. We got a lot of fitness instructors, some music teachers, and I think an arts and crafts person, so that’s starting to go now.
Kristy: [00:01:11] That’s really interesting. Well, I think everyone who has their own business is interested in the great entrepreneurial story. To back up YogaTrail, what was your business plan for that? How do you make money? It sounds like you guys spent a lot of time on that project.
Alex Klein: [00:01:28] The basic business model is that it’s this giant directory where people can list themselves, their courses and their things, and do a bunch of other stuff. If they want a premium placement, newsletter placements and different kinds of marketing service, they can upgrade to a paid plan and get more exposure.
The Big Tech Shift That Hurt Their Business
Kristy: [00:01:53] That’s really neat. How long have you guys been running that?
Alex Klein: [00:01:58] Since 2012, so almost ten years. It’s not doing that well right now, because the site is not mobile responsive, so that’s really hurting us.
Alex Jaton: [00:02:09] The internet has changed. When we started it, there wasn’t so much of Google search results populated with all sorts of businesses and that wasn’t there yet, so the internet was a little bit different ten years ago.
Alex Klein: [00:02:23] We did the whole startup thing. At the time when we founded it, we were living in Thailand, but we applied to various startup accelerators. We got into 500 startups in San Francisco and did that whole thing, and then we raised almost a million dollars from various investors.
For a while, we had 10 or more than 10 people in the team, but now, it’s gotten pretty small again. It’s been really tough with the COVID pandemic. It’s devastation out there in terms of yoga studios, especially.
Kristy: [00:02:56] I completely understand. It’s tough for generally most type of businesses depending on what you’re selling.
A Radical Pivot in their Business & Vision to Support Yoga Teachers
What made you guys shift over? Because it sounds like you launched it in April, but you probably started working on it way before. What made you shift to this project, Ubindi?
Alex Jaton: [00:03:16] Well, initially we wanted to kind of rebuild YogaTrail, but as part of doing all the thinking of what is really at the core of the platform and what we thought were the main benefits that we could offer teachers, Ubindi came out of that as something that would be more like a set of tools for independent teachers.
Then, we extrapolated that it doesn’t have to be only yoga teachers, but it could work for any kind of teacher to manage their businesses with a platform that would be just between themselves and their students, rather than having the whole directory and discovery and marketing services attached to it. So, it came from that kind of thinking.
Alex Klein: [00:03:56] YogaTrail is very complex. It basically caters to yoga students, yoga teachers, yoga studios, yoga retreats, yoga brands, and offering all sorts of different things. It’s just so complex that to rebuild it, it turned into a project that would have taken years.
Ubindi was an attempt to do that, and then we figured, “Well, let’s just focus on teachers because they’re the ones who were underserved by existing products and software.”
Nobody really pays attention to teachers because they’re microbusinesses. They don’t have big budgets, so all of the software platforms like Mindbody or other yoga studio or gym management software companies, they don’t have things for teachers. So, we thought, “Well, that’s a big hole in the market and that’s where we’re going to go.” And it’s been going really well.
Kristy: [00:04:48] That’s really interesting. Jumping over to the whole yoga space, I know that a lot of your customers at Ubindi are yoga teachers, while you have other types of subjects that they teach. What do you see yoga teachers doing? Just to remind the audience, it sounds like you launched in April, so I don’t know if that was even scary.
What do you see yoga teachers teaching on this platform? Classes? One-on-one?
Their New Startup‘s Crisis (& success) when they launched it right when Covid hit
Alex Jaton: [00:05:16] Group and online classes. That’s what you see them teaching for now. When we launched the business, it was just when online classes became a necessity for teachers because up until then, they were able to go do their normal work and teach in studios or in parks or in community spaces. Suddenly, that wasn’t possible anymore.
Alex Klein: [00:05:45] We freaked out. We launched Ubindi in March. and then COVID hit. Everything was shut down, and then we scrambled to build support for online classes really quickly, but it turned out really well. Then, we launched a month later and it was kind of a good time for us. It sounds horrible. We don’t like people getting sick. We don’t like studios and schools and things shutting down, but it meant that teachers were looking for new solutions and new software or tools.
For us, that was nice because it’s hard to get people to switch their system or what they’re using. They got clients somewhere and they don’t want to move them over and stuff. For us, COVID-19 meant that there were a lot of teachers looking for new solutions, and so that’s been kind of good for us. I’m almost ashamed to say it.
Alex Jaton: [00:06:40] Our story of starting the business kind of reflects what the yoga and fitness teachers out there have been doing. They’ve been going online so said the opportunity for them is also an opportunity for us.
Kristy: [00:07:00] So, yoga teachers are forced to go online. Most of them are teaching these classes. How do you see them making enough money? Because yoga teaching often has never been enough for a lot of people in certain countries, but online seems even harder because now they have to do marketing and a lot of that.
Pre-Covid Yoga Teacher Struggles in the Studio Economy
Kristy: What are you seeing? Are you seeing a lot of yoga teachers making enough money online?
Alex Klein: [00:07:27] Well, we’re seeing all sorts of stuff and this is maybe going to be a long rant on my part. Before this situation in 2020, yoga teachers had it already pretty tough. There were a lot of yoga studios out there. There is huge competition, so everyone was trying to drive down the price of a class. 80% of all the revenue in the States, and also in Europe and other places, that comes in when people take a class goes to the studio. They have huge overhead rent and other things.
Yoga teachers we’re almost teaching for free. A lot of them actually were teaching for free to get their foot in the door, and the teachers were kind of being exploited. It was really tough to make a living as a yoga teacher doing the studio model where you’re running around all over town as a freelancer or independent contractor teaching 10 classes a week.
That was tough, but there were some teachers that were able to earn a living. Now, we think this is actually the time for teachers. Studios are really struggling. If they’re even allowed to be open, there’s fear. There are these distancing regulations where they can’t pack the room and have six feet between people and all that stuff.
So, I don’t see how a typical yoga studio is going to make it. On YogaTrail, we see that half of them are shut down permanently. In the world, it’s over four studios. However, for teachers, this is a great opportunity because of all the people who were maybe not as comfortable with online technologies like Zoom and stuff like that. You have a lot of senior citizens and the people that were just not really into the online thing.
The surprising result of online classes during covid
Alex Klein: Well, that’s changed now. They’re all online. They all have Zoom on their computers or their tablets or whatever. In fact, they’re liking the online classes. They like the convenience. It’s not just the teachers that are free now to teach from their home, but the students don’t have to travel across town and pack themselves into a class.
There were a lot of students before who rarely went to class because there’s a lot of body image issues. People kind of feel shy about going to a yoga class and stuff, and that’s all easily overcome with online teaching and online classes. So, teachers can now do their own thing.
Alex Jaton: [00:09:50] I think as much as it can seem daunting at this point for yoga teachers who are just starting to teach online, it also gives them a huge opportunity because instead of reaching people that are only in their neighborhood or in their city, they can really reach students anywhere in the world in that way.
When you take an online class, you can be anywhere. I think that’s a huge opportunity for yoga teachers at the moment.
Alex Klein: [00:10:16] There are a lot of moving parts and elements here. For the teachers now, if they want to earn a living, they have to do a bit of business, marketing, organizational stuff, admin and other things, which in the yoga space is kind of distasteful for a lot of teachers.
They don’t like asking people for money. They don’t like marketing in general. They just want to teach. That’s also true from what we can see in other spaces. Gym teachers often are similar. So, there’s a little bit of. Entrepreneurship required now. That’s true, but it’s really not that daunting.
It’s also true that classes tend to be cheaper if you’re doing it on Zoom or something. People might be willing to pay five bucks, but on the other hand, the teacher gets to keep all of that revenue. If you teach a class to 10 people who would pay five bucks, that’s $50. That’s already more than the average hourly rate that a yoga studio was paying teachers.
Of course 10 people, that’s sort of on the low end. You can cram 30 people into a Zoom room quite easily. That’s one thing. The other thing is that the studios have to fill the room as much as they can. The kind of yoga that was being taught, it was vanilla standards, the lowest common denominator kind of yoga that appeals to most of the people in the town.
How to Stand Out Online as a Yoga Teacher
Alex Klein: Teachers often have their own style or their own ideas for how they want to teach yoga and what’s behind yoga and all that stuff. They’re free now to do that. In fact, that is how they can be successful because they can differentiate themselves and find what’s called a niche.
If some yoga teacher wants to teach heavy metal yoga with dogs or something at midnight, that’s not going to happen in a yoga studio, but it’s very easy to find people who are searching for just that on YouTube, for example, and who won’t find anything except for you, the teacher who’s advertising that.
There are a lot of opportunities now for teachers and we think it’s going to be the golden time for independent teachers who want to share their knowledge and their passion.
Kristy: [00:12:28] Great. It sounds like you see this opportunity and teachers, younger teachers especially, are finding their way with becoming more business savvy.
Do you see mainly a group class business model or are you seeing other types of business models? For example, more in the one-on-one personal training space where I’ve interviewed a lot of trainers. They are finding a lot of success in one-on-one programs, probably focused on some type of goal like weight loss.
Knowing if you should offer Classes vs. Privates
Kristy: I was just curious about what you’re seeing. It sounds like classes, but are you seeing any other segments of models of teaching that seem to be working for yoga teachers?
Alex Klein: [00:13:11] Absolutely. So, everyone likes Privates. Personal clients who are a bit more affluent will pay you $80 or $100 an hour. That’s good stuff. Of course in the yoga space, teachers are really into that and it’s happening quite a bit.
Alex Jaton: [00:13:24] I think the classes that are in small groups are very popular at the moment because it gives people a sense of community that maybe when you’re isolated at home, you really feel that you want to see other people. You want to see the people that were in the class with you and the yoga class can kind of give you that little group that you used to see in real life before.
That’s the continuity that can be offered. I think by the group classes, even if they’re on Zoom, it’s not the same thing because you can’t have your friends when you sit there. I think it’s something that people enjoy as well. That’s why they keep doing the online classes with their teachers.
How to create a massive asset for yourself as a teacher, without working more
Alex Klein: [00:14:03] Then, there’s the other component when things are online, that means it’s video chat. That means it can be recorded and it can be a class that exists forever.
A lot of teachers are recording their classes to make them available to people who missed the live class, but they’re realizing that they can offer recorded content also for small amounts of money or it can be part of a membership or whatever they got going on. That also has huge potential in terms of the bottom line of a teacher.
What’s really nice about it is they don’t even have to show up. They showed up once to record the thing and make it nice, but then they can build up a store of videos and content that can help them make more money of course and also reach more people so they can take these videos and put them on YouTube.
YouTube is the largest search engine that is bigger than Google. It’s owned by Google. When somebody is looking for some kind of fitness activity or yoga style, it’s pretty easy to get people finding your videos and lead them to become your clients. They sign up for a live class or they just join your mailing list and that kind of stuff.
Kristy: [00:15:14] I guess that actually brings me to another question. I think the classic marketing technique is to put it on YouTube and be found. It’s probably hard to predict, but is there also just a lot more competition besides a lot more opportunity?
Over time, I’d imagine there’ll just be a lot more free video classes, and now they’re kind of competing on YouTube to get people to click on their video. What do you think about that?
Should you target a large audience or a niche audience?
Alex Klein: [00:15:44] This is why this unique niching down thing works for people because there’s huge amounts of competition. If you just look for yoga in YouTube, you’re going to find the channel that has one and a half million subscribers, and you have no chance to be found first. But, if you really find your own personal voice and your own personal style not just for yoga, but for anything really despite all the competition, it just means that there will be niches that are not very competitive and where people can find you.
Alex Jaton: [00:16:22] In a way, it’s a little bit counter-intuitive because people used to think before that if you offer some very popular style of yoga like Vinyasa flow and put it on YouTube and that’s what most people are looking for, that’s how you’ll be able to attract new viewers for example.
Now, it’s really the opposite. You have to find something that really will resonate perhaps with a smaller group of people and that you’re really able to teach in a very good way and that you’re very passionate about. The people that will find you are the people that are looking for that special thing that you’ve decided to offer.
Alex Klein: [00:16:58] For example, you mentioned weight loss. Almost everybody, including myself, and wants to lose weight and they’re going to look for weight loss. If you have some kind of program that’s just about weight loss, it’s going to be tough. There’s going to be probably a hundred thousand other instructors or fitness gurus out there who are marketing that, but some people are looking for weight loss by doing super crazy intense interval training without modifying their diet or some weird way of losing weight and stuff.
If that’s your expertise, that’s the way then to advertise it and go for it.
Kristy: [00:17:47] Do you have any specific case studies of clients or yoga instructors you’ve seen who have kind of stood out by being a certain niche within the yoga space?
Alex Jaton: [00:17:58] Yeah. For example, naked yoga. That’s very specific. They are very well teaching naked yoga on Zoom.
Kristy: [00:18:09] That sounds very freeing. How about pricing? What are you seeing that people are charging? If you’re in the US, you probably have a certain price about what you would charge because you think about the studio, then you notch it down, but then you might have customers all over where that might be expensive or even vice versa.
I’m wondering since you have a global market of instructors all over, what are you seeing of what yoga teachers are charging for one-on-one, for the group classes, and maybe small groups?
How to charge the right price for your yoga classes
Alex Klein: [00:18:42] We’re seeing extremely unsustainably low prices. A lot of teachers have this mindset that it’s not as high quality as in-person interaction and stuff. That’s kind of true, but on the other hand, a lot of them are just still figuring it out. There are people out there who are teaching your yoga classes for $2 for an hour and they have three or four people showing up.
Obviously, that’s not going to be sustainable for them, but they’re starting to figure it out. Most of these students have had pre-existing relationships with the teachers. They really like their teacher. They want to take classes with that teacher and not any other teacher.
We see a lot of teachers making terrible mistakes with their pricing when it comes to teaching online. We also see a lot of donation-based pricing, so we’ve added that to Ubindi because it’s very popular. People pay what they want, and that ends up being more lucrative for the teacher because the students are actually happy to pay.
You send them amounts of money to help their teacher get through this time. Just in general, they feel pretty crappy giving a teacher a dollar. In yoga, we know that people who do yoga tend to be more middle-class and affluent.
The teachers are all starving, but the students tend to do pretty well on average and it’s always been this problem where yoga teachers in particular are shy about being compensated for what they do and just say, “Well, my time is worth this and I have to charge this much for me to be able to keep going and keep offering yoga.”
That’s always been a struggle for yoga teachers in particular. Regular fitness people are much better at that.
Kristy: [00:20:35] What would you recommend? Let’s say we have some yoga teachers listening right now. Do you have any recommendations on what to charge? They might know where their customers are coming from, but because like you mentioned, they’re just afraid to charge people.
Alex Jaton: [00:20:53] Well, I think if they’re not sure and if they’re shy about asking people for money, doing a donation-based class is good because then it kind of gives them an idea of how much their students are willing to pay for something.
Alex Klein: [00:21:08] It’s sort of like an election that you’re living through today. It lets people indicate to the teacher roughly what they think is fair. Then, they can take that and maybe change the future classes to be fixed price around the average of what people are willing to donate or maybe a little bit higher. Obviously, to start having lots of people in your classes, you should be raising the price or offering more classes or figuring out how to do this.
Alex and I are entrepreneurs and our whole mindset is that doing your own thing, offering people something of value and getting paid for it, and maybe even making good money with that or a lot of money with that, that’s sort of our goal in life. There’s nothing wrong with that. We don’t have any moral apprehension about earning money or anything like that.
Alex Jaton: [00:22:04] Yoga teachers offer a great service. They’re trained and passionate, so I think it’s a bit heartbreaking that they’re very shy to ask people to pay them as well for their services. It’s always been a problem in the yoga industry, I think just starting with letting people donate something for the class probably will make the yoga teacher see, “People are willing to pay a lot more than what I would ask them.” That’s always an interesting starting point.
Kristy: [00:22:42] If you’re a yoga teacher listening and you’re sort of unsure where to start instead of making it low, maybe ask for a donation, see what the prices are, and work from there.
Are you charging enough for your yoga classes?
Just more on a data basis from your overview, you mentioned $5. Is $5 the low end that you’re seeing? And then, some teachers are charging $15 or $20 for an online class? More on a data side, what are you seeing?
Alex Klein: [00:23:10] $5 is on the low side, but we’ve seen a lot of teachers doing free classes. A lot of people, even after seven to eight months of COVID, they’re in this mindset that this is going to pass and that everything will go back to the way it was before.
They’re just kind of riding it out. They’re a little bit depressed and they’re offering free classes to their students. So, that’s the lowest and we see a lot. Then, there are a lot of teachers who do $3 or $5 classes, but there are teachers who do $15 or even $20.
Alex Jaton: [00:23:45] I think something around between $5 and $8. Maybe that’s more the average.
How to charge more when you have less students showing up
Kristy: [00:23:52] I know you mentioned something really important is the sense of community, which I think that’s this hidden value for a class. Do any of them kind of bring up the price? Let’s say it’s a small group class, after there is the sense of community because once you have 12 people in a class it’s a little hard to have a little chat after, but if you have four or five, do you see anything like that where they purposely make it a small group, but charge more?
Alex Klein: [00:24:18] Well, that it’s sort of private lessons. There are a lot of people doing one-on-one, but there are a lot of people also doing one-on-two or one-on-four kind of small group classes that are pretty expensive for a person compared to a real big group class.
Essentially a person in the Western world earn roughly I’m guessing $40, depending on where you live and stuff for an hour of teaching because that hour of teaching also involves some other time and effort and maybe expenses around that just to be able to make it. If you’re a fitness instructor or yoga teacher, you can’t really teach eight hours a day. You’d have to eat like 10,000 calories and be like Arnold Schwarzenegger or something like that.
Private and Semi-private teachers generally earned around a hundred dollars in the United States. It’s similar in Europe and for group classes, if they are doing things well and they’re encouraging their students to sign up for class and they’re getting some new clients, they make about the same. That’s what we consider a successful teacher who can pay the rent and buy food and maybe support a family of some kids.
Kristy: [00:25:29] It sounds like you’re saying if they’re teaching a small group class with two to four people, they should try and get to a point of earning in total a hundred dollars for that teaching hour or $40 being the minimum. Then, if you can get either increase your prices or increase the number in the small group to what it is. Same thing for group classes, whether you have 10 people paying $10 or something. Is that about what you’re saying? .
Alex Klein: [00:25:53] That’s what is required to be able to teach something almost full-time and earn a living and not have to get another job out. That’s the pressure on the market and everyone’s trying to be as cheap as possible so that they are the ones who get the students, but at the end of the day, we all have to eat.
That’s sort of a reasonable pricing point, but we know teachers who will charge you $500 an hour. We know teachers who teach celebrities who make several thousand dollars for a session, but that’s of course extremely rare. It’s not the typical teacher.
A Marketing Truth that works even for online classes
Kristy: [00:26:35] Getting to that point, I would imagine getting enough customers to be able to maintain your price level and not start to be scared, and then see you don’t have as many interests, so you lower your price. Do you have any case studies or teachers you’ve seen who’ve done really well on marketing? Besides posting your videos on YouTube, but do you have any thoughts on what’s working marketing wise outside of the YouTube a strategy like Instagram or Facebook?
Alex Klein: [00:27:03] Yes. There are two sides to marketing. The more important side that is often neglected by teachers is the internal marketing, but getting students to come to class where your competition is them watching Netflix and other stuff.
That’s something that a lot of teachers don’t focus on so much. They all want new signups on their email list and they all want to find new clients, but most of the people you’ve seen in class are people you’ve seen before. It’s all about building sort of a relationship and a loyalty, and then inspiring and encouraging your students to keep coming to class.
Alex Jaton: [00:27:41] On another level, in the same way that it happened when you were taking a yoga class in the real world, people would recommend a teacher to a friend. These students that will regularly come to class and will be the faces that the teacher sees are actually great advocates for that teacher because if the teacher says, “Well, if you like my classes, let your friends know.” Then, these students are already likely to actually let their friends know. It’s kind of like referrals.
Alex Klein: [00:28:10] What a teacher can easily do and a lot of them are doing this is if you tell a student, “If you bring a friend, they’ll get a free class with me. Or maybe even if you bring a friend, they’ll get a free class and you’ll get a free class for bringing me a new student.” That kind of referral program that can be very powerful. Maybe more effective than going outside and putting up content on YouTube or Instagram.
Alex Jaton: [00:28:35] I think ultimately, the way most people discover something that ends up being great is from the recommendation of a friend. That’s true for yoga classes, movies, or restaurants or what have you.Kristy: [00:28:50] It sounds like referrals back to that age-old strategy, but having some type of clear incentive for your current students to invite their friends to come to class.
About the Guests:
Alex Klein & Alex Jaton are husband & wife entrepreneurial team. Alex says, they had very different professional backgrounds, but wanted to find a way to spend every waking moment together. So romantic. So entrepreneurship became their way of life, in particular building startups focused on helping yoga instructors. In 2012 they founded yoga trail an online yoga community of 80k + people. And now their new venture is Ubindi, a platform for yoga instructors and really any online coach to mange online class sign up.
About their Startup
Check out their startup Ubindi here. It’s perfect for class instructors looking for an inexpensive way to manage their class bookings and payments.