Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneur is Iam Yoga studio owner Linda Malone, whose practice has taken yoga out of the traditional box and offers a modern, edgy and urban way for customers to enjoy it. What was the inspiration for the idea? Find out in today’s profile…
Elevator Pitch: Describe your business in a nutshell.
Iam Yoga is a Toronto based yoga lifestyle brand that asks, ‘Why not?’ Why not take yoga out of the traditional box that it’s been locked in and find modern, edgy and urban ways to make it relevant for our customers? With classes like our Sunday morning Hangover Hatha or our hugely popular yoga and conditioning class Sweaty Balls, we try to break rules every day and find new ways of living healthy, being happy and having fun.
Why did you start your business, what was the inspiration?
With a degree in Semiotics from U of T and years working in Brand Development at Unilever, I’ve always loved immersing myself in marketing theory, philosophy and practice. But I reached a point where I wanted to help people a little more directly than I was – yoga helped me to deal with adrenal fatigue in my early twenties and I recognized that there was a chance (if I built the business and the brand right) that I could do something for a living that helped people every single day. Pretty inspiring, for sure.
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
The best part is having the freedom as an entrepreneur to create every aspect of my day the way I want around a vision that brings me a very deep sense of purpose. I read a great quote recently: “Entrepreneurs live a few years like nobody else wants to so they live the rest of their lives the way nobody else can.” That’s also the most challenging part. There have been many days when I really ask myself, “Why did I do this?” It’s been really hard sometimes, especially in the first two years. But then you solve that problem, and the next one and the next one, and you realize that creativity and challenge and problem solving are not things you do but become part of who you are as an entrepreneur and that fundamentally changes your ability to engage with the world around you on every level. So in the end the best parts of what you do become fundamentally entwined with the most challenging parts and the entire process changes from something that can be a little scary to something that is hugely exciting.
Where do you see your business going in five years?
Iam Yoga is a community-based business, one that celebrates every customer and teacher and receptionist in the business. I believe that after five years this model is scalable and five years from now I see a lifestyle brand, a network of studios and teacher training programs designed to celebrate the values of fun, innovation, authenticity and community that we have built our flagship business on. We sell yoga, yes, but I actually believe that Iam Yoga is in the business of making people feel better mentally, emotionally and physically than they did when they walked in the door. I believe you can create a successful business on values that reflect what our customers and we aspire to in life. And I want to share that vision. We are currently in talks with two groups who are interested in franchising the model. We are launching a line of healthy meal options and clothing. My biggest focus in that sense is to ensure that as we grow over the next five years, we never lose sight of our original value system.
How is Iam Yoga’s fall expansion along?
It’s so exciting! We are moving the studio this fall into a two-level space on Yonge St. just south of Charles. It’s a historic Toronto icon, designed by the architect who drew up the plans for Casa Loma. In the new space we will offer Hot Yoga of all kinds (from the most traditional classes like Ashtanga and Jiva Mukti to our own Iam Yoga Signature series of contemporary classes like Bro Flow, Core Flow, Sweaty Balls, etc.). We will have a huge offering of non-heated yoga classes as well, in all the same traditions and styles. We will have Aerial Yoga Classes, Mom and Baby, and Free Drop-in Meditation. Next summer we are launching our rooftop outdoor yoga garden overlooking the downtown core. Inside the space itself will be a juice bar with our own Iam Yoga line healthy foods and juices with tons of seating and wi-fi. Actually, I have been working with Scott Parsons of Hollow Tree Studios to design and create all of the studio furnishings from recovered barn board, recycled trees and wood, and refurbished antique furniture from Artefact in Elmira, Ontario. We are trying recreate the original feel of this historic building with a modern twist. Iam Yoga’s new space will be the coolest, most beautiful and fun yoga studio in the city! Can’t wait until we open. We are also launching our Yoga Alliance Certified Teacher Training in October!
What does success look like to you?
If I have made someone happier and healthier and more engaged in the world around them because of their interaction with my brand, then I have been truly successful.
What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
When the studio first opened, there was a girl who came in nearly every day for class. She was quiet and we developed a friendly relationship. But we weren’t that busy in those early days and I had many questions about why I was taking on the risk and the stress of opening a small business at the onset of a recession. About a year later we received an email from her. Our software sends out a birthday email to all of our students a few days before their birthdays. She replied to it and told a story that will stay with me forever. She thanked us for the email and she told a story. When she started coming to Iam Yoga, she had just moved to Toronto from France for her boyfriend. He broke up with her three weeks after she arrived. She had no friends, was struggling with depression and spent most of every one of those days crying – except for the hour or so that she came in to practice at the studio. She thanked us for unknowingly helping her through that time by creating a space that gave her peace. THAT was the moment I realized it was worth being scared because we were creating something that made a difference in people’s lives.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Work hard and eventually you will establish the stamina to do so effortlessly. Don’t ever take no for an answer – there is ALWAYS a way around a problem. Do everything you do with integrity. When making business decisions, always ask if you are on brand. Be honest; even if it seems like the wrong thing to do, people will respect that and it will serve you in the long run. Know your brand inside and out; strategy is born out of this knowledge. Have fun, no matter what. Make time to exercise, even if you think something else is more important – it’s not. Your health makes you a better agent for your business. Ask for help. There are more people around you than you realize who want to help someone with a vision.
Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
Last summer my younger brother Michael committed suicide after a silent struggle with bipolar and depression. I founded Blu Matter Project in his memory. It is a not-for-profit that is built around the idea that if we can bring the practice of yoga and mindfulness to young people struggling with depressive disorders, we can help them create change and hope in their lives. There isn’t another organization in Canada right now that is so directly focused on creating tangible solutions for young people struggling with mood disorders – we are working toward building an organization that is relevant and youth-oriented with programming that’s innovative and pretty cool and that is designed to speak directly to young people who live with the experience of depression. We want to effect change.
What is Notable to you?
Notable is an amazing hub of knowledge and information sharing that is so relevant to Canadian entrepreneurs. It’s place of connection and is the website I check to see what my peers are doing that’s innovative and what’s happening in Canada that’s worth taking note of.
Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
iPhone – hands down.
How do you keep active, energetic, and vibrant?
I do a lot of yoga. I also run, cycle and put myself through some crazy conditioning routines. I make sure to sweat at least once a day. Always.
Middle photo courtesy Iam Yoga/Jennifer Ballard