Making the Entrepreneur Leap
"Transitions," "next step," "two step" and "pivot" can sound more like a dance routine than actions to successfully grow your business. But they're appropriate, and knowing when to pivot with a business plan is essential to success. Knowing when to take such steps in your career -- and having the confidence to take them -- is equally essential to your personal success and satisfaction. It's been true for me, whether those steps were planned for or forced upon me by circumstance (and then planned for).
I'm president of YAS Fitness Centers, a growing chain of yoga and indoor cycling studios. I founded YAS in 2001 in what was for me a major career transition. I also headYAS Yoga & Sportswear, YAS Productions and YAS Franchises Inc., all of which are outgrowths of YAS. They qualify as next steps. And in what is the biggest career change of all for me, I've become recognized as a leading yoga and fitness expert.
Talk about transitions -- I started my professional life as a lawyer.
Fresh out of law school -- and right after a successful battle with brain cancer doctors said I wouldn't survive -- I began practicing law in Houston. I was a litigator. Within the decade, I was practicing international business law in Monaco and had to master a very different type of law. I managed the change by replying "No problem" anytime someone handed me something I had no clue about. Then I'd do my homework and get a clue, fast.
I eventually returned to the United States, where I became COO at The Winning Combination, a $200 million vitamin company. The job offer came out of the blue; the company's CEO had simply seen something in me he wanted for his company, and I took the position.
It wasn't an obvious career next step, but I'm a sports/fitness nut. I competed as a professional triathlete and marathoner for years while practicing law. Running The Winning Combination appealed to me because the company is health- and fitness-related.
Plus, I love a challenge:
Transitioning from practicing law to COO definitely qualifies. Lawyers don't generally manage people; I had to develop a completely new skill set on the fly. I knew I'd been successful when they started calling me "The General" at work.
Though I'd transitioned into an area of business I was passionate about, I had no plans for starting YAS while at The Winning Combination. That took a climbing accident that forced me to leave the company. My recovery took nearly a year and gave me time to consider what I really wanted to do with my life. I realized it was YAS.
People thought I was crazy. I was 42 years old and a successful executive. I heard "Why a gym?" and "You're too old" more than once. Well . . . you want to see me do something? Tell me I can't. It fed my competitive drive.
Nine years later, I'm proud to say that YAS is going strong and growing fast. YAS and I have been featured everywhere from CNN and E! News to The New York Times, Franchising Times, Shape, OK, US, People, Real Simple, Ladies' Home Journal, Glamour, Women's Health, Outside, InStyle, Self . . . and every yoga publication imaginable.
My new book, The No OM Zone, topped Amazon's new fitness titles list, and I recently appeared on ABC's Good Morning America Health to talk about it. YAS Productions has produced three popular DVDs, including my newest, "The No OM Zone Yoga Workouts." I even had a long stint as Nike yoga spokesperson.
So if you're asking me if you should consider a career transition, by all means, yes.
One of the great things about having been COO of a large company is that I've run YAS like one from Day One. I've often said, "We are not a mom-and-pop company; stop acting like one!"Being a COO also taught me the importance of pivoting with a business plan. Case in point:
When I started YAS, we offered traditional yoga classes, and I had top yogis teaching for me. But they all used Sanskrit terms for poses, tied themselves up like pretzels and chanted "Om." And it wasn't working: I had athletes coming to spin classes for conditioning. They'd never done yoga and couldn't relate.
It was my "Houston, we have a problem" moment. My customers couldn't relate to a central feature of my business plan. I had to invent a style of yoga for athletes and Type-A personalities. I wasn't going to make it as a spin studio alone, and that wasn't my concept.
So I created YOGA for ATHLETES. I cut class length and cut the "gongs and whistles" of traditional yoga. Who knew I was starting a nationwide trend? At the time, I was getting blasted by traditionalists who insisted what I was doing wasn't yoga. Now that it's the rage, I have to deal with imitators.
Success makes you look like you knew what you were doing and, in fairness, many successful aspects of my business were planned from the start: I always saw YAS Yoga & Sportswear as a way to extend the YAS brand. It's the best kind of advertising, and YAS Wear has been a hit.I was still setting up YAS' e-commerce site when People magazine called, saying: "Your YAS yoga pants were seen on Jennifer Aniston. We're putting them in Thursday's 'What's Hot' section. Are you ready?" Of course I said yes! In fact, the e-commerce site was nowhere near ready.
YAS Vice President Sherri Rosen and I hand-processed the payments and shipped more than 1,400 (individual) pairs of pants that week. It's a classic entrepreneurial moment that still makes me laugh.
I've always planned to open more YAS Fitness Centers. I've gotten hundreds of requests to open centers from San Francisco to New York City, and from Australia to Japan.
The question became "How do I grow my company?" I tried the normal route, but banks weren't lending to small businesses, and I didn't want investors telling me how to run my company. That's why I started my own business in the first place.
Then I came across franchising. I knew nothing about it, but it felt right. It offered the potential for fast growth along with continued control of my brand. YAS was the right type of company to franchise: My operations background means I have systems for everything, even class sequences. I've always felt you need uniformity to create a strong brand. I also felt YAS franchises would be perfect for women. YAS is female-owned and -operated. All my executives are women. Our female-to-male ratio is something like 100 to 3.
I plan to continue with a business approach that's female-centric and female-promoting. It's one aspect of my business plan I won't change. And it doesn't look like I'll have to. Not with people like CNN's chief health correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, calling YAS and our No OM Yoga "the new face of yoga."
As for the next pivot, well, I'll have to get back to you. I'm not sure where this dance will lead, but I've never been afraid to take the next step.