The Celebrating Moms and Their Choices Series
Thank you for the Celebrating Moms and Their Choices Series. Every story can be helpful for a working mom. This is my story from Tech to Teaching – Corporate Girl to Mompreneur.
As a kid, I was either at school or at the dance studio. My time was spent studying, training, teaching children (starting when I was 10 years old), or performing. I loved it. I was good at it. I planned on dancing on Broadway. My parents had other plans, business school. I could not figure out how dancing and a business degree went together. But it turns out they did.
My husband, Rich, and I met in St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. after graduation. We moved to San Francisco together at age 22, with very little resources and big dreams. We wanted to open a wine bar in Sausalito. I’d never failed before. That was failure number one. No wine bar, no more dancing, I went into the corporate world of sales and marketing. Rich was on an entrepreneurial track with all its ups and downs. I found yoga to replace dance, and all was well in the city.
I ended up at Microsoft in Enterprise Sales and Marketing. Managing Bill Gates when he came to town and keeping our biggest customers fully engaged in our products. I thought what I did mattered, until our daughter was born. I was shocked and unprepared that what I considered significant achievements in the corporate world became irrelevant to me as a new mother. All of the sudden, I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, and I didn’t know what to do. If had to work, I didn’t want to work for anyone else, ever again.
Meanwhile, I had been kicked out of Mommy & Me yoga because my newborn crawled and I began my yoga practice at home. At 18 months old, my daughter would follow along, modeling me with her perfectly modified version of whatever I was doing. It was incredible and adorable. When I did get to It’s Yoga at 4th and Folsom for my class, in savasana, the quiet state, I began to see visions of kids and yoga. That led me to ask questions about what was happening in that space from a business perspective.
Ten years ago, there wasn’t much, a handful of books, a not-so-great DVD, and a studio that had opened, and closed, in New York City. The only kids’ yoga teacher training I could find was not accessible to me as a new mother; it was expensive and lengthy. I decided I could do better. Three years of research and development, including extensive yoga training, pediatric expertise influence and early childhood education classes yielded the curriculum we use today at It’s Yoga, Kids.
When our son was born, I left Microsoft, and we financed the business with a home equity loan. The bank would not even entertain the idea of a business loan. Confident, I thought everyone was ready for yoga for kids. After all, the benefits are unparalleled to any other children’s activity! This became failure number two.
Starting a customer-facing business with a six month old was foolish. Our daughter was an easy baby, and we thought we did something right. Turns out, you get what you get, and we were disillusioned, with the lack of sleep, long hours of launching, and building the business. Plus, I wanted to be with my baby, which is why I had started my own business in the first place! It just wasn’t working out as I envisioned and expected.
Yoga for kids was a new concept and we had to educate parents about why they would want their kids in yoga. There was no social media. We invested in expensive PR that produced no results and I discovered quickly that the only thing that worked was flyer-ing the town and offering free classes to get moms in the studio and talking.
Word of mouth marketing was working, as was donations to all the schools for their fundraising events. I had an amazing teaching team and I thought we would make it. Then, 2008. We hit the toddler stage of the business and it was just as awful as the tantrums at home. The business challenges included teacher attrition, those cute and talented 20-somethings tend to run off to India, and/or get married. Rent in the Presidio was ridiculously high and many families we served were cutting back on activities due to the economic shift. It was a break-it moment, failure number three.
We made some very tough decisions about space and staff. Looking back, I’m amazed that we made it though that period. When we started, we thought we knew what we knew; now, we actually know what we know. We’ve proven our curriculum again and again, covered the rent, and we flow with the teachers as they come and go. It did take five years to get the business to work for me instead of me working for it all the time. Now, I get to figure how to scale it!
Eight lessons learned:
- Being good at one thing at corporate shifts into having to be good at everything as a business owner. Figure it out yourself or have the resources to pay another. Even then, you may not get what you want.
- Make sure you know every aspect of your business. Don’t let anyone who works for you think that the business can run without you. If it can, you are at risk.
- Be accountable for your failures. Analyze them, take in fresh perspectives and apply your knowledge as quickly as possible. Give new ideas a solid try, but shift as soon as you know something is not working.
- Listen to your customers, vendors, contractors, and set your boundaries with them. Mutual respect, care and kindness go a long way. Always look for the win-win.
- Be damned passionate and determined to make it work, or be willing to let it all go.
- It’s extraordinarily helpful to have your partner in a stable financial position and/or to have plenty of savings. I had no idea we would need it, and we did.
- Don’t multi-task. It’s an oxymoron. Be present with your partner, and your kids. Be present with your work, but don’t do both, or everyone suffers. This is the hardest!
- Take care of you. You are super woman, but you need support to keep it all together. I’m still working on this one. Let me know if you have ideas.
Knowing what I know now, I’m not sure what to recommend. Starting my own business with children under the age of 5 years old was not the best decision. I ended up sacrificing time with my little ones to birth a business, spending more money, energy and time away or fragmenting myself. I could have lived on savings or created a job-share or flex-time solution with more freedom to prioritize my family and still play the corporate game to my satisfaction.
That said; no one could have convinced me to wait, not once I had set my mind to my vision. I had to go for it or regret not doing it. In the end, you have to follow your own intuition. There is no right answer. There’s only what is right for you. And that can change…
About Michelle Wing
Michelle Wing is the founder of It’s Yoga, Kids, www.itsyogakids.com. For the last 10 years, she has dedicated herself to the nurturing development, health and well-being of children of all ages and abilities through yoga and infant massage. She is also the co-founder of Kid Moves, www.kmoves.com, a 3-book series that incorporates movement into early reading for age’s birth to 5 year olds.