Jackie Alexander is the COO and Co-Founder of yoga studio, Humming Puppy. She shares the profound impact yoga had on her, leading to her brave and bold move to establish Humming Puppy in Melbourne and Sydney, and most recently launching in New York.
Tell us about yourself and your business – how was Humming Puppy born?
Yoga had been calling me for years but it wasn’t until 2008 that I came to the practice regularly in a search to regain strength and flexibility after I poorly managed a knee reconstruction. I became absorbed in the practice and was initially unaware of the profound impact yoga was having on me, combined with weekly Ayurveda treatments I began to notice subtle shifts in my energy, my behavior and my attitude towards life. Over time, I made a number of significant life changes and began creating and living a life I wanted to live with integrity, trust and belief in myself.
My love for yoga was obvious and while many had suggested I undergo my teacher training I ignored this suggestion for some time. However in 2013 it became clear to me that yoga was my path, I decided to become a yoga teacher and undertake my teacher training, with the view to leave my job in dentistry and open my own yoga studio. My path towards my dharma had finally become clear.
In 2014, over a cheesy Valentines Day dinner with Chris (my partner in both life and business), Humming Puppy was conceived. Less than 12 months later we opened the doors to our first studio in Prahran, Melbourne in February 2015, followed by the opening of our second studio in Redfern, Sydney in April 2016. Our third studio in New York has just opened in April 2018 and is honestly, a dream come true.
What have been your greatest challenges in starting up a new business in the New York area?
The distance from home and being away from family and friends can be challenging. It requires patience to work across two time zones especially when you partner and business partner is on the other side of the world!
Setting up a business, in another country has been a huge learning curve, from bank accounts, accountants and lawyers, finding third party providers who understand your requirements and needs takes time, patience and a lot of paperwork.
Building in New York is huge learning experience. Quality, building standards, red tape and regulations have been interesting hurdles we have had to navigate. We committed to using our Australian architect for this project again (because she is amazing and knows us so well) so there were extra challenges working across two time zones, metric conversions and project management.
What are your three greatest lessons learned in starting up a business?
- Be really clear on why you are doing what you are doing. What is your the intention behind the business?
- Experience and observe what other business in your field are doing. What can you offer that they aren’t? What will set you apart from the rest and how do you create a consistent experience that your clients can rely on?
- Hire the right people: Hire people who believe in your vision, don’t hire out of desperation. I’d rather do the job myself than have someone in the business who isn’t the right fit. Trust the people you hire and delegate, don’t think you can do it all. Lay solid foundations, have policies and procedures in place right from the start (you can always add, delete, review and make new ones along the way). These will help to set standards and expectations for your team to understand.
What steps did you go through to launch your business?
We dreamed big when we first conceived Humming Puppy and we saw it clearly from the start. It was always our intention to bring the business to New York because we knew we were going to create a unique and special experience for our students that wasn’t offered anywhere in the world.
We were also smart enough to realize that we had never had a business in the fitness or yoga industry before and so opening in New York to begin with wouldn’t have made sense. Instead we opened in Prahran, Melbourne (our home town) which is the most densely populated area for yoga studios in the world (there are 30 yoga studios within a 4km radius) and thought, if we can make it work there we can make it work anywhere!
After the success of Melbourne and some time to prove our business model, the next step was to replicate the Humming Puppy experience without me having to be in the studio on a day-to-day basis and this is where the plan for Sydney came about. I relocated to Sydney while we completed the build, recruited and trained our team and opened the studio. Sydney was instantly received well by students and the team we had was able to recreate the Humming Puppy experience authentically, without me – tick!
This proved to us that with the right team and the right systems and processes in place we could run multiple studios without having to be there all the time. A year after opening Sydney we were ready to tackle the US market and took the bold move to explore our options in New York. We found our current studio during a visit to New York in 2017 and similar to our Sydney experience, I’ve relocated to New York during the opening phases of the business to communicate our vision and establish the team.
Starting up can be notoriously difficult – what motivates you to keep going?
What motivates me is the positive impact we have on people’s lives. Knowing that we are changing the lives of not only our students but everyone they come into contact with has a profound impact on us wanting to create more studios.
What has been your “I’ve made it in New York moment” ?
Seeing what we envisaged only 4 years ago come to life and being able to share it with New Yorkers blows my mind! But to be honest, I still feel like I have some work ahead of me to truly say “I’ve made it in New York”.
Where have you been most successful in marketing your business?
The most powerful marketing tool for us is providing a consistent experience for our students each and every time they attend our studio to cultivate powerful word of mouth referrals.
In the initial stages of opening, offering two to three weeks of free classes has been hugely successful in being able to share the studio with a lot of students. Consistent targeted Facebook advertising across all studios has been one of the most effective ways of reaching new and existing students.
The New York market and culture has meant we have had to reassess the ways we approach marketing to bring in new students. Whilst we recognize our approach needs to alter we are excited to have an opportunity to reassess the way we do things to reach more people and grow our business to its fullest potential.
What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business?
- Be passionate about what you are doing.
- Look at the big picture and then work out what small steps you need to take to get you there.
- When faced with challenges move towards them, challenges will always arise, view them as an opportunity to learn and grow.
- Schedule time to take a step away from the business and observe. Sometimes it’s hard to see the full picture clearly if you are working in, on and around the business 24/7. Regular breaks are so important to not only re-energize yourself but to create space, to bring about clarity and creativity so you can continue to grow and move forward.
Other than yourself, what pieces of Australia (and other inspiration) have you put into your business?
There are a few Australian accents in all of our studios, with many of these sought out from personal experience. For example, the Aspar bathroom products are from our favorite day spa in Melbourne, Aurora Day Spa. Our signature scent “UMI” that we use in all our studios is also from an Australian company called Perfect Potion.
The New York studio is home to a stunning crystal chandelier made by an Australian lighting designer named Christopher Boots and then in contrast the light fitting in our Sydney studio is by a US designer named Lindsay Adelman. Our lounge in NY was also custom made by the same company that made our lounge in Sydney because we knew and trusted their product.
We take inspiration from great design, products and experiences from around the world and incorporate these elements into each individual studio space.
What is next for Humming Puppy?
Our vision is to continue sharing more of what we do in New York and around the world.
Do you have an offer you would like to share with the AWNY community?
I’d love to offer AWNY members 20% off the cost of a casual class at Humming Puppy. The discount can be redeemed in the studio and is available until the end of June 2018. Visit the Humming Puppy website for classes and schedule details.
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All images courtesy of Humming Puppy