Thy Nguyen began practicing yoga over 11 years ago as a way to find calm and peace from the stresses of school, and everyday life.
This Week on So You Want To Start A Business Podcast:
Thy Nguyen began practicing yoga over 11 years ago as a way to find calm and peace from the stresses of school, and everyday life. She first stumbled upon ashtanga yoga, it was amazing; love at first practice. Breathing, sweating, and fully living in the moment, she had never felt more connected to life.
Soon after Thy discovered Modo hot yoga and her life was changed forever. After a number of yoga trainings, she made the decision to pursue her passion for yoga and become a full-time teacher. Thy truly loves teaching yoga, spreading the yoga love to everyone. She feels lucky, and blessed to have studied with a number of brilliant teachers including Jessica Robertson, Ted Grand, Ryan Leier, Rameen Peyrow, Bryan Kest, Sarah Powers, and Judith Hansen Lasater. She loves sharing her knowledge and passion for all aspects of yoga with her students and the community.
She also believes that the best part of teaching is learning; learning more about the postures, about people and their bodies, and more about herself. Her classes are fun and dynamic, with a sense of lightness. Her hope is that students carry their positive energy from practice off their mats and into their daily lives.
Podcast Full Transcript:
INGRID: Well here we are with Thy in her beautiful yoga studio in Sydney. Good morning Thy.
THY: Good morning.
INGRID: And would you like to tell us about your yoga studio?
THY: Sure. My yoga studio is called Modo Yoga Sydney. We just opened a few months ago, and it’s a hot yoga studio but we also offer unheated classes, meditation, and yin yoga as well as a few other forms of yoga.
INGRID: And it’s purpose built, isn’t it Thy? It’s a very special, when you say hot yoga, it’s a particular style, isn’t it.
THY: Yes, definitely. It’s a style that originated from my teachers in Canada and the way we built the studio is eco-conscious and green and we have a few humidification systems and a ventilation system, so there’s a lot of clean air going in and out and we’re based on the foundations of the eco-conscious environmentally friendly.
INGRID: Ok, so your business is the building as well as your actual business.
THY: Definitely, yes.
INGRID: You started your business a couple months ago, but it actually started a long time before that, didn’t it?
THY: Yes it did actually. So I moved to Sydney over three years ago, and I’ve been doing yoga for nearly a decade and I had so many amazing teachers back in Canada that inspired me as a practitioner, and then when I went on to become a teacher, and eventually I had such a strong calling that this is what I wanted to do, was to share yoga and create a space for yoga but also for the community.
INGRID: So it was more than just creating a business, it’s really about creating a space for yoga and the community.
THY: Definitely. And since I moved I knew that I wanted to open a studio, so nearly three years ago, but I definitely needed to give myself time in order to prepare and get to know the Sydney market really well and the community of yogis but different areas in which I was planning to open my studio.
INGRID: So the actual physical areas. And you’ve chosen a very groovy new part it’s really on the development slope, isn’t it?
THY: Yes, we’re in Rosebery, and it’s such an amazing little pocket in Sydney that is becoming really vibrant, so close to Green Square station. There’s development in that area and actually right where we are has become it’s own little hub of wonderful cafes and spaces for people to come together in what used to be only a residential, or industrial area.
INGRID: Very residential and industrial. So if you think about your business, what were you thinking as a business? What did you want your business to give you from the beginning?
THY: I suppose that at the very beginning the business side of it was some financial freedom, admittedly, because as a yoga teacher, you love what you do, and we always say, it’s not a job. But honestly when you get into anything that you love that makes you money, it is a job and it is going to be a business. Whether it’s for yourself or if you’re working for someone else. And so when I opened my business, part of it was my own financial freedom as a yoga teacher because I couldn’t teach at 6 different places, 20 classes for an indefinite amount of time. And I love teaching, so that just wasn’t going to be sustainable. And then I would say equally to that was to have a space that was my own and I could make my own decisions and put out there what I wanted to, rather than following someone else’s guidelines.
INGRID: I know the journey was quite a long one in terms of finding a space and then council permits that you had to obtain, and then you opened the doors and had your classes. When did you actually feel like you were in business? At what point, because for different people that can be quite different.
THY: That’s a really interesting question. It’s one of those things where you’re doing the work towards it and as a yogi I suppose, I’m meditating and practicing and preparing myself for it, but honestly I don’t it actually hit me until we opened on our first day when people walked in through the door, and then I went ‘I’m trading now, this is me, now we’re in business’.
INGRID: How did you know that your customers wanted this type of yoga? Because it’s all very well you wanted to create a community and you know, it was nice, you love your yoga and your other teachers love their yoga, but how do you know that people wanted this particular style? How do you know that you were going to have customers?
THY: OK, the biggest part of it for me was that I want to share yoga. And I think that there are so many types of yoga now which is wonderful for all different kinds of people. I enjoyed hot yoga, I like the heat and find it satisfying, but more than that was the school of yoga that I came from, so in Canada it’s moksha and internationally known as modo, which means the path or the way to get to a destination. And we’re based on seven pillars, about being healthy, green, accessible, community support, and really living our yoga. So for me anyone can find yoga at any studio, but why I wanted to bring what I do was more for the community aspect and letting yoga really be seen as part of your life and not just something that you do.
INGRID: Not something that you just come to.
THY: And I find that a lot of people resonate with that because people can do any activity but it’s really when they make a connection with the teacher, with the staff, with what they’re doing but also feel like they belong, that’s enriching, and that’s what I wanted to be here for, and help people come to.
INGRID: So how are your people finding you? How are you reaching out to that community, how do you get more customers? Because there’s ultimately a business with customers that come to it.
THY: Luckily, because I’d been teaching in Sydney for over three years, I’d been able to meet loads of people, make great contacts. With yoga, people can actually come from anywhere. In this area, specifically speaking, most of my clientele are in the local area, so local residences and people that work nearby, but we’re also getting people from LuLulemon who has actually been one of my biggest supports. I do community events and I teach for them in and around Sydney and then I can put myself on that platform, but I suppose just getting out in Sydney and teaching at a few different places or drawing on my contacts from places I used to teach at. Then more locally, signage is helpful, to draw people in and around the local area, and actually flyer drops. But the good thing is that there’s not actually a specific small demographic of xyz, there is to a degree that we want people to come, but they can be of any age, any ability, meat or vegetarian, we welcome all. We are lucky in that regard.
INGRID: So it’s not segmented yoga in that way.
INGRID: Obviously setting a big studio like this took some financial consideration. We don’t want your personal details, but how do you fund something like your business in the early days? And I ask every business how they fund, because it’s a thing that people consider, how do you create income when your business is in the early days?
THY: Definitely funding is challenging. A lot of consideration goes into it, especially in regards to numbers. So save, save, save every little penny you can, if you’re looking to open something, and save but also look at what other ways you might be able to either loan money or have enough during quieter times, and that part of forecasting, if you have that background or if you get somebody that can assist you in that it’s quite critical. So, you create your forecast, hope you sort of reach them but do have a worse case scenario, and a conservative or somewhat realistic scenario and do your best to promote to get sales, but be understanding that it’s going to be more than what you think.
INGRID: And you’ve set up a membership model, haven’t you, so that people are paying you on a monthly basis, and that’s certainly helps with flattening out that revenue.
THY: Yes, definitely. Monthly membership is a great way to keep that consistency and also for yoga it’s good for students because it helps them maintain their practice. But I’m also considerate that in Sydney people like to do different activities so we do have class passes that never expire which is quite different than other studios because people put expiration dates so that they get used, but in fact I find that when we don’t put an expiration date people still come and usually use it in the same time or less time than otherwise if it had an expiration date.
INGRID: While we’re looking at memberships, how did you go about choosing a pricing strategy? What did you base those prices on? Because often when people are starting a business, they’re not really sure how to set their prices.
THY: Again a few factors are involved. One for me was looking at the yoga landscape in Sydney and doing a comparison of my competitors’ pricing. So I took that into consideration as well as my costs and what I sort of needed to break-even or profit. But primarily I’d say we’re looking at how I was going to be competitive amongst other yoga studios. So that’s how I set that up.
INGRID: Its early days, do you have an exit strategy?
THY: I do actually, because I was lucky to find a very good business mentor with my solicitor when I was first looking for one. And so we would talk through a number of things and you know idealistically, no one wants to think about it. It’s like thinking about divorce when you get married. But you need to consider it, it’s just the smart way to go for future planning and also to feel comfortable with what’s happening. So the exit strategy is………you know.
INGRID: You don’t have to say (laughs).
THY: (laughs) Yes, I’m not going to say, well I will admit, selling is not the worst thing, if anything, if we could build it to something beautiful and sell it to somebody that would take over it, that would be great, but ideally be a part of it for a very, very, long time.
INGRID: I think when you look at other businesses that have grown, I think T2 is a good example, you know the tea shop, started from very small beginnings and she has sold to a large corporate and is still very much a part of the future of that company, and has used the purchase of that to actually fund her expansion. So as you say, selling is not always the worst thing. Having an exit strategy is smart. So now let’s go back and have a look at, is there anything you’d have liked to do differently? Because this is one of the reasons we do these interviews is to get a sense of the business and then say, what can people learn from it? If you were to look back, what are a couple of the things or something that you would have liked to have done differently?
THY: It’s a hard one that, because it’s hard to look back or even think, oh ‘’I should have done this or I should have done that’, which is a bit of a challenging game, but I suppose asking more questions. Which is sometimes hard because you may not always know the right questions to ask but I think if you’re asking a lot of questions or have people around you in that area or in that industry, it can lead to the correct question, or just to more questions. So asking questions is probably the biggest thing. And if I had done anything differently, maybe dug a little deeper on one or two things.
INGRID: Because sometimes people wish that they’d known something like that from the start, you know, so doing something differently, what you wish you’d known, you don’t realise you should start doing something earlier, or something like that.
THY: It’s hard I think because every situation is different. Personally for me most of it I feel like it sort of happened the way it was meant to, and the way it kind of happened for me was it took a long time but once the building process started it seemed to happen very quickly. So one thing I suppose that stands out is my marketing. I really could have cracked on to it about four weeks earlier.
THY: Just to really saturate my message as best I could. That’d be the one thing.
INGRID: Thank you for that. So you mentioned your solicitor, and there have obviously been other people who’ve been of assistance to you in your journey. What sort of people – you don’t need to mention names – but who have been the greatest assets to you or the greatest assistance to you along your journey?
THY: My solicitor, because he was a business mentor was so helpful I think, because even though I went to school for business, I did a marketing degree, funny I said I should have marketed earlier, you just need somebody that is really on top of that game and business, especially if you’re not that, so get somebody that can do the things that you’re not so good at or can help you see more clearly, the bigger picture of things, so he was quite helpful. As well as a really loving supportive partner, if you have a partner, that they can really be on board and patient with you. And other people in the industry that you are in. So for me, other yoga studio owners that was really important to have, who I see when in Canada, in Sydney not as many, but some very good yoga teachers who have been in the Sydney scene for quite a while that gave me some good insight.
INGRID: And who can give you great feedback?
THY: Honestly, my husband, he can really call it as he sees it, and we have that kind of a relationship, that really open line of communication that, you know, it’s hard sometimes to look your partner in the eye and go look, you should check yourself and have a look in the mirror. So yes he really gives me great feedback, as well as one of my teachers back in Canada who was my mentor she was my old studio owner, she also gave me some amazing feedback. And the thing with feedback is, even if it’s critical, even if it’s hard, it’s coming from a very loving place, and I think if you are receptive to that, it’s such a great thing, it’s a gift really to be able to give and receive feedback.
INGRID: It is indeed. If someone came to you, and they probably will in the future if they’re not already doing it now, what would you say to them?
THY: Yes I’ve actually had quite a few people already asked me. I would say to have a really long think about it first. Really think why are you doing this, what do you want out of it, and are you prepared to be in it emotionally, in all aspects of your life, emotionally, financially, psychologically, everything, and it costs money. It’s one of the biggest things. Think about it, it costs money, be prepared to put every ounce of your being into it.
INGRID: To make it really work.
THY: Yes, definitely.
INGRID: So it needs every ounce of your being. What are the three characteristics that you think you have that make you so successful? And you know Thy, we’re talking about from the business point of view, but in your instance the yoga is so much part of that business, so apart from the flexibility of yoga and its strength, what are your characteristics that make you successful?
THY: I believe it’s my passion for what I do. I really believe in it so strongly, and as I mentioned not only in the physicality of coming to your mat and it’s a great system for health, but the yoga in the sense of what it can enhance and bring to your life. I’m really passionate about sharing that message. I think that I’m quite personable, which really helps in the relationship management with not only students but in every area, every aspect. Passion, that I’m personable, and that I’m open to whatever happens, and I suppose that’s a flexibility in itself, that there’s going to be great times, there’s going to be tough times, but there needs to be a resilience, and I feel that a lot of things in life have prepared me for this, and I think a lot of people can say that, but they have to be reminded of it sometimes. Resilience is I think going to help me a lot, and take me quite a long way, and will help me become successful.
INGRID: For budding start-ups, if somebody wanted to start a business, they would need to build their resilience, build their personability, is that what you would recommend to them?
THY: Yes, obviously people are different I suppose, it depends on what industry you’re in, I’m definitely in the business of people and bodies and energy, so that really works to my advantage in what I do, but I think figure out what it is that lights you up about your business and will keep you going in the sense that it’s easy a little bit. For me, having talks with people is actually quite easy, I really like being around people. So yes it helps in the yoga side of it but it also helps in the business side of it. So let’s say, I don’t know if I can give a good example, but if you are good with numbers but not necessarily people, what is it in your area of expertise that is going to get you success in that, figure it out and that’s what’s going to make you successful.
INGRID: That’s what’s going to make you successful. Thank you. Now Thy, I can’t finish this interview without asking you about a very special partnership that you have created and with a particular cat business, because partnerships in business are important but as part of your marketing and as part of growing your community, you’ve created a special partnership. Tell us about that. Where it came from, how it happened, and what you’ve done.
THY: Yes this is amazing, actually. So I think I’m just very fortunate and things happen the way they’re meant to, and timing works very interestingly. So one of my very good friends that I used to teach with at another yoga studio is a big cat lover, and we meet quite often and chat and she was telling me about one of her students at her old studio where actually I taught briefly before I left. She’s the founder of the Sydney Cat Cafe, Veronica Moreland, amazing woman. And lawyer by day, cat lover all day.
She actually came up with this amazing idea because she loves yoga and she loves cats, to somehow combine the two, and for a good cause, so the Sydney Cat Cafe is working on finding their own home at the moment, but up and running to help Maggie’s Rescue, which is their main partner, in getting cats adopted. And at this time of year getting close to Christmas, it’s cat season. So lots of cats need homes and they want to build that awareness. So Veronica and my other friend Vicky who’s teaching the classes were speaking how they love cats and yoga, and this idea on Veronica’s part was born and now where was it going to be. Veronica had done a few pop up cafes at art galleries and places to spread the awareness and start getting it out there. And now this cat idea, one of my friends told me about it and I went, my space is, is going to be the perfect venue, and shortly thereafter it just snowballed and luckily it came to happen that we were so lucky to be able to host and support such an amazing cause. So we have three cat classes, we sold tickets for, and the tickets sold in about five hours, about 25 tickets per class, and all the proceeds are going to Maggie’s Rescue, which is amazing, and hopefully getting some cats and kittens adopted at this time, so a good cause for everyone. We get to have some yoga with cats roaming around and then a nice little, ‘high kit-tea’, as Veronica calls it, and afterwards mingle with the cats and hopefully make some beautiful adoptions happen.
INGRID: That’s so lovely, isn’t it? Thy, thanks so much for your time today. Is there anything else you’d like to say about your business or about inspiring people who want to start their own business?
THY: I think if you’re looking to start a business and it just keeps hanging on and is in the forefront of your mind a lot of the time, go for it. It is one of the scariest things you will ever do, and one of the hardest things you will ever do but so rewarding, and what is life for if not to take risks and to put yourself on the line for something that you really truly care about? I really believe that you will be successful if you put the right intent of your passion and a vision and giving back in some way, or giving back to whatever that is calling to you. If you’re giving back and you’re passionate, there’s no doubt you will succeed.
INGRID: Thank you so much Thy.
THY: Thank you.
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