This week we caught up with our CEO and Co-Founder, Mariel Witmond, to see if she could share some insight into what the future holds for yoga teachers, fitness instructors and wellness professionals.
We’re just a year after Covid changed the world: in your opinion, how have things changed specifically for yoga teachers over the course of this past year?
If you take a moment to consider the yoga world pre-covid, there was still something of a strong divide between those aspiring to teach in person and at studios, and those more keen on an online presence – what you would call your “influencer”. The term influencer in and of itself has a connotation of anti-yogic tendencies and your more traditional teachers (generalising here) shied away from this path. When the pandemic started, teachers didn’t have a choice anymore – if they wanted to keep working they had to adjust to doing so online. This was a big shift for the majority, but some interesting things came out of it, most notably:
- Many teachers discovered their worth. With students coming directly to them and little overhead (before everyone started properly investing in their setups, perhaps), many teachers were earning more than they did teaching from studios, without the expense of travel.
- If they didn’t recognise it before, everyone was realising the power of community. Studios have always been the gatekeepers of student information, many times meaning teachers had no idea who was coming to their classes until they turned up. In order to get in touch with students, you would have to ask for their emails after class to add them to your newsletter. Now with students coming directly, teachers were able to better engage with their communities and in so doing – grow them.
- On demand content is the ideal source of passive revenue. Creating classes and content as teachers takes a lot of time and often students cannot make our live classes due to timing, etc. Being able to repurpose classes by recording them and adding them to an on demand library for students to buy or stay engaged with via subscriptions is just good business sense, in my opinion.
- Teachers started looking at themselves as businesses rather than independent contractors. Though it is ultimately a win for us, it means we have all had to take crash courses on how to market ourselves, grow our communities, handle all admin, etc.
For new teachers it has been a double edged sword. On the one hand, online has given teachers the affordable ability to put themselves out there and get started teaching, even if it’s only to friends and family. On the other hand, with so many teachers now accessible online, many have been struggling to grow their communities – perhaps, in part, forgetting that for any teacher, this takes time.
As mentioned, there are many new teachers who have never had the possibility to teach in a studio or a gym because of lockdown: opportunity or disadvantage?
As mentioned previously, it’s a bit of both. Pre-covid, most studios would tell you they wouldn’t hire a teacher without several years of experience. Your best bet was to somehow get onto a cover list and perhaps rent space to start getting teaching experience under your belt. That came at a large personal cost and I know for me – many times no one even showed up. You really don’t have an excuse NOT to teach online. It is affordable, you can have access to the same professional tools as other established teachers and if no one shows up, you record your class and add it to your library!
If you had one piece of advice to someone who is just starting out, what would it be?
Keep showing up and face it till you make it. We forget about the journey and get such tunnel vision for that end result. It takes time for all teachers to grow. Find your voice, your teaching style, your ideal student – embrace the journey of finding yourself as a teacher.
Going back to our more general audience. How do you see the wellness industry evolving from here, specifically for the teaching side of things?
Personally, I think there is going to be a hybrid of in-person and online. For teachers who have managed to grow their communities, they will continue to do so online, perhaps using studios as a means to an end in the same way that YouTube and Instagram are – to garner further exposure. Newer teachers will likely be wanting to go back to in-person, both for the experience and the access to students (and the credibility that comes from working with a reputable studio). It has been really challenging going at it alone, so I also see collaborations as something that will grow in the near future – the ability for teachers to come together and share classes, communities and profit share.
Tell us a bit about Kuula and your journey up until now. What are the challenges you have encountered in starting a business during a pandemic?
For the first 5 months of Kuula’s inception, I was in Mexico, part of the team was in London, and our COO was in Paris. For a very long time we didn’t meet in person. Working remotely has its challenges, but in a way we were all grateful to be working so diligently on something we were all so passionate about, in a time where we couldn’t do much else. One of the biggest struggles with this, however, is burn out. Working from home requires discipline and boundaries.
What was your mission at the outset?
I have always been a firm believer that we are stronger together and when we started working on Kuula, it was very much to address specific pain points I was experiencing in the industry as a teacher. When we realised we had created something that was needed by teachers everywhere, it became our mission to empower wellness professionals to impact change and achieve financial freedom.
Had we never had to be in lockdown, would you still have created Kuula?
I think I would have created some version of Kuula, but more for myself. I have always been interested in having an online presence and wanted to find a way to monetise my expertise online – we had been chatting about Kuula for over a year before we started it (and we started it just before the pandemic!)
Can you share where you see Kuula in the long term?
Our dream is to become the world’s leading passion economy platform for wellness professionals. We want to create the best tools for teachers to run their business and acquire, retain and grow their communities. These tools will span the lifecycle of teachers (emerging, established to influencer) and the breadth of the industry (mental, physical, emotional and spiritual). We have some exciting things in store for you 🙂
When things get hard, what motivates you?
Great question, as things will always get hard. My personal philosophy is that there is learning in every challenge we face. You cannot fail, as every misstep is an opportunity for growth. When you deeply believe in your calling and you have grit, it gets easier to bounce back from setbacks. And gratitude. Gratitude is a wonderful shifter of perspectives!
What are 3 things you are grateful for that this year in lockdown has brought you?
Though it has been a very steep learning curve, this year has been filled with new insights and growth – both personal and professional. It has taught me the value of community. Even prior to Covid-19, many of us lived isolated lives even though we weren’t in isolation. Community has been the greatest gift of this year. And I would say perspective. This year keeps challenging the way I see things and reminding me to just keep showing up and doing what I love.
If you are interested in learning more about Kuula, get in touch with our team today!