Our writer Adam Carney took a great idea and relocated to Bali, Indonesia, to launch a yoga business. Here, his powerful story, and 4 tips to start a successful yoga company abroad.
I wake up in a beautiful villa set in a lush jungle and meditate at sunrise. My business investor meetings happen after yoga classes or over one of the three affordable, fresh vegan meals I eat each day. I go to ecstatic dance gatherings three nights a week and am building a successful yoga business with my best friends and spiritual teachers. I know it sounds like a dream—and it was my dream. Here’s how I made it all a reality.
See also YJ Tried It: Ecstatic Dance
How a Trip to India Sparked My Idea for a Yoga Business
In 2012, I went to India to do my first yoga teacher training. Something about learning yoga at my studio in Los Angeles wasn’t cutting it. I needed to go to the source.
On my first day of training, I met Amrit Pal Singh (or Gurumukh, as his students call him), who is the most skillful and humble yoga teacher I’ve ever met. I came to India with deep, pressing life questions I never thought I would have answered. He answered them all in 30 minutes over a casual lunch. I got to see the world through his eyes—and it changed everything for me.
Gurumukh and I both felt the teacher training schools in India were becoming like teacher factories, and we started brainstorming ways to make them better. There was a special dynamic between us: me, the young ambitious entrepreneur and Gurumukh, the man with the goods.
Our vision didn’t happen immediately. When I left India, I went back home to Los Angeles and got an offer to join the co-founding team of a technology company with a group of guys who’d become my brothers and work family. We were slaving away on a startup with a lot of potential. While I learned a lot from this experience, the truth is I chose that opportunity because I thought I’d make the most money—even though my heart knew it belonged with Gurumukh, building a yoga school.
My Epiphany: Start a Yoga Company for High-Quality YTTs Abroad
This is where it gets a little mystical.
There have been three times in my life when I have been visited by a powerful voice that was not my own, and each one of them fundamentally changed the course of my life. The most recent happened in September 2017. After a stressful week at the office, I took a trip to my vacation home in Palm Springs, Calif. Basking in the sun setting over the San Jacinto Mountains, I was sitting in silence for what may have been two hours or longer, thinking about nothing in particular. Suddenly, a wave of inspiration came to me, and a voice told me that now was the time to realize the dream Gurumukh and I imagined of running teacher trainings, and to name the company East+West. It was a strange message to receive, as the company I had helped co-found just raised a $3.5 million round of financing from a major Silicon Valley venture firm. I also didn’t care much for the name.
Two weeks later, my co-founders fired me, and told me they were retaining my stock options. I was nearly a millionaire on paper that morning when I walked into the office, and I left with $15,000 in severance. Turns out, that $15,000 ended up being almost exactly what I needed to rent a resort for a month and run our first training. East+West was born.
If I have learned anything on the spiritual path, it’s that when these voices come to you, you should listen.
How I Turned the YTT Business Idea Into Reality
I have traveled to Bali every year for the last five years. To me, Ubud is the new world capital of yoga, the perfect mix of East and West. I’ve heard it described as a mix between Hawaii and India. During my yoga teacher training in India, I was in a moldy room with no heat in 35-degree weather. Whereas India feels like a moment-to-moment struggle, Bali lulls you into a loving submission. So, when it came time to decide where to run East+West, Ubud was the hands-down winner.
For every business, there are one or two things you really need to nail for it to work. For us, it is our website and our teachers, and all my focus started there. Those first few months, I spent an irrational number of hours on our website, committing to making it the best in the industry. I recently looked back and had made 1,200 revisions on a two-page website over the course of three months. I was convinced that the website was the key to everything else; it was how our customers would make their decision to study with us or not. I see entrepreneurs focusing on the fluff a lot—things like social media and other to-dos that don’t really matter when it comes to the success of the business.
When our site was up and running, we shifted our focus to recruiting the best possible teachers to run our trainings. Gurumukh and I spent two months in India recruiting more master teachers. We wanted the humble ones—not the showy ones advertising all over town. We’ve learned over the years that the best teachers are always under the radar. It was a challenging task, as the best teachers in India can be hard to find. But we found a handful of exceptional teachers who have helped make our programs amazingly successful.
I also spent a lot of time really understanding the basic nature of the financials of this industry. I developed a photographic memory for retreat centers and their numbers, and this proved to be really valuable. Here’s an example of why this is important: A $10 difference per night on a resort may not sound like a big deal, but when you crunch the numbers, it’s actually a $50,000 decision for us on a given year.
4 Tips to Create Your 'Dream Life' (and Launch Your Yoga Business!)
My friends on the spiritual path often ask for guidance in how to create their version of a dream life. Here are my best tips for creating an empowered life that allows you to go after what you really want to do:
1. Embrace that it’s significantly easier now than ever before to work remotely.
The world is more conducive now to remote lifestyle businesses, and it will only continue to get easier in the future, thanks to the ever-expanding technology, online courses, and resources to make this possible. Embrace a new way of thinking about business and life, where your business supports your life rather than your life supporting your business.
2. Give the important things attention and ignore everything else.
To get started, there are usually only one or two things that really matter to make things work. That’s where you need to put all of your attention at first. In the yoga world, it’s usually great teachers and great marketing. The rest doesn’t matter so much in the beginning.
3. Focus on quality first.
If you can’t do things better than your competitors, you are wasting your resources. Most people start a business because they want to, not because they are addressing a real need. When you focus on improving the quality of something, you will create value no matter what you do.
4. Drop the illusion of a dream life.
The dream life, viewed from the outside at least, is a myth. External circumstances appear to create a good life, but that’s the illusion. The best we can do is to be active participants in our lives and balance ourselves daily by practicing yoga and meditation. The joyful, abundant life we see on the outside is just a reflection of someone’s daily habits. When this is our focus in life, what happens in the external world matters less because we know we will be happy either way. That dream life is available to everyone, everywhere, right now.