MyYogaOnline: World’s Most-Visited Yoga Video Site

MyYogaOnline | BCBusiness
One of more than 1,000 videos available at MyYogaOnline.

How two Vancouver yogis built the world’s most-visited online yoga video company

The year was 2004. Yogi Michelle Trantina had just finished shooting a TV show in Vancouver called Namaste when her fellow teacher, Kreg Weiss, approached her with a Big Idea: he wanted to create a digital yoga teaching platform. Intrigued, Trantina brought in Jason Jacobson—the two had met in an acting class, collaborated on some screenplays, and she thought his contacts and know-how in the world of film production were the perfect fit for Weiss’ concept. Thus, MyYogaOnline was born. Today, the company is worth 150X the initial investment put into it and has yielded a growth, year-over-year, of 100 per cent in revenue, membership base and traffic. We asked Trantina and Jacobson how they took the idea from a Gastown studio concept to the world’s most-visited online yoga video website.

BCB: You were quite ahead of the curve thinking about video streaming in 2004.

Trantina (president and co-founder): We actually thought DVDs would be become obsolete faster than they did, we didn’t think it would take this long to get to the streaming realm.

Jacobson (CEO and co-founder): Oh yeah, there was still dial-up, YouTube didn’t exist, monitors were deeper than they were wide, and no one was doing anything like this. It was a great idea but at the time we were definitely ahead of the curve. So for me, at the time, it was like a hobby, something to use my film background and business background and go out and do this. We launched in August 2005 with about 20 videos, which we shot ourselves with our own production. We started with our own money—about $30,000—and that kind of paid for the website. We worked with a local company, a local guy that had some programmers in Pakistan. There was challenges in that, but it got us launched for cheap. And because of my film background I was able to get equipment and stuff for pretty cheap.

Trantina: And we were able to tap into our in-roads into studios. There was a gorgeous studio that doesn’t exist anymore in Gastown and we were able to use that for filming and trade for teaching there, Kreg and I, because we were both teaching [yoga] at the time. We got a lot of favours and a lot of exchanges and just kind of worked every angle. It was exciting, it was fun.

BCB: Your original business plan was based on a subscription model for revenue.

Jacboson: Yes, membership was the plan. I’m pretty tech savvy so after the planners programmed the website I was able to maintain it myself, then we’d hire the occasional programmer to do more detailed work. We were able to film videos on our own and we were all kind of working at the same time. Michelle was teaching yoga classes, I was doing some personal training, Kreg was teaching yoga classes, so that’s what was paying our bills on the side. It took a while. Our business plan was just to keep moving forward. We really didn’t have the money to ramp anything up. It was all natural search engine optimization—it was really Google that we were relying on and co-promotions, contacting bloggers and other websites to write things about us and just natural word of mouth. Literally we did not spend a dime on any kind of promotional [initiatives] or use social media. And it slowly grew. Around 2008, that was kind of the turning point where we started to break even and make money and started to pay ourselves and not work so much on the side.

BCB: How much social media and marketing do you do now?

Jacobson: It was around the end of 2011 that we started really making a push and buying ads in Google, doing Facebook ads to build numbers there, buying ads on third party websites and doing print ads as well. And our marketing budget has grown considerably—this year is going to be somewhere in the $700,000 range, but we’re still a small company, a small business.

BCB: What made you decide to start using social media and buying advertising at that point?

Jacboson: Competition. That was the big thing, is that up until the beginning or middle of 2009 there were no real competitors in the field, so we didn’t see the need to have to ramp anything up. Then all of a sudden things changed. YouTube took off, widescreen computer monitors came into play, Internet speed sped up, cameras became cheaper to buy, and all of a sudden you started seeing these [yoga video] sites pop up. And they started buying ad space on google and we started seeing them place higher than us and we thought wow, we gotta do something. And Facebook as well.

Trantina: At that point, you know, we kind of had our systems down and a lot of things figured out and a lot of in-roads happening, so it was an interesting point for sure. Funnily enough, the first real competitor that came on the scene—well, the second that I would say that is still our competition—we found out that he’d been a member of our site for years and watching everything we were doing, which is really funny. And now, honestly, everyone is trying to do what we’re doing, it’s just the thing to do.

BCB: What hurdles do you see your competition facing that you didn’t?

Jacobson: You can go and get a site built for $20,000 or whatever and shoot some videos for $10,000 – $20,000 and launch a site, but it’s going to be very hard to get the exposure and the growth unless you’ve got some money to spend.

Trantina: I wouldn’t want to attempt it now without some cash, because [the market is] more saturated now, it’s a different thing now than it was before. Even the subscription model in and of itself was out of favour—it’s back in favour now—but it was out of favour for a while in terms of a monetary kind of thing on the Internet. It went through a long period when people would say hey, a subscription model is a thing of the past, you know it’s not the way to go.

Jacobson: When we launched it was like everything is free on the Internet, no one’s going to pay for a subscription model. We did the opposite, we started with the subscription model. A lot of people at the time—not necessarily our competitors, but people launching websites—were like, I’m going to build up the traffic, then I’m going to put advertising on the site, then I’m going to make money through advertising, then I’m going to sell it to some venture capitalist or some bigger company. That was headspace with most companies out there I was talking to at the time. Then you realize over time that you have to have like 100 million unique [visits] minimum to make any kind of money. To get to that level is nearly impossible, especially with something that’s niche as a yoga company. You compare that to tech websites or stuff that has less of a niche market, they can build that [100 million] figure. That said, I see a lot of potential in the yoga market. It’s growing substantially. Lululemon has opened a lot of doors in the industry and brought more exposure to yoga through via their clothing. And that’s helping us as well.

BCB: What numbers can you share with us?

Jacboson: Right now our traffic is closing in around 600,000 unique visits a month. We’ve got about 2.5 million page views. We get about five page views per person. That’s world wide traffic. Twenty per cent comes from Canada, 50 – 55 per cent from the U.S. I think next is the U.K., which is around eight per cent; Australia’s around five to six per cent, and then it’s spread out throughout Europe and Asia for the rest.

BCB: Is Asia somewhere with potential for significant growth?

Jacobson: We already have traffic there; it’s English speaking. They have a different style of teaching yoga there, it’s a little more rigid. So it’s how do we translate our videos for that demographic. It’s not just putting verbal translation over videos, it’s catering videos for that style of yoga. It’s more complex. The Asian market is growing, they’re latching onto yoga and they appreciate a yoga teacher that comes from America or Canada moreso than a local one—even if they have the same teaching experience. There’s a kind of celebrity factor. But I see a lot of potential there, and in the Spanish language as well.

BCB: You’re opening your entire inventory of over 1,000 classes free to the world on Mother’s Day until midnight on May 31, 2013.

Trantina: It started off with a Mother’s Day calendar—a daily practice site for moms. We got some of the best teachers in the world and some amazing local teachers who are moms and they all made fantastic videos that are shorter in length, which women can fit in when they just don’t have time to get to a class—which is often. It’s basically catered to moms, it’s thinking about things their bodies experience, their minds go through. It started there, but we’re catering to different markets now. We’re doing calendars for business travellers and different groups and niches. We’re going to open up those calendars plus the whole site for everyone to come, try it out, tell their friends, see what they think.

BCB: And I understand you’ve got some new apps, too.

Jacobson: We just created an app with Samsung Smart TV so we’re going to be streaming directly to TV, that’s going to be the next level for us too. We’re already on the Roku device. When we launched [the website], I thought that was going to happen a lot sooner…

Trantina: Yeah, we thought that was going to be in 2008.

Jacobson: I thought that there would be one device out there that would be very easy to access online video and I didn’t realize that it would take this long for something to come into play. I think Netflix has done a great job because they’ve created an app system that programs on every single TV device that’s out there. The problem is that the barrier to entry is very high because it’s very difficult cost wise to program a different device. If we’re going to program for Samsung devices it’s a whole different technology than programming for Sony devices or Roku. To be compatible to all TV systems is not a cheap endeavour.

BCB: Do yoga studios see you as competition? Are you?

Trantina: Our traffic is so targeted now we have a lot to offer other yoga businesses whether they’re from here or anywhere. That’s part of what we can offer people now to help them get the word out about things.

Jacobson: When we first launched I think the studios looked at us as competition, but now the relationship with studios is more complementary because they’re realizing they’re not losing students, they’re also possibly gaining them. And if they can’t access a teacher in class physically, then they’ll go online and practice with them. So we create a studio channel where that studio gets some advertisement besides the videos that were filmed there—they are getting traffic to their website from our site. They are getting exposure through it.

Trantina: And we hear all the time that people come in and say I saw your class on myyogaonline, and the teachers themselves get emails all the time saying I love your class, where do you teach, what are you doing for retreats or teacher training, that kind of thing.

BCB: Will you ever accept advertising on your own website?

Trantina: In the yoga world people are very sensitive about advertising, so we have to be very sensitive that we’re not overdoing it. The yogis don’t like to be, um, sold on things constantly, if there’s too much branding of things going on… So it’s finding that balance.

Jacobson: We’re in the process of launching an online yoga store that will just sell some of our own T-shirts to start off with, and see how that goes, and eventually sell mats and blocks and straps.

Trantina: As long as they’re sustainable, good quality products, and we’ll see what happens.

BCB: What’s next?

Trantina: It’s just evolving in ways we didn’t think of and ways that are exciting. Especially since we partnered with Wanderlust we are really getting the top talent right now, the best teachers on the planet, which is phenomenal. We took another office over and we’re building a huge production facility there. It’s going have the feeling of a yoga studio but be a full blown production facility. We’ll also go up into the North Shore mountains, and to this waterfall in Lake Tahoe, just simple set ups in beautiful locations. It’s great to have those outdoor classes as well.

MyYogaOnline’s inventory of videos will be available, free to stream, from May 12 – 31 via laptop, iPad, Apple TV, Roku, Samsung and more. Many of its office-specific classes can be practiced at your desk.