So often, a company finds itself in a position where it needs to evolve and change with the times in order to survive. Companies in the media industry are perhaps the most prime example of this, especially print publications. Geckoboard customer, Yoga International was on the frontline of the shift to digital. Their startup journey began in print and evolved into a multi-faceted course platform available on desktop and mobile.
For the latest in our Secrets for Scaling series, we talked with Yoga International CEO, Todd Wolfenberg, about how they’ve grown traffic and paid memberships exponentially. He also shared how they continue to innovate in their industry by evolving with the market and paying attention to trends. Dive into the lessons they learned along the way.
You evolved from a print publication to a digital platform. What did that journey look like?
Founded in 1991, Yoga International was a print publication until 2013. Over time, it became more and more difficult to compete against large, conglomerate publications as a small, independent publisher. So we decided to go digital in 2013. But we didn’t just become a digital magazine. Instead, we evolved into something completely different with a large focus on innovation - allowing us to stand out in the yoga industry.
Today, Yoga International is an online platform with a range of educational content to help our users improve their practice of yoga. The platform helps us to see out our mission to inspire people around the world to practice and heal as individuals and communities.
On the web or mobile platform, you’ll find articles, courses, videos, and more. We also have longer form courses available for purchase, as well as an e-commerce boutique with unique items relating to yoga, health, and wellness. However, the majority of our revenue comes from paid monthly memberships.
Since going digital in 2013, what has your growth journey looked like?
Since 2013, daily website visits has grown from 1,000 to an average of 25,000-35,000 visits, sometimes reaching up to 65,000 daily visits. We’ve experienced great growth in terms of audience reach and engagement on social media too. We’ve grown from 40,000 to 960,000 Facebook likes entirely organically since the summer of 2013 when we went digital.
I think much of this growth was due to the fact that we were already producing quality content - some of the best in the industry. But going digital opened the door to compete with the larger publishers because it doesn’t matter how big you are online like it does in print. Rather, it’s about knowing your market, producing valuable content and testing new marketing strategies and distribution channels. Going digital evened the playing field for us.“It doesn’t matter how big you are online. It’s about knowing your market and testing strategies.” - @twolfenberg
In terms of team size, we started with six people when we made the transition to digital in 2013. By late 2014, we were 13 or 14 people. Today, we’re a team of 24 full-time employees in the office with another 20 part-time people on the payroll spread out around the globe.
How do you define success as a company?
A couple of ways. The first is around metrics. Our key metrics are generally membership, churn, and courses sold.
The other measure of success is whether or not if we’re staying true to our mission and brand - if we’re delivering the value promised to our customers. We keep a pulse on customer happiness by reviewing feedback, comments, emails, etc.
How do you measure that success, what are your most important metrics?
The metrics that we’ve found most important to track are daily new members, new contacts (leads), course signups, and site visits. It has taken some time to identify these as our key metrics and learn to track them daily. It also took time to learn how to respond to changes, whether positive or negative.
Our Geckoboard dashboard allows us to keep an eye on and react to the changes in these metrics at any given time. I’ve found that beyond always having your finger on the pulse of your key metrics, it’s important to track the right metrics at the right time. To be able to identify short-tail and long-tail trends.
For example, we’ve faced some challenges with traffic from Facebook as they continue to change the algorithm to favor paid content. For us, the best response to that has been to widen distribution. We’ve shifted much of our focus from Facebook to SEO, as we recognize that organic search traffic has a much longer impact on our success than social networks. Although Google changes its algorithm often as well, it’s much less volatile than social platforms as they continue to learn what makes business sense to them.
With such an empowering mission, I’d imagine that qualitative data is also important. How do you balance measuring both quantitative and qualitative data?
We’ve come to put a lot of value on our NPS (net promoter score) findings. We use Promoter.io to send NPS surveys to our new members where they rate Yoga International on a scale of one to ten. Depending on their score, we’re able to reach out with specific questions to learn more about why they gave us that score.
We also tag these responses with categories and sentiment in order to sort through responses and spot trends, hurdles, and opportunities.
We use our NPS findings to understand the why behind user behavior and what they think of us.
We’re able to paint a bigger picture of trends and how customers are feeling by combining quantitative and qualitative data.
Do metrics impact your hiring strategy?
Yes. These metrics allow us to build models or projections of where we’ll be in three, six, or twelve months. We can make predictions of where we’ll be and build a budget around that for the hires that will help us reach our goals or overcome challenges, like churn for example. Metrics, trends, churn, and features in the pipeline all tell us what areas we need to hire in.
What’s your main focus as a company now?
Our main focus is creating the right type of content that our customers will find valuable and engage with. The right type of content that will convert people from a free membership to a paid membership - which in itself, is an indicator of value. As we improve our content, everyone’s job becomes easier.
We also knew we needed to improve our marketing and sales efforts so we’ve been working on that while also improving content. We’re really focused on making sure we’re competitive in the space by creating innovative marketing and products.
There are not a ton of people innovating in the yoga space, so we’re working hard to be on the forefront of that. We’re creating new and unique types of content you won’t find elsewhere and are delivering it to the places customers want or need it most.
What’s the culture like at Yoga International and how does that impact your focus as a team?
Most of our team is younger - between the ages of 25 and 32 - and that shows in our culture. It’s very relaxed. We have an open office plan and also a couple of rooms people can use if they need quiet. We’re not big on a rigid meeting schedule or anything like that, but rather let collaboration happen organically.
We value flexibility, allowing our team members to work remotely or from home a couple of days a week. We also have a cafe, small boutique, and yoga studios downstairs where employees can attend a class whenever they want. We even have weekend programs where team members can bring their families for yoga classes.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned as a founder and CEO?
The big lesson for me has been that you have to embrace an iterative process. We had a business plan with strategies outlined when we re-launched in 2013. In it, our three revenue streams were all weighted evenly. But we quickly learned where our strengths and weaknesses lied and where we should shift our focus - which revenue streams should be weighted higher.
My suggestion to fellow CEOs or founders is to try out mini campaigns, measure their success, and iterate or stick with what works as necessary. This approach has allowed us to try new things, which has made us stand out in the yoga industry.
Being agile is especially important when exploring distribution channels. Using the Facebook example again, we saw great success when Facebook Live (live streamed video) first launched with a reach of about a half million for our posts. But six weeks later, this quickly diminished to a reach of 80,000 as they continued tweaking the algorithm. Like all of us, Facebook is also learning as they go. A lot can change just within a week or two, you have to be ready to react.
Keep creating new campaigns, trying new ideas, and keep measuring. Over time, you’ll get smarter about where you spend your time and energy based on results.
Finally, you can’t do everything. Focus on what’s effective; focus on one or two things at a time.
Are there other industries that you’re inspired by as a business?
We watch the entertainment industry pretty closely. For example, big companies like Netflix and HBO shifting their focus from licensing content to creating their own original content is pretty telling in regards to what consumers want and where the media industry is going. Everyone is focused on quality vs quantity - on good production.
We also look at the online education industry. There’s a trend of focusing on helping people. The online education industry is focused on delivering quality content at scale and it will be interesting to see what happens there.
Do you have a story to tell?
Do you have a growth story to share? We’d love to talk. Let us know in the comments below!
If you want more scaling secrets, check out how Josh Pigford has grown Baremetrics smart and lean with proactive customer success.
All photos by Andrea Killam.