The YogaBugs concept was born at the Art of Health Yoga Studio & Complementary Health Centre in Balham in 1996. It is the brainchild of Fenella Lindsell (Nell).
Nell had worked in the travel and incentive business for 10 years, during that time she became a keen yogi and trained as a teacher. When the opportunity to buy a Yoga Studio in SW London arose, she and her husband Rob jumped at the opportunity to turn their passion for yoga into a business.
Despite, or maybe as a result of, turning down £250,000 investment in the Dragon’s Den the business has gone from strength to strength.
The day the studio opened they had three students attend their first class, Rob, Nell’s Mum and their au pair! Over a 7 year period the centre became an integral part of Balham life, offering classes to pre and post natal mum’s, baby yoga and of course YogaBugs. By the time the centre closed in 2003, they had over 2000 people attending classes and therapies each week.
YogaBugs was initially just an idea, George aged 4, was Rob’s son from his first marriage. Nell being a keen step mum wanted to engage with the other new man in her life so made up stories and acted them out through yoga postures. This is how the Bug was born.
YogaBugs classes at the centre became so popular that she started to train other teachers to teach classes. Schools & nurseries in the area were requesting that the teachers come out and teach the children there. In the space of 6 years Nell had trained around 180 teachers.
This is when I met Nell. I was living and working in Dublin running my own recruitment business when I met my then boyfriend and now husband Nick, who conveniently was Nell’s brother. If you can say you fell in love with an idea, I did. Nell is a rather contagious and engaging character. She oozes enthusiasm, joy and passion in everything she does. I had experienced a short stint on a yoga mat during my final year at school, but had really never taken to yoga. When I heard about this rather “Disneyesque” activity it was then I realised I had caught The Bug!
I come from a very sporting family with Olympian & European Champion Sailors and a mother who coached tennis growing up, so was blissfully aware of how valuable a physical activity can be for young children. Nell demonstrated how she could get these little darlings aged 2 ½ to 7 years to practise yoga, through fun creative story telling, the general idea being to make exercise fun for kids without them realising they are doing it. The classes encapsulate all the elements of a grown up class, except it’s much more high energy and fun!
2003 was when Jamie Oliver was just starting to beat his drum about the diets and general wellbeing of young children, so as a nation we were becoming painfully aware of how children were living more sedentary and poor lifestyles. With pizza-munching, playstation-pummelling kids growing increasingly blobby it just seemed like a damn good idea to me. It was a darn sight more interesting than recruitment, where I felt I was as good as my last placement. This was a business that we could make a difference to the next generation. It just felt right.
At the same time, Nell had just had her 3rd child and the studio was being closed due to pressure for more real estate in the area. I had sold my business in Ireland and had moved to London to be with Nick. So together Nell & I set about making YogaBugs a business. Our goal was to introduce yoga to every child in the UK. At the time yoga was seen as either some Yummy Mummy or Hippee Dippee Tree Hugging activity. In order to realise our goal, we had to demystify the concept and make it accessible to everyone, at the same time make a living. We knew we would need investment to do this but our first goal was to prove we had a model that worked.
YogaBugs Ltd was launched in 2003. Our goal was to train people to teach YogaBugs and then to go out and deliver classes in schools, nurseries and health clubs throughout the UK. The interest for classes grew as result of our GMTV Children’s Yoga Show as well as press coverage and general awareness that we generated. In late 2005, we started dabbling with the idea of raising investment as we had a much clearer idea of where we wanted to take the business. We were approached by a US lifestyle business who offered to buy us outright. This wasn’t what it was about for Nell & I, it was still very much our baby and we wanted to continue to be a part of its growth. We had a couple of private investors approach us but none of these proved suitable for the business.
It was then that Nell heard about Dragons Den. The idea of the show for anyone who doesn’t know it, is that a highly successful panel of multimillionaires rip fledgling entrepreneurs to shreds, dumping on their business plan ideas before deciding whether to invest or not! Was YogaBugs capable of surviving the Den? It is one of those life-defining moments. We had our annual Yoga Show around the corner and were busy working on our stand and pre-show marketing campaign. Nell announced she had gone online and registered us for the show! I cringed with horror… the idea of pitching on television up against those scary dragons was too much, but then we didn’t have time (or the real know-how) to go out to the city and raise the money ourselves, so why not?
The BBC put us through some rigorous screening processes and due diligence. It was an excellent exercise for us as it meant we got all of our “housekeeping” in place, from up to date accounting records, trade marks, copyright on training manuals etc. We worked out how much money we needed to raise, and what exactly we wanted to do with the cash… our business plan was complete. The next challenge was summarising it into a 3 minute pitch that told them what we did, demonstrated our potential and got them excited enough to want a bite of our pie!
We practised for weeks; my husband got his board of directors together for a “mock” rehearsal. They filmed it… it was like the real McCoy. We did our 3 minute pitch and then they cross examined us for three solid hours! Then came the worst bit, they gave us feedback – I had developed a severe case of verbal diahorrea whilst Nell who is usually the most flamboyant person had turned to a wooden doll from nerves!
We got the studio at 8am but it wasn’t until 5.15 when we were called up for filming. Unbeknown to the Dragons I was 12 weeks pregnant, so you can imagine the nerves and emotions were running a little high by this time. So there we were, standing in front of these 5 very imposing figures. We asked for £250,000 for 15% of our business. Floppy haired hedge fund boss Richard Farleigh slogged it out with ex-Millwall Chairman and Knickers Magazine Magnate Theo Paphitis and Tall Scary Multimillionaire Peter Jones. They all wanted 30% of the business which was just a chunk too far for us, so we politely declined, much to their tuts and comments “that you’ll never get an offer like that again”. We had no idea at the time that by saying no, we would be creating such interest in ourselves. The show was filmed in May and broadcasted in August 07. By that time we had actually found our investor and raised £250,000 for 15% of the business. We had found someone who trusted us implicitly, was happy for us to get on with it. This is what Nell & I needed. Someone who watched from a distance but could step in and help out when required.
I have never regretted turning down the Dragons and to this day believe the experience has only been a positive one for us. In fact barely a day goes by when either Nell or myself get asked about the experience. The show bought us a huge amount of PR and if asked to do it again I would definitely say ‘yes’!
So, with finance on board, what became apparent when we started looking at our business model was that we needed to build a stronger structure around our teachers, in order to achieve our goal of getting more children active through yoga. So we launched a management franchise network in late 2007. The role of our franchisees is to actively promote classes to schools & nurseries within a predefined area, whilst managing a team of teachers who deliver these courses. We look for people like us. People who might be bored with their current jobs or want to get back to work having raised their family. More often than not they want to do something different; that they feel is adding value, whilst building a financially rewarding business for themselves.
The model has proven very successful; schools, nurseries & health clubs are receiving quality service from the franchise manager, teachers are managed and given regular work, therefore fulfilling their working goals and most importantly the children are receiving a much higher quality class and service. 2009 is proving an exciting year already for YogaBugs. We appointed a CEO to help take the business to its next stage of development. We launched phase two of our franchise model and we have just agreed our first overseas pilot in Hong Kong; we are in serious discussions with Singapore, Australia & Canada, so going global is on the cards in the near future. Building a business has got to be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. It’s like bringing up children, no one day is the same and you are pushed to your limits and your love and beliefs are tested daily. However the returns and rewards can be great. The sense of independence, ownership and empowerment are amazing.
October 2009, marks our 6th year in business and we want to celebrate it with a party. I reviewed our very first business plan last week, which was written whilst on holiday with Nell & family in France. Things have changed; we have taken the odd u-turn and changed direction to meet the needs within the market place. But our overall goal stays the same. Our vision is still resolute and our passion for the business and our desire to succeed has not wavered at all. We set out to change the lives of young children for the better. This is now happening, and at the rate we wanted, as a result of our franchisees drive and ambitions. It’s great and to share the vision with more and more passionate people from the UK and overseas. Someone commented at one of our recent franchise event ‘you are working for yourself but not by yourself’ I couldn’t sum it up better myself.
Lara Goodbody, Managing Director, YogaBugs.