Women Of The C-Suite: Gillian Walker of The Hot Yoga Dome On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive
Success doesn’t happen instantly. The first time I tried to start a business, I wouldn’t say it failed — but it didn’t really go anywhere. This was the case for multiple businesses in different stages of my life. So, success doesn’t always happen with the first thing that you try. And it also doesn’t come overnight. This past year, The Hot Yoga Dome experienced extreme success, in part due to COVID-19. But it’s important to remember the three years of hard work it took to get to the point we are at right now.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gillian Walker.
Gillian Walker is the founder & co-CEO of The Hot Yoga Dome. As a yoga teacher and practitioner of over 20 years, Gillian believes that no yoga teacher should be struggling to make ends meet; and that no student should have to pay upwards of $20 for a hot yoga class. Having traveled extensively over the past few years, Gillian also missed the ease and availability of hot yoga classes when in different countries. Gillian’s passion to make hot yoga accessible for anyone, anytime, anywhere, was the driving force for the design of all four Hot Yoga Domes.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Absolutely! In general, I’ve always had a passion for helping people and have had a background in health and wellness since my early 20s. I was involved in trauma work as a counselor, so I am very much aware of the correlation between mental and physical health. In fact, I, myself, have anxiety and panic disorder. I had my first panic attack at age 20 and will never forget the terrifying feeling that I was going to die. Learning how to cope with my panic disorder led me down the path of meditation, breath work and yoga. I studied many different methods of wellness, including hypnotherapy, energy medicine and teaching yoga, in a constant search for anything that could improve my own mental health, and more importantly help those around me.
Over time, I accumulated varying degrees and certifications in all things wellness and worked as a jack of all trades in the wellness field for years. During the recession of 2009, I realized that when the market becomes volatile, the first thing that people eliminate from their budget are services like therapy, yoga and any sort of wellness activities. Unfortunately, my client base began to decline because of this, and I had to work several days a week in San Diego nightclubs to make ends meet.
Throughout this time, I watched the wages of yoga teachers go down while the class prices went up. I began trying to figure out how to make teaching yoga, specifically hot yoga, a sustainable profession again. I witnessed so many amazing teachers being exploited by big companies and studios who were taking all of the profit and leaving less and less for the teachers who were drawing the students in. With this issue in mind, I came up with the idea of a portable hot yoga business model where teachers could run their own classes without the prohibitive costs of building out their own hot yoga studio.
After much thought on this topic, I decided to make a plan of action and bring my new idea of a portable Hot Yoga Dome to life. I’ve never built or invented anything in my life, so sourcing our factory and the right experts to work with took a solid eight to 10 months of work before we had our first model of The Hot Yoga Dome. Overall, my passion and commitment to making yoga more affordable and accessible for students, while providing teachers with a livable wage, was what led to the whole concept of The Hot Yoga Dome.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
For me, the main takeaway from building The Hot Yoga Dome brand is that we had a vision, and we went all in to be able to bring it to life. We spent every penny we had to design and produce the prototype that would become our final model. My husband and I put everything we owned into this business, and although it was a calculated risk, and we were certain there was a market for this, it was still a risk. I’m incredibly grateful that it worked out. I am something of a serial entrepreneur and have had many “failed” projects in the past. My main takeaway is that if you are willing to take the risk, it will always be worth it, even if you have to chalk it up to a lesson learned. I am extremely grateful that we succeeded in this venture.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the beginning, when we moved our website to a large e-commerce platform, we hired a web designer consulting firm that we thought would be great for the job. After a very short time, we realized that the partnership was not a good fit and yet we stuck around for longer than we should have because we had already invested a significant amount of time, money and energy into them. Ultimately, we had to pull back and revamp, and start over with another firm. With that said, I think the biggest lesson that we’ve learned so far is that if it’s not working and the people that you hire are not producing what you expected, you just need to cut your losses and move on. This was a hard lesson for us to learn, but it is something we will take with us for future projects.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The person I am most grateful for during this journey is, without a doubt, my husband and co-CEO, Alex. He completely believed in my concept and in my ability as a businesswoman, so much so that he was willing to go into business with me full-time. We put everything we owned into this, and it was a massive risk, but he absolutely trusted my expertise in the industry and combined his own experience with my knowledge of the market to go all in on The Hot Yoga Dome. Not to mention, this was pre-pandemic and long before the massive trend of working out at home. I am so thankful that he believed in me enough to go all in on this idea and make The Hot Yoga Dome a reality. My experience with teaching hot yoga combined with his business acumen is the perfect combination and we would have never gotten to the place we are today without each other. Our strengths are equally distinct and different and work seamlessly together.
Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
By starting The Hot Yoga Dome, we invented the first way to do hot yoga anywhere, at any time. I would have never imagined that a global pandemic would sweep the globe just six months after we launched the Home Dome model, but we are able to make a significant impact in the lives of our customers because of this. We are so thankful for the amazing feedback from our customers, letting us know that they are able to feel like themselves again, are able to reduce aches and pains with The Hot Yoga Dome during these unprecedented stay-at-home orders. We’ve been told by many customers that they rely on hot yoga to mitigate their chronic illnesses and were struggling to find an alternative option while their studios are closed. Knowing that we are contributing to an improvement in people’s physical and mental health during these times is extremely satisfying, as I always want to do something that matters and truly make a positive impact in the world.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Prioritize yourself. I always say to think about your life-work balance, instead of the other way around. Generally, I can easily find a balance of finding time for myself and focusing on work. But last year, as the craziness of owning a new business during a pandemic ensued, I learned more than ever the importance of putting your life before your business.
- Exercise. Any kind of exercise, even just 15 to 20 minutes of movement every day will improve your mental wellbeing immensely. There are so many studies that show exercise is much more effective than anti-depressants for your serotonin and endorphin levels. Exercise about so much more than your physical appearance; prioritizing your physical health allows you to improve your mental and emotional health at a much more rapid rate.
- Allow yourself to relax. If you’re really feeling tired or down, don’t beat yourself up for it. Don’t feel lazy for lounging around and sleeping in on certain days. Take your rest days as seriously as your workout days.
- Take time to disconnect. There is a toxicity that comes with being constantly connected. Many of us have become so attached to their phone and are constantly engaged with technology. Prioritize time to disconnect, even just for 10 or 15 minutes a day, and I guarantee you will notice the benefits.
- Surround yourself with positive people. People who celebrate your successes will also be there for you in the hard times. Who you surround yourself with is just as important to your health and wellbeing as what you eat and how often you exercise.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would love to be able to partner with outreach programs for at-risk youth and nonprofits that support military veterans. To be able to provide a program with the Hot Yoga Dome to offer hot yoga for those that can benefit the most from it is something I really look forward to accomplishing. Because of the intense heat, hot yoga really forces you to slow down your breath and brings the focus inward. This is challenging for most people in a normal setting, but it is so beneficial from a mental health standpoint.
In the future, when things open back up again, we hope to be able to implement domes within educational systems in lower income areas, encouraging students to get involved with mental and physical health at a young age. Additionally, we look forward to being able to provide domes and support for veterans of the military who are struggling with PTSD and other related issues.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Success doesn’t happen instantly. The first time I tried to start a business, I wouldn’t say it failed — but it didn’t really go anywhere. This was the case for multiple businesses in different stages of my life. So, success doesn’t always happen with the first thing that you try. And it also doesn’t come overnight. This past year, The Hot Yoga Dome experienced extreme success, in part due to COVID-19. But it’s important to remember the three years of hard work it took to get to the point we are at right now.
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. There’s always going to be things that are out of your control, like the pandemic, so try not to lose sleep over these things. Consciously practice letting go of the uncontrollable and do everything in your power to focus on what you can control.
- Outsource specialists when needed. Try to understand early on which tasks are draining you and see if they can be outsourced to someone else. This will leave you with more energy to put into the things that will make your business truly stand out.
- Owning your own business is not for the faint of heart. I feel like we gave birth last year with the launch of The Hot Yoga Dome. My husband and I had to dedicate time each day to turn phones off and not talk about work. It was 24/7 and our lives completely revolved around the business. I didn’t understand that entrepreneurship was that intense until I experienced it firsthand.
- Slow down and remember to take time to rest. Oftentimes, especially in American culture, there is a lot of pride that comes with working long hours and the appearance that you are constantly working. I would much rather work smarter, not harder, which encompasses all the points above. Again, finding the balance in life where you are really prioritizing yourself above all else is crucial. At the end of the day, always remember that no one on their deathbed is going to think ‘I wish I just put five more hours in in the workday.’
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health is the topic that is closest to me, by far. I feel that mentally healthy people are more than capable of tackling key issues that we’re facing in the world, and like I said before, I struggled with a mental health diagnosis at a young age. Knowing how big of a struggle that is for people and the importance of an active and healthy lifestyle is for mental health and well-being is just a huge, huge passion of mine. I don’t think we can really focus on solutions for the other issues in the world if we’re mentally unwell.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights!