“The Magic Happens At The Confluence Of Authentic Interests, Being Receptive To A Calling, Humility, Patience, And Grit”
Words Of Wisdom With Derik Mills, CEO And Founder Of YogaGlo
I had the pleasure of interviewing Derik Mills, founder, and CEO of YogaGlo, an online yoga and meditation service.
What is your “backstory”?
I grew up in Montclair, New Jersey. My parents were both educators. We usually had summers open to travel to different parts of the country or live with my grandparents in Germany. We also lived for a year in Oregon and a year in Hawaii before high school. The exposure to cultural and environmental variety at such a young age taught me there are multiple ways of being within and perceiving the world.
I first learned the word “yoga” in 1996 in a college class where we studied the Rig Veda, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita. I was fortunate to have a great professor skilled in historical and philosophical perspectives. From that time forward, I have always known that yoga is the invitation to live fully — a calling that arises in the present to invest in a lifelong process. After college, I traveled to different parts of the world and completed a Masters degree. In 2001, while I was living in New York City, I accidentally attended a yoga asana class — in a studio and on a mat — where I experienced the link between physical and philosophical yoga more deeply. I immediately loved the experience. It was a call to an expanded awareness and a dynamic interplay of breath and body — of heart, mind, muscles, organs, bones. To me, it felt like coming home. I’ve enjoyed the physical aspect of the practice ever since. I’ve always understood it to be part of the complex meaning of “yoga.”
In 2005 I moved to Manhattan Beach, CA. I found myself at a crossroad in 2007 when I was 34. I was thinking about the many experiences and inspirations from my past, about what I wanted to do next and about dimensions of myself that were not being sufficiently exercised. I wanted to do something I felt thoroughly passionate about; I wanted to commit to something larger than myself. At the time I was frequently attending yoga classes in the surrounding Los Angeles area, spending more time with my old yoga texts, and was excited about where web and streaming technology was heading. It was at the confluence of all of those elements that when one day I was rushing to a yoga class after work and was stopped in traffic that I knew I was not going to make it there on time, I thought, why can’t I just beam this class that I’m going to into my living room? In the following year, I self-funded YogaGlo and started the company with my brother, Ryan. We launched the first three classes in November 2008.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
When we film classes with students in them, they are open to the public and free to attend. During the early days of the company, before we had any employees, my brother and I would film the classes and manage the flow of students in and out of the studio. Though we were both single at the time, we were mindful of not asking any girls attending classes out on a date as we wanted to keep the environment professional. But then one day my future wife came in to take a class, and we got married about a year later. The force of love overruled in this case.
Also, recently the YogaGlo app was chosen to be one of the demo apps on iPads and iPhones in many Apple stores across the world. That had been a long time dream of mine so for me that’s fun and interesting.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We’re very selective in our yoga and meditation faculty selection process. Our teachers are world renown. We post new classes daily. We offer thousands of classes, many of which are designed to meet our members’ specific needs in the moment. For example, if you’re a runner training for a marathon, or if you’re pregnant, or grieving from a loss, or looking to address back pain, or relieve stress, or simply in need of a short vigorous flow class before work, a short energy pickup at your desk, or something to calm you for a good night of sleep, and many more specific outcome scenarios, we’ve got a class for you. We consistently hear from our members that YogaGlo is the best online yoga provider, that our content is thoughtfully produced and curated, and that through technology we help make yoga accessible and facilitate the formation and maintenance of a yoga practice at home and on the go. We also consistently hear from people that they’ve tried other services but keep coming back to us. We’re proud of our loyal community. Our members visit our studio from different parts of the world. We somewhat regularly experience someone coming to visit and tell us they used their vacation time to make the trip. How cool is that! This year we’ll start to offer additional content modalities and features so we can further meet our members’ broader health and wellness needs.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
The short answer is that I’m always grateful for our team. I am honored that our team is inspired by the work we do and care deeply. We place a lot of value on the importance of self-awareness in working together and mindful cultivation of our culture. The “how” we do things is as important as the outcome.
I never had a singular, long-term mentor. Early on in my entrepreneurial journey when I heard stories of those who have benefitted from having a mentor over a long period of time, I recall occasionally being slightly envious. But now looking back, it makes sense I never had one. However, I feel lucky to have had many meaningful experiences with various people along the way that taught me a range of lessons and skills both professionally and personally. It’s so important not to be afraid to ask for help and not to feel like I have to have all of the answers. I gave up that need long ago. I always try to hire people smarter and more experienced than me. The larger we get, the more moving parts we add, the more grateful I am to be working with so many people who are so talented at what they do. I’ve also experienced essential personal growth through working with an executive coach. I’m glad I started that when I did. And I learn a lot through reading.
I also like to try to remain open to unexpected learning opportunities, for example, those that can occur via short unplanned encounters with people, animals, nature, which can teach a spectrum of lessons and enrich my experience of being human. My parents and brother are a valued source of learning. And my wife is my best mirror to myself, additional inspiration to be my best self, and teacher of compassion and sweetness.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
YogaGlo’s vision is a world in which we all live our true potential. Our mission is to create intelligent tools that challenge people to live a fulfilling life.
We’ve had members write in to share with us that we “saved their life” by helping them through a difficult time. Other examples include people telling us we helped them be a better parent, or get through pregnancy, or provide relief from a physical ailment or chronic illness, grieve the loss of a loved one, mitigate anxiety, relieve stress from work or while prepping for an exam, first responders stay grounded while helping others, doctors and nurses on long shifts. I could go on and on. I started YogaGlo knowing how helpful a yoga practice was for me because I love yoga and I need the commitment and consistency, so I thought others would like it too, but I could never have imagined the vast spectrum of ways in which YogaGlo has been in service of others, a trusted aid in helping others get on in life.
We’re clear that the definition of yoga is not only something performed on a mat. Yoga is the invitation to live fully. That point of view permeates all that we do, from teacher selection to marketing copy to feature development, and so on. So it’s not surprising that people experience our service on levels and in ways that are more than just a physical workout. But if someone just wants physical exercise with minimal talking, we’ve got plenty of that too.
Many use our service to supplement their studio practice, some because they don’t live near a studio or use it when their traveling. For those that do use it as a supplement, we’ve heard that the benefit they receive from the online supplementation is that it helps prevent them from lapsing in their studio attendance. Some use our service to get comfortable with the poses and sequences, and then when they have enough courage to go to a studio, they cancel their membership to attend the studio. That’s one of our favorite cancel reasons.
Over the years, we’ve contributed consistently to certain non-profit initiatives. We’re looking into ways to incorporate that into more of what we do. Empowering one another to be of service to others is important to us.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why.
I’ve found that the magic happens at the confluence of authentic interests, being receptive to a calling, previous paths taken, tools acquired along the way, calculated risk-taking, temerity, discipline, listening, humility, patience, and grit. Have a vision that is larger than yourself that is worth dedicating your life to support.
Trust your intuition. Very few people will care as much about what you’re trying to accomplish as you do. There’s no magic bullet, no single cure for all the challenges you’ll face. You’ll encounter experts who may claim to have all the answers as well as plenty of naysayers. Get skilled at taking in a lot of information from a variety of sources and disciplines and trust your instincts when making your decisions.
Fear less. I’ve heard numerous times the following statement: a start-up is inherently typically a crazy idea otherwise someone would already be doing it. Even though it takes a certain amount of boldness to start and run a business, there’s always another level of boldness and fearlessness to be attained. Some fear is good. But looking back I would tell myself to fear a bit less about the consequences of certain decisions. Often some challenges can seem more significant or more consequential than they indeed are.
Be clear about your expectations and over communicate. These could be broken out into separate items because there is much to say about them and they are so critical to team success. I’ve learned that when I do these well, good things happen, and when I don’t do them well, things can go poorly. I am working diligently to get better at both of these personally and supporting our team to do so as well.
Hire the most role-specific experienced people you can. Get skilled at hiring. The above note on setting clear expectations is critical to this process. The configuration, behaviors, and set of conditions that got you and your team to where you are are most likely not what’s needed to get you to where you want to be. Act as fast as you can.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this.
Our team has grown to a size where we’re beginning to see the need for a clearly documented culture code. There is currently a lot of new and exciting work and insight by a variety of people and companies on company culture. I’d love to have lunch with Reed Hastings and Patty McCord to discuss their experiences with Netflix. I highly recommend Patty’s new book. I’d like to have lunch with Fred Kofman for similar reasons.
I love spending time in nature riding my mountain bike and surfing in the ocean. I’m concerned about the health of our planet. I’d like to have lunch with Leonardo diCaprio and Al Gore.
And of course Elon Musk. I have many more inspiring people to list, but I’ll keep this short.