Lizzie Brown is the CEO and co-founder of Yoga Wake Up
Yoga Wake Up is an app that replaces your usual alarm with easy, audio-guided yoga or meditation… the twist? You can do it all from bed!
Lizzie Brown co-founded Yoga Wake Up with her husband, Joaquin Brown, in 2016. As she explains, the idea came to her husband after a yoga class that started with Shavasana (lying on your back)— a pose usually reserved for the end of practice. They thought about what it’d be like to gently ease into their day by waking up with short, audio-guided yoga and meditation instructions to do from bed… and decided to try pitching it as a Kickstarter campaign. At the time, the husband and wife duo had already started working on two different apps (known to their friends as “Awesome” and “Find My Yogi”) but once they saw how much traction the Yoga Wake Up Kickstarter had, they pivoted and focused solely on developing it.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Lizzie and asking her a few questions about starting Yoga Wake Up.
How did the idea for Yoga Wake Up first come about? And what were some of the first steps you took to make it happen?
My husband and I started Yoga Wake Up together in 2015. He was in a yoga class that started off in shavasana —shavasana being the pose that one usually does at the end of class— so it was unusual to do at the beginning. The instructor then asked that everyone pretend that they’re just waking up from bed. So she used blankets and bolsters as pillows, and had the lights turned down low, and was whispering. My husband felt this was an incredible way to start the morning and came home and asked me if I thought that it was something that would make a difference in the way I was waking up. At the time I was hitting snooze 2, 3 times in the morning (probably driving him crazy) so he tested it on me… And it worked out really nicely, it was a lovely way to start the day. We did a Kickstarter that immediately out of the gate was a success — on the first night that the prototype of the app was on the app store we had over a thousand downloads. So finding that it was successful, we actually pivoted from working on another app that was not taking off the way this was. We both worked on it part-time for a while, because of my background in PR and marketing, we already had an agency through which I was repping brands, and Joaquin focusing on software development. About a year and a half later, in 2018, was when we really started to make some changes. Yoga Wake Up was featured on the App Store several times, and we at that point were working full time on YWU. We are slowly bootstrapping and growing the app in this very sustainable way.
Co-founders Lizzie and Joaquin Brown.
What were some of the first obstacles you had to overcome as a founder?
Well, I’d say the biggest obstacle has been —and continues to be— bootstrapping our business, and more specifically, knowing whether or not we should raise capital or remain self-funded. When we first started Yoga Wake Up we were confident (and naive) and thought that if we built a product that was easy to scale to 10x with product-market fit, investors would approach us. We have always been both blessed and cursed by our resourcefulness and abilities (for example, my co-founder is a CTO, which is rare). We don’t technically “have” to raise money. Instead, we wear many hats and are growing sustainably, yet... slowly. I find I am constantly in a state of mental limbo of “to raise or not to raise” and it would most certainly be an easier decision if raising didn’t mean spending hours on end trying to convince investors to take a chance on us. Sometimes I feel like, “What do I need to do to prove that we’re it? We’re not going anywhere and we’re going to give it our very best!” But as fundraising in itself is a full-time job and frankly requires a lot of smoke & mirrors that we’re simply not great at, I find myself continuing down the more obstacle-ridden road of doing it yourself!
Have you considered doing crowdfunding?
I don’t think I would do Kickstarter again. We didn’t raise too much money, but it was definitely a marketing vehicle for us. We have actually been looking into crowdfunding, something like Republic or equity crowdfunding, which wasn’t really an option when we started. That’s shifted so much over the last couple of years that now we are starting to take it more seriously. I’m interested in seeing if that would be a fit because we do have so many loyal, active users at Yoga Wake Up, that it seems like a great opportunity to engage our users and our fans.
How Yoga Wake Up works (download the app here).
What does a typical day in your life look like?
So I actually have very organized block scheduling to be able to manage everything that I do every day. I have several hours a day that are dedicated to all of our marketing initiatives, whether it’s managing our marketing teams or creating content for ads. Then I have a day once a week that I just manage all of the business end of stuff, which quite recently was taxes, but anything like managing our contracts with our lawyer or anything I can check off the list that’s not exactly my passion… all the things you have to do that are part of running a business. Then I try to have 2 days a week that are creative days. My favorite thing about what I do, and it’s always been my favorite thing to do in work, is to focus on relationships, networking, and business development. I spend at least 2 days a week seeking out opportunities for YWU: partnerships, PR, (like reaching out to organizations like yours), influencers… anything where I can just meet new people. It’s been very difficult during the pandemic -- I was always out and networking and going to events and meeting people that way. So of course, now, I'm learning this new way of doing this through a screen (of course, we all are...) And then I fill in the time by putting out fires throughout the day. We are also just getting started on ramping up events again, now that we can do some outdoor events. That was something that was a really big part of Yoga Wake Up prior to the pandemic. For example, right now we are getting ready to teach classes at these new tiny home communities in LA created as bridge housing for our formerly houseless... that's another example of a partnership that I really wanted to do, where we could get out with our teachers, meet the community and help people, introduce them to YWU and the idea of waking up with mindfulness.
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whenever works best for YOU and your schedule.
How would you like Yoga Wake Up to evolve?
We are actually in the process of redesigning the app, section by section. I already mentioned how we are updating the onboarding earlier: this will be music to anyone’s ears who doesn't want to pay to subscribe (because YWU is a subscription). We have a freemium offering that is 2 or 3 sessions that you can use as long as you like. We are also getting ready to create a 7-day track of content that you can try every day of the week as part of a trial. The idea is that we make the app more useful for everybody, regardless of whether they pay or not. I think we’ve gotten to the point where we’re realizing that we’ve always wanted to reach people through YWU, so we are realizing: let’s open it up, let’s give it to more people, let’s show people what it’s like to use the app for an extended period of time without a subscription so that we can just get more people practicing yoga. If they can get to know YWU, use it, appreciate some of the features without having to pay, they’re more likely to share it with their friends. We are still a young app... our subscription model was launched in 2017 so it’s only 3 and a half years old but we’re learning all the time how to improve it, how to make it a better product for people all over the world.