Hot Yoga expert Petra Starke has created a global marketplace to suit the modern yogi
Hot Yoga involves a fairly rigorous practice in 105-degree temperatures, usually for 90 minutes and covering 26 yoga poses or ‘Asanas’.
It’s typically known as ‘Bikram Yoga’ which is the original hot yoga practice – and the most well known.
Since its inception, Bikram Yoga has attracted yogis and practitioners from all over the world, including Hollywood’s finest stars who have consistently wanted to enjoy its benefits.
- Cleansing the body of toxins
- Increasing lung capacity
- Promoting flexibility
- Improving the immune system
- Weight loss.
One of America’s biggest hot yoga fans is without a doubt Czech-born lawyer and businesswoman, Petra Starke.
When Bikram Yoga became extremely fragmented and diluted almost over night, it was time to change it and introduce some innovation.
In fact, the former General Counsel of the Council of Economic Advisers to President Obama used to spend her spare time teaching hot yoga at the White House gym.
And just as Petra’s affinity for hot yoga increased over time, she decided to enter the hot yoga sector, professionally.
Whilst working as President & CEO at Bikram to professionalize the movement, Petra grew the business to over 1,000 independent studios worldwide.
She also brought the physiological and psychological benefits of exercising in elevated temperatures to millions of people worldwide.
But today, after various legal difficulties and following the exit of the Bikram namesake founder, Bikram Choudray, the once robust and popular hot yoga concept began to look fragile and could have finally lost its spark.
Sensing the perfect opportunity to fill a void, share her passion with the world and to create something fresh, Petra’s exciting hot yoga venture was born.
Here, California-based Petra tells Nativa World why she created SweatNGlow and why she has what it takes to save the industry and bring a revitalized and updated hot yoga movement into the next century…
It creates a unifying hot yoga community for studios, teachers and practitioners.
Petra, what inspired you to create ‘SweatNGlow’?
It was my love and passion for hot yoga as a yoga practitioner, business executive and teacher. I have compassion for the former Bikram Yoga studios that fell into decline. I wanted to do something about it. Like many, with everything negative that had happened within this sector, I also questioned the identity of the practice of hot yoga. Then, when Bikram Yoga became extremely fragmented and diluted almost over night, it was time to change it and introduce some innovation.
What problem does it solve?
SweatNGlow described perfectly what happened in a hot yoga class – you sweat like a pig and glow like a star when you come out. SweatNGlow provides the studios, teachers and yogis much needed technology support and resources. It creates a unifying hot yoga community for studios, teachers and practitioners. It also offers a global marketplace for everything hot yoga – lifestyle, clothing, nutrition, science, research – think of it as a connective tissue to over 10 million customers and more than 5,000 independent hot yoga studios. It targets anyone and everyone who thinks about hot yoga – whether that person is a studio owner, potential studio owner, yogi, teacher, football player – or someone simply curious what hot yoga is all about.
My greatest success is seeing the community come together and getting excited, engaged and formulating a unified voice.
What does the new platform do?
In its current iteration, the platform provides a booking engine for SweatNGlow studios and an e-commerce platform that is the foundation of a new fast growing marketplace for everything hot yoga . In a couple of weeks, the next iteration will have customer engagement tools where yogis will start being connected and engaged to participate in a variety of games and challenges. In the meantime, SweatNGlow is developing its digital library and will start streaming its educational services. Ultimately, the company will provide licensing, teacher training, and a certification and ambassador program.
What success have you seen so far with your business?
My greatest success is seeing the community come together and getting excited, engaged and formulating a unified voice. At our October launch in Washington, DC at the Yoga Factory Wharf we had studio owners present from all over the United States as well as my colleagues from business, government, and the DC community joined. I have never seen so many people come together in this community for anything. Seeing this level of engagement, I would have rolled out my plan faster.
What are your goals for SweatNGlow?
To have SweatNGlow studios in all parts of the U.S, to provide yogis easily accessible information about hot yoga in one place and to empower and support yogis, studio owners and teachers. We have some interesting licensing opportunities ahead of us and we believe we can have 100 studios by the end of next year
I constantly think of all of the studio owners, teachers and yogis who I can share my work, vision and commitment with.
How do you stay motivated?
I have to motivate myself, as well as all of my team members. I’m generally a very positive upbeat love-based person. I squeeze every second out of my day. I’m very flexible and open to try anything once. Otherwise I’m motivated by my passion and love for hot yoga. I can’t imagine a single day without hot yoga. I used to get up at 5 am every day when I worked at the White House to make sure I could get a class in at 6:15 am. I taught at the White House gym 2-3 times per week on a volunteer basis to share my love and passion with others. I’m just one member of the hot yoga community. I constantly think of all of the studio owners, teachers and yogis who I can share my work, vision and commitment with.
Who inspires you in entrepreneurship?
I’m very fortunate to have met many wonderful inspiring people along the way to create what is SweatNGlow today. I met the founder of Zumba, Beto Perez, I met the founder of 24-hour fitness, Mark Mastrov, I met the founder of lululemon, Chip Wilson, and his wonderful wife Shannon Wilson, and the list continues. My husband inspires me, as does the work we do with the Retired NFL Players Congress.
Mark Mastrov has been a very generous supporter and he is the person from whom I seek advice when I reach a new milestone. Chip Wilson built an empire on a pair of black stretchy yoga pants. Currently, I’m reading his book aptly named Little Black Stretchy Pants. I’m obsessed with this book because I see so many parallels between the experiences he had at early stages of Lululemon and my SweatNGlow experience. Not every day is perfect. There are ups and downs and it’s so inspiring for me to learn that everyone has those days and to learn what tools they used to overcome them.
How easy was it to transition between the legal industry and the start-up world?
SweatNGlow is a startup with a very advanced and sophisticated legal team for a startup. I have on my team the former senior partners practicing with O’Melveny & Myers M&A and litigation practices. I worked for them 15 years ago and today we have a role reversal where they work for me. Among the three of us, we know how to get the best lawyers for anything if we cannot get the work done ourselves.I have learned from other CEOs in the Young Presidents Organization that many deals are done on a handshake and sometimes sophisticated legal work/overlawyering can slow things down or even kill a deal.
So there is a bit of tension between high quality sophisticated legal work and startup practicalities. There’s an old saying that lawyers go to law school because they are too risk adverse to become investment bankers. My startup experience has taught me to cautiously embrace risk and learn to live with it. It has also taught me to become more practical and not make perfect the enemy of the good.
I try to be very available because I believe in Karma.
What do entrepreneurs need help with most of all?
Entrepreneurs need mentors, just like everyone else in life. I’ve been very fortunate to gain very quickly access to some of the most successful entrepreneurs – Mark Mastrov, Chip Wilson, Dave Gilmoure. I try to pay it back and find time for entrepreneurs or students who reach out to me. I try to be very available because I believe in Karma.
Being a female entrepreneur is still very different from being a male entrepreneur. Unfortunately, female founders have a much harder time accessing capital. There are very powerful statistics on this subject. I’ve learned to stretch each dollar very far.
What are your lifestyle tips for someone launching a startup?
- Expect the unexpected
- Never give up
- Perseverance pays off
- It is not easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it
How do you stay healthy on the road?
Hot yoga and fitness is a way of life for me. I’m a person who despite a fair amount of chaos needs routine in my life, so I keep my routine on the road. I always choose a hotel near a SweatNGlow studio or at least a hot yoga studio. SweatNGlow yoga gives me huge physical and mental benefits. I never regret the class I attended. I only regret the class I did not attend. It helps me feel good about myself and maintain a sense of balance and purpose. I believe it has the same benefit for any female business traveler.
What’s next for you Petra?
Today, I’m having lunch with a Czech billionaire in South Beach having gotten off a red-eye from LA at 5 am, going straight to Sunshine Hot Yoga to take a 6 am 60 min class, and then meeting with its studio owner about joining SweatNGlow. After lunch, I head straight back to LA, so I don’t miss too much time with my 7 year-old son and my husband.
Next for me? Taking SweatNGlow to its full potential. Creating a new exciting, revitalized hot yoga brand that provides connective tissue to independent hot yoga studios, teachers and yogis and offering healing and listening to a community that has been through a lot of suffering, and living a life to its full potential with integrity, honesty and authenticity. These will be my next great achievements.
Photography courtesy of Petra Starke & SweatNGlow