Deciding to start your own business is like deciding to take up mountain climbing as a hobby. You have to be a tad fearless and a bit crazy. I should know, as I’ve done both.
I didn’t set out to create a business. Originally, I simply needed an LLC as a way to get paid as a contractor at the local yoga studio where I was teaching. So I played off my last name, Magee, for my business name, Yogi Magee LLC. Little did I know a new venture had been set in motion.
My experience when I started climbing Colorado’s 14ers (the 58 peaks over 14,000 feet) was similar. I was looking for a quick weekend hike and my husband suggested Grey’s and Torrey’s. He said they were popular 14ers near us and we could knock them out in a day. The hike and 4am wakeup time was grueling and I wore all the wrong things—from
yoga pants to tennis shoes. I made it to the summits but was far from a mountaineer. At the top someone mentioned it was their 34th climb and I was in awe of how many more mountains there were to conquer. A spark was ignited and a passion found. If these women could climb peaks in their free time, then I would try as well.
Just as I saw others succeeding hiking mountains, I started to see my fellow yogis reaching the summit of their dreams as well. Some were opening their own studios, others were leading teacher trainings and many more were teaching workshops. I was passed over several times to co-lead retreats at the place I was teaching because I never voiced my desire to join. So I started thinking about what inspired me and how I could create an opportunity for myself and for others to join on my expeditions. The more mountains I climbed and posted about on social media the more attention I received. Others wanted to hike with me and the realization hit. I had a niche. What if I could design a retreat that combined both yoga and hiking in a place I could only afford to visit if I were being paid to go?
Telluride was my dream, and that’s what I chose for my inaugural retreat.
My first stab at running a retreat was like my first few 14ers. Yes I was successful, but looking back there were so many errors. I didn’t have a website, just a blog as a way to sign people up. I had a graphic designer friend create my logo and another business friend who drew up registration forms and waivers. I created a Facebook page but only had a few followers and not enough content for the site. I used Paypal and accepted credit cards which meant I lost 2% or roughly $10 on every transaction. Just like I underestimated mountains I underestimated my costs and I charged way too little for what I was offering. I knew I could pull it off; I just didn’t understand how to go about doing so.
With my Telluride Yoga + Hiking Retreat in 2014, I also launched the brand Yogi Magee Expeditions. The retreat sold out, and I had 14 people I didn’t know sign up. The feeling I got when the retreat filled up was the same feeling I had when I summited a 14er: that I had done something most people would never be able to do.
That same year, I designed a fall retreat in Aspen because I felt sure lightning would strike again. A mere two people signed up and I had to cancel it. I was asked to co-teach a retreat in Belize April 2015, and we initially had so few people sign up I almost had to step down because it wouldn’t have been economical. Then I launched my second Telluride retreat in March of 2015, and this time only 6 people signed up.
I thought I was a failure. My magic was gone.
When you start climbing 14ers you know inevitably at some point you may have to turn around from a summit. Eventually your weather luck will run out and you’ll get chased off a peak by snow and lightning. However, that doesn’t mean you should give up altogether. The mountain will still be there for you and invite you back another day. I’ve met people who have tried 3-10 times to climb the same peak and they still keep coming back. Once you’ve tasted success you don’t stop seeking it, you pursue and press on no matter how difficult it may be. You can appreciate a summit even more when it’s taken you many failed attempts to reach the top.
So I treated my business the same way. Instead of seeing these under-booked retreats as a failure, I saw them as opportunities to network and inspire people one-on-one. I brought an assistant to take photos, I bought my domain name and built my own website. I invested in Constant Contact to keep every precious connection, and I started a Yogi Magee Instagram to attract more followers. I teamed up with another yogi who had strong connections. We launched a wildly successful Glamping Retreat and went on to sell out an adventure retreat in Nicaragua. On mountains, there’s often more than one way to get to the top, and I decided if one way wasn’t working for my business I’d try another.
I keep climbing knowing that even if I reach one summit there are still more for which I can strive. If you fall in love with mountains you’d better prepare to have your heart broken, and the same is true for running your own business. There are peaks and valleys and sunshine mixed with hail storms. Sometimes it all happens at once. Yet I’ve learned from my own adventures that never starting in the first place is the real failure, and if nothing else I’ll look back and say at least I had the gumption to try.