We first met Roxanne 8 years ago in school where she was more an athlete than a student. Since then she’s worked her way through university, survived almost dropping out, and taught yoga and spin classes at various boutique studios. In November 2012 she quit her freelance jobs to start her own studio, Meraki Yoga, launched February 2014, with two business partners. We sat down to talk about dealing with business partners, her parents’ reaction to her career path, and what it’s like being a young boss with absolutely no background in management.
Q: Did you ever think you would be a yoga teacher when you were a kid?
A: No, of course not! All I knew when I was a kid was that I had to go to school. When I was in secondary school I wasn’t doing so well – I was in the Normal Academic stream, and was always getting in trouble with teachers because I wasn’t doing my work and mixing with the wrong crowd.
I didn’t do so well for my A levels so I applied to a private uni here and majored in Finance because I wanted to be a banker, partly because everyone’s always told me that I’d have good job prospects in the banking industry.
It was only during my first university summer break that my mom introduced me to yoga, and after the first month I was hooked… until I joined a gym. It wasn’t like I stuck with yoga the minute I found it. By then I had returned to school for my second year, but I wasn’t into it anymore. At the gym I met a group of running friends, and I ran until I had a shin splint. I stopped running and started yoga lessons again.
An instructor at the gym I was going to was the one who first got me on the teaching track. She told me to take a teaching course in LesMills BodyBalance, and after I finished that I got my first teaching job at the gym teaching a movement class. I really enjoyed teaching and I was also getting more involved in yoga, so soon after that I decided to tell my mom that I wanted to be a yoga teacher.
Q: How did your mom react?
A: She ignored me because she thought that I was kidding. When she realized I was serious, she was angry because she felt it was her fault for introducing me to yoga. It was also pretty bad because I was only in my second year of uni but I was ready to quit school to pursue teaching. I wasn’t even going to school anymore because I had lost interest. And I was in a hurry to get certified because teaching was going well and my manager was ready to give me more classes to teach.
Q: So did you complete your degree in the end?
A: I was prepared to fail my exams but passed my second year final exams by two marks. So I went on to my third year, but still I wasn’t attending classes at all. In fact I was teaching everyday and self-studying when I had time. After I graduated I spent two months in India getting certified to teach yoga.
Q: When did you decide that you wanted to open something of your own?
A: Only when I started teaching in boutique studios after I returned from India. I knew I wanted to do this forever, but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to teach forever, so I had to create a solution where I could hire people to teach when I’m no longer able to.
You know you see those articles on your Facebook like ’10 things I wish I had known when I was 20?’ Here’s the thing: a lot of us already know these things right now – we just need to have the courage to do it!
Q: We know you have two business partners who are in this venture with you. Who are they and how did you decide you would work with them?
A: I’ve known them both for about 10 years; one of them used to be my Math tutor in JC. After JC I started teaching part-time at his tuition centre, and while I was there he told me that if I ever wanted to start my own business to let him know. I was in my first year of uni at that time.
When he next talked to me about going to business together it was April 2012, when I first got my job at Hom Yoga. My ex-tutor, together with his good friend (whom he built his tuition business with), are the investors in this business.
Q: Did you put in any money at all?
A: I wouldn’t say I put in money in the contractual sense; they fund the business and I run it. But I’ve had to give up other jobs that paid me much better and gave me many opportunities.
Q: Would you have started your own place if you didn’t have partners?
A: Definitely not, it would have been too hard because of the capital involved. We spent about 250k, and I have a friend who did it for 170k, which is the bare minimum. If I were able to take a loan, I would have tried – and if I had to do it myself I would have only done it after teaching for at least another 3 years.
Q: What was most difficult when you were setting up?
A: Getting enough capital and finding a space.
Working with my partners can be difficult because first they’ve invested their savings into this business, and second they have a certain idea of how we should be doing business – but they don’t know anything about yoga. They sometimes decide on things that they think will be good for the studio, but I come from a different viewpoint, which has resulted in a lot of conflict. I’ve always believed in an organic, word of mouth approach to business, but my partners constantly challenge how I think things should be done. It can be difficult because I have to take instructions from people who don’t understand the way things are done in the yoga industry.
Q: How did you choose your studio location?
A: We always wanted a place at Buona Vista, away from the city/ CBD area where there are already many established yoga studios. We also want to grow the yoga community outside of just the Orchard area.
At first we were trying for a place at Fusionopolis – we even started working with a contractor and designer to layout the space. But because Fusionopolis is under Jurong Town Council, a government organization, we ultimately weren’t given the space because there was too much renovation that had to be done. The renovation figures were also quite scary at $330, 000, which we couldn’t take on. The process at Fusionopolis took us 6-7 months, after which we started looking elsewhere. We found a place at Novena, and again we worked with our designer and contractor, but the deal fell through because we had to reinstate everything i.e. we had to put back 2500 sq. ft. of carpet after pulling it out and reconstruct a pillar that we were going to knock down.
It took us a year to find this new space.
Q: What are some of the challenges of managing your own studio?
A: It’s exhausting. I teach classes in the morning and after work hours, so I have to be able to keep myself awake throughout the day. And I no longer just teach; I manage. So I have to greet people at the door when they arrive and make small talk, which can be very tiring when I’m already exhausted.
I’ve also had to give up things that are important sources of energy for me. I used to teach spin classes during lunch hour twice a week, where I built the class from 5 to a full 40 people class. The class was important because it always rejuvenated me, but I’ve had to give that up. I used to practice yoga with my teacher 3-5 times a week, but I no longer have the time because I have to be here. It’s challenging because I feel like I’m no longer as strong, both mentally and physically.
Q: Do you have a core support group and how have they reacted?
My mom hasn’t been very supportive because she’s a typical Singaporean mother – you need to get a stable job in a respected industry. When I started teaching she gave me a year to prove that I could make a career out of yoga. And even till today she wants me to get an office job and teach yoga on the side. But why would I waste 60 hours a week on something I don’t want to do, just for the sake of money or CPF, if I’ve already found what I love to do? We’ve fought a lot over my career, but at the end of the day when I’m down and out she’s always there for me. My dad is supportive because he’s a freelancer so he understands how important it is to pursue your dream.
I have a friend I’m really close to – she even quit her job to help me here. She made me a positive person – I draw a lot of strength from her. I used to think that this studio wouldn’t come to fruition – there was a time when I even told my partners that I didn’t want to do it because nothing was going according to plan – but she made me stick with it.
Q: Do you have a career role model and what has s/he taught you?
A: When I first started practicing yoga I didn’t actually learn much. The teachers were rough with their physical adjustments and couldn’t explain things in anatomical and technical terms, causing me to sustain back injuries in the long run.
After my membership expired, I tried yoga with another teacher, Hee Boon, at Pure Yoga, which was when I realized I had been doing things wrongly. He’s been teaching for over 10 years and has quite a following. As a yoga teacher Hee Boon is really different – he doesn’t smile. He sits in front of his class and directs his students, and I don’t know how but everyone is able to understand him. I started attending his classes regularly and learnt so much from him.
Before he starts his class, he reads a story from a book/ his iPad, in which there will always be a moral to it. So in this way he’s not just teaching poses, he’s educating his students on how to be a better person. He really changed the way I approached yoga, and in turn made me a better teacher. The more I learnt from him, the better I got at teaching, and the stronger my students’ practices became. That’s when I really saw more students coming in from word of mouth.
Q: As an entrepreneur, what are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt that you would share with someone who wants to start their own business?
A: You have to remember that you are responsible for other people so you always need to work on improving yourself. I’ve always been a follower – I’m quite easy-going and I don’t have any real opinions about most things. It was hard to start my own studio because I had to make decisions on my own, and you have to be able to do this well and fast because things pile up very quickly and people depend on you to get things going. Learn to be decisive.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
A: I can’t say retirement, right? I always want to be learning and teaching. I want to travel the world and learn more about yoga from teachers everywhere.
Q: How do you define success and do you think you’ve achieved it?
A: Success happens when I feel spiritually rich… like I’ve done something fulfilling. It’s not about how much money I make – it’s about seeing people trust you with their bodies, their injuries, and their healing. I feel successful because my work makes me feel like I’m positively changing people’s lives.
Success is also about respect, and in this area I feel like I’ve achieved success. When I first began my students used to doubt my teaching because of how young I look, but now they know they’re regulars because my class has helped them and they respect what I’m able to do for them.