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From Idea to Action

Posted on 16 December 2015


So now I had an idea — make yoga mats with cool, printed designs on them. I knew, even though I had no clue how to start one, that I was going to start a business. I had nothing to begin with but an idea and debt, and nothing would stop me, because I'd tried everything else. I didn't know where I'd end up, and I still don't, but I knew I was getting on the wave, and I'd have to learn to ride it as I rode it, because otherwise I'd never know if it was possible. It wasn't enough to have an idea. I needed to act on it, even though I didn't know how.

I thought about what I'd need to start a business based on the idea of putting cool prints on yoga mats. Before I could start a business, I needed to understand the basics of what to do, the essential elements to make it a reality. From where I stood at that point, I figured I needed a couple preliminary things:

#1 — Someone who could help me make designs to print on yoga mats, because nobody would buy anything I would draw.

#2 — A way to make yoga mats with printed designs on them.

Eventually I would need to actually get yoga mats made, but right then I was in an exploratory phase. I had no money, so all I could do was invest time and energy. That just cost me the willingness to do the work. Research was free, as long as I was doing it.

I tackled #1 first. Mike Vash, my friend who introduced me to yoga, also happens to be an artist, and he also happens to be an entrepreneur with his own greeting card line called Vash Designs. I discussed the idea with him, and he was interested in collaborating on a potential business venture, where he was willing to work for free to help develop the company, while he would earn an ownership position in it. I had my first business partner.

#2 required more effort. Where do yoga mats get made? Do yoga mat companies have their own factories? Are there factories out there willing to work with a new business? Which ones can print on yoga mats? How do I find them? That's where I started, with a few very broad questions. I did my research on the internet, Googling everything I could about yoga mats and manufacturing. I quickly learned that most of the mat factories were in Asia. I found a site called Alibaba.com that connects companies with factories that make goods, and I saw that the factories that could make printed yoga mats were all clustered in China and Taiwan.

I began emailing the factories and talking with factory managers there. Luckily, most of the factories have managers who can speak fair English, because their customers are generally from the West. I asked every question I could about any kind of yoga mat there was and if it was possible to print on them. I established my first business relationships overseas by sending some emails. Some of the companies I first contacted I am still working with.

Meanwhile, Mike and I were working on designs for the mats. I found a talent I didn't know I had, which was working with an artist to make designs better. This involves knowing what you like and being able to communicate it to someone with more ability than you have, without making them angry. You'll need to do this in all aspects of your business, find people to work with who are willing to adapt to your thoughts and ideas, and you will need to learn to work and adapt to theirs theirs, too.

I realized I used this same talent in film school, when I made my student film projects. Every film I had to make meant gathering a group of people to help crew it behind the camera, as well as find and work with actors in front of the camera, ultimately leading to a finished short film. It was a lot like starting and running a business, in that it was the forming of a group of people and working with them toward the creation of a final product. The difference was, we weren't trying to sell our student films. I had unwittingly been involved in the most fundamental aspects of business for a very long time, and it was great to know my college education had a point. I had some "experience" to start and run a company, even if it was indirect. That I could apply my old experiences to a new and different endeavor gave me some fresh confidence.

Eventually we realized we needed a name for the company, and a logo. Mike and I worked one night over more than a few beers and started throwing out any company name we could that had "yoga" in it. We'd type the name into GoDaddy, and find the url would not be available. Everything we thought of, the .com was taken. We did this for many hours, coming up with company names that were already used by other companies. We were starting to get frustrated. Finally, sometime around 3 AM, Mike blurted out:

Mike: "What about YogaRat?"

Me: "You mean, rat like the vermin?"

Mike: "Uh huh."

Me: "What's it mean?"

Mike: "It means yoga with a rat attached to it."

Me: "That's a really dumb name."

Mike: "Just throwing it out there."

We both think for a moment.

Me: "Is the .com available?"

Mike checks: "Yup."

Me: "Our company is called YogaRat."

My initial reaction was wrong. YogaRat was the perfect name for our company, because while it didn't really mean anything to me at the time, it had a sense of fun and whimsy that I always respond to. That I didn't know what it meant only made it more appropriate. It took us exhausting a lot of bad ideas to find one that worked, even if we didn't know why. And the moment we chose YogaRat for our company name, the idea for a logo became clear — a rat sitting in a meditating position, which fit our yoga focus. It was Mike's idea to add the notch in the YogaRat's ear, because we wanted the rat to have a bit of scrappiness to him.

So now we had a company name, a logo, and we were working toward our goal. We were well beyond the basic idea stage, and acting toward creating a real business.

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