Co-founder of Yoga Tree Inc.
Location: Toronto, ON
When Debbie Fung and Jason Lu launched Yoga Tree in 2007, they tapped into two massive consumer trends: mounting interest in a more holistic approach to health and wellness, and the post-An Inconvenient Truth craze for all things green. What sets their chain of yoga studios apart is not only its eco-friendly, spa-like facilities—which are stocked with energy-efficient lighting, reclaimed wood furnishings and low-flow showers—but also its custom line of clothing, mats and skin-care products. All of these have been warmly welcomed by the yoga set. Today, a client base of more than 10,000 yogis and yoginis regularly attends classes at Yoga Tree’s three studios in the Greater Toronto Area. Fung encourages devotees to spread the word, and gathering the effusive testimonials of happy clients is a core promotional strategy. In addition, she says, “We motivate and empower our staff and students to create a positive effect on the community.” This philosophy manifests itself in many ways; for instance, the Yoga Tree community raised more than $10,000 for breast-cancer research during a recent fundraiser for Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital.
What is your best advice for young entrepreneurs?
Starting a business can be very overwhelming. As the owner of the company, you will have to juggle many hats: as the accountant, sales force, marketing department and even the janitor! Don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek advice from experts in your field. Even your clients can bring a new perspective on the business.
What has been the biggest surprise about being an entrepreneur?
That I am capable of a lot more than I thought. We decided to open Yoga Tree Richmond Hill in late 2008. Immediately after our bank loan got approved, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, the economy started to go downhill and customers’ spending habits tightened. Yoga Tree had to change our marketing strategy to make it work. But I never backed down from the challenges. With the help of a great team and constant efforts to strive for innovative ideas, we’ve been able to move forward in tough times and thrive.
What can governments, institutions and other businesses do to better support young entrepreneurs?
When we started Yoga Tree, there were very few and limited programs for entrepreneurs under 25. It would be beneficial if there were a [government] coaching program for young entrepreneurs.