How should (wellness) entrepreneurs respond to COVID-19?

By: Madison Page (ft. Michelle C. Johnson, Marek Bowers, Liz FitzGerald, Kelly Peyton)

What an incredibly difficult time to be a small business owner. As a result of COVID-19, we’ve seen the world change in ways we didn’t think possible only just three months ago. Meanwhile, all types of businesses — from the very smallest to the very largest — have only just started to evolve their offerings (and strategies) for a world that seems to have overwhelmingly moved to digital over night.

In this featured blog post, we’re interviewing our May 2020 Giveaway Partners, Marek of Rawlogy, Liz and Kelly of Ma-Wovens, and Michelle C. Johnson of Skill in Action for a deep dive on how these diverse entrepreneurs are responding to the challenges and opportunities offered by these changing teams. Madison, CEO of Core to Coeur, pipes in at the end of each interview (you’ll see her MP initials) with humor, sauciness, and thoughtful reflections for how businesses can use this time as an opportunity to evolve their purpose (and the goods and services they choose to share with the world).

Michelle C. Johnson, Skill in Action

Michelle C. Johnson

What is your name, and what do you “do”?

Michelle Cassandra Johnson. I am an author, social justice warrior and yoga teacher/practitioner, dismantling racism trainer, empath, and intuitive healer. I have over 20 years of experience leading dismantling racism work and working with my clients as a licensed clinical social worker, I have a deep understanding of how trauma impacts the mind, body, spirit, and heart. My awareness of the world through my own experience as a black woman allows me to know, first-hand, how privilege and power operate.

I published Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World in 2017.

Why did you write your book?

I wrote Skill in Action to deepen the conversation about justice in yoga spaces. As I would practice in yoga communities and studios I would often notice being the only Black Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) person or one of a few and this made me curious about why we were so underrepresented in wellness/yoga spaces. My background as a dismantling racism trainer informed my experience of the industry of yoga and allowed me to see the ways in which the industry was perpetuating exclusion that mirrored the exclusionary practices of so many institutions in our culture.

What has been the hardest process you’ve had to go through as a business owner so far?

Writing a book isn’t easy. At all. It’s a vulnerable act to birth a book and share your words with others in the hopes they will receive them with care. It is vulnerable as a black woman to talk about white supremacy and how it impacts yoga/wellness space.

But, this work isn’t easy and it is my calling; I have to do it anyway.

What is the best thing about your business?

I’ve been able to engage many in a conversation about justice and yoga and one of my favorite things is when people read my words back to me, the words in Skill in Action or from a workshop I have led and I sit there thinking “I wrote that? Wow.”

How has COVID-19 impacted your business?

I’ve had to move most of my yoga and justice, dismantling racism and intuitive healing work online. I’ve adapted pretty well and quickly but my heart hurts for the world. I’m thinking about my bottom line for sure and I am also thinking about the impact this virus will have on us for many years to come. It feels so important to be engaged in spiritual practice as we are facing a virus we haven’t faced before.

Now is the time to practice.

Why Core to Coeur was called to partner with Michelle:

MP: Core to Coeur set out to partner with 15 Founding Teachers on the platform in Summer of 2019. We had big dreams for these teachers. We would tell ourselves we’ll know them when we see them. I familiarized myself with Michelle’s work because of a response made when Shut Up and Yoga announced their Yoga and Movement Teachers to watch in 2019. Just one person on this list appeared to be a person of color. This sent waves of justified outrage in the yoga and wellness community. Resultantly, two women decided to make a list of their own, centering marginalized yoga and movement practitioners engaged in ground-breaking, forward thinking work. Michelle was one of the practitioners featured. I full on internet stalked her (cats out of the bag now!). I watched her Ted-Talk, trolled her Instagram, the whole bit. I have never seen someone able to call out racial inequality in the wellness industry with such focus, intellect, and impact. I believe that she is the Yogi of Our Time.

Marek Bowers, Founder + CEO of Rawlogy

Marek Bowers

What is your name and what do you “do”?

Marek Bowers, Founder and CEO of Rawlogy. We make massage balls and “tools for self-kindness”.

Why did you create these therapy balls?

To solve the problem of not being able to take self-care (specifically self-massage) on the hiking trail or on the road. Conventional massage balls are heavy and made of clunky, cheap rubber. Rawlogy massage balls are ultra lightweight, durable, and sustainably made from premium Portuguese cork. Roll anywhere and feel great as a result!

What is the best thing about your business?

Hearing about how our balls are helping people enjoy their lives more. Less pain, more fun.

How was COVID-19 impacted your business?

Being able to adapt to COVID-19 and changing the way we conduct business. Rawlogy is a grassroots B2B (Business to Business) and B2C (Business to Consumer) company, with feet on the ground (literally) all last year — meeting folks active in the outdoor community and making deals with independent gear shops. With COVID, all of our outdoor events so far this year have been cancelled and many of our B2B shop deals have been put on hold. So we had to figure out a way to reach more people virtually and refine our messaging to speak to people working at home and staying indoors.

What has been the hardest process you’ve had to go through as a business owner so far?

Definitely a change in our messaging. People have forgotten what their “normal” feels like. So, our balls are here to remind them of that monthly massage they used to get. Or, that experience of being on trail and getting the best foot rub in the world from this little ball you carried in your backpack all the way up the mountain.

Why Core to Coeur was called to partner with Marek:

MP: Ah yes, the Instagram Feed. Love it or hate it, this has been the most powerful discovery tool Core to Coeur has for access to like minded businesses and products. I came across Marek and Rawlogy last year through our discovery feed in this way. As a hiker and outdoor enthusiast myself, I loved the spirit and ethos of the Rawlogy massage balls. Marek and I had early conversations on the power and effects of self massage and how only a certain few have access to this kind of relief from physical pain. So we joined forces with Rawlogy on our very first giveaway last year, with just 200 measly followers (the number not the followers themselves, we love them). My how we have grown.

Marek and I have dreams of linking up for a hike in the west coast in person but we have literally never met in person.

Or come to think of it, I haven’t met any of these entrepreneurs in person. The internet wins again!

Liz FitzGerald + Kelly Peyton, Ma-Wovens

Liz FitzGerald + Kelly Peyton

Liz and Kelly were unfortunately consumed with fulfilling orders of their incredible products and being bad ass women to answer all of these questions. Here is a bit of background about their company and their ethos of their sustainable brand.

An avid yoga practitioner, Kelly always had an issue with the typical yoga mat. Sweaty hands are not the friend of a rubber surface, and no matter how much she spent on a mat, her problem of slipping persisted. She resorted to purchasing a towel, which quickly became smelly and part of an unsustainable cycle. During yet another slippery yoga class, the epiphany hit; what if the yoga mat material was interwoven with fiber, to help stop the hands from slipping?

A floor loom was purchased, her expensive yoga mat was cut up into strips, and after years of prototyping and MANY yoga classes later, The Ritual Rug began taking formation.

Why Core to Coeur was called to partner with Liz and Kelly:

MP: I can personally attest to Ma-Woven’s experience as business owners during COVID-19 because when Liz and I got on a call she said “Many businesses have experienced a down turn. But our sales our actually up”. Liz and I were connected through a fund manager in Portland, as Ma-Wovens and Core to Coeur call Oregon home. We talked for over an hour, late to our other meetings. Being a woman, raising institutional capital, and having a product that you really, really believe in is HARD. Commiserating with other female entrepreneurs makes it so much better. We quickly jumped into goofing off, joke-telling, lamenting, and shaking our heads over shared trials. Can’t these people just get it like we do? I told Liz that I only make money from teaching Pilates at the moment, despite working an average of 13 hour days. She looked at me over Zoom and said, “But how are you eating?” (Read how are you supporting yourself). Well Liz, I have to make food last these days (this is a joke to all who know my partner Derek who has been prepping the house with food and supplies since January).

Dr. Anni Sanner + Madison Page, Core to Coeur

Dr. Anni Sanner, Madison Page

What is your name, and what do you “do”?

My name is Madison Page and my co-founder is Dr. Anni Sanner and we are the women behind Core to Coeur. Two years ago, we joined forces to start a business to share exceptional movement instruction to the world. We launched Core to Coeur — a platform where any movement teacher anywhere can deliver safe, exceptional movement instruction.

Why did you make Core to Coeur?

Well, we thought it would be really fun and easy to bring a marketplace for video-conferencing style wellness classes to the world right as a pandemic hit :) .

But really, we started Core to Coeur two years ago to solve our own problems of being unable to reach our students with existing studio and gym models in a way that felt like it was sustainable long term. We had a vision that teachers deserve to run their own companies and businesses with integrity and autonomy, and they just need a little technology to help them in the process. We spent two years in beta developing our vision for an inclusive community of diverse, exceptional movement, wellness and fitness providers to teach class from anywhere. We look at COVID-19 as accelerating a process that has been evolving for the last five years of teaching of live video because the video technology has been consistently solid.

What has been the hardest process you’ve had to go through as a business owner so far?

The most difficult, bar none, is stretching so far out of your comfort zone. Reaching out to potential investors, pitching, being the only women in the room and no one really gets the power of what we’re building (except for the teachers and students of course). You have to have tough conversations and advocate for yourself every damn day. Figuring out technology and troubleshooting on fly. The hours of work required to grow and sustain the company pushes you to places emotionally and physically. The sacrifices we’re making on our personal relationships. The toll it’s taken on our bodies. Yes it is all hard- but it’s our calling and we’re doing it anyway. The livelihood of our teachers and their success on the platform that we made continues to inspire us and keep showing up for our business. It is a labor of love.

What is the best thing about your business?

As all of the entrepreneurs said above, it’s this sort of awe that you are birthing something into the world and people like it and use it. We made this? And now people are using it and finding value in our work? It’s incredibly life affirming and validating. Not to mention that we get to have these rich relationships with our teachers and our students (and if we have the chance we get to take their classes!).

How was COVID-19 impacted your business?

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the trajectory of business. We are a completely distributed team ( all of our teachers are distributed too) plus our business is literally Zoom + Wellness classes. We were, how you say, well positioned to take this pandemic head on. As a small start up with limited resources, this pandemic has accelerated our growth and we are running at maximum capacity. Part of the vulnerability is that we thought we would have time to build the software to include studios and movement instructors at a methodical, practical pace. Every teacher we bring on to partner with opens us up to students who aren’t aware that we launched in February, who aren’t familiar with our story, and frankly don’t care. They want a product that is solid, professional and works. So, while COVID has accelerated our business, it is also pretty scary to be such a small team knowing our software is being stretched to max capacity. We’re getting there team-wise, but it’s a huge learning curve.

If you are interested in learning more about these incredible people feel free to reach out to us at care@coretocoeur.com. If you are a wellness provider, we want to hear how you’re dealing with COVID-19. Below are the ways to keep the conversation going:

Email List: www.coretocoeur.com

Instagram: @CoretoCoeur

Twitter: @CoreToCoeur

Facebook: Core to Coeur

Core to Coeur: Online Classes to Meet and Move