Up until September of 2013, it was just her. She never slept. Her team was as lean as it gets- her and an assistant. Completely self-funded and lacking funds to hire but with so much happening so fast, Ava Taylor realized it was time to take the leap. Doing most of the “doing” meant working IN the business and ON the business at the same time. And, at times, it was tough to actually get much done effectively as a result. In order to move forward and be able to say yes to all the opportunity coming at her, Ava chose to take a lateral next step.
The idea is genius. Everyone knows it. Help teachers do what they do best—TEACH. It is one of Yama’s taglines. The kicker is figuring out how to make it make sense financially. We sat down with Ava to learn more about YAMA Talent, the agency for yoga teachers she founded, and the current iteration of one of the business that inspires US the most.
Natalie: Alright, we know what YAMA is, but give us your pitch. What is YAMA Talent? What do you do, why, and HOW?
Ava: We create thriving businesses in the yoga space. Our company is based around creating infrastructure to support the growth of the yoga industry. We have three core pillars: Booking Agency, Artist Management, and Strategic Advising Firm. With the booking agency—we work on creating a smooth backend for touring yoga teachers. The planes, trains, and automobiles, as well as contracts, and all the other things required to support a booking. We created that to facilitate greater ease of exchange of teacher content so that they are just showing up to teach at the end of the day.
Our artist management firm is where we are looking out for the entire portfolio of the teacher. What that means is that we include the booking (live appearance,) but we are also helping them strategically with brand strategy, clarity of purpose, and direction. We work with certain teachers who are traveling around the world on everything from A-Z, including alternative streams of revenue. In addition to these live appearance, we encourage more stability by creating new types of products (clothing lines, teacher trainings, retreats, etc.) in order to create a more diverse business for the teacher. We work with fairly high caliber yoga teachers and are currently expanding into the wellness space.
We also run a strategic advising firm. A package-based, project-based hourly side of our business that allows us to work with all kinds—studios, teachers, wellness businesses included. We wanted to be able to offer something for everyone. You may not be in a position to have a full-time manager, and in that case we can develop bits and pieces that help with the business you DO have. We have people in each of these positions now which is really nice because it used to just be, well, ME.
Natalie: Let’s have a little backstory … I know that you were working at Lululemon and you had some friends trying to get you to help them out. Tell us about how Yama came to be. What was the impetus for launch?
Ava: It was out of necessity, really. It was overwhelmingly clear that teachers were struggling financially and if they didn’t figure out how to be viable they would have to go back to their day jobs. I thought that would be such a loss to see that happen, and had to figure out how to bridge that gap in order to allow for more yoga in the world. I started doing the work—staying up all night, taking calls from both coasts—and then a good friend asked me to manage them. It was like the lightbulb came on that this was what I had to do. It was Spring of 2009 that it crystalized, and in January of 2010 the site went up and it officially “began.” There was a lot of figuring out what the hell we were doing in the beginning! It took some time. It wasn’t fully formed. The concept was there, but how we executed wasn’t. That had to come with learning along the way.
Natalie: So who was your first client?
Ava: Sadie Nardini!
Natalie: One of our favorites! Alesha and I have both done certifications with her, and so we are testimony of how your service has worked! I found her in Switzerland, you know:)
Okay, so what is the absolute best part of your job?
Ava: Knowing that what I do everyday matters in a big way. And also getting to set my own schedule. I used to work three jobs… at the same time. That is how I funded my working for a year to get this going without getting paid. It has been a lifetime of being here, being there, clocking in, clocking out. So I definitely appreciate the freedom to make my own schedule. It means being self-disciplined as well, and I love that. I am surrounded by people who are inspiring, so that’s pretty cool. It is such a healthy environment to be around!
Natalie: Okay, so then the worst part?
Ava: That I can’t do everything that I want to. And that is because of resources. Trying to start a business, you grow step by step. You get another client, you make a little bit more, and you kind of have this slow, step-by-step, organic growth. If you want to make a big leap, you have to have working capitol in order to do it. You can’t go from 10 to 100 clients and think that one at a time will actually cut it. We are in that uncomfortable space of having so much opportunity that we could be capitalizing on—and when I say that, what I mean is:
there are so many people that need help and have wonderful things to say and information that the world needs. We could be doing more for them if we had the resources. So that is the frustration for me.
Natalie: One of my favorite conversations when moving forward with our own business, Gather, was with you on the concept of “over saturation.” You mentioned how people are using that word in a negative way in the yoga world-—especially in reference to the generation of teachers. Can you talk about that for me? Why do you dislike that word?
Ava: That word bothers me because it is dis-empowering. There are a lot of teachers, in NYC, everywhere, but there are also a lot of students—millions and millions—and more and more people coming to the practice. It is abused, and I just think it is a bit of a cop-out in a lot of ways. It is important at that point to understand if this is what they really, really want want to do. One of the first things people look to when they fall in love with the practice is the glamour of yoga teaching. Rather than speaking the truth of how difficult it is to be a professional teacher making a viable living and how they don’t think that they can make it, they say that it is over saturated. It’s false, too.
I do believe if someone wants to put in the work (and it isn’t easy!) that there is enough opportunity there for them to do it.
Natalie: It’ s not only work, it’s WORK. I have this friend who is a teacher that I was only just talking to who mentioned how she had to step away for a bit. It was getting too heavy. She learned parts of herself she had never know before. Sometimes parts of yourself that you might not be ready for.
Ava: It’s also being an entrepreneur. Not just loving yoga. There is no blueprint for how to do it. You have to piece it together, decide what you want it to look like, and then go make it happen. And that requires stamina that not a lot of people actually have! That’s why more people don’t work for themselves. That type of stamina and ability to be uncomfortable is not everybody’s thing.
Natalie: Let’s talk about the term, “Yogalebrity.” And the overnight yoga Instagram celebrity-dom, what do you stand on all that?
Ava: I think when I look at the “yogalebrity,” it says something different. Yogalebrity means someone who is famous for putting a healthy lifestyle into the world. I am a big fan of that. A lot of what we do is a create a constructive rather than destructive “celebrity.” That is a good thing. Yogalebrity is a representative of a positive lifestyle who becomes a rockstar for living that way. I am talking about somebody really living it. Most people we hold up in or culture (celebrities) are often very destructive with what they are putting it into the world.
As far as social media sensations go, a lot of the Instagram success stories have been in the game for a long long time, even though they are young. They have been teaching for 5-8 years and have merit. Those ‘short cutting’—well, it will be interesting to see how it pans out. There can certainly be a pop phenomenon, yet if you are not a legitimately solid product, it will not last. Some of them are building platforms for sponsorships/commercial opportunities where there no teaching is involved, yet even with great social media numbers, if you aren’t solid in the room, at some point the buzz will fizzle out. Again, I think the more yoga the better! Even from those social media phenoms! We all have the same message. It is exciting to see it getting out there in a bigger way. It is frustrating for people who have been working hard and don’t have the numbers.
Natalie: I know you have had your fair share of critics, as with anyone who has revolutionary ideas. How do you stay positive/ the course/ focused on your end goal?
Ava: I believe the number one way is:
-keep your eye on the reason WHY you are doing WHAT you are doing–
If you really believe in your why you won’t even have time for the negatives. You are almost hell-bent on moving forward with what you believe. That definitely is my key. Always remember why I started. And I know that there is a need… a hole that needs to be filled. When you know that what you are doing is really needed. You don’t have time for the negative because you are on a mission. I find the why I am doing what I am doing every single day.
Also, it is really important to not let one thing mean everything. All the things you are learning the hard way, sometimes it is easy to think that the one mistake you made means everything is wrong. You have to put it in the context of all the things that ARE working. If you only have nay sayers, though, something is wrong. If you have mostly support and a few naysayers, that is good and keeps you balanced.
Natalie: Taking brutal feedback is necessary and can be productive. We are learning that along the way, but sometimes it is brutal.
Ava: “What can I learn?” It is a barometer, the negative feedback. In the course of the day, it is a bittersweet reality over the course of the year, but it is a balance that has to happen. One thing doesn’t mean everything. You process it, HEAR it, and move on. Even if you clearly fucked up. Even those things you take accountability for and move on.
Natalie: What or who is your greatest inspiration and/or role model and why?
Ava: My grandmother. Everybody in the office calls me Granny because I quote her so often. She passed, but she was just such a make-the-best-of-what-you-have kind of person and that always resonated with me. She picked cotton as a sharecropper. She didn’t go to school because she has to take care of all of her brothers and sisters. Later on, she ended up going back to school and got an associates degree when she was in her 50s! I think about her GRIT. She saw some shit and saw through it and rose above it and did the best that she could for her family. I keep cotton in the office because it reminds me of where she started and where she ended up. The reason that I want to carry it forward is because she grew up in a time when there were a lot of limitations—woman AND African American. I know that I am the first truly free generation, and I know it is important for me to make the most of it and not be self-limiting.
That is the most insane shackle you can place on yourself—self-limitation.
Natalie: Let’s get a little personal. You recently got hitched! Tell me about your new wife life! Congratulations on your marriage, by the way! We are really happy for you.
Ava: Sonia Bach and I got married on August 1st in NYC! At Thanksgiving, we go to Germany for a weekend with her parents and friends to celebrate again. In June, we will go on a retreat with Sadie and we will stay a week after the retreat and do our actual honeymoon there.
Natalie: How did you meet?
Ava: It was a referral! I trust other people. I was on a Skype call with Meghan Currie. I don’t usually talk to clients about personal life, but I was compelled to ask her if she knew anyone I would be a good match with. She had just finished teaching in Cologne and mentioned Sonia. So, I stalked her online a little bit. I saw that we had many mutual friends (credibility cross check!) I sent her a message on Facebook, and she wrote back and said, ”What do you want?” I told her and we talked online… 6 weeks later I went to Germany and two days later she said, “I am going to marry you.” (I had had a rough year and was not a believer at the time.) We did long-distance for a year and a half—I downsized in order to visit Europe. It was a wild year and a half!
It happened so fast, but there was never a moment when it didn’t make sense. The future just made sense, and I knew that with her level of standard and excellence—regardless of whether we were eating sandwiches or filet mignon—that we were going to do it the best that we could. That was the best confidence about the future I could have had.
The day of the wedding was so cool. I am usually behind the scenes and to have so many people giving to us was just overwhelming!
Natalie: When I asked those close to her to describe Ava is 5 words or less, here is what I got:
“She remains curious like a a child, is brilliant in her mind/brain, very passionate about living life to the fullest and loves to provide people with the best to help them reach their full potential.” — Sonia Bach (Ava’s wife)
“Ava is indescribable in 5 words or less but here are 5 to begin with: An intrinsically motivated, wildly enthusiastic visionary. Ava has always been the most driven person I know. When we met she had three jobs including a corporate job, Hollywood cocktail waitress and her own start up. But she left corporate America for yoga, something that grounded her and she was truly passionate about. She saw that she can effectuate change for people that share that passion but need management in organization. She gets the creative artists’ mind and can hone their talents into a true career like any other athlete would while respecting the integrity of the 5000-year-old practice. Ava has created a new genre in combining what we call “lifestyle maintenance” that respects yoga as a job, way of life, and sport. I teach fifth grade English and she is my favorite guest speaker because she shows the students that anything is possible, but what drives her is a respect for ancient practice and the people she works with which is what makes her truly successful.” — Lori Osborn (Ava’s childhood BFF)
What an amazing woman who is working to revolutionize the space for the yoga teacher! We are beyond inspired and cannot wait to watch her grow and evolve this space. To see more of what Ava and her team are up to, check them out at YAMA Talent.
Natalie Halt is one of Gather’s co-founders and Managing Editor of the Gather Blog, GROW. Based in Charleston, South Carolina with her two young boys and husband, Frederic, she spends her time being a make-shift contributor to Grow when she isn’t chasing after small humans. A former world-class professional athlete and current healthy hedonist, Natalie’s love of inspiring people, places, tastes and sights makes creating GROW an absolute JOY of a lifestyle.
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