The origin story behind Yoga Flow SF involves fate, passion and a love for family.
Sometimes things just fall into place, as if they are fated to happen.
That seems to have been the case for Yoga Flow SF, which consists of two yoga studios in the San Francisco Bay Area. According to Yoga Flow SF founders Kathleen and Steven Holm, their yoga business came to be as the result of a series of unexpected, seemingly unrelated events.
“As yogis we learn to live in each moment, trusting, knowing that if we set the right intentions, have clear, pure thoughts, the universe will provide,” said Kathleen. “I personally experienced this to be true. The founding of our studio came because I executed on the opportunities God put in front of me.”
The kickstart to these opportunities was the birth of Kathleen and Steven’s first child, Shawn. At the time, Steven was working in commercial real estate, while Kathleen was serving as the general manager of Yoga Tree, a position she held from 2006 to 2011. Prior to Shawn’s birth, Kathleen served in a traditional 9 to 5 “sit at the office” role.
“I was a proud, positive workaholic and loved what I did,” recalled Kathleen. “As a creative spirit, I would find myself working all hours of days, nights and weekends, and had a very flexible schedule.”
But as the Yoga Tree business grew, so did Kathleen’s responsibilities. As a result, Yoga Tree’s owners wanted Kathleen at her desk more and more. Over time she concluded this commitment would no longer work for her or the family. “Once I had my son, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to be at a desk 40 to 50 hours a week, and I knew I needed to create something new for myself,” she said.
However, Kathleen wasn’t sure what that “something new” was. With experience as a teacher and manager, she had multiple business ideas in mind, including a book on studio management. It was during a walk with Shawn that the idea for a yoga studio solidified itself as a possibility.
“I was taking Shawn to a music class on Union Street and happened to be walking past what was Aha Yoga studio [at the time], while the owner was locking up,” explained Kathleen. “We knew each other from attending yoga workshops, and she happened to ask me if I knew anyone who wanted to buy a yoga studio. I ran this past my new friend Brigitta Whiting, and it turned out her very successful and wealthy boyfriend at the time, now husband, Mark, was encouraging her to get into the yoga business and they would consider investing.”
Congruently, Steven was selling investment properties to investors while earning his degree in economics at the University of San Francisco. For his final paper he was tasked with underwriting and analyzing a business’ upside, so he and Kathleen worked together to present Aha Yoga studio as a potential investment, which they landed.
“None of this was planned,” said Kathleen. “It was an intention, a series of opportunities and immediate action.’”
In 2011, Kathleen and Steven officially became co-owners of Aha Yoga studio with Brigitta and Mark. Kathleen serves as the face of the business and day-to-day operator, with Steven taking a more behind-the-scenes role. “I manage the business and Steven manages me,” she joked. “I oversee the business and he serves as my advisor, as well as helping to take care of our home and children.”
With years of serving as a manager, Kathleen explained finally becoming an owner of a yoga studio was a dream come true. “It felt so perfect and so right,” she said. “Since I was 14 years old I knew that I wanted to be a business owner. I always had [bad] bosses, and thought: When I’m an adult, I want to create a work environment that is healthy and sustainable to the employees. So that was sort of this underlying drive that I’ve held for decades.”
According to Kathleen, the previous owner of Aha Yoga studio had done two things right: She had installed nice floors, and had hired great instructors. In fact, Kathleen was familiar with many of the instructors on the roster, and as a result, taking over the studio was a natural fit.
Under Kathleen’s leadership, the studio earned a positive reputation, well known for its dynamic, heated Vinyasa flow set to complementary music and led by talented instructors. But in 2013, Kathleen decided a name change was in order, as she wished to build a brand of her own to take beyond one location.
To start, Kathleen began buying up domain names left and right, at one point owning roughly 75 individual domains — one of which was YogaFlowSF.com. It was during a conversation with a student that it was decided Yoga Flow SF would be the perfect name to transition to.
“I told [the student] I had obtained YogaFlowSF.com and he said, ‘That’s the one. It’s great the name of your company is also the keyword [students will search for when looking for Vinyasa flow classes].’” And it really just defined who we are and what we do. We just love San Francisco so much. It all fit together.”
Like the first yoga studio and the name change, the second Yoga Flow SF also came about through a series of fortunate events.
“This was another God thing,” said Kathleen. “Shawn, at this time, was 2-and-a-half years old and he loved baseball. The San Francisco Giants were hosting yoga day, which consisted of being on the field, doing yoga, while Janet Stone and Michael Franti played music. We went to the event and afterwards we took a random, never-before-taken-by-us way home, which led us to Ocean Avenue.”
Mid-way through the drive, Kathleen and Steven spotted a building with “for rent” taped to the second-story window. They pulled over, called the property manager, and saw the space that afternoon. It ultimately became the location of the second Yoga Flow SF.
However, unlike the first location, which was a natural fit, the second Yoga Flow SF proved to be more challenging. The main issue was finding the right instructors to fill the studio roster.
“When I initially took over [the second Yoga Flow SF], I had a huge database of amazing, talented, senior teachers,” said Kathleen. “I would bring them in to sub classes, get feedback from students and time and time again, the students didn’t like them. It didn’t matter to the students how many trainings the teacher had done, how long they were teaching, how popular they might have been at other studios or on social media — they wanted the same caliber of class they had grown to love. From that, we saw an opportunity to create a similar culture [to our first location] at the new studio.”
Kathleen reached out to her network of yoga teachers and let them know she was holding auditions. But instead of focusing on experience, she honed in on style, looking for teachers who wanted to teach in a way that was consistent with the studio’s fast-paced, Vinyasa flow offering. As a result, the second Yoga Flow SF ended up with a lot of new teachers on the roster.
“How we overcame this challenge was by being very specific on what our offering was and working diligently with teachers who wanted to teach that way,” said Kathleen. “It was really hard to let go or pass up on teachers that we knew were great, but didn’t deliver a consistent style that we offer. We also ended up teaching a lot ourselves, having the new teachers take our classes to see what we were looking for, as well as taking tons of their classes and giving feedback.”
Although Yoga Flow SF may have come to be through a series of fortunate events, it has since solidified itself as a powerhouse of yoga in San Francisco and beyond. Today, Yoga Flow SF boasts 40 teachers across two locations, in addition to nine employees. And Kathleen and Steven’s passion is the driving force behind it all.
“The passion for doing this is essential because it is a 24/7, 365-day reality,” said Kathleen. “If there are things that you are personally lacking, you need to rely on your team and bring in people who balance out and make decisions for you that you may have regarding the administration, the operations, the finance, the programming — the list goes on and on about all of the different aspects and verticals of running your business. It really does take a village.”