In this week’s issue of Africa’s Most Innovative Companies, co-founder of Nairobi’s first Bikram Yoga studio, Emma Day, tells Ventures Africa about the trials and triumphs of bringing her passion to Africa in a business context.

The first Bikram Yoga studio in Nairobi, Day’s enterprise is innovative on the Kenyan market while bringing a globally popular pastime to the new arena. As such the sky is the limit in terms of what could be achieved.

Explaining the exciting and fresh offering of the studio to its Kenyan customers, Day explains: “We offer yoga in a dedicated facility with instructors from all over the world who have all been trained by Bikram himself.  We are offering a brand of yoga that people recognise – there are Bikram Yoga studios in almost every major city in the world, and there were plenty of people in Nairobi waiting for one to appear.”

With the customer base raring to go, there are pros and cons to launching a business which relies solely on the extra-curricular enjoyments of consumers.  Day notes that while very rewarding to provide an activity-based service to consumers which they truly enjoy, the potential for users to move on to a new hobby is still there.

“The down side [(of that)] could be that people are fickle and can move on to other things,” Day says, adding that this has not yet proven a problem at the new studio: “we have so far had a very good retention rate, and usually people stick with Bikram Yoga more than with other forms of yoga or with other forms of exercise.”

Building a business based on your own interests and hobbies is imperative, but can lead to business consuming everything, and taking the relaxation out of a hobby.  Day notes the benefits of building a business around a hobby, saying: “it is very easy to market something you are passionate about with authenticity.”

However, she advises: “be careful not to take the joy out of your hobby by becoming overwhelmed by the stressful sides of the business such as money and managing staff.”

Setting up a business enterprise is an intensive task, and Day admits: “The challenges have been immense.”

In particular, given the physical space necessary to run a yoga studio the beginnings of Day’s project involved a hefty construction project.  This was the biggest challenge to the co-founders, with Day reminiscing: “Dealing with contractors was tough because there is no accountability for the work that people do, and there was no project management, so we had to oversee the work of plumbers, electricians, builders, and painters, without being experts in any of these trades ourselves.”

On a very serious note, she also remembers the obstacles put in place by improper governance in the East African country, revealing “the difficulty of dealing with government bureaucracy and licensing which involves high levels of corruption at every level.”

Having overcome the challenges, and the studio enjoying high levels of attendance from a strong subscriber base already, the founders of the studio already have ambitious plans for the future.  Day reveals: “We plan to grow our juice and smoothie bar, and to develop our yoga boutique.”

She adds: “We will invite senior Bikram Yoga teachers to come and give seminars, as well as health professionals from a variety of disciplines.  We want to build a strong sense of community.”

So what advice does Day have for budding entrepreneurs trying to get their own innovative companies off the ground?

“Know that your project is likely to cost several times more than you anticipate, and don’t try to cut corners.”

“Make sure you have lots of local support and contacts before you start, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Then, just go for it and don’t give up even when it seems like everything is falling apart!”

Elsewhere on Ventures

Triangle arrow