Sarah Larson Levey’s philosophy is simple: Focus on your customer, not your competition.
3 min read
How do you build a thriving company in a crowded marketplace? Sometimes, it’s all about simplicity.
That’s the big lesson from Sarah Larson Levey, whose bicoastal yoga company, Y7 Studio, was born out of her own consumer frustration. After pinching her sciatic nerve, she sought out a good yoga class to help her recover — but found all the options confusing and overly complicated. Studios required memberships, newbies had to take a Level 1 class at a particular time, and there was a huge variety of classes with very little explanation of which to take first or what the differences were.
If she was feeling frustrated, she thought, other people probably felt the same way. That meant there was an opportunity to create a different kind of yoga company, even though the industry was already full of options. So she set out to build a different kind of yoga company — based on simplicity and accessibility, where every class could accomidate students at different levels. “I didn’t reinvent yoga,” she says, “but I found something that was needed. I took all the elements I was craving and put them into one place.”
At Yelp’s Women In Business Summit in March, I interviewed Larson Levey about how she built her company. Among the lessons she shared:
- Always identify with the customer. Larson Levey knows how to teach yoga, but she doesn’t. That’s intentional. “I wanted to ensure the why of the business stayed front of mind,” she says. If she taught, she thinks, she’d start to see the business through the lens of a teacher. Instead, she thinks it’s more important to always see it through the lens of a customer.
- An entrepreneur needs to detach. Like any new business, Y7 has been full of ups and downs, and lots of experimentation. How has she managed that emotional experience? She says the answer is taught in yoga: It’s about detachment. “It helps with difficult choices, decisions or changes in business,” she says. “Our instructors ask us to hold a difficult pose, knowing it will end. This is very relatable to life. You will get through it — you just have to breathe.”
- Don’t follow the competition. Many popular fitness companies, like Peloton and SoulCycle, turn their instructors into celebrities. People sign up for specific instructors’ classes. But Larson Levey didn’t want that at Y7, so she’s avoided “celebritizing” her instructors. “I never want that success of my business to be dependent upon one instructor,” she says. “If the customer’s teacher cannot make it and we have a sub, I want them to know they will still have a great class. It’s not sustainable for a business for one or two people to carry an entire brand.”
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