Eric Kipp has invented a new idea in social exercise for the Facebook generation—he calls it Hiking Yoga. The concept: making outdoor yoga fitness challenging, social and accessible to busy city-dwellers. On any given day, Eric’s team of more than 50 yoga and fitness teachers may be trekking through San Francisco’s waterfront, climbing the wild hills of San Diego, doing the downward dog in DC, or stretching on Dallas’s Katy Trail. Wherever they go, they are combining the cardio of hiking with the power of yoga—all supercharged in exciting urban and rural settings of beauty. And the business has thrived using low-cost social media and the power of online groups.
Eric dreamed up the concept while he was guiding outdoor tours in Hawaii, Alaska and California and teaching yoga in San Francisco. Why not combine the two? .
Kipp’s original concept was based on tourists. “When I first started, I thought I would get many of the 17,000,000 visitors to SF each year. Today, 90% of our customers are local,” says Eric, noting his surprise. Kipp has adjusted his business model accordingly. Hiking Yoga aims at a sophisticated, fit and busy young audience looking to explore their neighborhood, or a new city, without feeling like tourists. The bonus: they meet new people and get a great workout. A slick national web scheduling system allows travelers to book a hike from afar, and streamlines the business’s accounting, payroll and tracking functions.
Kipp’s service business model does not require brick-and-mortar locations, and Kipp has made the most of cyber-marketing, integrating website, social networking (blogs, facebook, twitter), internet marketing (Yelp), and package sales through Groupon. “Groupon played a big role in helping us open locations faster in different markets,” says Kipp, who cautions that he must sometimes temper his ambitions for sustainable growth: “Opening in new states takes time and money to do right.”
“In today’s market, a successful business is not just about being of value; it is about being findable, “ says Kipp.” That has been one of the big victories for us-- getting the word out in a consistent, attractive way. “
For Eric, working with Richard Fivis at San Francisco SCORE has provided valuable structure and a “sounding board” he could not get elsewhere. “ I love the accountability of having to tell your story to your advisor every few weeks. It gave structure to my whirlwind project.” Eric continues seeing Richard every month or so and says, “Richard Fivis has been invaluable in our development. He is wise, patient, and supportive. I am a pretty excitable guy and his calm demeanor is a perfect balance.”
As a solo entrepreneur, says Kipp, “ you feel stuck in a bubble of your own ideas sometimes. Being able to talk about your business with someone trained and experienced is so different from the support of friends and family. The counselor’s objectivity is very powerful.”
Says Fivis, “As we all know, it is lonely at the top, and Eric can discuss different hypothetical and strategies for growing his business in a supportive environment at Score.”
Today Hiking Yoga boasts 13 locations, about half in California, with others in Texas, Arizona, Chicago, St. Louis, and Washington DC. A New York City launch is expected this spring. There are 3 full-time employees, and 50 instructors who offer between two and eight 90-minute Yoga Hikes each week. To date, 11,000 people have participated and the business has been featured on CBS, ABC, CNBC, and in Forbes Magazine and Men's Journal.
Eric knew about business planning and had heard of SCORE years earlier. He even had a dusty business plan he had shelved. He began working one-on-one with San Francisco SCORE counselor Richard Fivis about a year before the 2009 launch