Our latest #LeadingLady has led many professional lives. Starting in the restaurant industry then transitioning into the dental industry, before listening to a deep internal calling that was yearning for more in life.
Jackie Alexander is Co-Founder and COO of Humming Puppy, a beloved yoga studio with roots in Prahran, Melbourne which has expanded to Sydney and New York City. We chat to Jackie about the importance of being present and true to yourself, having a healthy dose of grit and hard work as well as the importance of balance for staying grounded.
Prior to launching Humming Puppy you worked in the dental industry for 10 years. What motivated you to transition into the health and wellness space?
I fell into the dental industry. At the time I was a single mum and needed to get back into the workforce. I started as an orthodontic assistant, and the manager of the practice saw something in me and started to groom me for management, then I moved on to another practice.
I’d had a knee reconstruction and managed it quite poorly, so 18 months after surgery I decided to try yoga. Although I struggled to get there at first because I didn’t have the confidence to go to a class on my own, I enjoyed the practice and noticed huge changes physically and at the really subtle level, the mental benefits, it’s just so powerful.
How did your yoga evolve from a personal experience to a business idea?
Every day I would wake up at 5am to practice yoga. With that regular, dedicated practice, I started to observe my life and realised it wasn’t necessarily positive. The thing missing was my work happiness. People had said I should be a yoga teacher. I dismissed the idea because I didn’t have the self-confidence to stand in front of people and tell them what to do.
One Sunday afternoon I got some clarity. A voice inside me said ‘do the training so you can be a teacher and open your own studio’… it felt right. I told my boss and found a six month part-time course in Melbourne which allowed me to keep working.
It takes a lot of courage to back yourself and make such a significant career change. How did you come up with the idea of Humming Puppy?
My fiance Chris and I had been discussing the idea of a yoga studio. One day he was at a bar and could feel the floor vibrating beneath him, and experienced a very similar vibratory feeling to when he meditates. Chris wondered what would happen if you injected this frequency into the room whilst practising yoga to align your energies.
Chris presented the idea of vibration in the yoga space to me, and asked if we could do it together. That’s how we came up with the idea, and how I got the funds to start the business, through the resources he had.
Humming Puppy is a unique yoga experience (which we love!). How did you differentiate to achieve cut through?
We are very focussed on customer service. At most studios, if it’s busy you’re inches next to another person, there’s sweat flying and feet in your face! We allow people to book their mat so they know exactly where they’re going, and we give our students a generous amount of space.
We designed the studio for people to journey through as a way to journey to themselves. At reception students are greeted and given a full orientation. Our lounges are a very intentional space for students to come to before and after class. We provide tea, coconut water and filtered water as a way to say thank you, chill out and relax. The bathrooms are quite luxurious too with shampoo, conditioner, hair dryers, and towels at no charge.
Our studio is black, really dark and minimal to help students drop into a meditative state. The Hum is the only soundtrack in the room, so you can just be with yourself.
How do you and Chris balance being business and life partners? What are the boundaries? How do you separate your roles?
If we are working in the same office, there are times I need to work without interruption, so I put my headphones in. That is the only boundary we have. I set some personal boundaries like switching off emails at 7pm and not opening them again until I’ve done my morning meditation and routine.
Humming Puppy is something we’re both equally passionate about. We both have different strengths, I have a business mind, but he’s always been an entrepreneur and the ideas man. We both deal with our investors, he deals with board reports, and I manage operations.
Humming Puppy has expanded to Sydney and New York City. Was it difficult setting up a business internationally?
When we started Humming Puppy our vision was always to take it to New York. We started in Prahran because it’s the most densely populated suburb for yoga studios. At the time there were 30 studios in a 4km radius. We thought, if we can make it work here, we can make it work anywhere!
Melbourne went really well, a year later we opened Sydney, then we made plans to travel to New York. We fortunately had a student who was moving there and gave us the contacts to get started. Eventually we found accountants, bankers, lawyers which was a really interesting but quite a painful process. It was really challenging, we were a bit naive in our projections but we’ve learnt from that and we’ve survived.
Did you ever suffer from burnout or any other health related issues?
In New York I was really burnt out, from opening a business on the opposite side of the world, and living in New York, it’s intense. When I came home my initial interactions for a long period were ‘how was New York, it must’ve been amazing?’. I wanted to say New York was fucking hard. I wasn’t having cocktails every night or going to shows, I was trying to keep my head above water. Afterwards I needed to take time out to decompress.
At what point did you seek external investment in the business?
We put everything into Humming Puppy, and about halfway through the Sydney build we realised we’d sold everything we could except for our dogs and ourselves, and needed investment. Fortunately, Chris had great contacts he pitched our business to and some invested and are still involved.
We have a monthly meeting with one investor who shines a little bit of light on different areas and sparks ideas from a completely different perspective, he’s not a yogi, he’s a businessman.
How would you describe the culture of the three studios? Are there any notable differences between the US and Australian yoga markets?
The culture in each of the studios is very similar as our team live our values and are passionate about yoga. The culture is appreciative and embracing of what we have to offer. In terms of the different yoga markets, each city does have its own vibe. Melbourne is a little more laid back and conservative, Sydney is a bit more colourful and vibrant and then there is the high energy of New York that is all consuming, they love a good sweat!
What’s next for the Humming Puppy business and yourself?
For me, it’s a focus on the business. Teaching is something I’m going to let go of so I can write a book and develop programs for other businesses from a yogic mindset, on placing yoga philosophy into business culture.
We’re further defining Humming Puppy, we are considering how many more studios we want and the resources we need to get there. We love what we do and we get a lot of positive feedback from students, it changes lives and is a really special industry to be in.
Connect with Jackie Alexander.
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Photography supplied by Humming Puppy.