Accept failure as part of the journey of success. You will fail. Understand that this is part of the journey to success. And know that through failure is where learnings take place. Learn as much as you can, as quickly as you can, as much as you can so that you can elevate and propel your vision forward in the most effective way.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Caroline Vo, Founder & CEO of Omflow, a 24 hour live, interactive online yoga studio that allows students to connect and practice yoga in real-time through 2-way video streaming. She started Omflow in 2019 after experiencing a need as a yoga teacher to teach without the confinements of a geographic location, limitation in pay and constrained studio schedule. As a yoga student, Caroline also felt there was a need that existed in the market to be able to access high quality yoga practices at a more affordable rate, at more convenient times.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was led to entrepreneurship after so many years of fighting to fit into a world where I didn’t belong. I spent 11 years climbing my way up the Corporate America ladder in 8 positions at 8 different companies with 8 different managers, of which only 2 had any belief in me. In April of 2018, I decided I needed “the” change. I quit my 6 figure job, moved out of sunny SoCal, bought a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia and traveled to 10 different countries with a backpack, a duffel bag, 2 books and my traveling pillow. During my travels, I completed a vipassana anapanasati which is a silent meditation retreat focused on breath. It completely transformed the way I thought about the role breath plays in life. Immediately after, I jumped onto a plane and headed to Rishikesh, India to become a certified yoga teacher. In the winter of 2018, I realized there was an opportunity missing to share knowledge and experience of how powerful breath and mindful movement are closely interconnected. The ability to connect with high quality teachers regardless of location was also missing. So in February 2019, with encouragement from my older brother Bao, I concepted the idea of ‘online yoga’ and in May 2019, incorporated and founded Omflow.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
No one day is ever the same and I would say every day is interesting because of the people I’m so blessed to meet and work with. My teachers are located all over the world — this allows us to offer online yoga, 24 hours a day. So in the same day that I’m taught about Saraswati Puja, which is a celebrated festive day that marks the fifth day of spring in the Hindu calendar in India, I’m also able to learn that Canada is the largest producer of maple syrup, coming from the French-speaking province of Quebec, which supplies two-thirds of the world’s maple syrup.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started building the concept of Omflow and teaching online myself, I thought “Transferring my yoga teaching knowledge from in person to online should be easy. I just need to turn on my camera and cue, right?” So in my first few practices, I would turn on the camera, jump online and teach. Slowly I learned and realized that the experience of teaching in person versus online is drastically different, and that as a student if your teacher is unaware of themselves, your experience receiving what they’re delivering, is terrible. The student kept on saying that half of my head was cut off, or that she saw my back more than my front, that the light was really low and that I looked like a dark blob on screen. It was funny yet extremely eye opening for me to realize that awareness is not a passive state of mind. To be aware means you have to be fully present and fully mindful. It was a great lesson that’s led me to define the pillars that are so consistent with breath and in which Omflow is founded on: mindfulness, presence and awareness.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
When you first start out on this journey, the saying “you don’t know what you don’t know” couldn’t be any more true. As a first time entrepreneur that was bootstrapping my vision to become a reality, I was/am very particular in who I work with, how much it will cost, and what the time investment is needed on the vendor’s end to deliver what’s being requested. It was very hard being new to this space because you do need to trust and rely on the “professionals” that you seek guidance from, however their intentions are not always truly revealed until the project has already been secured. My first hard loss was 6,000 dollars on designing and programming a website with a boutique design company that netted incomplete, and handoff of design mockups that I could not use and a site that was not programmed. It was a very hard pill to swallow and although I didn’t give up because I was at the start of my venture, the emotions that of betrayal, confusion, anger, foolishness are real. The drive to continue came from my whys — Why am I creating Omflow? Why did I decide to leave Corporate America? Why are teachers also passionate about this vision? Why are teachers staying committed to you as a leader? My whys help me persevere through the hard times that are natural and are meant to exist in this journey, because, as difficult as it is to hear, and even more so to experience, it’s the challenging times that build your strength, character, intellect and success.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m very grateful to have my older brother, Bao supporting me in this venture. Bao is very logical and sees business as just that: business — how to make money while being an inspired leader and how to engage with teams as a manager with clear set boundaries. There was one particular week where in the midst of a project, 2 teachers and a contractor quit. Bao helped me shift my perspective on the situation, enabling me to adapt quickly to reset the dynamics of the internal team and create momentum for a new norm that was needed in order to continue to move the business and vision forward.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love the quote: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” by Vivian Greene. This quote couldn’t capture the essence of life any more beautifully. As life is full of uncertainties, we’re given a choice. We can spend our lives waiting for that “perfect” moment to happen, and wait just a little bit more “to see”, or we can fully embrace the moment that is happening now, and learn how to find the beauty in which that moment is given to us. This is relevant in my life because it’s a philosophy that I strongly believe in and continue to practice improving upon every day. In truth this quote resonates with Omflow as it’s the foundation of our beliefs: to be mindful, more present and fully aware. And to exist in the moment, learning to experience existence through observation, without judgment, without ego.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Connection. We don’t see being connected online and having a human connection as one in the same. Although technology does allow us the capability “to connect” our devices to one another, it’s the interactions and exchanges occurring between humans using these devices that allow for a true connection to form. Omflow addresses the lack of quality in the “connection” in prerecorded content or 1-way live interactions available on the market, and we offer a space that allows students to create connections through 2-way video streaming with other human beings.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our community of students and teachers around the world are what helps to make us unique. Students feel connected to the teachers and to one another. A student from Canillas de Albaida, Spain shared “Omflow makes it so much better than just viewing a video. Getting to meet the other people taking the class before the actual yoga begins is lovely and makes the experience so much more meaningful. It is amazing to think that people from so many different parts of the world can come together from the comfort of their own homes and share the beautiful classes.”
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Right now we’re focused on growing awareness of Omflow, and to do so by offering value through words in posts and blogs, videos through IG stories and YouTube, and innovative events, such as daily yoga practices on Clubhouse. We believe when people learn that there’s a brand anchored by a mission that has humanity’s best interest at heart, they’ll feel empowered to be who they are, arrive as they want and connect as they like.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I think the status quo needs to be more than just challenged. I think actions need to be taken that allow women to have the opportunity to be at the forefront of tech. 3 specific changes that I would recommend is 1. Specific funding, grants and capital from the government (starting at the local legislature) for women owned businesses. 2. A shift of focus from the media to emphasize, highlight and feature the solutions of tech being built by women. 3. More conversations, discussions and interviews with both men and women at the same table, discussing the same topic, outlining solutions for the same goal but from the two various perspectives.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
In my opinion I believe the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech is work life balance, education and resources. As women who may also decide to take on the responsibility of becoming a mother, there’s limited opportunities that help support this type of lifestyle. Education and resources are also scarce and could be made more available to women in the form of financial assistance, grants, workshops, seminars and overall education and resources in order to promote, facilitate and create sustainable opportunities for women in Tech.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
My advice to another tech leader who may now be in a standstill is to, for a brief or extended moment, turn off the lens as a leader in your industry and put on the lens as an observer. Reengage to learn what is happening, not only in your industry but in your sector, and not as a proactive leader, but as an active observer and student. The general advice that I’d share in how to boost growth or sales and ‘restart their engine’ is to listen in order to learn rather than listen in order to react.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
I believe that in order to create a high performing sales teams, you need to:
- Understand who is on your team: what inspires them, what drives them, motivates them, what is their why?
- Once you understand who is on your team, learn what their capabilities are, do a SWOT: what are their strengths, weaknesses, true areas and potential for growth, threats that exist that can lead to failure?
- As a leader, you have to be able to clearly articulate what your vision is and what your path to success looks like — where are you going, how will you get there, what is needed in order to get where you’re wanting to go?
- Once this has been identified, match your team’s skillset and maximize their potential in order to move collectively as a unit towards your goal.
The people that you hire should be pushing you forward rather than weighing you down but that also means that as a leader, it’s important to trust the people that you’ve decided to bring onto your team. I’m constantly learning and growing and recognizing how important it is to trust myself and trust the decisions that I made for the reason I made them. With that, part of creating a high performing team also means constantly reevaluating and assessing how strong the team is. What are the barriers that are preventing me from achieving success and what role, if any, are those on my team, contributing to the progress of this success?
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
With this newly created market of ‘online yoga’, I believe word of mouth and relationships is the most effective way to attract the right customers. Because people are still navigating in this space of the digital online life, there’s a lot of skepticism on whether the quality of an experience can still be the same as in person. And when you have a trusted source that can vouch for an experience and encourage you to try a product that’s new, you’re more inclined to be open to it. One of our teachers had to close down her studio because of the pandemic and from that, many of her students transitioned to Omflow and have been practicing with us ever since.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
In order to have the best possible user experience on Omflow, a few strategies to consider include:
- Show up to the class, with the appropriate equipment to practice yoga on Omflow — this includes a yoga mat, strong, reliable internet connection, wireless earphone (if available) and a space that allows you to be fully within the frame when arms are extended above your head, if possible
- Prepare the mind to un-attach from the day’s events and be fully present on the mat with the teacher and the practice
- Let go of any preconceived notions or judgment about what yoga is or isn’t, how flexible or experienced you need to be, and allow yourself to draw your attention inwards so you can find stillness on the mat
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Building a true relationship with customers and getting to know them beyond just a ‘customer’ is something that we work on every day. This falls in line with our differentiator of “connection”. When we start the practice, we always take the time to learn about the student and check in before we jump straight into the mat. Having this type of relationship, humanizes the ‘business’ element of the process and deepens the quality of the relationship.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
Five most important things to know in order to create a very successful tech company:
- Know why you’re building what you’re building
This is the vision, the core, and the nucleus to your product. The actual product itself may change due to insights and learnings, markets shifts, customer needs and demands changing, etc but the why to what you’re building should never change — this is what will anchor you throughout the storm that the majority will weather.
2. Know who you’re building it for
Understand your audience. What are their needs? What are their likes, dislikes, interest, motivators? Where can you find them? How do they spend their time? What brands do they follow? What are their beliefs, values, ethos? What role and where does your business fall in their lives, if at all? Know the market and customer base that you’re building your product for.
3. Know who you’re building it with
Who is on your team? How will they be able to move your vision forward? Can they move your vision forward? What are their skillsets and are they effectively delivering the needs that are demanded to create and achieve success? What inspires them? How can you motivate them? How do you work with your team in order to get the best out of them that will help support and advance the vision identified? Know the team that you’re working with so you can better navigate towards success.
4. Accept failure as part of the journey of success
You will fail. Understand that this is part of the journey to success. And know that through failure is where learnings take place. Learn as much as you can, as quickly as you can, as much as you can so that you can elevate and propel your vision forward in the most effective way.
5. Reiterate. Fail. Learn. Repeat.
Always be open to feedback even if you don’t necessarily agree with it or plan to implement it. Whether it’s a process that you receive feedback on, or the website or the user experience, always be open to feedback as a way to learn, gain insights and grow. This will ultimately contribute to you moving closer and closer to fulfilling your project needs and building a successful tech company.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Inspiring greater compassion, kindness and empathy in the world — this means that every person is mindful, present and aware of not only others, but more so and especially, themselves. If every individual could take accountability for who they are and what they exchange and put out into the world, they could understand that the effect that they have at a scale is in-fact, the effect that starts within themselves. Omflow is working on this movement through the practice of yoga, self, breath and body.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Bill and Melinda Gates as I believe their generosity, kindness and impact to humanity is inspiring beyond measure.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!
Thank you for having me!