Innovators - American's Small Business Customer Spotlight
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American: So what exactly is Chi Universe?
Bobbi: Chi Universe is a wellness company featuring the Chi Mat & Yoga Game. The Chi Mat properly aligns the body and makes Yoga fun, just follow the symbols! Inside every mat is a double-sided how-to poster with over 100 poses. One side of the poster is geared towards kids and the other side is for teens and adults. Our mat comes in different sizes, and makes Yoga easy to learn and accessible for everyone.
We also have a worldwide downloadable app, the Chi Flow & Phreeze Yoga Game App, available on iPad which includes video instruction, the card game, and earning Chi points! The game also comes as a card deck, and it is a wonderful learning tool in classrooms, gyms/studios, and homes. Additionally, Chi Universe offers a Yoga Teacher Training program to guide teachers and therapists through a curriculum and easy implementation process.
The Chi Universe mat and program has been featured by Michelle Obama's Let's Move! LA campaign, the United Nations, LA-USD Star After-School Program, Equinox Gym, and Four Seasons Resorts.
American: Who founded Chi Universe?
Bobbi: In the beginning there was only me. After I had filed patents and went through initial product and content development, people really started to see the vision I was creating. Then the magic began. Introductions and unlikely encounters built work-for-hire and investor member relationships. Always the right person at the right time just in the nick of time. I received some very good advice from Advisors and Attorneys regarding corporate structure and equity, and how to sell shares/units in the company in order to build it. I had many opportunities I didn't take. I made it my intention to only work with the most knowledgeable and skilled people who have kindness in their hearts. I feel lucky to be surrounded by forward thinking individuals, and honestly, the integrity of this wellness product drew to me the people I was to work with. It has made me a true believer in magic! It really is about the journey and the people you meet along the way!
American: What businesses were you in prior to launching this business?
Bobbi: Prior to launching this product, I worked many different jobs. I've been a Private Yoga & Meditation Teacher for 10 years teaching executives, celebrities, and private households. I've been a Producer and thought-leader in the children's play along space starting with Animal Yoga for Kids promo spots which aired on PBS Kids 2003-2008 getting kids off the couch reaching an estimated 20 million households. I also worked as an athletic model representing brands such as Canon, Toyota, Delta, Direct TV. Out of UC Berkeley, I worked as a Cancer Researcher for UCSF Mt Zion, this is where I learned about the childhood obesity epidemic and the ramifications on health and economy.
My friend and partner Greg Lam came along after a successful crowd funding campaign and asked me if I needed help. He had just sold his first company at 29, with an app that is similar to LinkedIn for the modeling/acting/entertainment industry. He came on board as CMO and helped to get the Chi Mat & Yoga Game onto ABC7 and into the United Nations, public and private schools, summer camps, Equinox headquarters, private clubs, and exclusive hotels and resorts. He also helped me keep social content fresh, and aligned the business with great causes and events such as LA based hospital the Orthopaedic Institute for Children, and Global Glow an organization empowering and educating young girls around the world along with the efforts of the United Nations.
I am so grateful to be surrounded by talented designers, animators, photographers, cinematographers, editors, techies, business advisors, and Yoga teachers!
American: How did you come up with the concept for Chi Universe?
Bobbi: The idea was sparked by one isolated incident that occurred while teaching Yoga to kids at Venice Beach library. I had brought in my own mats to teach on, and I realized during class that one little girl wasn't following my instructions correctly by visual or auditory cues, and it looked like she could hurt herself. I spotted a sharpie marker on the floor next to me, and I ran to her mat and began drawing shapes on the mat to show her where to properly place her hands, feet and knees. She followed the symbols, and I stood up to look at her pose and it was perfectly aligned! At that moment, I knew then this would be a great teaching tool to engage students and increase safety.
American: What is the advantage for customers to choose a Chi Yoga Mat over similar products?
Bobbi: Our Chi Yoga Mat guides proper body positioning increasing safety and confidence. Most importantly, it makes Yoga a fun game! It also creates quality bonding time in families. Parents have reported that kids stay engaged with the product for long periods of time.
Our Chi Flow & Phreeze Yoga Game App which accompanies the Chi mat is available worldwide on iPad and makes it easy to learn and practice anywhere.
American: Where is the Chi Yoga Mat available?
American: Do you have plans to expand to other markets?
Bobbi: Yes! We are already in 10 countries. We have 40 Chi Universe Ambassadors positively impacting kids and families by implementing the Chi Universe program into public and private schools, hotels, gyms, studios, therapy offices, and private households in the US and abroad.
Our early adopters have come from the Netherlands, UK, Bali, Australia, South Africa, Sweden, Germany, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Brazil. These teachers have shown up to say the Chi Universe mat and program integrates in our country, language and classrooms, and our clients want the mats. So currently, my goal as CEO is to figure out how to scale the company to effectively distribute mats, games, and teaching programs to the global market.
American: How do you market the Chi Yoga Mat?
Bobbi: Most of our business has come from social media. Our Instagram account @chiuniverseyoga is organically building and gaining international attention. We were also featured on Gwyneth Paltrow's 2016 goop holiday gift guide which further created global awareness of our product. Currently, we are working on TV and media opportunities so that our future students and customers can see the mat & game in action.
American: What has been your biggest struggle as a small business startup?
Bobbi: Investment capital (I've bootstrapped and raised capital in small rounds).
American: What is one piece of advice you would give someone wanting to start a new business?
Bobbi: Commit to a Yoga and/or Meditation Practice to gain focus, insight, and balance because those are the keys to success.
Greg: It takes a lot of passion, focus, and really thick skin to be an entrepreneur.
American: Do you have an interesting story about how travel has had a positive impact on your business? For example, a trip that helped you land a deal, a business connection you made while traveling, or how inflight Wi-Fi kept you connected to the ground at a critical moment?
Bobbi: Yes, speaking of magical travel stories, I have two. On a plane from LAX to Minnesota for business, I sat next to a businessman who had low back pain and became a Yoga student of mine. The Yoga therapy helped him avoid a back surgery. He invited me to breakfast one morning and handed me a $20,000 check to help me get my business off the ground. I also sat next to a spiritual psychologist on a plane who really thought I needed to meet her friend. Coincidentally, I had a meeting with her friend two weeks prior. She called him and gave a high recommendation of me, and he considered it a good omen that I sat next to her, and invested in my first round of mass inventory. In a nutshell, travel changed the entire landscape of opportunity for my business.