Krissy Jones and Chloe Kernaghan opened a Sky Ting, a yoga studio in Chinatown, just over a year ago. Lifelong dancers, they both got into yoga in college as a way of training or managing stress, and met each other while studying more intensively under their mentor. Krissy and Chloe became friends, and realized they both had a similar style and vibe, and they started teaching yoga retreats together.
On these retreats, they realized they had something greater in common: their teaching philosophies. It took some convincing to get started, but for a year now, Sky Ting has been rapidly gaining traction as a leading—but alternative—yoga studio. Their vision of it included practical, light hearted teaching in an open, airy space, without a hardline aesthetic or philosophy. Krissy and Chloe have built that space and grew a devoted student body, and now plan to expand.
“It’s a challenge because it’s new material and a new language for us to deal with,” Chloe says about the business side of the studio. The difficulty of learning a business (especially if you come from a creative background) can be daunting, but it’s clear that with persistent, clear-headed effort, one can achieve lofty goals.
“But it’s also really fun to make our own rules,” Chloe adds. Below, she and Krissy discuss the difficulty of switching from business to teaching to practicing; the way technology figures into Sky Ting; and the future plans for this budding brand.
BOND STREET: Firstly, how did you two get into yoga?
SKY TING: Krissy: I got into yoga during college in order to cross-train for dance performances and to manage stress. When I moved to New York I got certified as a yoga teacher and continued to practice. I started to get really serious with it when I found my mentor Nevine Michaan, who was also Chloe’s mentor. She teaches Katonah yoga. One thing led to another and I met Chloe and we started leading yoga retreats together. We kinda had the same vibe and philosophy, and we dreamt up Sky Ting.
SKY TING: Chloe: I also got into yoga in college. My acting teacher used yoga for her warmups in class. I went to school at NYU and there was a yoga studio down the street from us that I was practicing at. Throughout college I was using yoga as a cross-training kinda thing like Krissy mentioned, and just to keep me sane in the middle of New York City. After school yoga became a major part of my life when I was working at a job that I hated. I decided to train to become a teacher. Krissy and I both grew up as dancers, and it just made sense to be in the body and have that be my profession. It was the thing I knew I needed most in order to be happy. From there, the path just kind of unfolded.
BOND STREET: What was the conversation that led you to start your own yoga studio together?
SKY TING: Krissy: We realized on retreat in Nicaragua we loved working together and had a unified teaching philosophy. We knew we would do big things together in the future. We spent New Year’s Eve together in 2014 and I semi-jokingly wrote on my napkin that I wanted to open a yoga studio among other resolutions and goals. A month later I looked at a place on Craigslist (SKY TING) and I signed a lease without a business plan or any details worked out. I fell in love with the space, and knew everything else would come into place. Eventually I convinced Chloe to join me and we came up with our visions for the studio. We wanted a place that would be perfect to practice in, a totally bright and airy open space, unlike other studios that tend to be dark and granola-y. We also wanted to teach a practical approach to yoga. We teach students practical techniques that they can use in their lives instead of being preachy and dogmatic!
BOND STREET: Do either of you come from an entrepreneurial background?
SKY TING: Chloe: No one in my family has started a small business, but when I was growing up my dad took on a business in Guam, where I’m from. He started as a sales rep but became the manager, general manager, and eventually the president of this company. I saw him grow the company out to something much larger than what it originally was. It was a small distribution company for products in the country but he grew it to include Southeast Asia, the South Pacific and Polynesia. It was interesting to see it happen: how he’s built the business and manages the employees.
SKY TING: Krissy: I’m from Indiana. My grandparents worked in the steel mills; it was very much a blue collar working family. My mom worked a freelance job as an artist’s assistant and then as a framer for a gallery. She had a not-so-traditional path. I knew I wasn’t cut out for the 9-5 life. I’ve been involved in dance since the age of three and knew I wanted to do something with the body, so I think it was a natural progression for me.
BOND STREET: What was the biggest challenge of the early part of opening?
SKY TING: Krissy: There’s been a lot! I’d say finding the right team—we know that we’re only as successful as our team. Chloe and I can’t teach all the classes here, so making sure that we have high quality teachers and front desk staff is a challenge. It has to be the right mixture of people. But I think we’ve done a good job so far.
SKY TING: Chloe: Also, for us, we don’t have business backgrounds. Before, we were teachers and dancers, more on the creative side of things. We’ve been lucky to have so many people on the business side to help us build cash flow models and figure out our margins and goals. But it is, however, a new side of the brain that we’re working, on top of still teaching yoga to students on a regular basis.
BOND STREET: How was the studio bootstrapped? How’d you raise the capital?
SKY TING: Krissy: It was out of our pockets. We didn’t need much for the initial space. Our landlord thankfully did the lowball for us. We’re looking to expand though, so we’ll need to figure out how to raise for the next space.
BOND STREET: Who are your customers?
SKY TING: Krissy: We have a lot of people in Chinatown that are neighbors. We’re the only yoga studio around, so it’s a lot of people in the Chinatown community of young people, which includes a lot of artists, freelancers, graphic designers, models, people in fashion, the restaurant industry. It’s a lot of young people, but we have older people too, who we love. We also have students who travel from the Upper East Side or Williamsburg. But the regulars are those who live in the neighborhood.
BOND STREET: What’s your most popular class?
SKY TING: Chloe: Krissy and I co-teach on the weekends, where we’re sort of tag team teaching. It’s a real treat for students; all the yoga studios that I know don’t offer that necessarily unless it’s for a special event. To have two teachers at the same time is really fun because you get more attention as a student, and we have a dynamic in the room that’s just really fun and lighthearted. We’ve also been mixing in other teachers with us, as well as having teachers do tag team classes so other students can have that experience. On the regular schedule Monday through Friday, our pre-work morning classes and evening classes post-work are always very busy. We do have a lot of freelancers who come in for the mid-day classes, but those morning and evening classes are definitely killin’ it.
BOND STREET: Tell me about the special programs that you do.
SKY TING: Chloe: We host four to six retreats a year. For these retreats you do yoga twice a day with a group of people. It’s a nice way to deepen the practice. We’re currently finalizing our retreat calendar for 2017. This first year we’ve gone to places such as Nicaragua and Mallorca in Spain. We have another trip to Maderas in Nicaragua in October, and potentially something a little more local that we’re looking at for the end of the year. For 2017 we’re definitely gonna go to Mallorca again because that space was pure magic. We’re also looking at Hawaii, Morocco, and potentially Bali. We’re also looking at spaces in the continental U.S. We’ve been looking at Big Sur, Joshua Tree National Park, Miami, and an upstate New York trip as well. We’re trying to offer a range of trips that take you somewhere that’s really fantastic and amazing, but also some less expensive and local that are easier for people to get to.
BOND STREET: How about the workshops?
SKY TING: Chloe: As far as extracurricular stuff that goes down on a regular basis, for our workshops we have guest teachers who come in as well as our own teachers leading. We’re really lucky that our mentor Nevine comes in once a quarter to lead workshops that are always sold out. Everyone knows that she was our teacher and wants to be a part of it. It’s really cool to see the community come together for more information. We’ve led workshops on inversions and balances, but have also done them on various ceremonies—the more esoteric realm of yoga. We have a reiki workshop coming up soon. We’ll be doing more workshops on cross-disciplines, and we’re gonna work with our friend Joe who has a cross-training program and we’re gonna do a mixed workshop.
BOND STREET: How do the work-study programs fit into your business model?
SKY TING: Krissy: We offer work-study for people to do three hours of work for us, like signing in classes and helping clean up between classes and setting up the room. Three hours a week gets you unlimited yoga at the studio. We have about 20 students doing it. It helps when you first move to New York and you’re trying to get stable and your finances in place—it’s hard and you still wanna practice. It’s also a good opportunity for people to become part of the community, because you end up knowing a lot of the regulars and making relationships.
SKY TING: Chloe: Our students will hang out outside of Sky Ting. I see them together in the street getting lunch and I’m like “Hey, you guys are all friends!” It’s so nice to see.
BOND STREET: How does technology figure into your business?
SKY TING: Krissy: We use a service called MINDBODY which allows us to check in students and run reports to look at data. We have really good graphics and website people helping us. We use Instagram and other social media platforms for people to get to know who we are. It’s kind of surprising sometimes. If you go onto our Instagram, you’ll see that it’s different from any other yoga studio’s. We’re really weird and different and say out-there things. That’s how we teach: we have a different vibe. We also use Spotify for our classes!
SKY TING: Chloe: We’re starting to get into technology more now that we’re a year old. We’ve started doing more work with Google Analytics and setting up reports to really track and see patterns. It’s hard in the first year to know the pattern that your students have, but now, we’re really trying to up the ante with understanding who’s coming in, how often they’re coming in, what’s the return on packages, and other metrics. It’s been really interesting to see.
BOND STREET: What’s your most effective marketing channel?
SKY TING: Krissy: I think it’s been Facebook so far.
SKY TING: Chloe: Yea, Facebook and Instagram. It’s a great way to reach people quickly and efficiently.
BOND STREET: Running a business can be strenuous and focused exclusively on the material world, while yoga is all about calmness, composure, and connecting with the self. What’s it like balancing these two?
SKY TING: Krissy: I think the yoga practice really helps us to stay graceful while running the business. We’re always connected to the larger goal—our mission is really to help people. It never gets nasty or cutthroat. There haven’t really been any arguments either. If we disagree on something, we handle it like adults and go on majority rule. I think that the yoga practice supports that kind of business atmosphere. It can be hard when you’re on emails and meetings all day, or doing interviews or talking with teachers and staff, and then switch into teaching mode really quickly. That transition is kinda gnarly, so I try to take a moment for myself. I have to practice in order to feel sane and connected to what I’m doing. I make it a point to see my teacher every week and do home practice. I take other people’s classes at Sky Ting every single day. It’s good for mental maintenance.
BOND STREET: What’s the biggest business challenge you currently face?
SKY TING: Chloe: Honestly, it’s figuring out our infrastructure for expansion. We do have a lot of opportunities coming our way, which is amazing. We’ve been well supported and the business is going well for this first year—the student body is there, and they’re hungry for the material. Now it’s about thinking through the next steps, how we can continue to run the business gracefully, as Krissy mentioned. We’re not looking to cheapen the material or water it down—we don’t want to grow it to the point that we can’t monitor the work that we’re doing. We want to keep a sense of quality control. But, being handed so many opportunities, we do want to take advantage of the fire that’s underneath us and keep pushing forward. For us, it’s about deciding where we want the business to go, what opportunities to take versus not, and what that will look like as Sky Ting grows into something larger than a single studio.
BOND STREET: What’s your 5-year vision for Sky Ting Yoga?
SKY TING: Krissy: Chloe and I are developing a teacher training program so that we can eventually hire teachers within the program and have everyone know the Sky Ting philosophy and theory that we want to pass down. Hopefully we’ll be opening more studios in New York and elsewhere. We teach a very specific style, so I think there’s a lot of opportunity to grow. We’ll continue to grow with it as long as we feel happy and connected.
SKY TING: Chloe: The whole reason we started the studio is because we were yoga teachers that wanted a better opportunity to teach the material we wanted—that’s the space we created and want to keep giving it to new teachers coming up.
BOND STREET: What’s one book every entrepreneur should read?
SKY TING: A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science by Michael S. Schneider.
BOND STREET: One brand that you admire:
SKY TING: Rachel Comey, a designer in New York.
BOND STREET: 5 favorite small businesses in NYC?