Yoga Joes, for the uninitiated, are toy figurines modeled after GI Joes and other toy soldiers. Except they are molded in classic yoga poses: Headstand, Meditation Pose, Cobra Pose, Warrior One, Warrior Two, Child's Pose, Tree Pose, Crow Pose, and Downward-facing dog. They are sold in a box imitating a yoga studio. I had the opportunity to talk to Dan, the inventor – who you can also talk to at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit their website at http://www.yogajoes.com/ and http://www.brogamats.com/ or order on Amazon.com. – Aaron Brachfeld
Aaron - - - Tell me about what led to your inspiration for Yoga Joe and your Broga Mats? How did the thought occur to you?
Dan - - - When I was having coffee with my friend Paul Simmons (an SF standup comedian), we tried to brainstorm funny ways to make yoga more appealing to men. We were think dogs doing yoga? no. The Hulk doing yoga? no… And then it hit us like a ton of bricks - army men doing yoga! Their little platforms could be replaced with little green yoga mats. And the classic green army men toys were already in very similar gestural poses to yoga. For example, the "Warrior Two" pose was inspired by an army man throwing a grenade. Or the army man crawling through the trenches kind of resembles a "Cobra Pose." So the Yoga Joes were officially born in a San Francisco coffee shop.
Brogamats began one day when carrying my girlfriend's pink yoga mat to yoga class, I joked that I should design funny yoga products to make men feel more manly about doing yoga, since its widely considered a "chick sport." So I started making manly yoga bags and mats, like a giant burrito or a giant log (downward-facing log). It honestly started out as a joke, until one of my friends said to me "no Dan, you should do that."
So basically, I'm inspired by the people around me.
Aaron - - - Tell me about what kept you motivated through the difficult process of getting Yoga Joe and the Broga Mats manufactured?
Dan - - - I often have half-baked silly ideas that I loose interest in quickly, but every once in awhile there's an idea that is too good not to finish. An idea that is annoyingly good. It keeps buzzing in your ear, not being made real yet. Yoga Joes was one them. It just had to exist. It was same with the Burrito yoga bag, I just had to see it be real.
I also am very lucky to have very supportive friends. They kept me going, and encouraged me to take these things all the way.
Aaron - - - What were some of the difficulties you faced in bringing your product from imagination to reality and how did you overcome them?
Dan - - - Namely the money was a challenge. I didn't have the very steep setup costs to create Yoga Joes. In order to mass produce a plastic injected toy, you need to forge a mold out of metal, which was estimated to cost between 40K-60K.
I also didn't know for sure if anyone would really want Yoga Joes. Some of my friends told me I was crazy, that Yoga Joes were funny, but no one would ACTUALLY buy them. So I turned to kickstarter for funding.
I was partially asking a community of strangers, "hey guys, is this a good idea that is worth pursuing?" $108,000 later, I began production.
Aaron - - - Would you share a little about your own practice of yoga: how does it help you on a daily level, how did you begin to practice yoga?
Dan - - - Yoga lets me forget everything, except what is right in front of me. Believe it or not, launching a funny yoga business can be very stressful; I mentally work on it 24 hours a day. My brain often does not shut up at night when I'm trying to sleep.
But the practice of yoga, forces me to stay in the present. There's just no time to be distracted, I have to keep up with what's going on right in front of me (and the gobs of sweat pouring down my face). There's no time to worry about anything else.
And in that moment of mental silence, I have some of my best creative thinking. I find myself the most clear right after yoga.
Aaron - - - Your products are geared toward a mostly male consumer in what is increasingly a female dominated market. Why is it important for men to practice yoga? What are obstacles men face in practicing yoga that women do not?
Dan - - - Yoga Joes and Brogamats were inspired by the fact that I love yoga, but as a guy, I never thought it would be for me. I've found yoga has had incredibly restorative effects on my back pain. Every time I do yoga (about every 1-2 weeks), it basically "resets" my back.
I'm a dude, and it took a bit of a leap of faith to attempt a sport that was seemingly dominated by women. Sure, t was awkward at first, but it was so very worth it. And so, I wanted to make funny yoga products that essentially lowered the barrier to entry for people, who might not readily try yoga, like men, boys, and military veterans.
Aaron - - - What encouragement would you offer to someone else starting a business (yoga related or not) during the inevitably difficult first few years while brand is built?
Dan - - - Seek out like-minded people on the beautiful forum of the internet. Resources like reddit and kickstarter allow you to shop around your ideas, and people are willing to help you with free advice. Strangers are generally very supportive, and have really good ideas.
Aaron - - - Your bags and toys both seem to be intended toward drawing attention to the user's yoga practice and encouraging a pride in yoga. What makes you proud to be a yogi?
Aaron - - - Finally, I would ask you do please relate the stories about how your products have so deeply impacted people, especially the interesting story you hinted at regarding the soldiers...
Dan - - - This project became bigger than me. At first I thought it was a joke in a coffee shop. But I never knew there was such an enormous global community of people in the military that do yoga. Messages poured in from armies all over the world (not just my home country) from like-minded people in military that have found benefits in yoga, and wanted to convince others to do the same. There's something to do with the physical training and discipline of a soldier, on a universal level, that grooves well with the practice of yoga. I quickly realized I had stumbled upon something bigger than myself.
One Captain from Afghanistan messaged me that he likes to encourage his troops to do yoga after going out on patrols, because he "likes to play peace after playing war."
The other really funny story was a big order of many sets of Yoga Joes, for the Canadian Defence Department. Someone had bought it for their entire office - in the "Conflict Resolution" division.
In all honesty, I had no idea that this project would take this shape. I've received messages from families who are trying to reconcile life after service, and how yoga is helping them move forward. To have a product that can relate to them in any way, is so much more than what I intended for when launching this project.
I've also had the ability to connect with some pretty amazing non-profits, like Veterans at Ease and Connected Warriors. They're using Yoga Joes to raise money for more yoga in military communities. We even sent a big batch of Yoga Joes to Afghanistan so a bunch of soldiers at the Bangra Airfield would be encouraged to sign up for an introductory yoga class. It was pretty cool to see that happening.