Salutations to that reality in which all the elements, and all the animate and inanimate beings shine as if they had their own independent existence, and in which they exist for a time, an into which they merge.
— Yoga Vasishta (opening prayer)
NomadYOGI, as you knew it, is now down and won’t be reemerging as a new-and-improved social network for yoga. That adventure, my friends, is over.
Why is this happening?
I chose not to litter the site with advertising and popups or sell user data to marketing agencies interested in pushing fitness-related products. My feeling was, “We’ll only make money when the teachers are making money, and we’ll succeed together.” So, our business model relied on processing transactions. Surprisingly, sadly, many event creators found/created sneaky ways to avoid paying 3%, 2%, or even a 1% fee on their sales. Yoga teachers frequently asked me how they could advertise on the site, seemingly disappointed that the best way to get exposure was free: all they had to do was write useful content in the Sangha and they’d be featured in our weekly promotions as subject matter experts, across social media. It was a significantly better value proposition than getting a banner ad on one website with “qualified eyeballs” or being featured in one email blast with a dubious CTR, but advertising companies have shaped marketing in such a way that small business people are trained to willfully waste their money.
So, at the end of the day, I think I didn’t understand what our users wanted and I wasn’t prepared for what yoga would become. I refused to put asana contests on NomadYOGI, even as I recognized that’s the sort of exhibitionism that other sites were offering. No thanks. NomadYOGI was a passion project for me — something into which I enthusiastically dedicated a few years of my life and a small fortune. My principles meant more to me than the site’s popularity and, since I never took on outside investment, I never had to make that sacrifice. I gave it my best shot and have no regrets. There were successes and failures, challenges and opportunities, inspirations and desperations. What a ride.
But the truth is, now, my heart isn’t in yoga anymore. A deep disgust with all the guru scandals (John Friend, Gurudev at Kripalu, Baptiste, Jivamukti, Bikram to name but a few) had been building for a while and, about a year ago, I became iretrievably turned off by the instagramification, commercialism, self-help snake oil, and unabashed self-branding among yoga practitioners and teachers. I watched, in horror, as Bikram yoga became popular (“Bikram Yoga: Look Better Naked”). I winced as I saw Rocket Yoga gain traction (“Rocket Yoga gets you there faster”). I mean, I only began assisting my teachers when I finished the Intermediate Series, after practicing Mysore Style Ashtanga for 6 years, so I could not help but cringe while 20-something girls announced loudly, and without irony, “I’m a yoga teacher” after attending a 200-hour course on a Thai beach for 3 weeks. And Broga, and Glowga, and Beer Yoga and the “smart” yoga e-mat. The preponderance of slackline, acro-yogis, bindfolded on a naked paddle board made me gag, and still does. I’m sure what they are doing is fun exercise, but is that yoga? How is any of that helping quiet the mind?
…And then a bunch of competitors entered the space of “yoga directory” with zero fucks given about copyright, privacy, or the tension that should exist between yoga and commerce. Regardless of my efforts to show that we did care, NomadYOGI was lumped in with the rest of the group and I was personally maligned with the kind of righteous vitriol that should normally be reserved for war criminals. Welcome to the Internet, grab a helmet.
So, when my developer suggested a way that we could cut costs down by 80%, I considered keeping it up for another year. After all, there continued to be a steady trickle of sincere yogis signing up and uploading events, every week. But no one was really using the Sangha, and that really weighed on me because it was built to be the antidote for all the show-off-your-asana bullshit that has come to define yoga as an industry. Instead, the structure of what we built (the yogi profiles, the event directory, the Stream of Consciousness feed, etc.) and the software we designed to run the architecture of the Sangha will be sold and repurposed towards other aims by a different company. Internet companies are technology companies, after all.
Maybe I will regret this, but I’ve closed a business once before (a decade ago when I went back to grad school to get my MBA in corporate social responsibility) and my memories of that experience are more sweet than bitter, if still bitter sweet. Admitting to a mistake is hard, especially one that I poured personal resources into. Strange, when I think about it: I’ve had more success in areas where I positioned myself to take advantage of opportunities as they came to me than those where I worked my ass off to make something happen. Apparently, I’m better at due diligence than I am at sales. I should probably pay more attention to that lesson.
“A wise man commits as many mistakes—even more than a stupid man—but he never commits the same mistake twice.” – Osho, The Mustard Seed, Chapter 14
“The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” — Rainer Maria Rilke
From a technological and philosophical perspective, I really believed that building a walled garden dedicated to yoga would be an appreciated hedge against the the unrepentant data mining, fake follower botnets, and the malware/spamware/click bait of all the other social networks out there, let alone the vast chaos of the greater Web. But, I was wrong. At this time, barely anyone on the Internet gives a shit about the aforementioned, or digital privacy, or maintaining the integrity of yoga as a noble science of the mind — let alone all of the above! As this reality sank in, I began to realize I have better things to do that convince everyone they’re doing it wrong. In the interest of humility, indeed, it’s much more productive, and sane, to accept I don’t know best, let it go, and focus elsewhere. I’d rather practice alone in my room, or sit quietly with my breath, or contemplate Advaita, or go for a walk with my wife and dog.
As I slowly removed myself from active involvement here, I worked on other startups (both online and off), but mostly as an angel/advisor. I have returned my day-to-day attention to commercial real estate and finance. While this (i.e. tenant relations, lease negotiations, property management, and the optimization of non-correlated asset classes across an investment portfolio) is more in line with my education, it’s definitely not as creative or thrilling as building/coordinating a distributed team, from nothing, spanning Europe, India, various locations in SE Asia, and across the Americas. And yet, I’m pretty happy that I’m no longer working 70-80hrs/week, creating what, it turns out, amounted to little more than an expensive hobby.
So, that part is sad. Because when I explored the site one last time before taking it down, I really appreciated all the work that went into it. I still think it was a beautifully designed, feature-rich platform that had the potential to connect people who were seeking and sharing experiences that related to yoga. I guess that happened, to some degree, but it wasn’t viable as a business.
Over the last year, I have been working on an essay that will further explain what I learned during the rise and demise of this project, as well as my relationship disillusionment with yoga, digital media content creation/consumption, the state of Internet advertising as it relates to privacy, and cyber security in general. Many great writers have analyzed these topics separately and my submission will, hopefully, tie it all together.
If you wish to know more, check back in November, or follow me on twitter.
Love and Light,