Alumni of the week

Yoga is also business

Tonje Næss


Entrepreneur and Co-Founder

Leela Yoga AS

Bachelor 2010 and Master of Science 2012

“No matter whether you are talking about shoes, insurance, yoga or something else, it is still a product to be sold. ”

Right in the middle of downtown Oslo, among all the noise and chaos, Tonje has created a space to breathe, literally, for the city-dwellers. But why did she leave an attractive job in DNB to start her own yoga studio? And were those 7 years at BI entirely wasted?

Tonje took Drawing, form and colour in upper secondary school, so BI and economics studies may not have been an obvious choice for her.

"We had a family business in construction materials, so a Bachelor in Retail Management seemed like a natural choice. Not necessarily because I was going to start working there, but because I was interested in running something of my own. And I really love learning – about anything, really. BI had many new and exciting subjects that I had never dealt with before. Statistics, for example. That turned out to be one of my favourite subjects. And although I had not studied much math and economics before, those were the subjects where I did best.

Education is about getting to know yourself

After completing her bachelor, Tonje was still eager to learn more. She chose the BI master in International management, as she wanted to make her career in a large international company with plenty of opportunities. Tonje excelled in school and got a job in DNB before she graduated. But there was something that wasn't quite right. Tonje was not happy, and could not settle into the path she had chosen. After a conversation with a good friend, who pointed out that she was more passionate about her hobby than her job, Tonje decided to leave DNB to make a business based on yoga. While this might seem like a sudden and unexpected decision, that was not entirely the case. For during the years when Tonje was working on her masters, there was something that changed for her. The assignment required delving into the dirty laundry of ten of the world's largest companies to see if they were keeping their promises about sustainable investments.

"The more I learned, the greater my distaste. I simply did not want to be a part of that business culture. It was more natural for me to start something on my own and have complete control over all the parts and decisions.


Planning, planning, planning

"When I decided to leave the bank and start Leela, there were a lot of people who had a lot of opinions about that decision. Many people felt that I was throwing away my education. But, I have used my education from BI enormously. Because, no matter whether you are talking about shoes, insurance, yoga or something else, it is still a product to be sold.

Tonje says that she has been able to make use of her creativity, in part through marketing, product development and concept development of Leela yoga studio.

"When we started the studio, we had a plan for everything we did. Everything I had learned about business plans and budgeting - I think that is part of the reason that the studio has been such a success from the very beginning.

Marketing that works

Even before Tonje opened the doors in 2013, the studio already had 50 members. They deliberately cultivated and developed the brand, Leela Yoga, during the time leading up to the opening. They did this in part by offering donation-based yoga in the park, and by being very visible in social media.

"Instagram works really well for us. We publish good, inspiring pictures of various yoga positions, and we also use the platform to sell our products. We have never had to spend any money on marketing.

Today, the studio has turnover of around NOK 50 000–60 000 a month on products they sell in the shop, but the biggest earnings come from their monthly subscribers. Both Tonje and her new co-owner – sister Ingrid – are yoga instructors themselves, and together, they share shifts in the shop and the daily tasks. They also hire in other instructors, so they can offer a broad selection of yoga classes for their customers.

"I like the fact that it is small and personal. I have also noticed that the customers appreciate this. When I have been away travelling, it has affected the business. I am the face of the company, and it's important that I am actually physically present.

While Tonje and Ingrid could easily have scaled up their business, growing bigger and earning more is not a goal in itself. They are happy where they are, and they still see plenty of development potential in their studio in Heimdalsgata.