In this Q&A, you’ll hear from Laura Munkholm, co-founder & president of Walla, creator of management software for boutique fitness studios. Laura discusses a user-centric approach that alleviates the pain points of studio owners and how Walla accelerated through pandemic restrictions with 0% client turnover.
Can you tell us about what you’re working on at Walla?
Laura Munkholm: Walla is a powerful, all-in-one studio management software created for (and with) the studio owner in mind. Built by a team of fitness industry experts—who have been behind the front desk and behind the scenes of global wellness tech platforms—our goal is to simplify everyday business operations through intuitive time-saving touchpoints.
With a sleek, modern design, Walla’s user-centric platform has the exact features a studio owner and their staff need to run their business more efficiently, strategically, and successfully. From conversion rates to teacher ranking, key metrics can be accessed instantly for faster, better business decisions.
Unlike many of our competitor’s hastily bolted-on digital capabilities, Walla’s built-in livestream, video on demand, and virtual course functionality enable studios to operate their online experience confidently.
Plus, with an industry-first personality typology integration, we are forever changing client engagement — optimizing the client experience, personalizing interactions, and impacting revenue and retention.
I firmly believe we aren’t just a technology platform; we are studios’ partner in this ever-evolving fitness and wellness landscape. At Walla, more than simply competing with other studio management software, we are revolutionizing how technology defines boutique fitness operations and impacts a studio owner’s life.
How did you come up with the idea? What key insight led you to pursue this opportunity?
LM: After being in the yoga and wellness space as a teacher, studio manager, and industry consultant for over 15 years, I knew there was an opportunity to build better technology.
My clients and I had lived through every frustration under the sun, and I was tired of outdated software that required nonstop hacks and endless headaches. My partner and I were convinced we could build a fit-tech platform that could excel at supporting the thousands of boutique studios struggling to understand business insights in an evolving industry. So, we did it!
My co-founder, Doug Hecht, recruited his previous team of engineers, and we put our dream idea into action. We were confident Walla could become the disruptor our industry needs.
Then, when the pandemic jolted the fitness community, I watched firsthand as studios painstakingly tried to adapt to the “new normal,” struggling to stay afloat while being nickel and dimed by their software partners.
As I look at the amazing platform we built (and are continuing to build), read client testimonials, and watch the positive impact Walla has had on everyday life, my “why” for co-founding Walla becomes even more apparent: making the studio the hero again.
Whether you realize it or not, your neighborhood yoga studio is your safe space to celebrate self-love and acceptance. Your local boxing gym is your confidence-builder. These studio owners help us define wellness in every way — making us stronger mentally, emotionally, and physically and making our communities a better place.
These studio owners deserve a partner who works hard and makes their lives easier so they can get out from behind the computer and be part of the moments that count.
That starts with hands-on customer service and empowering communication around product requests. A true differentiator, our studio owners can influence Walla in real-time, and no other studio software does that.
How did you turn your idea into a company?
LM: Our idea of building Walla started with a lot of brainstorming (and outdoor meetings during a pandemic), a solid pitch deck, dozens of meetings as we worked to raise capital, and building a killer team with a wealth of creative, tech, and wellness experiences.
A few major milestones for Walla include:
- Raising $13M in investment for Walla despite an ongoing global health crisis and looming economic downturn.
- Growing the Walla team by 80% in the last year as the organization ramps up and serves more studios.
- Winning, onboarding, and supporting well-known and respected fitness businesses, such as Indie Yoga in San Diego, The River, 502 Power Yoga, Salt Fit, Seattle Yoga Arts, Boost Pilates, and more.
- Achieving 0% client attrition over the last 12 months, which is quite unusual at such an early stage of a tech business.
- Hosting four successful Startups Give Back (SD chapter) events in the last 18 months.
How big can this get? What’s the addressable market and how do you go about capturing it?
LM: The boutique studio fitness space is a growing $8.8B industry — and with over 35K studios in the United States alone, the market share for a fit-tech platform like Walla is tremendous.
We have the opportunity to leverage the outages, extra fees, distrust, and tech fatigue thousands of studios are experiencing with our competitors to capture those seeking simplicity in a pandemic-adapted space.
By showcasing the Walla product and working with influential studios in a variety of metros, owners naturally tout the benefits of our platform. Studios are a community, and they talk, so word of mouth is powerful, especially when we make a significant difference in real-time operations.
Who is the core customer? How are you acquiring customers? And how will you grow the customer base?
LM: The Walla customer is a boutique fitness studio with one to 10 locations looking to optimize operations and grow.
For example, it’s for the neighborhood yoga, barre, Pilates, and boxing studios striving to strengthen their community and give their clients the best experience without software downtime.
Regarding acquiring Walla studio partners/customers, we are leveraging the power of word of mouth and creating authentic connections across multiple metros on a local scale. To grow our client bases, we also have a rockstar group of affiliate consultants in the industry who have recognized Walla as the software they’ve been waiting for.
Internally, our sales team looks at competitor pain points and directly addresses how Walla solves those issues through conversations and demos with thousands of studios.
We are raising customer awareness at large-scale events too, including the Boutique Fitness Summit and local studio engagements like the Walla-sponsored “Wellness Reimagined” at The River Yoga in Denver.
Our customer base is naturally expanding because of how easy Walla is to operate and understand. Simple is beautiful, and by educating studio owners and their staff about the benefits of Walla, it’s a no-brainer to make the switch!
Looking at your road map, what are some of the milestones you’re targeting over the next 3-6 months?
LM: With Walla’s recent investment, we want to increase our marketing footprint in the studio space and build out exciting features (like appointments and an email/text automation platform) that make our current clients more successful and increase their client reach.
By elevating our studio partners’ success rate and reach, we naturally drive revenue and impact retention, helping to make their studios more profitable and sustainable.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers?
LM: One of the big reasons I decided to say yes to co-founding Walla was knowing 70% of boutique fitness studio owners are female — and there is no one in the space representing their needs and their voice. I want to give these women a chance at success and an opportunity for generational financial freedom.
There are plenty of men telling them what to do and how to do it, but no one is really listening. So, here we are.
It’s also important to note I’m also a competitive athlete. I didn’t just set out to meet this need; I set out to meet this need the best possible way it could be met, eliminating the demand for essentially every other software on the market.
Related reading from Fitt Insider: Issue No. 153: WellnessOS
If you’re interested in having your company featured in our Startup Q&A series, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.