“When you have put you heart and soul into building something up from scratch, the stakes are really high..."

Ahead of the Network Ireland Business woman of the Year Awards, on October 2, EMMA CONNOLLY talks to the Cork finalists, for WoW!
“When you have put you heart and soul into building something up from scratch, the stakes are really high..."

Eveanna de Barra Kumar, director, Himalaya Yoga Valley. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Eveanna De Barra Kumar

Network Cork: Online Business

Transformation Award

WHEN Covid-19 hit in March, everything Cork-based Himalaya Yoga Valley had been working towards as a company, family and team for the last 12 years looked like it was in jeopardy.

“We were a business that was built on bringing large groups of people together, in enclosed spaces, to breathe deeply… the writing was on the wall really,” says Eveanna De Barra Kumar, marketing manager and company director.

But Eveanna and her team weren’t ready to give up on their mission, which overnight had become more important than ever, and that was to make yoga accessible to people to improve their lives.

So, after closing up their Ballincollig and Cork city centre studios on a Thursday, they remarkably launched their online studio the following Monday.

Without initially realising, Eveanna and her team launched an almost entirely new business, creating an ‘at home yoga studio experience’, in response to Covid.

“The team worked tirelessly to get the technology right, develop a new app, create an entirely new booking system and platform to run our classes from, find and equip a recording studio, do a full rebrand to reflect our online offerings, and most importantly, to nurture our clients through the change,” she said.

Over the two months of lockdown, they ran free community wellbeing classes to support people through the pandemic, with attendance of over 100,000 in that time.

That’s even more impressive considering Eveanna was also parenting solo at the time, as her husband got stuck in his native India for six weeks after flights were grounded. Their founding school is located in Goa.

“I was the sole carer for my kids Oisín (aged five), and Éile (aged three), while trying to navigate a very new, and terrifying reality. I remember on March 13, driving them around the same 2km limit until they fell asleep in the back of the car so I could make phone calls to close down the business,” Eveanna recalls.

“It was the most surreal of times (still is!)…it was a devastating time for all of us and something I will never forget. As tough as it was, we quickly got back in the saddle, because we knew we had a job to do.”

Naturally, she admits the business pivot wasn’t all ‘smooth sailing.’

“We coined the term ‘technology tears’ and it flew around a lot in the first few weeks. We went from digital worriers to digital warriors and I am really proud of how quickly we all adapted.”

Himalaya Yoga Valley opened in the last recession, but Eveanna admits Covid has been their biggest business challenge.

“When you have put you heart and soul into building something up from scratch, the stakes are really high. As things were falling down around us it didn’t feel like the business was in any way separate to our lives. I think it was also the most I have ever been challenged as a working mother. As plenty of working parents know, we are expected to work like we don’t have children and look after our children like we don’t have jobs! This was more challenging than ever with no support, childcare or family to fall back on.

“So this was our biggest professional and life challenge to date but we did get a lot of support from our community and the government acted quickly to help businesses, having the support of Network Cork was incredible too.

“As an organisation, Network Cork did not even blink when the pandemic hit — they just got to work straight away to help us anchor and navigate forward. They were right behind us all the way from the beginning.”

Winning the Network Cork Online Business Transformation Award, she said, meant validation and recognition.

“We all need that! Taking our entire business, team and services online was a monumental effort, it took a lot out of us all energetically and the award truly reenergized us and made it all worth it.”

Himalaya Yoga Valley is now Ireland’s largest online yoga studio with over 100 live classes per month and an on-demand suite of classes that members can access at any time.

“We opened in the middle of a recession in 2007 in Academy Street — we used the recession to show us the way, we carved out a path of extremely affordable yoga to meet the needs of a population who were under financial stress and we are using this situation to do the same. We know that people are facing insecurity and more may come, so we have developed a membership model for just €19.99 per month which gives people unlimited access to all of our online classes. It has meant a massive drop in terms of sales for us but we have the benefit of not being bound geographically and our vision is now an international one — I believe the sky is the limit.”

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