According to a recent survey by Statista, 52% of Americans are resolved to get more exercise in 2023. For those who choose to exercise in a boutique fitness studio, Encinitas-based fit tech company Walla has developed tools to help those studios keep them on track.
Walla is an all-in-one business management software solution that offers a bevy of features for operators of boutique fitness studios like yoga, martial arts, Pilates, cycling, spin, or any class-oriented fitness exercise.
“We have modernized the experience completely,” said Walla President and Co-founder Laura Munkholm. In addition to offering fitness studios improved purchasing experiences like the ability to accept Apple Pay and Google Pay, Walla took a “revolutionary approach” to client relationships by utilizing behavioral science techniques developed by San Diego-based Skill Power that looks at what motivates individuals to maintain wellness habits.
“They built a personality quiz for us that buckets people into one of four groups and we wove that into our software. Now you get some interesting data, some interesting information on what is going to help you succeed in building that habit to stick with that wellness practice and what are some of the hurdles you may encounter that your personality type typically encounters,” Munkholm said, adding that the feature helps the client reach success “in a more customized fashion” and also gives the studio tools to build “a more layered relationship” with clients.
The Walla management system also streamlines communication between studios and clients with features like in-product text messaging and email that includes immediate access to client information like birthdate and attendance history.
“So when they’re chatting with them, they actually have some context into who that person is to their business and can customize their communication,” Munkholm said.
The Walla system also helps streamline day-to-day operations for studio owners with features like customized dashboards that include the business’ KPI and data metrics.
“Now they get a clear picture of what needs attention in their business and where they’re doing well,” Munkholm said.
Founded With Expereience
Charity Rahmer, owner of Indie Yoga in Ocean Beach, described Walla as an “upgrade” for her business.
“It’s a modern, intuitive platform that makes life easy on our clients and business operations easy on my team. After the last couple of years, I was grateful to find a software partner who was invested in our success,” she said, adding that she had worked with Munkholm “on and off for over a decade” and trusted that “her industry expertise would be baked into this software and would help our studio grow.”
Munkholm founded Walla in 2020, but her experience in the boutique fitness industry stretches much further back to when she first taught yoga as a side job to a sales career. She eventually left sales to run the YogaSix studio in Solana Beach full time. It was there that she said she saw how “outdated” the software the studio was running was as well as a general “lack of professionalism in the boutique fitness industry.”
“Sales processes weren’t a thing. People didn’t know their KPIs or data metrics they needed to understand or follow for predictable growth,” she said.
Munkholm left the in-studio world to start consulting practice for fitness studios and for around eight years she ran “one of the larger boutique fitness consulting agencies” focused on software, sales and management, partnering with “hundreds of studios around the world,” including YogaSix before it was acquired by Exponential Fitness.
While consulting for the boutique fitness industry, Munkholm said it became “more and more evident that the 800-pound gorilla in the space, MindBody Software, which had been the dominant player for as long as the industry had been around, was just not cutting it.”
Munkholm eventually teamed up Walla CEO Doug Hecht, a former MindBody executive and co-founder of the fitness app Lymber, who agreed that the company was not meeting the needs of the industry and the two “went to work” on creating a better solution.
Hecht and Munkholm started Walla with a $5 million seed round led by TenOneTen Ventures and Social Leverage Capital. In July of last year, the company closed an $8 million Series A funding round led by Industry Ventures and joined by existing investors.
Since the founding in 2020, Walla has used the funds to take it from a seven-person team beta testing for a handful of clients to today seeing “massive growth” in the industry with clients consisting of single-studio and multiple-studio operators from across the country and a team of 33 and growing, Munkholm said.
“One of the interesting things that happens in boutique fitness is that teachers often teach at multiple studios, so if a teacher is teaching at one studio with Walla, they love it and tell the other studios they teach at about it. So we tend to get these pockets of people and we’ve had some in Denver and Philly, Boston, New Hampshire, Florida – and San Diego is definitely exploding right now. It’s great,” she said.
For 2023, Walla’s resolution is to roll out a franchise/enterprise-level version of its platform, which the company wanted to wait to do until the right time.
“We first wanted to get a grasp on executing and making sure we had solid product market fit for smaller studios so if there was something we needed to iterate or something we needed to change, we were impacting a few hundred members not hundreds of thousands of members,” Munkholm said. “We really feel confident now after our first year selling software at this point, and our clients are shouting from the rooftops about us. It’s been an awesome first year.”
CEO: Doug Hecht
Business: Business management software solution for boutique fitness industry.
Event: On Jan. 26, Walla will present “The Power of Together,” a discussion on how boutique fitness is permanently shifting the consumer mindset at Four Moons Spa (775 N Vulcan Ave, Encinitas, at 5:30 p.m.)
Notable: Walla’s platform includes built-in livestream, video on demand, and virtual course functionality that can connect multiple Zoom accounts.