Rishi Bali makes an unlikely yoga baron. No one would mistake him for a health nut. And until recently, Bali had no experience in marketing, retail, or apparel manufacturing. The warrior poses he was most familiar with were on the trading desks of Goldman Sachs, where he spent much of his career orchestrating interest-rate swaps and other complex financial instruments for big corporate clients.
But Bali, now 41, grew up in the birthplace of yoga, a slice of Northern India in the foothills of the Himalayas. And he loves the practice in a pure, ashram-in-the-1960s sense. When Bali talks about yoga, his eyes squint, his head tilts to the side, and he cracks a blissed-out grin that belies his career in the canyons of Wall Street. Bali also happens to be very good at business.
In a little more than two years, Bali’s Yogasmoga has made a case for itself as Lululemon 2.0—an extremely modest case, but a case nonetheless. The company shares many attributes with the latest crop of nascent e-commerce darlings: a slick and color-saturated Web store, high-end U.S. manufacturing, and opulent products with price points in the sweet spot between the Gap and Prada. Much of Yogasmoga’s startup cash went to expensive photography and proprietary fabrics.
Those are, however, all table stakes in startup retail these days. More critically, Yogasmoga has a pile of venture capital—some $11.5 million raised in two rounds from Bali’s old Goldman buddies and their acquaintances.
He also has stores—the kind with lithe clerks, platoons of headless mannequins, and utility bills. The first Yogasmoga opened in October on the main shopping strip of tony Greenwich, Conn. (just down the street from Lululemon). A second soon followed in Los Angeles. A third is under construction in Beverly Hills, and Bali is negotiating leases on 10 more locations that he hopes to open by the end of the year, mostly in the chi-chi shopping districts of such affluent areas as Boulder, Colo., Miami, Silicon Valley, and Washington, D.C.
“There’s no killing Lululemon,” Bali said. “But people want an alternative, and I think there’s room for three or four solid players. We just want to be that next guy in the space.” Continue reading >>