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Yoga Panda CEO Othmane Rahmouni.

After launching a local digital magazine focused on yoga last year, Othmane Rahmouni soon learned of a problem that existed in the yoga world: Studios couldn’t attract enough customers, and customers had a hard time finding the right class.

After helping a few individual studios with their marketing needs, Rahmouni realized he could solve this problem at scale. So this summer, the former Microsoft product manager teamed up with fellow co-founders Ahmed Jamal and Anatoly Macarov — both of whom he met at separate Startup Weekend events — to launch a new marketplace that connected studios and yogis.

yogapanda12The result is Yoga Panda, a new Seattle startup with an app that lets people search, book, and pay for yoga classes in the Seattle area. There are more than a dozen studios already using the app, with hundreds of yoga classes to pick from each week.

One unique aspect of Yoga Panda is that it allows yoga studios to implement variable pricing.

“The price for yoga classes on the app is dynamically set based on a variety of factors, including supply and demand and historical attendance for each class over the previous weeks,” explained Rahmouni, who we wrote about in 2013 after the 33-year-old traveled to Iraq for a Startup Weekend event. “Yoga Panda users will pay less for yoga classes if they go to the ones that are not as busy.”

Rahmouni said the long-term vision is to go beyond yoga and “create a better on-demand search and book experience for any kind of fitness,” he noted. We caught up with the Yoga Panda CEO for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “We help you find and book yoga classes at local yoga studios on a drop-in basis directly from your phone. Pricing is set based on how busy each class is.”

Inspiration hit us when: “People kept emailing Seattle Yoga News asking for advice and recommendations for yoga studios, teachers and classes. We saw an opportunity to create a marketplace to match supply and demand.”

yogapanda133VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We decided to bootstrap and self-fund the first phase of our growth as we prove the model in the Seattle area with yoga. Once we do that successfully, we will consider other options to accelerate our growth as we expand to new cities and other fitness verticals beyond just yoga.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Our pricing algorithm. Similarly to how airlines price flights differently on Tuesdays as compared to weekends, we are building sophisticated algorithms that help us dynamically price classes based on a variety of factors such as historical attendance.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Adopting a business model that is designed specifically to address the needs of studio owners from the ground up: it is free to adopt, it is performance driven (Yoga Panda only makes money if people actually walk through the door), it does not cannibalize existing demand, and it integrates seamlessly with their existing schedule and registration software system, so there is no staff overhead.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Using PayPal as our payment system. We pushed our app live on the App Store, only to learn that PayPal had blocked our API access and our ability to process credit card payments through the app for dubious reasons. After wasting countless hours with PayPal support with no light at the end of the tunnel, we ended up integrating with an alternative payment processing solutions and pushing a new update to the App Store while we were still waiting to get a resolution of our problem from the PayPal support team.”

yogapanda-1024x1024Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “We will take Zuckerberg because of our focus on being social. One of our top priorities in the coming weeks is to create deep social experiences within Yoga Panda. We want to get people to invite their friends to go to class with them and even have groups coordinate what classes to go to directly through the Yoga Panda app. If we can crack that nut and are able to successfully tap into the social network of users to drive group behaviors, then I foresee some very interesting growth for Yoga Panda.”

Our favorite team-building activity is: “Taking a yoga class together, of course.”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “The ability to execute both well and fast and solve whatever problem is thrown your way.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Roll up your sleeves and start executing once you have validated some key assumptions. I believe that it is important to put something in the hands of your target customers as quickly as possible so that you can start responding to their feedback and keep iterating to improve on it. I have met too many entrepreneurs who spend way too much time in that ‘starting out’ phase.”

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