I’ll be the first to admit that I juggle a lot of stuff. The Fit Mixes company, Sally O’Neil Photography, workshops, blogging, penning a new cookbook, and you know…life. When I think how ‘busy’ or full my life is, I’m going to check in and remind myself of this woman. Jacinta McDonell. Entrepreneur, Philanthropist and mum of three.
If you’re not familiar with her name, you will be familiar with her empire. She brought Anytime Fitness AU into Australia alongside her co-owner brother, and together they grew the brand (which now has over 400 clubs nationwide). She sold her shares in June this year. A HUGE achievement in itself right? I’d be patting myself on the back until the end of my days if I achieved even half of that. But in 2015, she established world-first yoga concept studio Urban Yoga in Surry Hills, Sydney. Just a few short months ago in Oct 2017, she re-branded the studio to W1ll Yoga + Meditation, which sees pre-recorded voice guided classes alongside the usual instructor-led classes. The studio also now has an online platform subscription model, that allows you to get bendy and meditate anytime, anywhere in the comfort of your own digs.
An advocate of using business for good, she has also created The Human Kind Project in 2015 – an exciting charity supporting the global Hunger Project. It supports global goals of tackling extreme poverty, fighting inequality and injustice and ending world hunger by 2030. This isn’t just another charity – it educates and equips those in need with skills to become self-sufficient. Handouts are not the name of the game here – it’s about long-term, sustainable change.
When I meet Jacinta to find out her secret to juggling all of the above along with three young children, she arrives cool and collected. Greeting me with a warm hug at a Bondi cafe, we order a coffee and get into it…
Tell me a little bit about the woman behind W1ll and The Human Kind Project.
Will is really an extension of what we did at Urban [Yoga]. We choreograph yoga to music and add visuals to get that immersive yoga experience. We started looking at how to create that same experience at home because we get asked all the time when we’ll be opening more studios. We wanted people to be able to access it far and wide. When I was pregnant with my last child, I was trying to do yoga at home because I had a 2.5-year-old and then still had Anytime Fitness, so it was really hard for me to get to a studio with everything that was going on. I trialled a lot of at-home practices, and I hated all of them. I was so frustrated and kept getting distracted. I wanted to create what we’d done inside out Surry Hills Studio for people at home. We’ve played with it all year and it’s taken us 12 months to really perfect it, but now we have guided classes both in the physical W1ll Studio, but also online. It’s about 80% as good as being in an actual studio, which we feel is incredible for an at-home practice. There is no other guided meditation in Australia.
Where did you get your inspiration from?
I’ve been doing my own meditation practice for 5 years now, including Vedic meditation, learning about neuroscience meditation, and have been working with Jamie Gonzalez as a mentor who also utilises meditation. I felt that there was no real accessible meditation for the everyday person. After a visit to New York, I stumbled across Inscape. We decided we had to integrate guided meditation into our plans for guided yoga. It was just a natural extension for us to support the yoga practices. The meditations are short and simple. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding around meditation and I feel like this is a nice way for people to just try it. You don’t have to sit there and stop thinking. It’s not designed to be a strain – it’s just a practice.
Why did you choose to rebrand?
We opened Urban Yoga two years ago, and the vision for the brand has grown so much bigger in those 24 months. I really felt we hadn’t incorporated why we existed – to create social change. We worked on our new brand for about 4 or 5 months and we came up will W1ll. The 1 in W1ll represents one human, so for every product you purchase from W1ll supports a human in need via The Human Kind Project.
How did you find the rebranding process?
I was really sad because I loved our initial design. I was worried we wouldn’t create something as beautiful. I have a girlfriend who is an interior designer so we worked on it together. Now I’m really happy with the outcome, and surprisingly we didn’t spend too much on it either.
What skills did you transfer from the global fitness chain to your boutique studio?
The view of what we did in Anytime Fitness was looked at what was missing in the industry. At the time there weren’t any 24-hour gyms, and we brought that. The rest of the industry thought we were absolutely nuts, but we thought from a consumer’s point of view, they want something other than a restricted Fitness First Membership for $100 a month. We offered a $50 membership to a 24-hour gym with awesome equipment. With yoga and meditation I look at the industry and question ‘why is that the way yoga is always done?’. There’s a few really beautiful studios in Sydney and Melbourne now, but there’s also a bunch of this other stuff happening. Will is trying to make beautiful yoga and meditation accessible to everybody. We’ve put so much time and energy into creating a really beautiful practice both in the studio and on our online platform. That the similarity between W1ll and Anytime Fitness – we’ve created something accessible and affordable, but still really well done.
Your proudest moment in business?
I think the way my kids are, i’m incredibly grateful for. I have a 17-year-old daughter who is just incredible. Human Kind Project is probably what grounds me the most because everything in my life surrounds that. W1ll donates to Human Kind. I also have a second home I have in the Byron Hinterland is rented for special projects and proceeds go to Human Kind. We also have other entrepreneurs that we work with that are funding projects in Malawi. It’s incredible.
Where did The Human Kind Project stem from?
I had always been interested in business and social business, and how the two could work together. I had a trip with Business Chicks in 2014 and on that trip met the CEO of The Hunger Project Cathy Burke. We went and witnessed people transforming themselves out of poverty, and learnt what leadership skills are being given to the community. It was an amazing immersion trip. On that trip, I was asked ‘how are you going to contribute?’. I said there and then I just wanted to be a voice for business people and that was my role in helping people out of poverty. 8 months later I established The Human Kind Project and we’ve done 2 trips since then where we’ve taken entrepreneurs to see the communities. That enables entrepreneurs and other people to see what work is happening, learn from what’s going on over there, and it also raises funds through sponsorship.
What advice would you have given your younger entrepreneurial self?
Go with your gut.
I’ve learnt to trust myself really whole-heartedly. I’ve always had a strong gut instinct, and with age I’ve learnt that my initial reaction is usually the right one. When I was younger I would question myself a lot.
With juggling multiple projects, what is your biggest takeaway?
If I don’t allow some time for myself every day then everything doesn’t flow well. Meditation, a short yoga practice, whatever it is, it gives me clarity and perspective. It helps me stay calm and focused at work. People always ask me how I have the time, but realistically, all it takes is five minutes.
What are your biggest learnings in business?
I think what I’ve gotten better at is finding really key people that you trust and want to work with. Rather than hiring from a resume and skill, I now look for the person – their desire and attitude. That dictates their success.
Biggest fear you’ve overcome in your journey so far?
Something I still come up against is needing to know where things are going. I get in my own way by trying to dictate how I get there, rather than just focusing on the next decision. I need to slow down – sometimes working too quickly is to my detriment. Realistically, we’re not in control of anything,
Best career advice you’ve ever received
Just be yourself and do it your way. You can’t focus on someone else – we all have different strength and powers. We have to find out own path.
To connect with Jacinta and her team at W1ll and Human Kind Project, click below. x
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