February 1, 2016
The day a barrel of crude hit $30, Carolina Vennie walked out of the majestic ExxonMobil campus in the Woodlands, TX, for the very last time. Although falling oil prices have led to the worst economic downturn Houston has experienced in decades, they actually fueled her decision.
“For years, I stayed in the oil industry because of the financial stability it offered. I told myself that a predictable career path and paycheck was a smarter decision in the long run, even if I did not particularly love what I was doing. As I watched thousands of employees from big companies like Shell and ExxonMobil pack up their cubicle plants, I realized that was no longer the case.”
Although the current state of affairs in Houston is alarming, it is also somewhat liberating. New industries are emerging as leaders in our economy, and the road to so-called success is no longer limited to high school- college – corporate office. Fear of the unknown is the reason so many aspiring entrepreneurs choose to stick with their day jobs, but now it’s hard even for the seasoned execs to predict where they will be in 5 or 10 years. If we’re going to be forced to embrace volatility and change, why do it in a job we don’t even like?
“The cons of quitting my job included working really long hours, not being able to take vacation, and having little to zero spending money. With corporate budgets tight and continuous headcount cuts, I worked longer hours, took less vacation, and saw zero bonuses about a year before I finally left the company. Staying and leaving had the same disadvantages, they crossed each other out. That made my decision easier.”
Carolina left to open a boutique yoga studio in Montrose, trading in her heels but not her business sense. A recent study conducted by the Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal shows the number of U.S. yoga practitioners has increased to over 36 million, up from 20.4 million in 2012, and practitioner spending on yoga classes, clothing, equipment and accessories, rose to $16 billion a year up from $10 billion over the past four years.
The best part of her new job? Creative freedom. “I am a very creative person, and for good reason, the corporate world doesn’t have room for anything outside of strict processes and templates. For a long time I felt depressed at my job, and I honestly think it was partly because I felt creatively restricted.”
Opening Yogaleena has put Carolina’s right-side brain on steroids. Carolina and husband David Vennie did most of the designing and building themselves, hand picking everything from the floor tiles to the tiny decorative knobs on the retail shelves. She also hand-made most of the decorations you find at the studio, from dreamy dream catchers to yarn-bombed lamps and natural branches wrapped in lights and feathers. Even when it comes to running the business, Carolina gets to exercise her creative muscle. “If I have an idea for a workshop, new class, or interesting advertising campaign, I don’t have to get a million approvals to try it. I’m learning about business in the most exciting way, and that keeps me waking up with enthusiasm every morning.”
Before you put in your two weeks notice and start chanting OM, consider that this path is not an easy one. Carolina has been open for three weeks and as expected, she won’t be hearing cha-ching in her bank account for a while. In order to get the word out to the community, she’s pretty much giving away her services with Groupon and TidBits deals, and a “30 days for $30” introductory offer. The problem with this kind of business is that costs are all fixed, so it’s even harder to get up and running. Her rent and labor costs are the same whether she has 1 or 30 clients, so the first few months can be very stressful as attendance is still relatively low.
Carolina doesn’t regret her decision for a second.
“Sure, I’ve had to trade shopping sprees at Anthropologie for regular trips to Home Depot and Walmart, I work longer and less conventional hours than I ever had, and I feel much more pressure to succeed than I did at my desk job, but I’m thriving on the inside.”
Though many people are turning to entrepreneurship as a last resort, Carolina was already planning her yoga business back when oil was king. The twists and turns our economy has taken over the past few years have helped her more accurately assess the opportunity cost of leaving Corporate America and come to terms with the fact that there really are no guarantees (so you might as well spend your time and energy on something you believe in.) However, she opened Yogaleena when she felt emotionally, mentally, and financially ready to take that leap of faith, not because stocks were up or down the perfect percentage.
“The reality is that no matter what the price of oil is, you have one life, and one shot at living it in a way that fills you up. There is some level of risk in all choices. There are pros and cons to each and every decision we make, and what we ultimately go with should come down to personal priorities, not market conditions.”