Walla co-founder, Laura Munkholm, shares her journey and gives us some meaningful advice on staying motivated and driven as a female in a constantly evolving software industry.
From a yoga teacher to a studio manager and then a consultant—how did you become the co-founder of a FitTech startup?
Seeing that in one sentence sounds pretty funny (and not so believable!). Basically, I love yoga so much and knew there was a way to marry my passions: yoga and business. I was teaching yoga on the side of my sales career. I’d get to the studio early and stay late—selling memberships, testing everything in the system, and studying the metrics. I taught myself how to run a business by observing, asking questions, and working my ass off. I learned that the key to making a studio successful was the people and the systems that supported them. Once that clicked, I knew I needed to become an expert in studio software.
When I started my consulting business, I quickly realized how under-served the fitness business world was. With the help of some key mentors, I began to build relationships, coached studios, and worked with owners to better understand what the fitness and wellness industry needed to propel itself forward—and how the soul of yoga was influential to both business strategy and success. That led me to my partnership with Doug Hecht, Walla's co-founder. After saying “no” more than once, he confidently convinced me we could change the studio software game by leveraging his operational and tech expertise, the incredible team he’d assembled over the years, and my industry knowledge to create something pretty incredible.
What inspired the creation of Walla?
Doug and I constantly heard about the consistent frustration studios were experiencing with their software. The leading player in the space simply doesn't seem to have a business model that supports studio success anymore. There was (and is) such an obvious opportunity for the right people with the right experience to disrupt the studio software space and make a massive impact on overall wellness while doing it. Studio owners love helping people move their bodies, feel good, connected, empowered, and vibrant—and we knew we could make that more accessible, more enjoyable, and modern.
Have you found running a startup challenging at all?
For me, it’s been all the hats—HR, yup, that’s me. Sales, right here! Onboarding, I can handle it. Travel agent for an industry conference? Gotcha covered. You get the picture. We can hire experts in each field as we've grown, but someone has to get the work done, which can fall on founders. But that just comes with the territory! I could be in five different Slack conversations at once about various things, so it takes an enormous amount of mental capacity to organize thoughts and execute (and not get overly stressed). It keeps every day exciting, though!
Now that you’ve built a company and a software product, what do you envision the Walla experience to be?
When I think about the ideal Walla partner and user, I think about the busy studio owner who’s juggling a million plates at any given time and now gets to log in to a clean, modern platform to manage their thriving studio. We knew these same people were dealing with old, glitchy, unreliable software to run the core of their businesses. I think about how much energy was being zapped by the stress and drain. I wonder what’s been possible for them now that they have an extra hour in their day back and are nourished instead of drained by the experience of using their software? I envision them giving some of that energy back to their clients and their community—making the positive ripple effect of their business bigger than ever.
As a successful female co-founder, have you run into any unfair stereotypes in the tech industry?
I wouldn’t say it’s a stereotype necessarily, but I have felt the need to prove myself more than I have in other business situations. Whether it’s potential investor calls or calls with prospective partners, I often think I must spend extra time validating my experience and why they can trust me. And still, it’s evident when questions—even about my area of expertise—are directed at my partner. In those situations, I use it as a growth opportunity to show that I am just as knowledgeable, confident, and capable as any counterpart in the room (or Zoom call). There’s no time to second-guess myself.
What advice would you give other women looking to break into the FitTech space?
This industry needs women more than ever. 70% of the business owners in fitness are women. They need women who understand and empathize with their needs building the software they use. If you have an interest or a passion for fitness, there is probably a place for you at a FitTech company. We prioritize candidates that are avid consumers of boutique fitness and want to build a team that cares about promoting wellness—so lead with that in a cover letter, cold email, or any company communication. It will go far. And if you are looking for an in, network like crazy. So many of us are willing to make introductions, mentor, and hire passionate candidates.
Also, one thing I see women struggle with is verbalizing their strengths. Be prepared to explain how awesome you are! What makes you unique and amazing at a particular skill? Why would you be an asset to any company? Always remind yourself how lucky a company would be to have your energy and passion… and then be ready to prove yourself!
What would need to change in the tech industry to get more women involved?
There’s a misconception that you have to be an engineer to land a tech job. It would be so helpful to have business classes in high school that give a picture of what opportunities lie within the orbit of a tech company. There are so many roles that take an idea or product from conception to execution. Whether it’s product oversight, QA, marketing, design and user experience, and of course, sales, all of these roles are vital to the success of a tech company. I see such a massive opportunity for girls and young women to get involved in all tech areas. If more knew the diversity of opportunity, it wouldn’t be such an intimidating space.
Do you want to share your secret to success—and finding balance?
Balance can be a laughable concept, but I think any working parent might say that. I’m a naturally driven person regarding success. My friends and family would tell you that I can’t settle; I need to find the next challenge and conquer it. But the challenges that excite me the most are the ones that benefit the collective. If I have a chance to improve someone’s quality of life or a community better, in this case, it gives me that extra boost to accomplish. Now, none of this can happen without the right support system and the right team. So the ultimate secret to success is the people around me.
My husband is a saint and has consistently been in my corner, pouring water over my head, wiping my face, and telling me to get back in the ring. There’s the Walla team. We need each other, and one of our core values is ownership mentality. I’m here to serve my team and give them the tools they need to own a process efficiently and successfully.
How can you individually empower women in tech?
I love giving women a chance at opportunities that might be slightly out of their league and let them learn as they go. You’ll see that in action on our team with my collaborative female counterparts. We continually expand our skillset, share knowledge and insights, encourage each other, and celebrate everyday accomplishments. Now, that is a truly empowering personal and workplace experience.
Any words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there?
It has to be about more than the money. Period. The amount of work, brain space, energy, and commitment is intense but incredibly rewarding when you have a big why. Find reminders of your why as often as possible. For me, it’s our clients, so I make sure to spend time on calls or in-person with them weekly. Whenever I hear about how our product has made their life easier or that we’ve taken something stressful off their plate, it’s like a shot of adrenaline for me to keep going. Find that adrenaline for yourself; it’s a career game-changer!
So, what’s next for you and Walla?
All the data and learning! At Walla, we’ve been interested in helping studios retain clients, so we decided to dive into the psychology behind motivation and habit building. Our data is powerful and will allow us to customize the client journey for every studio on our platform. Trust me—big things are to come!