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CEO Corner: Laura Munkholm, Fit Tech Founder – From Yoga to SaaS

CEO Corner: Laura Munkholm, Fit Tech Founder – From Yoga to SaaS

Laura Munkholm has been busy building Walla, an all-in-one SaaS platform to help boutique studios

As the fitness industry is recovering from the pandemic, Laura Munkholm has been hard at work building Walla, an all-in-one SaaS platform to help boutique studios manage, grow, and optimize their businesses. 

As the President and Co-founder of Walla Software, Munkholm brings over two decades in the fitness and wellness industry; she was a teacher, yoga studio manager, boutique studio consultant to a SaaS expert at a well-known global company, and is now a fit tech founder.

As a woman in tech, Munkholm says she envisions an environment where studio owners and their members are able to achieve fitness, wellness, and success, regardless of age, race, gender, or sexuality. Munkholm’s method has led a boutique studio chain to double its revenue within 12 months. 

We spoke to Munkholm, a wine enthusiast and book junkie, about the future of hybrid fitness, the experience of being a woman in tech, her advice for entrepreneurs, and more. 

Athletech News (ATN): How has yoga helped you in business?

Walla Software President & Co-Founder Laura Munkholm

Laura Munkholm: Yoga is a practice that teaches you consistency, resilience, and flexibility. You don’t start with a peak pose in yoga, you work for it. You earn it over time. I’ve had to apply this mindset and these values as I work with my business partner to scale Walla. It’s rarely a linear journey towards success. We’ve had some serious hurdles and two steps forward, one step back moments, but staying the course and moving with purpose helps achieve the end game. Oh, and did I mention breathing? That’s been key, too.

ATN: Can you speak a bit to behavioral psychology when it comes to results with clients?

Laura Munkholm: Behavioral psychology might sound like a “big” term for fitness and wellness—but in reality, it is the very cornerstone of what motivates your clients. By understanding what drives each individual to work out, book (and skip) classes, you are equipped to make personalized connections that directly influence retention. 

Think about it this way: Only 20 percent of people who book classes at your studio will maintain their routine. But what about the other 80 percent? They aren’t forever lost—instead, they have different personalities. Different behaviors. And at the end of the day, the same motivators and marketing strategies don’t work for everyone because not every client is the same. That’s where behavior psychology comes in. We connected a “personality quiz” (designed by leading researchers in wellness psychology) to the Walla platform, giving you additional insights to impact client retention positively. I am not talking about their favorite color or food, but rather an easy-to-understand personality quiz that dives into their why and motivators. By knowing who a client is based on their personality type, targeted communication becomes even more effective so you can offer the classes, packages, and plans that best fit their specific needs. Think of it as the love languages test, but your motivation language. It will help studios customize communication and experience in a whole new way!

ATN: Where do you think the future of the fitness industry is headed? Do you think hybrid is here to stay?

Laura Munkholm: Two words come to mind when I think of the future of fitness: customization and flexibility. I believe that we, as consumers, have become used to, even addicted to, the world adapting to us. Communication is customized to us—businesses know which products we like, where we spend our time, and who we spend our time with. Product advertising is tailored to us. Services, including fitness, will have to follow. You will have to know your clients and ideal prospects better than ever.  What does the individual need to hear? What unique experiences do they want? 

Flexibility will have to play hand in hand with customized communication and programming. The literal landscape of our lives has changed along with the myriad of custom choices we have every day. Our work lives have shifted from commuting to an office and being locked at a desk to freedom of location and longer working hours. This means people have different schedule needs and windows of time for workouts. Sometimes it’s 20 minutes between meetings, and sometimes it’s an hour at 4 pm. The great news is that this shift has opened up time slots that were always thought to be non-starters for working folk, and allowed studios to keep their brand front and center when their clients are at home moving with them on demand. 

ATN: Can you share a bit about your experience of being a woman in tech?

Laura Munkholm: As a woman in the technology industry serving business owners in fitness, I feel my role is incredibly important in developing solutions. In most rooms, I am one of few women in C-level positions, especially when it comes to software-as-a-service. And yet, we’re building solutions for a heavily female-led audience. There’s a disconnect here!

The fitness tech industry needs women more than ever, especially. 70% of the business owners in fitness are women. They need women who understand and empathize with their needs building the software they use. 

In my own experience as a woman leading a technology organization, 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 feel 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 (male) business 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 (virtual or IRL). There’s no time to second-guess myself.

As such, I’ve made it my mission, given my position and experience in the industry, to give women opportunities that might be slightly out of their reach. 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. 

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ATN: Many fitness facilities have suffered greatly through the pandemic… What have we learned, and what will it take to get things back on track?

Laura Munkholm: We’ve learned a lot, but the resounding lesson to me is that we need each other to rise the tide of wellness. Sure, a small portion of the population can stay motivated on their own at home, day in and day out. But the vast majority of us need each other for accountability, support, community, and fun! 

We also learned that the industry has a whole new message. It’s not about a six-pack or a bikini body. It’s about health. We saw what lack of attention to health and well-being could do to a population through the horrific lens of a pandemic. We, in boutique fitness, have unique positioning to make a massive difference in overall wellness. People have seen the consequence when they don’t take care of themselves, and we have a customized, community-driven way to help them create a habit of movement. This is our moment! 

ATN: What product elements truly speak to your passion (and what’s your favorite Walla feature)?

Laura Munkholm: I like our personality quiz and profile. I love the idea of customization, making the individual feel seen, heard, and motivated. The colorful word “Giver” on your class roster with a description of how to engage with that individual gives the user a completely different mindset than checking a box next to a client’s name. That name is a unique individual, and we help the studio recognize that. 

ATN: Any words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there?

Laura Munkholm: It’s got to be about more than money. 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! 

One last thing here–I learned a while ago that to run a first-class company, I have to be in first-class shape, physically and mentally. For me, that means early morning walks or yoga, cardio, and meditation. I’m exponentially better at making decisions with a clear head once I’ve worked out and found some time to close my eyes and breathe.

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