Skateboarding is tremendously popular in America but is generally seen as a fringe sport. That’s about to change. Skateboarding has been added to the lineup for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and is one of the most highly anticipated events. One SmartBiz Loans customer is in great shape to capitalize on what will undoubtably be a spike in skateboarding fans and those that want to try it out.
Kevin Banahan and his wife Yasuyo Takeo are the co-owners of Brooklyn’s SKATEYOGI, a business providing lessons, classes, camps, and parties for skateboarding learners from ages 2 through adulthood. Here’s the story of an environmental professional with an engineering degree who left the corporate world to follow his passion.
Kevin, a graduate of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, was initially happy with his career trajectory. “It was hands on problem solving and intellectually challenging,” he says. “The end picture was something I believed in but the day-to-day, meeting after meeting wasn’t for me.”
Kevin knew he needed to make a change so he left the corporate world to explore his options. A long-time yoga practitioner, he had a lot of extra time to take classes and contemplate the next chapter in his life. After class one day, he told his teacher that his dream job would be to teach a skateboarding class. He’s been an avid skateboarder since his teen years and had the experience to take it on. The yoga instructor encouraged him to explore teaching by leading a skateboarding class for adults at the studio.
“It made so much sense,” he says. “Skateboarding is an individual activity like yoga. You have to be in the moment and it’s almost like moving meditation with others in the community. As I was teaching, all of these connections came together. I had an epiphany.”
The idea for SKATEYOGI was born.
Kevin started out with a bare bones approach, teaching a few kids outside the stoop of his Brooklyn home and in parks around his neighborhood. “It’s funny to think back about those days of dragging skateboards to the park to teach. Sometimes no one would show up,” he remembers. In true yogi fashion, Kevin persisted and continued to shape his dream.
When the New York winter weather hit, Kevin knew he needed another way to keep his skateboarding classes going.
“The local skate shop had a small mini-ramp. I created a symbiotic relationship where I was invited to teach classes. Their customers became students and my students became their customers.”
At one point, SKATEYOGI began to outgrow the arrangement. “I liken it to a friend crashing on your couch who has overstayed his welcome,” he laughs.
In the beginning, teaching was a side hustle for Kevin. “Everything grew organically,” he reports. “After a few months in, I began teaching an afterschool enrichment program and substitute teaching. But when you added up all gigs, I couldn’t live on the income,” he says.
However, his wife was running her own graphic design studio and was a vital resource and partner as Kevin contemplated his next steps. “The big push went at the end of 2016 when we signed a lease for a bricks and mortar location. We went all in.” Kevin and Yasuyo were thrifty and kept costs down while ramping up. They had a college friend who was an architect help with the creative process, building an industrial looking open space, perfect for their needs.
“We were conservative, running things really lean with efficiency. Yasuyo has been an extremely valuable partner not only in life, but in the business. I couldn’t do it without her,” says Kevin. “Having her graphic design skills in house helped us to build a strong brand presence online and through printed materials.” In addition to design, Yasuyo has taken on business operation duties and helps Kevin with every aspect of the business.
Kevin used a line of credit and a few small American Express business loans to finance the build out of their space, get all of the needed elements up and running, and cover payroll.
“The funds were helpful to cover things initially but didn’t give us the confidence we needed to take SKATEYOGI to the next level,” he says.
The couple first heard about SBA loans in 2016 but weren’t ready to explore that option until 2019. “Since things were ramping up, we revisited financing and decided to go for an SBA loan,” says Kevin.
They started working with Travis, a SmartBiz Loans Relationship Manager, to secure an SBA loan. “He was great getting us onboard with the process,” reports Kevin. “He helped us assess our overall needs and figure out how much to apply for. I’m not a big fan of paperwork but the whole team was really helpful and committed throughout the process.”
Kevin and Yasuyo secured a $250,000 SBA loan through a SmartBiz Loans marketplace bank. “Most of the funds will go towards onboarding more staff and training. We’re also looking to bring on someone that can help us on the ground grow to multiple locations and be on top of daily logistics and operations.” Another SKATEYOGI location is also on the radar and they’ll need additional staff to accommodate that.
Travis says, "It was an absolute pleasure working with Kevin and Yasuyo of SKATEYOGI to help them obtain an SBA loan to take their business to the next level. Kevin turned his passion for skateboarding and fitness into a very successful business. The proceeds of the SBA loan are going to help them achieve their goals as a company. SKATEYOGI has a great future ahead of them, and I’m glad that we were able to help them get the financing they needed to accomplish their long-term plans."
Kevin says, “Now we’re at the point of using the SBA loan funds to expand. We currently have 4 instructors with one working as an assistant manager to handle some office duties. We like to run a flat organization with everyone doing a little bit of everything.”
Kevin doesn’t sit still for long, in addition to teaching classes and running the business, he gets involved in grassroots marketing. “I just took a bunch of flyers and hung them up around the neighborhood in coffee shops, organic groceries, and anywhere else that has a bulletin board,” he says. “Of course, they look great because of the incredible design work by my wife.”
The next step for the couple is to offer classes around the city and avoid being tied to one physical space. Kevin puts it simply. “I am dreaming of a future with multiple SKATEYOGI locations everywhere,” he says.
Thanks to Kevin and Yasuyo for working with SmartBiz Loans. We’re looking forward to seeing you achieve your dreams! If you’re in the Brooklyn area and interested in skateboarding, visit the SKATEYOGI website.