There is no shortage of words to describe the path that Joan Barnes has navigated in her remarkable journey: pioneering, thrilling, perilous, joyous, heartbreaking, stalwart, frightening, durable, fragile, lost, found and regenerated. From it all emerged enduring lessons about the power of deep self-awareness and the importance of being true to ourselves in all that we do.
40 years ago, Joan launched Gymboree, initially called Kindergym, at a Jewish community center in San Rafael to allow moms and dads to assemble while their toddlers played. The humble play program rapidly led to numerous decisional forks in the road, each bringing its share of benefits and risks.
Should Joan accept an offer to finance a commercial Kindergym? If that succeeded, should she buyout the initial investor and expand the business on her own? What about the possibility of a franchise-based expansion to allow women to operate a business while raising a family? After establishing a local franchise presence, would the market have room for a national Gymboree franchise program and how would the necessary venture capital to finance such a rollout change her life? What would happen if the franchise program succeeded at the franchisee level, but not at the corporate level? Would a move into the retail market be good for the company but render Joan and some of her colleagues obsolete?
All these things happened, as Gymboree flourished, eventually went public and became an iconic billion dollar international brand. As the successes and stresses of this process ebbed and flowed, however, so too did an eating disorder that steadily wore Joan down. By 1990, she had to depart from Gymboree and enter into a long-term treatment center, spending the next few years on a successful healing journey.
Returning home after 3 years away, Joan took her first yoga class in Mill Valley and was overcome, barely holding back tears, as she and the class practiced the ancient sun salutations. She was transformed, and before long, she was not only a devoted practitioner, she also bought the business, called YogaStudio. As her vision for the yogic environment broadened, Joan began to tap into a community that ranged from advanced yogis to novices, all walks of life and ages, and grew the business to three locations.
Eventually, however, she realized that her own yoga practice began to suffer because of the intense focus of being in the yoga business. Drawing deeply on the lessons from the Gymboree experience, and having learned to listen in to her inner voices about what reflected who she is, Joan not only declined chances to expand further but she sold YogaStudio to Yoga Works.
Her understanding of entrepreneurialism and life balance issues and a humble path to personal growth and character development—combined with her naturalness and likeability—have made her a sought after speaker at myriad conferences and events.