Simple Strength – Behind the Business of The YOAK

image of The Yoak
  • Published
  • September 19, 2016

The fitness industry has always attracted entrepreneurs looking to develop interesting and unusual apparatus. Unfortunately, landfills are stuffed with gadgets that tried too hard one way or another. At the end of the day, it seems like lasting success depends on simplicity. That’s why The Yoak is so interesting; a punched piece of curved aluminum sheathed in wood, it’s a simple machine that lets the user lift or balance in countless ways, all with no fuss and no muss.

As part of our series of interviews with business owners using ecommerce from Shopify, we spoke one of the founders of The Yoak and asked about the inspiration behind the product, their plans for success, and what the future might hold for the company.

Tell us a little bit about the business.

We develop, manufacture, and sell the Yoak, a stability and strength symmetry trainer. It’s a device that adds dimension to suspension training and allows you to squat anything, anywhere. Our clients are commercial fitness facilities (climbing/Crossfit), sports teams, rehabilitation clinics, and amateur/professional athletes of all stripes. It can literally be used to supplement any training program. The Yoak doesn’t discriminate.

We cut materials, procure parts, pack boxes, and fulfill orders while staying engaged with our growing community through social media and the content we develop. While holding down full-time jobs of course.

image people in a gym working out with the yaok

How did you decide you wanted to make and sell the Yoak?

This is new territory. I’d say none of us have ever made a product and sold it before. We have diverse experience in design, software, the sciences and trades…but this is a first on various levels. We’re all ambitious and creative in our own right though. Those are two of the unifying characteristics of our team.

They say that to be successful you have to be passionate; why do you love what you do?

We’re curious. And we like to have fun. The Yoak transcends those aspects of our personalities and offers people the opportunity to explore the way they move in a fun way. It makes it real joy to pursue this project.

image of a woman doing a handstand on a yoak

Has it been smooth sailing or have you overcome adversity to get where you are?

I think we’ve all dealt with our own adversity here and there, but a lot of us thrive on it also. We’re definitely hard workers and have been fortunate to be raised in positive environments.

What do you do with your time off? Are you familiar with that concept?

We like to both work and play hard. This project has the benefit of combining both of those things so we put a lot of our “free” time into it. That being said, the team likes spending time in nature, being active, and travelling among other things.

This is the age of the social network. How important is social media to your business and how do you make it work?

We try to be genuine. To be meaningfully engaged. But be balanced. Being a small start-up in the hardware sector means there’s always lots to do in the physical world as well as the virtual ones.

image of a man carrying two kegs of beer with Yoak

Why did you realize that you were going to embrace e-commerce?

Day zero – it’s simply a requirement doing business in 2016.

How did you find Shopify and why did you decide to try them out?

Some of us are from Ottawa, so they’ve been on the radar for some time, but ultimately Shopify offers a great service at a great price. It’s a real pleasure interfacing with our online store which and it’s easy. They also seem to be very self-aware and to know their client’s needs.

What does this enable you to do as a small business owner?

Focus on other things. The to-do list is long so any help in running the commerce or marketing aspects of the business is much appreciated. In some cases we’ve seen Shopify offer a business essential process or feature that would have normally taken hours of our time into a few clicks. We’re excited to see how much more time and effort Shopify can save us in the future so we can spend that precious time instead with our product and our customers.

How are you involved in your community?

From a “training” perspective, we spend lots of our time running demos and sessions at a local climbing gym (www.arcclimbing.ca). It’s great having a group of curious people to play with while learning more about your product. In that same vein, we are looking to contribute to the discussion and evolution of sustainable and functional movement.

image of Yoak on the beach

Environmentally or ecologically, we acknowledge our place in the global community. We manufacture a product made of wood and metal and that has impacts. We try to minimize them. We also passionate about sustainable clean water access. Both domestically and internationally.

What does supporting local mean to you?

Doing the best with the resources near us while minimizing any negative impact on nature/people. Some things are 100 mile decisions, some things are 10 mile decisions, and so on. Ultimately we run a business but not at any expense. We start by connecting through personal and commercial interaction locally, but we may have to compromise and buy boxes from a guy a few towns/cities over etc.

What does the future look like for you and your business?

We’re optimistic. The Yoak has been sold in a number of countries. And it offers a unique value proposition to the fitness community. There isn’t an equally versatile and beautifully designed trainer out there. There’s also definitely a grass-roots movement starting with stability training and pendular methodology and people posting to social media with their Yoaks more and more. It’s awesome. We’ll just keep working hard and smart, and see where it goes.

Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?

Lots, as you can imagine. Mostly though to take a breath every once in awhile while you obsessively pursue your dreams. As an individual or as a team it’s fundamental to re-calibrate and make sure you’re headed in the right direction, and that you’re doing the right things to get you there. It’s easy to get tangential and lose focus.

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Content Manager at FS Local


Jesse is a typical class clown. Born and raised just north of the Toronto, he fell in love with the City on school trips to the ROM and the Science Centre. He tried Vancouver for a few years, but the call of home was too strong to resist. Today he lives in the North-East Upper Beaches. (What? It’s a thing!)

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