The Truth About Paul Javid’s Letter.
My name is Angela. I am just a person. I have like 300 followers on Instagram and I live in the woods of Northern California.
But I, too, am here to fight for the heart of yoga.
Recently Kino MacGregor published “When one Big Company Picks on one Yoga Teacher” about her and Dana Falsetti’s (@nolatrees, on Instagram) struggle to part ways with the online fitness and yoga app Cody, after Cody’s acquisition by Alo, the popular yoga apparel company. Kino also discussed Cody and Alo’s pending lawsuits against 24-year-old Falsetti, which include claims of defamation related to one of her Instagram posts. In response, Paul Javid, co-founder of Cody, published his own piece on Elephant Journal, entitled “The Truth Behind Kino’s Letter.”
What a hot mess.
It’s not that Javid’s (or Kino’s) piece shouldn’t have been published—it’s an opinion piece. It’s just…do people know what opinion pieces are anymore? Do they understand that an opinion, no matter how convenient, should perhaps be analyzed before being consumed whole, fully absorbed, and trumpeted with full confidence?
This is a response to Javid’s letter, but it’s also a story about the spread of information in today’s culture— about not only how we process and receive information, but how we accept it. How often are we only reading the headlines, the sexy highlights, the parts that make it okay for us to go back to our regularly-scheduled programming?
Have we forgotten to question what’s being told to us and why? Are legal teams and corporations and politicians hoping that we’ve forgotten? Are they betting on it, because they’ve trained us to do so? Is this just how things are now?
When I first read Kino MacGregor’s letter on Elephant Journal, I thought, wow. I was shocked by the situation, but also excited that Kino was speaking out about the troubling climate of the yoga industry, particularly on Instagram, and that change was in the air. After Rachel Brathen’s November Instagram post about actual self-love vs. “self-love” marketing, a really interesting conversation started…but seemed to stop after some might say (some including me) a campaign was waged to paint such questions as “negative.”
Like I said, I am just a person—a writer—with next-to-no following on Instagram. I signed up anonymously, originally, to do challenges. I scroll through for inspiration, to see flows, to see what’s going on with people in the yoga community, to make my mom happy (to her, I am an Instagram star).
The past year or so, I stopped doing challenges or posting at all really, in part because of that changing climate. I felt like the sense of community I had once really enjoyed had become something…different.
While there are still many, many awesome people (ambassadors certainly included) sharing amazing experiences, art, inspiration, stories…much of my feed feels stale and sanitized. Instead of inspiring me to further my yoga journey, to make the most of what I have, to improve my life or feel connected to a sense of community, I feel many of these posts are trying to inspire me to do one thing: consume.
There’s often a generic inspirational quote or tidbit about daily life, but the point is: Look at my leggings. Look at this box of stuff I’m doing a handstand on. Seriously, look at my leggings. Sometimes the message is even worse: Look at how amazing my life is. Look at my “perfect” body. Look at me in this crazy pose. I’m on an island now. Riding a dolphin. Do you want all of this? Start with these leggings. Let me tell you about my favorite skincare products…this could be you. If you were better.
For a moment after Kino published her letter, there was shock, especially about Alo’s lawsuit against @nolatrees. It seemed like it was going to go down. Real change. People were expressing how proud they were of Kino, how disgusted they were at the situation, how wrong it all was.
Then Paul Javid’s letter came out.
People started backing off. The ambassadors proudly shared Javid’s letter in their stories or in posts, complete with smug underlinings of how “Cody felt it important to point out what we believe are the business motivations behind the statements made by Kino.”
There are some things I’d like to point out about Paul Javid’s letter, too. Also “in the spirit of truth and transparency.”
Cody’s business relationship with Kino began in 2014. At the time, Cody was a four-person team. We had just enough money in our bank account to keep our company running. I spent my days either on the phone speaking with Yoga teachers or on set filming with them.
This seems at odds with how Javid’s business partner Pejman Pour-Moezzi describes that time in his 2017 piece in Medium, “Cody Acquired: Our First Years”:
We filmed in Patrick’s apartment, the lighting sucked, and there’s even a cat running in and out of the frame as Patrick was teaching. We priced it at $20 and Patrick posted on his Instagram and we waited. And lo and behold it started selling, and in the first month we did $8K in sales…The next month we launched a plan with an Olympic weightlifter, Diane Fu, and did over $20K in sales. Then the next month we did $40K. Then $80K and over $1M in the first 12 months.
Javid appears to be playing up the company’s “humble beginnings,” as he does here in the announcement of Cody’s partnership with Alo on Cody’s blog:
After five years of operating as an independent, small business, we felt the time was right to partner with a more established company. Cody comes from humble beginnings: It started with just the two of us working out of Paul’s apartment and living off our personal savings. We had no source of revenue for the first two years, and got close to shutting our doors several times. The company has grown a lot since then, but has always been a small business—doing a lot with a little and always wishing we could do more.
In reality, according to a 2014 Gigaom piece, “Cody App Makes a Play as Virtual Coach for Casual Fitness Fans,” Cody “raised $200,000 in seed funding from Ken Irving, a member of a powerful oil family in Canada.”
Pour-Moezzi described this in the Medium piece:
Our luck turned when I caught up with a former Microsoft colleague, Sohier Hall, at a coffee shop. When I gave him a demo of Cody, he suggested we meet his business partner, Ken Irving, who was looking to make investments in this space.
I’ll never forget flying down to San Francisco and meeting Ken and Sohier for breakfast, and Paul and I feeling like this was our last shot. Without this we probably would’ve re-entered the corporate world just a year after leaving it with our tails between our legs.
Javid goes onto describe his negotiations with “shrewd business woman” Kino. (Did you know that the word shrewd comes form the middle english word “schrewed,” meaning “depraved; wicked,” literally “accursed”? It also sounds a bit like “shrew,” which is defined as “a bad-tempered or aggressively assertive woman”—a synonym for which is “dragon.” Have you ever heard a man described as shrewd? I wonder why he didn’t just use the word “smart” or “astute”?)
Anyway, back to the negotiations:
We were in the first year of creating online video content, and we were losing over $30,000 a month to keep our operations running. To put things in perspective, the business deal Kino negotiated with us was beneficial to her. At the time, she was getting paid more than our entire company’s payroll. I share this to help make the point that Kino is and was a shrewd business woman and we were a small company working to figure out a business model..
A few things here:
1) Who would negotiate a business deal that wasn’t beneficial to them? Why did he mention that?
2) Their first year of creating online content—2014—they had already gotten the $200,000 investment and, according to Pour-Moezzi, they made over a million dollars that year. Javid describes Kino as their biggest instructor at that time, so she must have been responsible for a lot of that. She was a major draw, adding major value. Her role was different than that of day-to-day staff. This, and the continuing depiction of Cody as a “small company working to figure out a business model,” seems misleading to me. Again, they had already received funding from a powerful oil company, and—according to their own story—made over a million dollars.
Javid now describes Kino’s starting another company:
She started YogaChallenge.com. And, unfortunately, in starting this new business, we later found out that Kino had taken the core of Cody and copied it. Not only did she copy our concepts, but she also began creating online plans (or courses).
This is a good example of what I don’t like about this letter. I feel like Javid is talking in circles, trying to give the impression of something bad Kino has done, without actually saying anything. What does that above statement even mean, if you really look at it? What is the “core” of Cody? Online yoga courses? Certainly Cody can’t claim that—there are and have been many sites offering online yoga courses for many years. What are the “concepts” that she stole? As for her beginning to create online plans and courses, she’s a world-renowned yoga teacher. She’s been planning classes for a long time. I don’t know her discography, but saw she released a yoga DVD in 2008—far before Cody existed. If anything, Cody had copied her concepts. Yoga teachers, not product managers, would know how to plan a yoga course, correct?
He goes on, and includes images of Cody vs. YogaChallenge.com.
She replicated the look, feel and layout of Cody’s website; the copy she used to describe and sell her courses; and even the creative images and videos to promote her courses.
If you look at the images he’s provided, what he’s saying doesn’t add up. As for the look and feel, it’s a pretty basic look and feel—it’s not like Cody was winning any design awards or breaking ground. They both look like basic, clean, modern sites. And I don’t see any “copying” of the course copy. The courses are different (one’s a handstand course and one’s a beginner course), the classes for each course are different, the copy describing each course and video is different. The bios are the same, but instructors create their own bios and use the same ones for their projects. The FAQ’s are similar, but generic FAQs often are (with an internet search, I found at least 6 websites with nearly word-for-word the same FAQs). As for the creative images and videos, I am not sure what this means. She used images and videos of herself for her courses? Whose image would she use? To me this is another example of Javid trying to give the impression of wrong-doing, hoping that no one will pay attention enough to realize there’s nothing there. He led the images off with the FAQs because they are the most similar. With a quick glance, you could easily think, Whoa, Kino did copy them.
He goes on to explain that they couldn’t take legal action because of their financial situation (again, remember that they had been funded and made over a million dollars—what financial situation?). He also points out that “while we continued to struggle financially, we continued paying Kino a substantial amount for the content that we had created with her, consistent with our agreement.” Don’t hurt your arm patting yourself on the back, bud, for continuing to pay what you agreed, to the woman that substantially helped build your business, after making over a million dollars and receiving investment funding.
He even mentions it again 3 paragraphs later:
On one hand we felt like we were doing good for the world—but on the other hand, we still were not breaking even financially. Despite these financial difficulties, we continued to honor our agreement with Kino and make our monthly payments to her.
He’s creating an impression. We are struggling so hard as a small business, and yet we still provided dragon lady Kino her outrageous payments because we honored our agreement. He can say it over and over, and so can I: The company had received at least $200k in funding from investors and made over a million dollars in their first year, in large part because of their “biggest instructor”—Kino.
Now he goes into Cody’s deal with Alo:
When Pejman and I met Alo and its owners, it was clear that their interest in Cody was to do good within the Yoga community. Rather than approaching our initial conversations with the desire for profit maximization, their initial proposal was focused on giving away all of our content for free.
Ok. Here we go again with impression-building. Alo’s initial proposal was giving away all the content for free. Cool! Of course, that didn’t happen. So why mention it? He’s hoping you’ll read it and that will stick in your head. Maybe you don’t even really read the rest of it. The rest of it is where Cody and Alo discuss a bunch of cool ideas and conclude:
Taking this on is a huge endeavor that takes years and needs strong financial backing. To fund this endeavor, we decided it made sense to move Cody to a subscription business with the aim to become profitable.
Cody joins with Alo. Here’s where things go from vague to downright contradictory, as far as I can tell. Javid writes:
Once we finalized our business partnership with Alo, Cody remained a separate company. I called all of our instructors, including Kino and Dana, to share with them our renewed vision and opportunity for growth with Alo. Since we value our relationships with our instructors, we wanted to make sure that every single one of them knew that Cody had been acquired by Alo, and that Alo would be investing in the business. In each call I made clear that this was confidential news, and that we wanted them to know early as we prepared for an exciting public announcement.
Important points here: He’s saying once the deal was finalized, he called all of the instructors. He makes a point of this. “Since we value our relationships with our instructors, we wanted to make sure that every single one of them knew.” Every single one of them, he says. “We wanted them to know early.” Remember this ok? The deal is finalized, and he calls every single instructor.
Moving on in the letter, Kino’s trying to leave Cody and Alo. Javid writes:
Our conversation shifted to her wanting Cody to take her content down from our website. She made this demand despite Kino having agreed that (and having been paid over $500,000), Cody owned the content we created and still does to this day—which is also how the film and music industry works.
First of all, I’m pretty sure that’s an overly generalized statement on how the film and music industry works, unless all film and music contracts are the same. Secondly, I’m not sure we’re talking about the film and music industry. I would think this is more the yoga industry, the online training industry, the app industry—take your pic. Finally, thank you for again reminding us that you have paid dragon lady Kino a lot of money.
Javid goes on:
Even though we were not contractually obligated to take down Kino’s content, we wanted to explore that path with her given our past working relationship in the hopes of avoiding conflict. We even offered to take a fraction of the amount we had paid for the content, which Kino did not want to pay…She then gave us a deadline to either do a deal to take her content down or she would use her platform against us.
Wait, he offered “to take a fraction of the amount we had paid for the content, which Kino did not want to pay,” but also she gave him a deadline to “do a deal to take her content down.” It sounds like Kino did offer a deal, but it wasn’t what they had in mind. They offered to take a “fraction of the amount,” but that could literally mean anything that isn’t 100% of what they paid. But I’m guessing he knows that.
He now goes into the situation with Dana Falsetti, @nolatrees, who doesn’t want to work with Alo:
That is her right and she is free to express her opinions.
Thanks for that.
He writes that Cody agreed to take down Dana’s content, thought Dana was happy, but then received an email from her to take no further action until hearing from her attorney. He says they didn’t hear from the attorney for over a month. He writes:
During this time Dana knew we had been waiting to make a public announcement regarding our new relationship with Alo until we ensured that all of our instructors were aware of this as well…Instead of waiting, Dana decided to announce the Alo deal publicly and…very negatively on her Instagram…This forced Cody to make the announcement to our users and community before we were ready.
Okay: now here’s where we go back to before, when Javid wrote that upon finalizing the deal with Alo, he called each and every instructor to tell them—“every single one of them.” He “wanted them to know early.” Yet, here he says that he had told Dana, waited over a month to hear from her attorney, but was still waiting to make a public announcement until all Cody instructors were aware of the new relationship with Alo. How does this make sense?
More from Javid:
Kino’s David vs. Goliath metaphor is misleading. The false statements that Dana decided to post about Alo is what resulted in Alo taking separate legal action against Dana. Moreover, while Alo is a larger company than Cody, and while Alo is a successful business, Alo has nothing to do with Kino’s decision to start OmStars and to compete with Cody.
He lost me at moreover on that one. But as for the David vs. Goliath, Dana Falsetti is an individual 24-year-old yoga teacher and advocate for women and people. Among so many other things, she makes yoga accessible for those who might say “I could never do yoga.” Alo is…Alo. They’re worth millions. They’ve earned a reputation that some love and some want little to do with. Alo is suing Dana Falsetti for a huge amount of money in two states. How is the David vs. Goliath metaphor misleading again?
Javid closes with a plea for peace:
My ask is not for you to choose sides, but to consider, internally, what may be driving all this heartache. I do not want ongoing confrontation within the Yoga community. There is already enough of that in our world.
I will close with a plea, too. Actually, a bunch of them.
To Cody & Alo: Please consider that there is more than money in this situation.
Kino MacGregor has dedicated her life to yoga. I have never met her or spoken with her, but her book and DVD literally changed my life and provided me with peace during a time when I felt alone and disconnected. I remember reading her “Power of Ashtanga Yoga” book, and feeling grateful for yet another chance to find freedom and peace within myself, to continue my journey. She is world-renowned for a reason—I believe teaching yoga is her art, her gift to the world.
Dana Falsetti is 24 years old and has already done so much to help the world. I joined Cody in part to take her “Chair Yoga” course so that I could teach yoga to people that needed or desired a more accessible practice. In a culture in which teachers often focus on advanced poses and complex flows to teach to people who want to advance their practice, it seems to me that Dana has dedicated herself to reaching people who need it the most—people who are looking to begin their practice, people who feel yoga just isn’t accessible to them, people who feel there isn’t a safe space for them to practice or learn yoga or self-acceptance. I’ve mentioned Dana’s age repeatedly because I can’t imagine being a 24 year old well-intentioned yoga teacher and having this huge lawsuit filed against me for an Instagram post.
Please drop the lawsuit, and allow Kino and Dana to part ways with your company. Just let it go.
You’re not contractually obligated to sue Dana or fight the release of their content. You could stop this. You say you are working on charitable projects together—if you feel you’ve been wronged, let this be an act of charity. Let these two women who have given so much to others, who mean so much to others, go on with their lives and their lives’ work.
Instagram Yoga Community: let’s be kind to each other. Mean-spirited or name-calling comments are useless really, and ignorant. But let us also avoid using terms like “negativity” or “drama” or “hate” toward any question or statement that we don’t want to hear. Let’s not pretend that this isn’t happening. And when a company releases a doozy of a letter, one full of quietly misleading non-statements and things that just don’t make sense if you read carefully, let’s not accept it and share it excitedly, happy to be able to drop the subject and get back to consuming like we’re told to.
Because there’s enough of that in the world, too.
Let’s stick to the truth. The truth, after all, is the heart of yoga.