FEMININE FOUNDERS

Megan Ryan Kaiser

Dragonfly Hot Yoga & Flyght Cycling
 By Katie Mohr | Photographed by Hillary Schave

Megan Ryan Kaiser grew up in the Madison area, where she pursued an undergraduate degree in theater performance. She later earned her Master of Fine Arts at Purdue University, and then ended up in Los Angeles, where she worked as a casting producer for reality shows.

These days? She’s back in Madison and enjoying life as the founder and owner of four Dragonfly Hot Yoga studios and Flyght Cycling.

Let’s back up. While interviewing for SyFy’s “Psychic at Large,” Ryan Kaiser met one applicant who encouraged her to try Bikram yoga, a style practiced in a room heated to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Despite her skepticism, she signed up for a month of classes in 2004, seeking a release from her emotionally taxing producing career. “I would have loved to walk out thinking, ‘That was dumb, people are crazy,’” says Ryan Kaiser. “But I couldn’t deny how good I felt.”  What started as an intensely personal experience would grow into an empire devoted to sharing yoga with people of all ages, sizes and experience levels.

After relocating to Madison and becoming a stay-at-home mom, she started looking for a new challenge. Although she loved being with her kids, she felt creatively unfulfilled. “I had to forgive myself for that,” she says. During the same period, she started to wonder how she could get her mom, sisters, aunts to do yoga with her—she knew the places she practiced would be intimidating to newcomers, but she also knew how life-changing yoga had been for her.

When her husband lost his job as a lawyer in 2010, her next move crystalized: open an unintimidating, fun-focused hot yoga studio. At the time, hot yoga wasn’t nearly as prevalent in the Madison area as it is today—“I wasn’t sure Madison was ready,” she recalls—but she believed in its physical, mental and emotional benefits, and pressed forward.

Out of “equal parts desperation and inspiration,” Ryan Kaiser made a business plan, met with a designer to create a logo and then met with banks.

“I probably did this all backward; I know I did,” says Ryan Kaiser, referring to all the time and money she put into the business before securing a loan. But looking back, she has no regrets about the way she founded Dragonfly, or the endless hours she poured into it. “We all question ourselves, ‘Am I good enough?’ But at the end of the day, you’re going to do what works for you.”

Then a mother of two, she often had to tote along her 2-year-old and 8-month-old daughters to meetings.

Although women account for 30 percent of small businesses owners, a 2014 report by the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship found that women receive roughly 16 percent of small-business loans. “I can’t even tell you how many banks turned me down,” Ryan Kaiser says. “I don’t know what would have made me give up.”

One man she met with about a rental space didn’t even bother to tell the building owner that she was interested. Without knowing if it was because she was a mother, a woman or if she just seemed crazy—and without making assumptions about why she was getting turned down—she just kept trying, out of a mix of desperation, pride, anger and inspiration. She believed in the studio and had already invested so much.

A year later, in June 2011, she had cleared all of the hurdlesand opened Dragonfly Hot Yoga in Fitchburg. Mind you, she had no business training or (until recently) yoga certifications—she actually doesn’t even want to teach yoga classes.

“My passion is creating opportunities,” she says. And through Dragonfly—which now has locations downtown, in Middleton and in Sun Prairie—she creates the opportunity for people to practice and to teach the art, as well as mentors hopeful studio owners through Yogafly Your Life, her consulting business. It’s the approachability of her teachers that she prides herself on. They connect with the clients because they’re just like them, with varying careers and body types, and many became instructors through Dragonfly’s teacher training program.

And, as of 2015, Ryan Kaiser also created an alternate way to get fit with Flyght Cycle— a club-like spinning class with loud music.

To hear her talk about the franchising legalities for FlyghtCycle and lease intricacies, you would never guess she was self-taught. But her savvy goes far beyond technical knowledge of launching and running a business.

So what’s next? After being diagnosed last year with LAM— lymphangioleiomyomatosis—a rare and incurable lung disease that affects almost exclusively women, Ryan Kaiser says she isn’t actively pursuing company growth, but will now lean on all she’s accomplished. Instead of sitting in the classes thinking about the cleaning or administrative work that needs to get done, she’ll focus on her breath and movement.

“It’s time to let Dragonfly do for me what it has done for others. It’s time to let it heal me.”

TIP   Let go of control and trust that your staff is capable. And to make that easier, surround yourself with people who inspire you.

SLIP   Letting fear keep her and her staff from making the right call, staffing or otherwise, for the company. “You can’t run your business out of fear.”

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