Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: Blair Fillingham’s MTRNL intuition (and tech savvy) results in digital yoga startup

Life on the mini-farm: Blair Fillingham, creator of MTRNL, with her 4-year-old daughter Matilda and Carlton the pig. (Blair Fillingham Photo)

“Life is good when you can say, ‘I’ve already pet a pig today.’”

That’s life on the farm for Blair Fillingham, the tech veteran who is happy at home now in Carnation, Wash., with three pigs, three sheep, seven ducks, a dog, her family and … a new baby — a startup called MTRNL, a virtual yoga studio which specializes in streaming classes to pregnant and postnatal women.

“I am an Aussie, living the American dream,” said Fillingham, a mom, yogini and now farmer who spent years at Microsoft and elsewhere working in communications and business planning roles. She’s GeekWire latest Geek of the Week.

The spark for MTRNL came, Fillingham said, when Microsoft “retrenched 7,000 employees on my first day of maternity leave” — which included her business group.

“I decided to become an advocate for maternal health,” she said. “Through integrating my technology, marketing, global communications and yoga talents, I quickly established MTRNL as a company with strong momentum, a sustainable growth strategy, impressive endorsements, customers in multiple markets, an exciting vision, tangible societal impact and a growing team of inspired millennials.”

Blair Fillingham has been practicing yoga for about 10 years and teaching for five. (MTRNL Photo)

MTRNL, which is currently bootstrapped, was recently named “Startup of the Year” at the 15th annual International Business Awards, and Fillingham was named “Entrepreneur of the Year.”

“I didn’t want to just create videos, like YouTube yoga, because I didn’t feel like that captured the true experience of going to a studio,” Fillingham said. “That’s where the interactive piece became the core value proposition and the core thing that I had to solve for when I picked all of my technology platforms.”

And Fillingham is just getting started. She’s also curious about and exploring augmented and mixed reality experiences for her business.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Blair Fillingham:

What do you do, and why do you do it? All of it! I run MTRNL, grow MTRNL, teach the yoga classes, run the mini-farm, take my kids to preschool three days a week and I take self-care REALLY seriously. My goal is to walk the talk, so that other mamas are inspired to prioritize their health and family above their paycheck — in a way that builds their career rather than stalls it.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? An old colleague of mine recently asked me what I was up to these days, and I told him that I was working on my startup, and he replied with, “Ooooh, tell me more” and I told him it was MTRNL, and he said, “Oh, I thought you meant something super cool and geeky, not that little yoga thing you’re doing.” Needless to say, my blood boiled a little bit and I didn’t reply! The maternity products and services industry is ENORMOUS, and the appetite for yoga is HUGE. And the reality is, mothers are being under-served with consumer services that empower them (rather than make them feel inadequate) and I hope that MTRNL can address that.

Where do you find your inspiration? Every mother I meet, who lights up when they hear or see what I do. There is an alchemy that happens when women feel truly supported and safe — it is an incredible honor to be able to create a space for women, and be part of that experience.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? I absolutely ADORE the platform I am using for my membership site. It is called Kajabi. The Kajabi team is incredible. Customer support is phenomenal, and they really walk their talk which helps inform my marketing strategy, too. If I decided to work for another tech company, Kajabi would be at the top of my list. (PS — if you want to sign up you should use my referral link so that we both get a 15 percent kick-back!)

Blair Fillingham decided to stay at home and create a business rather than go back to work for someone else and battle Seattle-area traffic. (Blair Fillingham Photo)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? It is paradise. Really. When I bought 5 acres out in the Snoqualmie Valley a couple of years ago, I couldn’t imagine having to leave it every day to sit in an office. This was a huge catalyst for me figuring out how to work for myself.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) I use a planner, I have a wall calendar, I red-flag emails that aren’t urgent to reply later and I am ruthless about sticking to my to-do list BUT always reconcile that with how I am feeling that day. If I want to go and harvest some lavender then I do. If I want to go pat the pigs, then I do. But mostly, I get sh!t done really efficiently because I used to work in consulting roles that billed me out for every 6 mins I spent on a project. Also, I take time to eat lunch away from my desk and never watch TV (expect for a monthly Netflix movie).

Mac, Windows or Linux? Windows. Although I did work on the Linux team at Microsoft. We were the super secret team — I worked with all the geeky open-source engineers that worked at Microsoft.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Battlestar Gallactica.” The new one, not the old one. My husband was like, “How could you not pick Janeway?” I was like, ‘I don’t know if I trust her.” I don’t know why but I just, I don’t trust her.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter — to be in multiple countries. Because I’m Aussie, it’s frustrating to be some far away from Australia and 24 hours of travel is a little rough, with kids. But also, frankly, to build my business and be in all of the countries that I want to be able to visit in this life, I want to be able to get there faster.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Launch the not-for-profit arm of MTRNL, which will solve the maternity leave issue once and for all.

I once waited in line for … 12hrs … for a hug from Amma. She’s like a saint from India, she’s known as the hugging saint and travels around the world and hugs people. Whenever she comes to the U.S. I go and get a hug. I go and get my cup filled up by her hugs.

Your role models: Amma 🙂 Because she manages to make time for hugs, even when she is running universities, hospitals and charities around the world that benefit millions of people.

Greatest game in history: Tetris.

Best gadget ever: Webcam. It’s the most obvious thing that’s supporting my business right now. The fact that I can have HiDef video that’s streaming to thousands of people in a really high-quality experience on a big screen is epic.

First computer: Commodore 64.

Current phone: iPhone 8. I got an iPhone for the first time when I left Microsoft. I’m a longtime Nokia fan, so I’m looking forward to Nokia making its comeback. I was part of the team that was kind of integrating Nokia into Microsoft, and it was so sad to see the writing on the wall that that wasn’t going to work out.

Favorite app: Apple Podcasts app.

Favorite cause: Maternity leave for ALL mothers.

Most important technology of 2018: The ubiquity of group video calls (I tried to launch video calls for Nokia around 10 years ago and no one was interested!)

Most important technology of 2020: Invented by a woman.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Technology for technology’s sake is not helping anyone. Find a cause you believe in and USE technology to help solve it.

Website: MTRNL

Twitter: @BlairFil

LinkedIn: Blair Fillingham

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