You only live once, or YOLO, an acronym popularized by Drake a decade ago, has become a Covid anthem for the young, the old and the burnt-out. As the pandemic continues to change our lives, work and travel, for many it has also proved a siren’s call for reevaluation and professional bravado.
Pre-Covid, American-born dancer and fitness expert Catie Miller owned and managed a much-lauded barre studio in London’s fashionable Marylebone. Similarly, her longtime friend Boniface Verney-Carron ran a successful Mayfair-based osteopathy clinic that kept him busy seven days a week. Long before the word pandemic was a stalwart in our daily vocabularies, Miller and Verney-Carron had spent multiple afternoons and evenings contending how to grow their respective businesses. Both had built sizeable followings but were struggling with the fate of many successful leaders: clients wanted to work with them specifically and only them. Both parents with finite availability, there was one question in particular that kept resurfacing. How do you expand with any impact when there’s only ever going to be one of you?
It was this question paired with another light-bulb moment that led to their second acts. What Miller and Verney-Carron had realized was that clients were looking for more. “We both started to see this common theme,” says Miller. “Clients were coming to me acknowledging there was something that they were missing. But I wasn’t an expert in hormones or able to offer nutritional guidance, and all of these things that I knew would be able to contribute to their health and well-being long term. I started sending a lot of my clients to Boniface and vice versa. He was saying to his clients, ‘OK, now you need to move.’”
This was pre-2020. Then the pandemic hit and both of their businesses vanished. Having spent the bulk of their careers in the physical world, moving to the digital space was daunting, but they knew they had to try.
This was the start of Oona Series. Oona—a word with Gaelic origins meaning one—is a digital wellness community offering fitness classes (both live and pre-recorded), podcasts, well-being tips, interviews, masterclasses and more.
Wellness is a saturated market, both online and brick-and-mortar businesses, but like anything, if done well, you can excel. “There is so much information out there. But often if you Google something, you end up getting nowhere,” says Miller of health and wellness advice. “You sit there for hours but you don’t have trusted sources that you feel really connected to. So with Oona, we strategised not only with ourselves but with a much wider team, asking the question, ‘How could we make Oona really useful to everybody?”
And they wanted to do things well, creating workout videos and podcasts that are fun and informative, but also produced at an extremely high quality—filmed professionally in beautiful locations. A month in they had already released over 50 wellbeing videos and over 60 workout videos.
“We have nine instructors who teach on the movement side, and they are all across the globe,” says Miller. “So that’s another great thing, we can hit time zones everywhere. We have instructors in New Zealand, Australia, America, the U.K., and they teach multiple disciplines because we try and inspire our clients not to always continue doing the same thing, to switch it up.”
On the business side, the pair decided if they were going to launch this, they were going to give it every possible chance of success. “We reached out to friends and family. It was just a really tight group, only people that we knew,” says Miller. “And luckily, our network is really strong. Our investors, they come from backgrounds of tech. They come from backgrounds of running successful online businesses that have gone public. So that for us was really exciting.”
Back in 2021, on the night of the launch, Miller and Verney-Carron went out to dinner to celebrate. “And I found the original email that I sent to Boniface, asking him, ‘Do you want to be a part of this project?’ And my email was so long, and I spent days putting it together, really thinking about my ideas so that I could get him to maybe consider it. And it was amazing to read it because the ideas were so small. And to now be where we’re at, and to see how much content we’ve produced podcasts, videos, workouts… All from this little idea, something that Boniface and I had been talking about for so long. And I just remember us saying to each other, ‘All right, let’s stop talking, let’s just do it and see what comes out the other side.”