Lockdown Economy Netherlands in a Personal Growth Practice with Amir Carmel
The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Megha Shyamili Puushothaman
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview, Amir Carmel, the co-founder of the Inner Workout where people from all over the world can train their skills of listening and compassion, talks about how he and his partners had to rebuild a brand new business, started in January 2020, from the physical to online space. They used the momentum to gather a community around it and hosted over thirty free sessions internationally, in Hebrew, Dutch and English. An unexpected outcome was that participants volunteered to pay. The end of the lockdown brings a new dilemma: how to add more value to their offer, now that everyone moved online.
Where are you based at the moment? Where is your business based?
Amir: I’m located in Amsterdam and I guess we will speak about it more. But the base is centred in Amsterdam but happens mostly online in the past few months.
Okay, before we jump into how it happens maybe you can tell me a bit more about it. So what is The Inner Workout?
Amir: The Inner Workout is a regular practice of personal development that you do while connecting to other people. So it’s really- the best way to describe it is like a gym that has different members that come regularly to work and strengthen their inner muscles together with each other. We practice a lot of listening- listening to oneself as well as listening to others and working on our own challenges in life.
Basically, you really found the way to get people to practice some inner qualities, some inner soft skills in the same way that I could go to the gym and practice running or jumping.
Amir: Yeah, I mean, the way we organize it is similar to a gym or your yoga centre. You’d have an agenda and you have different teachers and then you can sign up and join sessions and get some instructions and also work on your inner skills. On the way it is organized, the structure is similar to a gym. Of course, the qualities of work are different, and you’re not sweating and you’re not pushing yourself but it’s something different that’s happening there.
But that’s very nice to know, that’s definitely a small of the gym that you have to have special clothing. But in the gym, you always know that if you go there twice a week you might get skinnier or healthier or more muscly but what happens in The Inner Workout?
Amir: You get more tuned to yourself so you can be more connected to yourself, understand how to address difficulties or challenges with yourself. But I think equally important is that you know or you become better at listening and connecting to others.
So you can really listen better to what others are telling you and connect better to their side of the story. From there, we aim to change the world- when you start there you can really change the world eventually, by connecting better and listening and collaborating.
So what I hear is that it’s a step to have a more mindful lifestyle. More in tune with the people around you, more in tune with your colleagues or your family, friends and to have a- to be more present at the moment which sometimes is very difficult. So I understand that your business, The Inner Workout, was founded just before the lockdown or during it. Can you tell a bit more about that?
Amir: Yes, of course. So when I came up with the idea of The Inner Workout, I think later last year and then started hosting sessions, physical sessions, at the beginning of that year in January, February and March. I started building a momentum, people decided to come back for sessions and practice more and more and it felt good. Then the lockdown happened and everything was destroyed about the same time so I started doing that by myself but it was kind of funny or not very productive to do- to speak about connecting to others and then drive this project alone. I did it by myself. Apart from that, I really wanted others to work together with me on that.
So I collected this group and then we had our first meeting, I think it was two weeks to the lockdown here in Amsterdam, and it was supposed to be just to get to know each other and see what we want to do together, stuff like that. But then during that call, we said “Well, right now we’re all stressing out, we’re all sharing the same context, we’re all stuck at home and cannot meet each other and are socially isolated. What you’re talking about, this quality is really needed right now, the world needs that.” Then we say, “Well, why don’t we just speed launch this concept online because many people need that. It would be a service we can offer to others but also a way for us to test this concept, run a lot of pilots and build a community around it.”
Was it an easy transition, sorry to interrupt, was it an easy transition from- so you started completely offline so people are in the same room where they can really experience each other’s private space and interaction. But you had to move online quite quickly and so did it feel the same, did it have the same quality?
Amir: No. Especially at the beginning. We had to make a lot of adjustments from the physical space to the online space. In terms of facilitation and the facilitation aids, I have a Powerpoint presentation and created the breakout rooms on Zoom so people could speak privately and all of that. Also, how can you- when you facilitate in a room you can really sense the energy in the room and connect to the unspoken part of the communication. When you do this online, the first sessions were very difficult because I would see all this on their faces, sometimes nodding, sometimes even not; then it’s very difficult to tune into the atmosphere in this virtual room and see what is going there and how can you facilitate that. But I would say over time, yeah, you develop other abilities to sense what is happening in the room and then you can really facilitate. So now actually, when we start speaking again about moving to physical sessions, I’m kind of hesitant, if they will still have the same quality and will they still be able to make the same, strong connections they have online when it happens offline.
That is an interesting point because when you- so you had to move the whole thing online and I read somewhere in your posts that you hosted over four hundred sessions or so or sixty sessions or what was the number?
Amir: I think it was eighty back then. Now it is about hundred people joining in thirty different sessions.
So 30 diff sessions but 100 people who have experienced the joy of connection. Were they all based in the same cities or did you actually enjoy the beauty of being online that you can connect globally.
Amir: Yeah, the second answer is true. It was really, I mean, once we moved online then the physical distance didn’t mean anything. I am originally from Israel, I started hosting sessions in Hebrew for people mostly from Israel because there was also quarantine and people stayed at home.
We had people joining from Germany, London, England and even one person from Vietnam joined one. We had people from all over the world joining so that was really- instead of focusing only on the people living in Amsterdam and what they needed and serving them, it was much broader focus. Now we can host people from the whole of The Netherlands and also from everywhere in the world.
Now you are planning to move back into the offline world, where maybe people will be a bit conscious about collaborating with each other because of the one and a half metre distance, gloves, masks and God knows what else they are going to ask us to put on.
You mentioned that you started with Israel and with the Hebrew language sessions, did you- I understand you come from there. Did you always know that you were going to do The Inner Workout or did you do something different before- what was your journey, in short?
Amir: Not at all. Yeah, I’m from Israel. Briefly, my journey is two to five years in special forces in Israel in the army. I was a team leader and there I already was into leadership and communication in the team and this kind of stuff. Also with a new experience in conflicts and how difficult it is to not communicate with the other side.
So that was another thing with experience and from there I had well, I had a short career as a chef, moving to Amsterdam and then I studied psychology and this thread of looking into better ways to communicate with each other, to collaborate, a way to bridge gaps and really connect with someone very different from you, is something I carried with me to the psychology studies and today, Inner Workout.
Not at all- looking back, it makes sense where I am now but it wasn’t in mind when I started- or when I graduated from high school so, I was doing many different things.
So it emerged from your other experiences slowly and gradually. Do you charge people for your services?
Amir: Yes, we started now to charge people and funnily enough our idea was, we would pilot for a while and have people experience that and maybe somewhere down the line we would start asking for payment. Then speaking to people who participated in sessions who say, “Well, I feel really uncomfortable experiencing this very meaningful moment with you and I cannot give anything back in return. I feel so awkward, I would like to pay something”. So okay, but of course, we need money but also it makes sense in this type of relationship to ask for something so now yeah, we do ask for payment for these sessions.
Okay, so now actually, with the online format- you had to switch from offline to online at the very start of the emerging of The Inner Workout. And then you did the- you did many sessions for free and now you feel that there is even a market that is eager to give back something to you and your co-founders for the work that you’re doing.
Do you have any competition?
Amir: It’s kind of difficult to say because I don’t know anyone who is doing exactly this and there are many overlaps with other practices, other centres that do personal development or connections but I don’t know anyone who does this.
Also speaking about competition is somewhat difficult but I would say there is the Presencing Institute from MIT. They have a very extensive and detailed program online that started also, I think, two weeks after we started and part of that is also about connecting and supporting each other, stuff like that. So I would say that’s a very large company or organization we’re looking to and learning from.
I guess they’re addressing this to a slightly different target audience may be from yours. So, well, it’s good to be in the market where you feel like you’re the only one with that particular product. What is the for on the next few months for you and your co-founders?
Amir: What we’re feeling now is that we kind of- we were able to cross this first threshold or this first- we’re changing the condition, the external condition and we’re able to adjust quick enough but now we see again at this point that things keep on changing and we have to adjust again.
So we might move back into physical sessions or offer sessions in different locations. We might expand the online offer and have more services happening online. We might work, collaborate with companies or with existing audiences so these are all different directions that we are looking into and exploring. But because everything is still very unclear, how quickly will everything be open again and how quickly will people be willing to pay for this kind of session. We have all these scenarios and we’re still sensing into them and what would be really the direction we want to go.
There are quite a lot of unknowns here. I’m sure it is like that for everyone, in that sense. I guess, if there were to be the second lockdown in the coming winter, I guess you would be very much ready for it because you have managed to adapt your model so quickly to the online world. What are your thoughts about the bigger future?
Amir: What I do feel maybe- also about your question on competition, is that we were quite quick to respond and then we were able to attract enough people to participate in sessions but two weeks later I saw all these other online programs happening all over the place. There were online offers of coaching and also different things. Now we know how to do the online stuff and we know it works but we might need to add more value to that to make it so appealing if there would be another lockdown. So I wouldn’t stay with what we are doing now but we would need to develop it further and definitely because I see a lot of competition in this area. We have a lot to do with personal development online mostly for free and a lot of very high-quality programs.
The online free offers are something very special for the last few months and I think it is going to continue that way.
Thank you very much, Amir, for sharing this with us!
About the Guest
Amir Carmel is a coach and facilitator, the co-founder of The Inner Work-out, a regular practice of personal growth and deep connections. He was born and raised in Israel Amir served as a combat team leader in a special force unit for five years. Later he spent a few years as a line chef in Michelin star restaurants until he (re)found his talents and passion in working with groups on collective growth processes. Amir supports individuals facing their life questions and guides coaching circles: group sessions in which individuals help each other to resolve their personal dilemmas while practising active and open listening to each other. Recently Amir initiated and co-founded the Inner Work-out.