MEET BELINDA KOO Founder of XYZ Studio Marco Polo Club Member
Discover hidden secrets of our home city through the eyes of Hong Kong native and creative entrepreneur Belinda Koo, Founder of private spin studio XYZ, one of the city’s hottest fitness concepts.
XYZ has redefined the indoor cycling phenomenon in Hong Kong with its sleekly designed studios offering an escape from fast-paced city living. Blending high-intensity cardio and mindfulness, the brand has developed a devout community of riders across the city.
Check out what Belinda has to say about how the ‘can-do’ spirit ingrained in Hong Kong culture has played an integral part in the formation of XYZ, where she finds peace and inspiration within the city, and how frequent travel continues to fuel XYZ’s evolution.
CATHAY PACIFIC: Let’s start by understanding a bit more about why you decided to start your business in Hong Kong. What’s it like to run a fitness-oriented business here?
BELINDA: I started a business in Hong Kong because it is where I was born and raised, now it’s where I work and raise my own family. From a young age, I’ve always seen myself as an agent for change. In 2013, I saw an opportunity – or need rather – where I could play a part in helping people effect positive change in their lives by introducing an exciting, entertaining form of cardio exercise. Thus, XYZ was born.
Hong Kong, if compared with places like New York or London, was (and probably still is) behind the curve in terms of recognition and acceptance of cardio exercise as part of one’s regular routine. We all know too well that the stress level in our city knows no bounds and can wreak havoc to both mental and physical health. I felt heartbroken and perhaps it was my calling to do something about it.
Over the past ten years I think Hong Kong has caught up a lot with the health and wellness movement, there have been a lot more marathons, yoga and fitness centers opening. It’s becoming more popular for people to be a part of fitness, helping to build a strong sense of community.
CATHAY PACIFIC: That sense of community is really interesting, and something quite unique to XYZ as a spin studio. How did you build a community in Hong Kong through your business?
BELINDA: One of my mentors told me that when there is learning, there is community. When everyone has the same target and the same mindset, they are united in wanting to achieve the same goal. Community means we can leverage each other’s energy to bring out the best in ourselves.
When you are spinning or running on a treadmill, you are doing something repetitive with a consistent rhythm, which is very therapeutic. When everyone is doing a group exercise and is in sync, it’s not just about physical fitness, you can feel the awakening of the human spirit. At XYZ, I really feel that and sometimes I even get goose bumps. It means a lot to me. Even if we are not talking to each other, we are so connected.
CATHAY PACIFIC: How did you choose where to root your businesses in Hong Kong, where did you feel most needed that sense of community and stress relief?
BELINDA: Placing the first XYZ in Central, the heart of Hong Kong’s financial, administrative and political hub, was no coincidence. Having worked in Central throughout my working life, the byproduct of such high productivity of this area is stress. XYZ is a hidden cave only steps away where business executives can release, regroup and recharge during the day. We’ve since added a secondary location earlier this year in bustling Causeway Bay.
CATHAY PACIFIC: What is it about the city’s culture, people or the city itself that lends you inspiration?
BELINDA: If you look back at the history of Hong Kong and how it’s evolved into a hub of Asia, our city has the pulling power to attract people with immensely diversified cultural backgrounds to establish their presence here. I’ve had the pleasure to meet and get to know such people and always learn something new from those encounters. On top of this there is a ‘can-do’ culture that inspires entrepreneurs like myself to live the dream.
CATHAY PACIFIC: What does this ‘can-do’ culture look like to you?
BELINDA: We Hong Kong people are very goal-oriented. Compared to the cities I travel to, our culture here has very high standards and I think that comes with sacrifice. There is always a sense of urgency, everyone has to multitask, meet deadlines and put aside personal agendas to make things happen. This is what I call ‘champion mind’ – when you are very focused, willing to work longer hours and harder to get things done. But when you can make work like play, this is also where the passion and the ‘can-do’ attitude come from. I’m very fortunate in that sense because I enjoy what I do so much.
I enjoy the creative process the most, whether it’s working with our trainers to fine-tune class content or designing merchandise hang-tags. When I have a new project I can’t stop thinking about new ideas, I get so excited that I can’t sleep and want to wake everyone up to brainstorm. It’s not worry or nerves that keep me awake, but my creative juices. I end up sending out emails to my staff in the middle of night – it’s crazy. I suppose I am a very spontaneous person and I certainly believe in the “power of now.”
CATHAY PACIFIC: Outside your life at XYZ, do you engage in any other areas of fitness that Hong Kong has to offer?
BELINDA: Outside XYZ there is a lot that I do. I always tell my friends that we need a program of exercise to strengthen our muscles, the heart and other organs. It is the functionality of the body that I am very concerned with. If you don’t bend, you will break. You need that meditation; you need that stillness once in a while to keep you sane.
I love golf. I started golfing after I graduated university. I’m very lucky to be a member of the Hong Kong Golf Club and I play in Fanling, that is my getaway. Just the journey of being in the car and getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city, I start to reset my mind. It’s like a holiday. I feel very zen, very peaceful in Fanling, sitting outdoors on the patio, chit-chatting. I also love going to Discovery Bay, which has a very challenging course.
Beyond fitness, one place I do enjoy escaping to is Chi Lin Nunnery. I have a friend who is a nun there, and I love going to visit her and eating dim sum at the vegetarian restaurant. It’s such a beautiful, peaceful reprieve hidden right in the middle of the city. It’s an incredible place to be mindful and reconnect.
CATHAY PACIFIC: Are there any other hidden gems you love to visit, that you recommend visitors to Hong Kong to check out?
BELINDA: There are so many places to explore in Hong Kong. I love all the little cafes and eateries hidden down the alleys where you don’t think anything is happening. There’s a cocktail bar called Ping Pong in the basement of an old building that used to be a ping pong centre. It’s been totally transformed into an amazing gin bar, and when you’re down in that basement, you feel like you are somewhere completely different. There’s also a great little restaurant called Okra, beautifully designed in an unassuming old building.
I also love restaurants around Central and Sheung Wan that have outdoor areas like Duddell’s and Dead End Café. Several hours sitting outside in the afternoon can be delightful. I also like Star Street in Wan Chai, and the little shops that you can get lost in. Hong Kong is wonderful like that.
CATHAY PACIFIC: Let’s talk about your travel lifestyle. What role does travel play in developing business ideas, meeting people to collaborate with, or expanding your business?
BELINDA: There is a popular Chinese proverb ”Better to travel ten thousand miles than to read ten thousand books”. I love travelling and I usually fly every month. I try to make the most of a trip in terms of trying new fitness or wellness related concepts, and of course meeting people who are either in the industry or passionate about it. I’d say travel is absolutely essential for keeping the mind fresh with new ideas that ultimately benefit the business whether directly or indirectly, and for that I enjoy visiting the US and United Kingdom. I also see opportunities within Asia to broaden the range of offerings in health and wellness in places like Singapore, Japan and Thailand that I also frequently visit.
CATHAY PACIFIC: What kind of traveller are you? What does a typical business trip look like for you?
BELINDA: From the moment I step onto the plane and settle in, I feel like I’ve entered a zone where it’s ‘me’ time. Without disturbances from the outside world I have the opportunity to think and reflect, and in fact a lot of inspiration is found during my time on the plane.
Because you have to turn off your phone, there are no incoming emails or calls, no social media… So it’s a blessing really. I love long hauls flights – I have the whole 13 or 16 hours to myself so I love watching movies but more so the documentaries and TED talks. I’m really interested in the topics featured but don’t really have the time to explore them in my day to day. I’m always delighted and I always find something I’ll like. They give me inspiration and it’s something I look forward to.
When I finish my meal or watching documentaries and before I sleep, I have the real “me” time when I like to meditate. This is time for me to review my thoughts – like checking my drawers to see what’s in there, what is needed and why do you need it, what do you need to throw away, and how do you let go? I always bring my iPad which is loaded with meditation tracks so I pop on my headphones… The white noise of the plane is an ideal meditation zone.
CATHAY PACIFIC: Do you have any idiosyncratic travel habits or secrets you’ve discovered over the years?
BELINDA: When I travel to New York, I usually spend four days on the Upper East Side then four days in SoHo and then maybe four days in the meatpacking area, so it’s about 12 days in total. I then plan my meetings and visits around the area where I am living.
If the weather is good, I will be in my runners and walking everywhere rather than taking a cab. I like to explore different districts, see the people and get a vibe for the place.
I see luggage as my friend. It is my companion for up to three weeks so the set I select is crucial. I use a more durable steel case when I travel to the US as it’s a bit more rough-and-tumble. In Europe, I’m in an environment that is more historic, romantic and a little bit more traditional. So I like to use my leather set of luggage that helps to set the mood. Even the outfits I pack will be little bit different, perhaps something more classy like a trench coat instead of a denim jacket. I have a new set that is round in shape, which I plan to use for my Asian travels. It’s fun and agile but because of the shape you can’t fit too many things in so it’s meant for shorter regional trips. It hasn’t arrived yet but I’m very excited to put it to use.
CATHAY PACIFIC: Do your travel experiences influence your business ideas in any way?
BELINDA: I hotel hop when I’m travelling and staying somewhere longer than five days. I do this so I can explore the hotel, their service, their facilities and the decor to get inspiration. I want to run the studio as though we run a hotel because it is a little more refined, classier and stylish than an in-and-out gym. It is more the hospitality, environment and ambience that is created.
I also think that what hotels and fitness studios have in common is the experience. If you enjoy your experience then you are more likely to come back, it feels like home. At XYZ, I care about the experience and am always thinking of ways to enhance and perfect the experience for our customers, so I try to take this all in as much as possible when I travel.
For more about XYZ, visit www.youarexyz.com
This interview has been edited for length.