In 2009, Cassey Ho was going to school to pursue a career as a doctor. But there was an idea she couldn't shake: Making videos about her main passion, which just so happened to be fitness.
Five years later, Ho is the leader of a grassroots empire. Her fitness brand, Blogilates, boasts well over a million YouTube subscribers and 138,000 Twitter followers. She has her own line of gym-ready clothing and bags, and her latest addition is the Blogilates social network, which is a free service that Ho offers to help fans track their fitness goals, make friends and unite together as a community.
Ho told HLN that she's been thinking about the launch of a social network for her "Popsters," as she calls her fans, for more than two years now. She decided the time for the launch of " My Blogilates" had finally come.
Much like Facebook, it encourages users to post status updates, photos of their progress and discuss nutrition and more on its forums.
"It's a way to encourage the fans to be more active on the site and to find one another," Ho told HLN.
The path to launching the social network has been a long one, and only the most recent achievement in Ho's impressive development of her brand. But five years ago, Blogilates hadn't even been born yet.
"Working to become a doctor didn't make me happy," she told HLN. "My family wanted me to do it, but I wanted to make these videos. And I did them on the side while I worked during the day. And people just started watching."
Ho was busy at work developing her own line of gym bags, oGorgeous, when Shape magazine featured one of her bags in its pages. And that was when Ho realized that she had to pursue her dream, even if her parents didn't approve. So she left her day job and took the first steps toward pursuing her dream.
"I bought a ticket to China to talk to a manufacturer for the bags," she said. "I had no idea how to make money. So I taught Pilates classes and it made me a better instructor. I was so excited about where it could go."
Ho did the fitness videos regularly, as well as writing meal plans, producing cooking videos, and more for years, all free of charge. She told HLN that while she tried working with a PR company briefly, she was often approached directly, so it simply wasn't necessary. Ho has handled all Blogilates social media from the very beginning, and she doesn't plan to change that.
"Social media is your voice," Ho said. " I need to see what my fans are saying, and handling my own social accounts keeps me connected to them."
As Ho's popularity continued to soar, she began to speak on deeper issues that affect young women, such as body image, the thigh gap, and how Photoshopping is affecting the idea of how we think we ought to look, presenting herself as a positive role model for the fans that love the Blogilates brand (many of whom are young women).
"What feels good to me is serving people," Ho said. "You just know it's going to pay off."
So what's a girl with a burgeoning empire to do? Keep trying new things, of course. In addition to the social network, Ho is also working on a book and planning a national tour to do pilates with her fans. The social network has a map function that users can use to tag themselves, which Ho plans to use to figure out where her tour should go.
"I want to make it more than a day in the park. I want to make an experience that connects people," Ho said.