Born in 2012, Australian startup FitUsIn has gained widespread acclaim for revolutionising the fitness industry by putting the power back into the hands of gym-goers, who now have the ability to find, compare and book the best fitness deals via the company website or iPhone app.
Here’s what Vanessa Picker, Founder and CEO of FitUsIn had to say about her startup journey.
What inspired you to pursue this business? What makes your business unique?
Vanessa Picker: The idea came from my experience working for multiple gyms in the ACT. In its conceptual phase, the idea received its first accolade after winning Startup Weekend Sydney. The competition provided a great opportunity to test and refine the concept. From there, lots of validation occurred before building the platform. We had to speak to lots of gym managers and potential customers, to ensure that they would actually use the service.
It didn’t take long for us to realise that FitUsIn could be valuable for both the industry and the customers using it. We then launched the site within a matter of weeks. This allowed us to test and refine the idea by getting feedback from suppliers and customers.
We are the pioneers in Australia for this service in the health and fitness industry. We offer the most flexible, innovative booking system for fitness services in the country. We have already received international attention and exposure as well, as we received an all-expenses paid trip to NYC earlier in the year, to pitch FitUsIn.
The great thing about our model is that it’s entirely risk-free for our suppliers; it costs nothing to sign up. And for our customers, they get access to the best fitness deals, without the hassle of a membership.
To counteract competitors, we’re moving quickly to on-board gyms and personal trainers across Australia. In this kind of business, speed-to-market is key. Moving forward, we will continue to provide the largest selection of hassle free fitness deals to customers. By offering a fully integrated booking service, FitUsIn makes it incredibly easy for Australians to remain happy and healthy.
When you conceived of the idea, did you choose to raise money or bootstrap? Why?
Vanessa Picker: Recognising that raising money can be extremely time consuming, we chose to bootstrap the idea initially. This allowed us to make continuous progress as we could simply focus on building and refining the business.
We were able to do this as we received a small amount of funding and resources from winning multiple business competitions and we were then accepted into the ANZ Innovyz Start Accelerator Program. The Foundation for Young Australians has also been invaluable, providing ongoing mentoring and support.
Moving forward, as we expand both nationally and internationally, raising money will be integral. Within the next few months, we will be reaching out to investors that we have already connected with, to close funding.
What is your market? What slice of that market are you hoping to gain?
Vanessa Picker: The market we’re reaching out to is large and untapped. There are more than 3,000 gyms around Australia that have huge amounts of unused capacity. Gym usage is continuing to increase, with over 1.8 million gym members around Australia.
We’re trying to get more people active by reaching out to those segments that don’t currently fit into the rigid membership structure. For instance, the 1.5 million mum’s that have kids under the age of 5 in day care, meaning that they require more flexibility and value for money than they did previously.
This along with frequent travellers who aren’t satisfied with hotel gyms or the high prices they have to pay at commercial gyms. This market alone is large as 74.5 million domestic trips are taken every year in Australia. Given that we are pioneers in this market, we believe we will be able to gain a considerable slice of the market.
After you conceived of the idea, how did you go about building the product? How much money did you spend on building it?
Vanessa Picker: After building the initial website, the concept was sold to gyms throughout Australia by highlighting the fact that they can receive a continuous source of revenue from an untapped market, whilst also attracting some new members. We explained that the model it is entirely risk free. With no set up fees, they can immediately start making money during their downtime and they can market to an entirely new segment of customers.
Initially, we needed to pound the pavement and visit lots of gyms. Now, we get a constant flow of enquiries through the website which allows for continuous growth of our supplier base. We have even started on boarding personal trainers around the country.
After on boarding gyms around the country, we then turned our attention to customers and built the iPhone app to make it easier for people to make bookings when they are on the go. We targeted segments like Mum’s with young children, frequent travellers and corporate employees. Basically, anybody who needs flexible fitness options!
No matter what people say, it is not a cheap undertaking to build an Internet business from the ground up. When we started out, we followed the lean methodology, and kept costs to a minimum while we validated our idea. However, the website and app has had a lot of development since then.
The actual cost is not important. What we have learnt is that there are continuous improvements to be made as we work hand-in-hand with our suppliers and customers, to deliver the best possible product and service offering available.
Can you provide examples of the marketing strategies you’re implementing to create buzz around your business?
Vanessa Picker: Most of our marketing is online. We try to reach people when they start their search for a gym or personal trainer online. When a gym registers with us, we often find that their FitUsIn profile page ranks higher than their actual website page and they tend to get a lot more traffic!
We have used social media effectively to promote different deals and we are forming a number of important channel partnerships to ensure that we can get lots of exposure for participating gyms. Again, we try to ensure that our marketing is complementary to that of the gyms, by reaching out to different customer segments.
What is your business model?
Vanessa Picker: Our business model is simple. We take a small commission on each of the passes that we sell through the website and Iphone app.
Customers can sign up for free and book passes instantly. They receive an instant notification and booking reference, allowing them to workout immediately.
For gyms and personal trainers, there is no upfront fee. It is absolutely risk-free. By signing up to the site, gyms and personal trainers get access to an untapped market of casual gym goers and potential leads.
What business successes are you most proud of thus far?
Vanessa Picker: Although the journey has not been easy, we have had several successes along the way. In particular, being named as the only Australian finalist in the New York City Next Idea Competition, earlier in the year and being accepted into the ANZ Innovyz Start Accelerator Program.
Both of these opportunities have enabled us to make extensive progress as we have on boarded 160+ suppliers around the country, mobilised thousands of subscribers and ultimately we have taken away the barriers for Australians to stay active, happy and healthy.
We have had fantastic feedback so far, confirming that we are solving a problem that resonates with a lot of people.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a startup and lessons you’ve learned from them?
Vanessa Picker: There have been numerous challenges and setbacks in developing the business. But I know that we are not alone. In the early days of any business, there is a lot of uncertainty. That is evidently part of the journey, when you’re working on something new. Along the way though, you get to celebrate the small wins too.
Initially, the biggest hurdle was obviously convincing gyms to jump on board with an entirely new service. This wasn’t easy when many had not heard of FitUsIn before. We launched with a relatively small number of gyms on board, and continued to grow from there. Now, we have a continuous flow of new enquiries and we have listings in most locations around the country.
We managed to overcome a lot of the other hurdles, whilst going through the ANZ Innovyz START accelerator program. We had continuous access to world-class mentors, who helped us refine the business model and strategy for growth.
What is your plan for the upcoming year?
Vanessa Picker: We believe that international expansion is on the horizon in the near future. We already received a free trip to New York City, after being named as the only Australian finalist in the NYC Next Idea Competition. The feedback we received demonstrated that FitUsIn is a service that can add value, globally.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Vanessa Picker: Something that we are really passionate about at FitUsIn is the social side of the business. We live in one of the most overweight countries in the world and we want to do something about it. A holistic approach to health and fitness is really important and unfortunately our society has started to fall behind. We want to get Australia fit again! And, we’re going to make it fun!
We believe this approach can set an example, by encouraging other start-ups and small businesses to build a social cause into their business strategy.
Inspired? Take a tour of FitUsIn via www.fitusin.com.