From idea to about-to-go-global-app in a year: the story of FitUsIn
The buzz around the FitUsIn app has been building for almost a year and is likely to grow louder with founder Vanessa Picker expecting to soon close a funding deal that will enable her to launch the app in New York.
Picker’s app emerged from a Sydney Start-up Weekend last year, where it took out top honours in the pitching round.
“When I booked a ticket and jumped on a plane (to Sydney) three days before the Sydney Start-up Weekend, knowing no one and with a fairly new idea, I wasn’t expecting this,” Picker, 20, told StartupSmart.
The app enables people to book gym visits on short notice, without an ongoing contract. Over 130 gyms are now offering deals through FitUsIn all over Australia, and 1200 people have subscribed since February.
“It’s a two-sided platform so regardless of idea, there are challenges. Our clients are both the gyms, and those looking to book a workout. We couldn’t drive people to an empty platform, so we spent a lot of time speaking to gyms,” Picker says.
The dual focus of the business made validation essential. Picker, from Adelaide, had spent a couple of years working in the fitness industry when she had the idea.
“I knew how rigid the personal training and gym system could be. But people don’t expect to book like that anymore, requiring a meeting with a consultant. We don’t book flights or travel like that,” she says.
But it wasn’t until she was travelling around the country training to be an air force officer that she realised there was a large market of travellers available for businesses that bypassed contracts.
“I had this idea, but I didn’t really know how to get it off the ground,” Picker says. “That’s why I got so much out of Sydney Start-up Weekend. Pretty much everyone has had a bad experience with a gym contract. And it was a totally fresh idea so I could bring direction and I wasn’t too attached to any of it.”
While Picker was able to gather a team of eight to work on the idea during the Sydney Start-up Weekend, the formation of the team she took into the ANZ Innovyz Start accelerator in early 2013 took time.
“I went to a lot of events, and even held a few of my own in Adelaide that were likely to attract the kind of people I was looking for,” says Picker, who is the only founder of the company.
“There was a stipend that came from the accelerator and the cash from the prizes. It’s a big decision to take people on as co-founders if you know them. Sometimes good start-ups fall apart over a few points of equity. It turned out well because it was clear cut,” says Picker.
The ANZ Innovyz Start Program now owns 8% of the equity of the company.
Through the 13-week program, Picker turned her idea and basic web landing page into an integrated platform and strategy.
“We had a lot of momentum even before the program because the site was getting traction,” says Picker. “We knew there were attractive offers on offer and people who would purchase if they could.”
The accelerator also helped Picker adapt her marketing focus to more accessible markets.
“At the start I’d spoken a lot about travellers, the obvious on-the-go segment. But we hadn’t looked as broadly as we could have. Mums are a really interesting segment. A lot of them cancelled their membership before the baby and need the flexibility to get back into a routine,” says Picker.
“Corporates are also a focus for us now. They were sick of paying for gym memberships that weren’t getting used. This way they can invest some money, see how it’s going and track how it’s being used. This allows us to tap into a lot more customers from one sales process too.”
The ANZ Innovyz Start program is focused on mobile technology start-up ideas that are rapidly globally scalable. Halfway through the program, FitUsIn was chosen to go and pitch in New York, and has begun to develop its investor networks there.
Under the mentorship of Glenn Smith, an entrepreneur, venture capital investor and now chair of the FitUsIn board, Picker is extending her gym access idea to a wider health focus.
“Since Glenn and New York, we have a much broader and global outlook. It went from being a booking system to much more of a total platform. The name and platform can be extended beyond just gyms. It could include trainers, physios and nutritionists,” says Picker.
The focus for the next few months for the FitUsIn team is launching the android app and developing their customer base here through online marketing and partnership deals with corporates, frequent flyer programs and hotels without gyms.
While Picker is focused on the transient centres of Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane), she’s also prepping to go global.
“We’re in the midst of closing an investment deal with angel investors. It’s quite an extensive process, all the pitching and applications,” says Picker.
“There are a lot of follow-ups for the entrepreneurs to make sure the investors background is aligned with what’s needed. It’s about finding the ones who not only have money, but can add real value as well.”