FitIn was an idea I had in 2017. Pre-pandemic, I went to at least half a dozen fitness/exercise sessions on a weekly basis, a combination of classes I loved and classes I wanted to try.
I was active because I was in love with being strong plus I realized how deeply exercise helped my mental health. I’ve been struggling with depression, anxiety and trauma for a long time, and exercise helped more than medication, imho.
ClassPass was just arriving in Toronto, and after I tried it out, I found it lacking in several ways, both functional and ethical. One day I LITERALLY spent 3 hours using google to find 3 yoga classes that worked with my schedule. I knew there had to be a better way.
My brain loves a good challenge and in the background it ruminated away at the problem as I went about my work and my life. Once I had the framework of a concept in my head, I built out a business plan over a weekend in July and a project plan to get started.
I’d already been subconsciously attracted to articles online about the startup ecosystem here in Toronto, and I was starting to attend meetups - at MaRS, at DMZ, elsewhere. I was learning about “failing fast” and “lean methodology” and read as much as I could get my hands on about building apps.
I started talking to people - no mean feat for an introvert - but at this point I was incredibly excited about this concept and that propelled me to do things that were WAY outside my comfort zone. It’s one thing to know what to do, which I can usually figure out. It’s another thing to actually have the courage to get it done, sometimes.
I met some incredible friends, mentors, kindred spirits, jerks, and legends. As tough as it is out there, people are generally quite generous with their time, their advice, their support.
Connecting with people and learning from them is how I both filled in the gaps in my project plan and found the people to execute them for me. I did freelance work to fund the initial steps and took advantage of every free opportunity I came across.
The first iteration of FitIn was a custom wordpress site. It allowed me to test the wireframe I had built, test the concept for functionality and interest, and give me something to show investors.
It was my first major challenge. The facts on the ground are that developers can be as hit or miss as general contractors. In FitIn’s case, the wordpress site looked good but was glitchy.
To test and market FitIn, I reached out to fitness instructors I’d met along the way and onboarded them. In one of the best spur-of-the-moment decisions I ever had, I started up a ‘soccer moms’ group in my neighbourhood that I sold through FitIn. We played in the basement of a church. I also collaborated on events that we booked through FitIn, and earned a bunch of revenue and recognition with these.
I had already set up all the social media, and started posting classes everywhere. I had taken a course on social media management, and started testing ads, testing audiences, learning as much as I could about my customer. I started working on partnerships to reach a wider audience. I was learning how to design and send email campaigns and newsletter blasts.
I was learning ALL the things, and while it was still new and fresh, this was one of my favourite parts of this journey. I’ve always preferred a healthy amount of variety in what I do, and this was scratching that itch nicely.
As we tried to develop the wordpress site out more, it became glitchier, and I made the decision to move ahead with the first custom site. I found a new developer and we launched the beta.
I started attending investor bootcamps, incubator programs, accelerator programs, pitch competitions and more…all in an attempt to find funding, because building an app is not free, unless you’re building it yourself (and I know some wonder women who have done exactly this!).
I started sending emails, filling out online forms, reaching out on LinkedIn. I’ll be honest, I was surprised the interest was lukewarm, or at least until I started hearing the numbers in regards to angel interest in women founders.
It’s a tale as old as time…girl has a great idea, girl bootstraps building enterprise software, girl cannot build or scale because only about 3% of women get investor/equity funding.
I had met a fantastic technical mentor at a conference, and he connected me with a developer who was willing to partner on building proper enterprise software for FitIn. We would both be building our businesses at the same time, but it was a great opportunity for FitIn to become everything it was supposed to be.
It was so exciting, seeing it coming together. We were all set to launch this mega platform at the end of February, 2020….yep, and then the pandemic happened and all the gyms closed down, as well as many startups.
Because FitIn was so new and I was still the only employee, it did not qualify for 95% of government assistance programs. But I had learned a ton since 2017, and I quickly cobbled together a virtual gym under the “FitIn Live” banner.
I arranged a schedule of FitIn trainers and more, did all the marketing, and moderated all the class sessions. I barely slept through 2020, because I was also working 4 jobs to keep a roof over my head. I was stretched too thin, and wasn’t getting nearly enough revenue out of FitIn Live for the effort I was expending. I closed it down before the end of the year.
Through 2021, when most gyms were still closed, we tried to focus on getting the new webapp in a solid place, and I commissioned a UXUI redesign. This brought it to its pinnacle, a well-working app that looked good, easy to navigate, and was a great place for trainers and classes to book clients through.
I had such great plans for FitIn. I wanted it to be a TRUE shared economy platform.
Those of you who know me are aware I’m a feminist and a socialist while also a capitalist. With FitIn, I was hoping to build a “more perfect business” that restored faith across all stakeholders.
For folks like myself, it would have been an endless source of inspiration for ways to get and stay healthy and a fast and simple way for me to find and book them. Having the front end marketplace completely integrated with the booking and payment software means - similar to Amazon - I can fulfill my entire order with one account.
Although we didn’t get to the point where we could deploy them, there were plans for incredible features we hoped to keep making the app more and more useful, but especially really robust search filtering.
I wanted FitIn to be an ally in facilitating physical and mental health options for underserved groups, from several angles of attack. Think: filters that allowed trans or 2SLGBTQUIA+ customers to find self-identified friendly spaces. Or using inclusive language and images that help restore some of the systemic exclusion many people have experienced.
I also made sure to build FitIn to be as flexible as possible, so that it would also be an affordable tool for rural communities. As long as they had internet, they could market their online classes to the world, pulling revenue into their communities beyond their local population. They would have been featured in one of the scrolling lists on the home page.
The one good thing that came out of the pandemic was that it drove the fitness industry online and normalized doing virtual workouts.
I was always so inspired by the creative classes I saw out there as I was doing my research, the one barrier being convenience and travel time. But once we could access teachers anywhere in the world from the comfort of our home, the opportunity to find The Perfect Class For YouTM became so much more attainable.
From the beginning, it was important to me that mental health was included alongside other fitness categories. Most of us nowadays acknowledge that our whole humanness goes beyond the physical, and we need to actively care for all our different ‘fitness’ needs.
So alongside yoga and pilates and spin, there was a category for Mental Health & Wellness, and one for Nutrition, too. They would have had their own set of scrolling suggestions on the home page, to remind customers to consider other ‘workouts’.
To give you an idea about the kind of impact I was hoping to have, I had a student intern who set me up a tracker for KPIs based on healthcare and national death stats. An important part of FitIn’s recipe was to be an impact organization and a good corporate citizen. Business depends on a healthy population to draw its employees from; it makes them more competitive. We’ve been ignoring that as a society, going back to Reaganomics, at least.
After the initial marketing investment, I was hoping the rebellious business model would carry us forward in affiliate growth. Once the affiliates did the math, it was my belief that they would choose to transfer their business to FitIn; our revenue split was 80/20 in favour of the affiliate.
I was also mapping out an Affiliate Shareholder Purchase Plan that tied the revenue they brought to the app to how much ownership they could access. I stuck a pin in the idea of opening a credit union for the industry, FitIn Financial.
I wanted to open FitIn Spaces across the country, especially in rural and remote communities. These would be communal gyms that local trainers and instructors could rent space in affordably so they had a place to host their customers with the equipment they needed.
It was a true virtuous circle to me: the healthier we helped people get, the better their lives would become. Improved happiness does improve productivity, which would impact the economy, creating more disposable wealth for people to spend on fun activities, all hosted on FitIn.
FitIn would be a leader in a new way of doing business, and the numbers supported excellent returns, even with feminist agenda.
I did end up with several angel investors who contributed to moving the vision forward, but in the end it was too hard to get traction without sufficient funds for marketing. While there are a lot of loan programs out there for women founders, they’re not large enough to fund marketing enterprise software properly. And if I couldn’t adequately pay for the marketing that would generate the revenue to pay for the monthly loan payments, then loans were NOT an option I could take advantage of.
At this point, I realized that either I had to secure a $1million+ investment or FitIn wasn’t viable. Because of the pandemic, my revenues were not something institutional investors would be interested in. And finally, I had been ground into dust by the effort of building and surviving as pretty much the sole employee at FitIn over the last five and a half years; I didn’t have it in me to keep doing EVERYTHING, so I put FitIn on autopilot (it was available but I wasn’t investing my time in upgrades or marketing).
Then I went back to the drawing board and learned to write grant proposals. I submitted several for significant funding amounts, but none of these were successful. My final attempt was to enter into a strategic partnership that would create enough organic growth to make loan financing a less risky option, but ultimately I was not successful here, either.
Which brings us to today. I’m okay with the decision to put FitIn into hibernation, even though it has still been hard to execute. The reality is that it was a great “Honourary MBA” …from the University of Hard Knocks!
I’m at peace with it because it has allowed me to stretch my legs into my potential and prove what I can accomplish. Entrepreneurship allowed me to connect with some incredible people and find work that I’m passionate about. It has given me endless learning opportunities that I am so grateful for.
Nowadays I still freelance, supporting other startups as a fractional COO, while also working as the VP Operations & Governance at the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce. It’s been a real journey to end up here, and yet - as the wheel of time turns - I feel like I’m just getting started (again).
While the webapp may be in hibernation, I still invite outreach for anyone interested in reinitiating this project. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for reading.