A complete bundle of nerves, my friend Casey and I sat down to an open laptop in Orlando for a Google hangout with Troy Henikoff, Brian Luerssen, and Dan Willoughby in Chicago. In a matter of minutes, they were smiling and nodding on our screen, confirming Fitbot’s acceptance into Techstars Chicago. Time stood still for a moment. We were speechless.
It was the best kind of validation. Casey and I have been developing Fitbot while 3,000 miles apart. Mountain View is my current home and he lives in Orlando. I took a trip to do some work in person and the stars suddenly aligned. In a week’s time, OPEX Fitness, a leader in the remote coaching industry, told us they wanted to invest. Then we got a vague email from the Techstars program in Chicago asking if we could jump on a Google hangout. But let’s back this up a bit.
Casey, Me, and our friend Nick at our elementary school graduation in 1994.
I met my co-founder and friend Casey back in the fourth grade at Lake Park Elementary School in Naples, Florida. Our little sisters were friends and the four of us took a karate class together outside of school hours. For context, these were the years when Nirvana and Janet Jackson were dominating the airwaves. Casey and I ended up in a gifted class together with a teacher named Mr. Reitz. He was way ahead of the curve in those days and gave us access to a few Apple IIs. The world became our oyster. Our pioneers died of dysentery on the Oregon Trail and we competed over who could get the highest words-per-minute typing scores in Mavis Beacon. Mr. Reitz really gave us freedom to be as creative as we wanted with computers. This was our first taste this new technology and we were sold.
It was a few years later in seventh grade when I became interested in web development. My friend Eric, who’s dad was a programmer, showed me the “view source” feature in Internet Explorer, which exposed the code behind any website. A revelation. It pulled back the covers for me and I realized that I could actually create what was on the screen if I studied the protocols and learned how to write the code myself. Soon after, I got into trouble in PE class and was sent to two weeks of in-school suspension. It was hardly an effective punishment, as I had just bought HTML for Dummies and I spent the entire time reading and re-reading it. I became obsessed with building websites, programming, hanging out on IRC, and experimenting with design in my pirated copy of Adobe Photoshop. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had discovered the Internet and things would never be the same.
Interning at Allen Systems Group back in 2001 where we learned to build database-driven websites using ASP classic, SQL server, IIS, and web standards.
Since those fond years at Gulf View Middle School, we’ve been building websites and apps. We were fortunate to have amazing mentors like our high school computer science teacher Mr. Getka, our graphic design instructor Mr. Morrison, and countless friends, family members, and co-workers along the way. We’ve both worked at a variety of startups over the years. I’m a hybrid full-stack web developer and digital marketer. Casey is a web developer as well and has paid the bills as a digital marketer, and, more recently, as co-owner of the top CrossFit gym in Orlando with his wife Lindsey, a personal trainer and nutrition coach. Our skills overlap at points but we also complement one another’s abilities.
As most friendships go, college and the years that followed separated us, but we stayed in touch. I studied computer science at at the University of Florida in Gainesville and developed websites for the school’s Office of Technology Licensing while Casey studied computer science a few hours south at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. We remained in lockstep with our interest in technology and startups throughout the years.
Casey has always had a strong interest in fitness and sports. He was injured during a workout a few years back and decided to hire a remote coach to help with his training and rehab. He realized quickly that his trainer Max was using a cobbled together combination of email, spreadsheets, and paper forms to manage his 60 remote clients. Casey knew there had to be a better way. He decided to instead solve the problem himself.
Casey working on the Lean Startup Canvas at Starter Studio.
When you build a product to scratch your own itch, you’re personally invested. After two months of interviewing trainers and digging into their pain points, Casey began work on the beta version of Fitbot, building the MVP in January of 2015 as a solopreneur. We credit our current momentum to the Lean Startup Methodology and Casey’s participation in both Starter Studio and VentureScaleUp early in the business.
When we discussed the possibility of combining efforts for Fitbot, it felt like the most natural choice in the world. We had built things together so closely as kids and young adults and the idea of running a company together was just too good to pass up. In September, I knew it was time to leave my role as head of digital marketing at Boosted Boards to join him full-time as co-founder and CMO. The same month, we put our money where our mouths were and launched the paid version of Fitbot. Knowing how it could propel our growth and brand, we then applied to Techstars in Boulder and Y Combinator in Mountain View. We weren’t accepted to those programs but reapplied to Chicago and, as our story goes, got in. Persistence pays off.
Fitbot helps trainers plan, track, and deliver their clients’ workouts online.
A devotion to fitness and a keen appreciation for making personal trainers’ lives easier drives us. In the age of ubiquitous internet and smartphones, personal trainers and fitness coaches are still using spreadsheets and paper forms to deliver and track their clients’ workouts. It’s a fragmented, logistical nightmare.
Save time, train smarter, and earn more revenue all without breaking a sweat.
Fitbot is an app for trainers and strength and conditioning coaches. It helps them create custom workout plans, streamlines communication with clients, and tracks progress from the comfort of a web browser. No spreadsheets, no email hell, no problem. We free up time to actually work out, meet new clients, and generally get shit done. The less time trainers spend managing the mundane minutiae of communications and answering emails, the more time they have to earn, increasing profits.
Fast forward to the present.
Of the thousands of companies that apply to Techstars’ 13-week program, less than 1% are ultimately accepted. Our surprise and excitement upon getting in has everything to do with the fact that it would be easier to get into Harvard. As if that’s not enough to get our adrenaline pumping, a whopping 90% of the 762 companies in their portfolio are still active or have been acquired.
Interview with Troy Henikoff, Managing Director at Techstars Chicago.
I’m no stranger to Techstars. I worked at FullContact, a graduate from the 2011 program in Boulder, Colorado. Every single portfolio company we have spoken to prides themselves on supporting the current startups in the program by whatever means possible; time, money, resources, war stories, introductions, reassurance, happy hours, emotional solidarity, and through programs like Startup Weekend, Startup Digest, Startup Next, and Startup Week. If you’re a startup that has been through the dense Techstars ecosystem, your odds of both survival and success are far greater than those of the average entrepreneur.
Online training solutions are abundant but we’re ready to prove our value. A few key things drive everything we do, from marketing to product development. The first — we believe in solving real problems and building products people actually want. Second — we believe in being customer driven. In our opinion, there’s no other way to build a great product or solve a real problem if you get this wrong. Third — we believe in simple solutions to complex problems. This applies to user interface design, backend code, infrastructure. It informs all of our work.
An over-the-shoulder view of a trainer managing clients with Fitbot.
We are all-in on Techstars. We uprooted our lives and unpacked in Chicago for the summer. Our belief in the value of the program is so strong that we would probably move anywhere in the world to participate. This summer’s Techstars Chicago class is focused heavily on growth, which aligns perfectly with our current goals. Serendipity? Our final act in Techstars will be demo day on September 29, when we’ll pitch Fitbot at the House of Blues, the seats inside filled with potential investors.
If you’d like to try Fitbot at no cost, our free 14-day trial is available here. You have nothing to lose. We rely on inbound marketing and self-service signups and you won’t find us doing a hard sell. Kick the tires and come see why world class coaching organizations like OPEX use Fitbot with all of their coaches. Here’s what James Fitzgerald, founder and director of OPEX had to say:
“At OPEX we are always upgrading our program designs for our clients. A large part of our evolution has come as we have built systems and processes of data collection and collaboration. Fitbot allows us to bridge the gap between programming and data capture. All of the coaches at OPEX use Fitbot and are having quality results from it.”
We’d like to express a colossal thank you to our customers and partners for helping us get to where we are today. We couldn’t do it without you. A grateful hat tip to Techstars too, for everything they have done for entrepreneurs in the past decade. We’re in good company in this new class. We’re honored to be under a roof with Troy Henikoff, Brian Luerssen, and Dan Willoughby. From the Boulder program, we look forward to working with Zach Nies and Natty Zola. We’re excited to meet David Cohen, the man behind it all, as well as Nicole Glaros, Brad Feld, David Brown, Marc Nager, and Andrew Hyde. From OPEX Fitness, we’re fortunate to have leaders in the remote coaching industry like James Fitzgerald and Jim Crowell behind us. We’d also like to thank the Ruby on Rails and EmberJS open source communities for creating and maintaining the frameworks that power Fitbot behind the scenes and all the folks at 1871, Chicago’s entrepreneurial hub, home to Fitbot HQ for the summer.
With these new resources, we’re heads-down, noses to the grindstone. Our customers can soon expect a product that’s built-out more fully, with new features and a better overall user experience. Our short-term plan is to listen intently to our trainers in order to rapidly develop their ideal product. If our customers love and recommend us, that’s our definition of success. Long term? Our vision is to build software that helps millions of people achieve their health and fitness goals. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The first wealth is health.” We couldn’t agree more.