When it comes to exercising, motivation can be the toughest hurdle for many people. At least that was true for My Le Goel.
“I am, by my own accounts, a lazy person when it comes to exercising and I don’t really love doing it,” Goel said. But she was seeing her health decline and wanted to get into better shape despite her already packed schedule.
In 2018 she co-founded Flight Live, a Seattle-based startup that matches clients with certified fitness trainers for one-on-one or small group workouts conducted over mobile and other digital devices.
Goel wanted to build a workout platform that can be used practically anytime, anywhere, with no added equipment, but with the element of accountability that comes from partnering with a live trainer, minus the costs of in-person sessions.
Flight Live trainers can instruct people in yoga, floor Pilates, Tabata high-intensity interval training, cardio workouts and other kinds of exercise. Users can stick with the same trainer for multiple sessions, or try new ones.
One of the biggest challenges, said Goel, hasn’t been with the technology or finding interested trainers. It’s been nudging users past feelings of intimidation.
“We had users signing up, but they were feeling really daunted by what to expect from the platform,” she said. Her message is, “don’t be nervous. You don’t need to have trained for a marathon before doing personal training.”
To help put people at ease, Flight Live created a short video to show what a workout looks like. The platform is subscription-based and sessions are 30 minutes and pencil out to $30 per individual workout, with lower prices if friends exercise with you. The platform tracks your workouts and who you’ve trained with.
“For me, pre-recorded videos or receiving inspirational text messages wasn’t a good substitute for real coaching. Also training to improve your form makes your workouts more effective and efficient,” Goel said.
There are other workout apps and platforms that match people with trainers, including Future, Openfit and the cycling program Peloton. Fellow Seattle-startup Trainiac is providing a similar service. Last month the company announced that it had raised $2.2 million in funding as part of a seed round from angel investors.
Flight Live, which has five employees, launched its beta app in September and this month is releasing an updated beta version. Goel’s technical co-founder is Ron Yang. Before becoming an entrepreneur, Goel held leadership roles most recently at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Global Partnerships, an impact investment nonprofit focused on poverty; and public relations firm Weber Shandwick.
The startup is looking to add texting options for communication between customers and trainers. The team is also considering adding nutrition and dietician services.
We caught up with Goel for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
What does your company do? We make real time, live personal fitness training easier and more convenient. Our mobile-first company matches clients with fitness professionals from all over the U.S. to do real, live, interactive workout sessions from anywhere via your mobile device. They’re with you throughout the entire session and coaching you in real time. We believe in keeping the “person” in personal training. No robots. No pre-recorded videos.
Inspiration hit us when: Inspiration hit me when I was frustrated by an experience I had with a really bad (yet expensive) trainer who could only work out with me once per week due to her other clients and who sent me text messages as a substitute for real coaching. A total miss for me. With my schedule, this model was never going to work. I wondered why I couldn’t just find a great trainer whenever I wanted to work out.
As I got to understand the fitness industry and trainer model, I also saw some profound opportunities to make life better for trainers as well. For example, the economics for trainers who work out of gyms is not great; they make only a fraction what you pay, or if they’re freelancers, they have gym rental costs and/or commuter costs and other costs that can add up (i.e. our LA trainers were stuck in traffic and weren’t being paid for the time it took to get to their clients). Also, there are challenges keeping their client roster full and filling scheduling gaps and dealing with administrivia was a burden.
So, we solve all of that through our platform. We have trainers who charge $150/hour but they accept lower rates on our platform because they don’t have any overhead costs and because it’s so easy. They can work from their home or from wherever they’re traveling. We had one trainer tell us in a feedback surveys that she loved our platform because it was safer than going to a stranger’s home.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Right now, we’re bootstrapping and focused on building and getting traction. Eventually, we’ll seek funding. That seems like the best business decision right now.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: No question it’s our high-quality trainers. We have some strong organizational partnerships and a really amazing and highly-respected director of fitness, John Lindala, who knows the trainer space really well, has great relationships with a large trainer network, and has deep insight of the fitness industry. We pay and treat them well. We listen to their feedback. As a result, our trainers love us and in return, they are more invested in supporting the company. Some trainers even refer their clients to our platform and refer their companies. It’s been great to see how much they’ve embraced our platform. But it also goes to the core of why we’re building this: to help people get and stay healthier now and as they get older. We only bring on trainers who believe in our philosophy as well.
We currently have more trainers than we can keep up with and we have a waiting list of trainers who want to join us but, sadly, we can’t bring them all on the platform. What’s great about this is that we can be really selective in who we bring on, and John has a really great vetting process to ensure we have great trainers. I make it a point to have a session with each trainer as well to see how they do. I want to make sure I know what a client experience will be like when they workout with that trainer. That’s where it all begins.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Bringing on great trainers, keeping the technology pretty simple to create a personalized experience and being clear on what we’re building and why. We know it’s not for everyone and we’re OK with that. I tell people that if they’re looking for a low-cost model, there are lots of other fitness apps that I can recommend to them.
In our early market research we received a lot of feedback from trainers and potential customers who mentioned that so many fitness apps were overly-complex, had crowded interfaces with lots of bells and whistles (that weren’t used), but weren’t really motivating or personalized. People just want simplicity and ease.
We also get asked about AI and while AI is important, it does not replace the experience of having a live person (at least not according to our users). We often get asked about how we would scale without [insert emerging tech du jour] but my response is that we will investigate using emerging tech where it makes sense with our platform and where it enhances the experience. With 275K+ trainers in the country, it’s not hard to scale from a supply perspective.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: The biggest mistake we made was being too ambitious with building for iOS and Android at the same time. Definitely would not do that again.
Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, and Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp, project management software company. Sara bootstrapped herself to a $1B business and she’s really humble, generous and funny. She’s inspiring and a great example of someone who stuck with it, didn’t let people dissuade her from her path, and proved that she could be successful against a lot of odds. Jason has built a successful company while retaining and modelling for a healthy company culture that prioritizes work-life balance.
Our favorite team-building activity is: We like to get on the platform and have a group fitness session with one of our trainers! It helps inspire some healthy competition among us while we get a good workout in.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Getting sh*t done and being smart are a given, but culture fit is a big one. I want a smart, hardworking team that treats each other well, and who knows and cares about what we’re trying to solve. At our stage right now, we also want a team that’s willing to get their hands dirty no matter what the task is and people whose desire to learn and see the company succeed fuels their actions. We don’t have the luxury of hiring experts for every function right now.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Don’t let competition scare you. If you have direct competitors it usually means there’s a market for what you’re building. And don’t spend time agonizing over what your competitors are doing. Be mindful of their existence, learn from them but don’t obsess over them. I believe that there are enough customers for everyone and think the mindset of “winner takes all” has bad implications for society in general.
I’d also add to not get sucked into the latest fad/trend in tech in order to woo investors. Build for solving the problem and creating a great experience for your users, which may or may not need the latest trendy tech.