Neda Talebian Funk and Caroline Levy Limpert had a problem with the fitness scene in New York City. They posed a question that most reluctant, tred-mill-after-work gym-goers ask: Why isn't there an easy and affordable way to mix-and-match the city's endless list of fitness and athletic classes? As avid athletes themselves, the duo teamed up with founding partner and serial investor Jonathan Cranin to launch FITiST, a members-only online boutique fitness service. For free, members can take advantage of daily flash sales on classes at discounted prices (think GILT for fitness). Members also have the option to pay a flat rate for discounted, expertly-created class "bundles", which have specific end goals. So, for example, a member could pay $379 for the "New Mom" package, which features 14 classes, ranging from Pilates to cycling, to help shed baby weight.
But before the trio launched the service in May, they spent a grueling six months testing out hundreds of classes to curate their list. It cost them a whopping $3,200, but they say it was their most essential start-up cost. Here, co-founders Limbert and Funk talk to Inc.com's Nicole Carter.
You say the best money you guys spent was $3,200 on testing classes. Why was this so crucial for FITiST?
Limpert: It was all about creating an awesome product. We can't say that we have the best of the best, if we haven't actually tried them first.
Funk: All of us are huge fitness enthusiasts. We've personally been doing marathons, triathalons, and taking classes for years. So we knew to do this right, we had to vet our partners. In a city as big as New York, going to try a new class seems fun, but it can be overwhelming. At the time, we knew testing the classes would set us apart. We're a self-funded start-up and taking all these classes was a big part of our costs, but was absolutely crucial to our product.
Limpert: Basically, we wanted to take out the guess work. We wanted to do all the heavy lifting.
How many classes did you guys try?
Limpert: It took us about six months, and we tried close to 300 classes.
Funk: And we tried everything: Yoga, Pilates, "bootcamp" type programs, fight classes. We wanted the service to cover all types of classes. I should also mention that we continue to try out any new partners we take on.
How did you determine which make the cut?
Funk: We look for the overall experience: the class itself, the customer service, and, most importantly, the results. Will this class get the results it promises? I'd say of the classes we try, we usually only want to partner with 30 percent of them.
Do you think that people will leave traditional gym behind for this more curated service?
Limpert: We decided to launch this company because of market trends. We're all in the fitness world, and see how things like the spinning craze got people in classes. We see that most people are starting to think going to the gym is stale. Who wants to be on a tred mill reading a magazine for 45 minutes? There are so many more fun options out there—and fun makes work-outs more effective. Plus, gyms are not cheap.
Can't fitness lovers just mix-and-match classes around NYC on their own?
Limpert: The value of using FITiST comes in the bundling. It's cheaper than you trying to do it yourself. There's also the added value in the curation. In a package, we offer a board of experts, like high profile personal trainer like David Kirsch or sports doctor Dr. Jordan Metzl. We even have fertility experts and OB-GYN's that help us create the "Mom-to-Be" and "New Mom" packages. Also, our service lets you book and manage your calendar in one place.
Funk: It's free to be a member, but we charge a subscription fee for the packaged deals. That's our revenue stream.
You've been in business for just over three months now. How's it going?
Funk: It's been really encouraging. Our membership is growing at a double-digit rate, and we are looking to expand to Los Angeles. We were actually just there trying out some classes.
Limpert: Our bodies love us and hate us sometimes.