Greg Stallkamp was always a fitness freak. An avid triathlete, he trained at least five times a week and was always sharing advice on workout routines with friends.
Three years ago, as Facebook and MySpace were becoming household names, Stallkamp, 32, saw the need for a fitness-based social network -- a forum in which users could share training tips as well as marathon times. Stallkamp pitched the idea to two similarly fitness-obsessed friends. They felt that, with a small initial investment of about $15,000, they could build the website in their spare time and that once launched, it would be sustained by its audience.
In addition to the social networking features that let amateur athletes connect and share information, Holos Fitness would also feature blogs by professional trainers offering tips on yoga as well as weightlifting. Revenue would come from targeted ads based on the information provided in members' profiles.
The efforts to get the website built on the cheap failed. Rather than usi ng off-the-shelf or open-source software, the founders insisted the website be designed from scratch, which cost far more in developer time. Additionally, they were unwilling to contract a developer for more than a month at a time, resulting in, over a two-year period, more than five developers quitting midproject to take better-paid or longer-term jobs. Eventually, Stallkamp quit his financial-consulting gig to work full time on the website, which finally launched in early 2009. But the problems didn't end there: Stallkamp was relying on word of mouth to popularize the website, but users were slow to sign up.
"There was a real naiveté on all our parts," admits Stallkamp. "We thought we could get it running cheaply and in our spare time. And we overestimated how easy it would be to get people's attention."
HolosFitness.com gets 6,000 to 10,000 unique visitors a month; it projects about $30,000 in ad revenue for 2010.