Why this Silicon Valley founder is building his company the Chicago way

by Andreas Rekdal
December 5, 2016

Although Chicago has built up a decent stable of billion-dollar companies over the years, the city’s tech companies are better known for emphasizing solid business fundamentals and steady revenue than for promising 100x returns for investors as soon as a monetization strategy is set in place.

Our tech scene’s approach of holding startups to more traditional business metrics is precisely why FitBot, whose founders hail from Silicon Valley and Florida, picked Chicago as a temporary home base while building out its business strategy.

“There’s this stark contrast with the West Coast mentality of building unicorn or going home, with a lot of hype and big money raised on a very ambitious promise,” said co-founder and CMO Robbie Jack. “In Chicago, there’s a much bigger focus on business-to-business, on SaaS and on traction.”

FitBot makes SaaS software that helps personal trainers offer services remotely. Its platform helps trainers manage every part of the business, from devising and delivering individualized training programs to scheduling, tracking progress and communicating with clients. Trainers will soon be able to accept payments through the app as well.

Jack joined co-founder Casey Jenks in October 2015, leaving behind his job in charge of growth at Boosted Boards — a Y Combinator-backed manufacturer of motorized longboards. Having witnessed the advantages of an accelerator program firsthand, Jack knew he wanted to find the right match for his fledgling fitness startup. FitBot found that match in Techstars Chicago.

Drawing on his experience in growth and marketing, Jack kept a close eye on FitBot’s revenues and traffic numbers from the beginning, running weekly reports while continuously reassessing customer acquisition strategies. The tracking efforts took a lot of time and energy, but they paid off handsomely in the company’s interview with the Techstars team.

“We were ready for it,” said Jack. “We made it past the first filters because we had a nice early start to the business, it was growing really fast, and we knew our numbers really well.”

With over 275,000 personal trainers in the United States alone, market research estimates put annual revenues in the industry at around $10 billion. Today, around 25 percent of trainers offer some form of remote coaching, but that number is steadily growing. Jack said that particular market opportunity sits at $10 million to $100 million in annual revenue.

“In the Bay Area, the idea we are going after may be too small, but for us it’s a really big opportunity,” said Jack.

One reason why he sees so much potential in FitBot is that most fitness startups focus on reaching out to consumers directly, leaving the market for personal trainers largely untouched. His hypothesis is that FitBot can help grow the overall market for personal training, too, by making remote options more streamlined and affordable.

Jack said he and his team were blown away by their experience at Techstars Chicago and with the way Chicago entrepreneurs strive to help each other move forward.

“We were expecting to have an experience where people help us with our business, and that’s definitely what we got, but what we got on top of that was some really awesome mentors like Troy [Henikoff] teaching us as founders,” he said. “Techstars is great, but the curriculum is only so much — you need really good managing directors, like Troy, who really care about what they’re doing to make it awesome.”

After transitioning from free betas to paid accounts in September last year, the company has built a steady revenue stream with hundreds of paying customers monthly and growing. The five-person company also landed a seed round after graduating from Techstars and is currently hiring for engineers.

Images via FitBot.

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