Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Interview with Nick Desai, Global Fitness Media
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
For this morning's interview, we sat down and talked with Nick Desai, CEO of Global Fitness Media, which runs FitOrbit (www.fitorbit.com), an online site looking to help users put together a fitness and connect with fitness trainers. The firm is co-founded by Jake Steinfeld, of Body by Jake, and ExerciseTV, and has received investment from prolific angel investor Ron Conway and Polar Capital, the investment firm of former Google President Tim Armstrong.
Thanks for talking with us. For those who haven't visited your site, what is FitOrbit?
Nick Desai: FitOrbit delivers a proven solution for fitness and weight loss over the Internet, for the first time, at a price people can afford. For people who are serious about losing weight and improving their fitness, the way to do that it to use a dedicated expert--a trainer, a meal planner, or dietician, who can work with you on a daily basis and create a custom plan. Most adults by now have figured out that magic pills and juices just don't work. It takes an expert to demystify how to get fit and lose weight. However, those trainers usually cost $60 an hour or more--here in Los Angeles, it's $80 plus--and it's structurally very difficult. You have to go three times a week at 4pm, and most people can't do that. With FitOrbit, we bring real, one-to-one, human-based personal training and meal planning to the Internet for the first time. You come to our site, take a match quiz--a lot like eHarmony--to find the right trainer. You give information about your lifestyle, and gather details which it would just be hard to do without an Internet system, like the food you like, the activities you like to do, and the equipment that you have. The trainer makes you a daily, customized meal plan and exercise and activity plan. They tell you what to have for lunch and dinner, with recipes, quick cook meals you can make in the microwave, and also including items from restaurants in the nearby area, plus plans for exercises. The plans are really usable, and we don't just stop with a plan. A plan alone is not all that valuable if you won't follow them, so what we give are also the tools--via iPhone, the web, SMS, email, Android, Blackberry--to log you actually did do. So, if you were supposed to eat lean chicken but had two slices of pepperoni pizza, the trainer can take a look at that and tell you to do an extra mile on the treadmill tonight. Our trainers check in once a day for clients, and give you daily, reality-based feedback. It's a living, breathing dialogue--it's not just a generic plan you don't end up following. And, it's all that for $10 a week, rather than the $60 or $80 dollars. It's a 90 percent cost savings, and we don't just deliver the same service but a greater value.
How did you connect with Jake Steinfeld?
Nick Desai: Jack Steinfeld--which everyone knows as Body by Jake--is the founder of Global Fitness Media. He is the passionate visionary behind the product. He pioneered personal training in America, and developed and sold Fit TV, and runs Exercise TV, of which Comcast is a shareholder. Exercise TV is the largest, on-demand, fitness TV network, and is in nearly 40 million homes now, providing on-demand, fitness content from expert trainers. Because of that experience, he knew the Internet was the place to be. People needed a service that would give them that human connection, and wasn't just a product, but a real, human-touch based service.
In the world of Internet startups, and where there are many calorie tracking and exercise sites out there, why focus on the one-on-one personal trainer?
Nick Desai: That's a great question. If you're at the point that you are tracking your fitness and calories, self reporting and self tracking that every day, that's fantastic. That doesn't work for regular people. The reason most people don't do that in the first place, is because they don't know what to eat in the first place. Only five to ten percent of people are self-motivated for fitness. Those tools are great for them, but it's like measuring your blood pressure at home if you don't understand the numbers. You need a doctor to look at and interpret those measurements. You might be able to integrate with automated and wearable devices and devices which track how many steps you take, and log what you ate and figure out the calories hat you burnt--but without an expert nutritionist or trainer on FitOrbit, it's going to be hard to understand that -- yes, maybe you ate 1800 calories today, but you've got a sedentary lifestyle and that might even be too much. On the other hand, you might be a guy running six miles a day, and you are eating 2500 calories, which is fine. So we're driven by experts, who help you put together a plan. There are lots of products out there for gathering information, but it'd figuring out what to do with that information. Our model follows the medical model--you use an expert, a doctor to tell you what to do, and takes the confusion out of it.
We've spoken before when you were at some other technology firms--how did you end up at Global Fitness Media?
Nick Desai: I was contacted by a recruiter last summer about the opportunity. What attracted me to look at it in the first place was guys like Jake were involved. The other founding investors are Ron Conway, who you know, and Polar Capital Group, Tim Armstrong fund. Tim's the current CEO of AOL, and was President of Google at the time. They are the thought leaders any place they are involved. I said I'd love to be involved in that, and after meeting with them, I understood what they wanted to do. At the time, I was 25 pounds overweight, and I wanted to build a product I would actually use. It instantly appealed to me as something I would use, as a regular person, and it the opportunity to work with people that I like. There's also a big opportunity in the space. An interesting data point is that over the last decade, the percentage of fitness and weight loss has increased at the same rate as obesity. People are spending more money, and willing to spend more money, because they're hungry for solutions. Once I got involved, we developed the concept initially just looking at fitness and weight loss to the specific solution that we have built, around an expert-driven approach that would appeal to the vast majority out there. We saw that only four percent of people were using a personal trainer, but 70 percent of people wanted professional help. That's a market of 150 million people.
Let's talk a little bit about your business model, and how you decided to structure this. You charge a subscription fee for the service, don't you?
Nick Desai: With FitOrbit, there's an extremely high value, at a low cost price. At $10, that's less than a coffee a day. We've also built a variety of pricing options. There's a package price, there's a week-to-week, a month-to-month, and three- and six-month packages. You pick your price point, whatever is least intimidating for you to get involved. From the business model point of view, we wanted to have a real business model. We use real trainers, who don't want to work for free, nor should they work for free. Consumers understand that a trainer costs money, and delivers value, and here we can do so for dramatically less. Too many products are given away for free, but those companies find they can't sustain their business model. We've got real value, offer a consumer a really low price, and that has value and by extension, costs real money.
What's in it for the personal trainers?
Nick Desai: Personal trainers on our site get 50 percent, and that goes directly to the trainer. Without going into specific hourly rates, the amount a trainer makes in an hour sitting in front of their computer is more than they might make normally, because they're not losing money which goes to a gym chain, driving, etc. It's all efficient, productive time. They're able to make a lot of money while sitting in front of their computer in their off time. They can do that in a 1/2 hour in the morning, at lunchtime, or while watching TV. It's comparable to what they might net from personal training, even paying them $60 an hour, because of the time spend going to the gym, drive time, when they're not making anything. We make it a very competitive amount of money, and it's a great secondary or even primary income source. In a world where the Internet is displacing livelihoods--just look at travel sites and travel agents, real estate sites and real estate agents--and causing disintermediation, we're doing something where we're bringing trainers along with us, and not displacing them.
Finally, where are you going next?
Nick Desai: The next step is to really start promoting this. We've only been live for about 3 months, and have beat our revenue goals, but the most important thing we've done is to create some success stories. There are some exciting success stories, from real people, who've written us proactively. They've told us how they've lost sixteen pounds, or eight pounds, and how much they really love our trainers. We're ramping up our sales and marketing to continue to increase our revenues. And, obviously, we're continuously improving the site, adding new releases, features, and improvements. Just a couple of weeks ago we released our iPhone app, and next month it will be our Android and Blackberry app.