How I Developed A $20K/Month Software For Personal Trainers
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Jacob Montoya and I am the founder of FitSW and its sister site FindTrainGain. With FitSW, we provide software to personal trainers to help them grow their businesses and enable them to use our technology to effectively manage their clients’ fitness. With FindTrainGain, we enable people searching for fitness help from all over the world to join a wide variety of Live Online Fitness Classes led by fun, energetic Fitness Instructors.
FitSW is a software platform that has helped over 20,000 personal trainers, studios, and gyms manage every aspect of their businesses. FitSW enables personal trainers to create workouts, track progress, plan meals, accept payments, manage schedules, and more all through our iOS, Android, and web applications.
The trainer’s clients can also use the app as well to interact and collaborate with the trainer as they progress through their fitness or nutrition plans. We operate on freemium software as a service model. Our mission is to provide exceptional and simple-to-use software that empowers fitness professionals worldwide to grow their businesses and make the world a healthier place.
FitSW was a side project in 2016 and launched as an official business in March 2017. Since then, we have bootstrapped our way to $25K monthly revenue and have helped over 20,000 trainers grow their businesses enabling over 100,000 clients to hit their fitness goals.
FindTrainGain is our newest product that we launched this year to help personal trainers and their clients adapt to the changes and difficulties COVID-19 introduced. With people unable to go to gyms and personal trainers unable to work, we created a solution that allows trainers to teach live online fitness classes that anyone can join from the comfort of their home.
We enable people to stay fit and stay connected with fun fitness classes in this time of social distancing. At the same time, we also provided a way for fitness professionals to continue to work. We have instructors leading classes on everything from Yoga to Cardio Boxing to our most popular Dance Cardio class. Classes are accessible to anyone and many are priced as low as $5 a class.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I have always been interested in fitness and was a part-time personal trainer during college. During this time, trainers were mostly using pen and paper or spreadsheets to plan out their client’s fitness programs. I saw a need for a product like FitSW but I didn’t yet have the technical capabilities to implement something like it. Smartphones were also not a thing at that time and they are a key aspect in making technology like FitSW much easier to use. I mostly forgot about the idea once I started work as a software engineer.
Eight years later in 2012, while pursuing my MBA I had the opportunity to come up with a business idea as part of one of my entrepreneurship courses. By that time, I had worked as a software engineer for 7 years and thought I could create an MVP web app version of FitSW for this class. I hadn’t done much web development so it took some time, but I was able to launch fitsw.com and after mentioning it on a few forum posts we got users that used it and gave us good feedback.
At that moment, I did contemplate (very briefly) working on FitSW after I completed my MBA but I had a good job at Apple lined up and I wasn’t quite sure it was the right idea at this time. Plus, I thought I could work on it as a side hustle here and there. Turns out I was wrong. I kept the basic web app live, but I had very little time to work on it while traveling to China for work and enjoying my new life in the Bay Area.
By 2016, the user base was still growing without me doing much work and I was no longer traveling as much for work. I began working on it more on the side and became more excited about the idea. I started to get a ton of feature requests from users - the most requested one is an iOS version of the app.
Even though I was working as a Product Manager in my full-time job, I decided that I wanted to learn to develop iOS apps so that I could further test out how viable this business was. It took me what seemed forever to learn iOS programming and to make something functional while working only a few hours a week on it. I soon realized that I would need to focus on this full-time to make something that was a good product. So at the end of 2016, with the user base growing little by little, I decided that in 2017 I was going to start focusing on this product full-time.
It just so happens that this time roughly coincided with the time that my daughter was born. So my wife likes to tell the story as “He decided that since we just had a baby and we were living in an apartment in the most expensive area in the country (the SF Bay Area), that the time was right for him to leave his great full-time job and pursue a start-up idea.” She was supportive, but I knew there were time limitations on how long I could try this.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When I first created the FitSW web application, I did not have much experience in UI/UX so the web app did not have the best interface. However, I knew the key functionality and features I wanted out of the software and focused on implementing those iteratively as we got customer feedback. Thinking back to it, the iterative approach and quickly responding to customer feedback is what enabled us to be successful because our design at the time was lacking.
I first focused on the workout builder and progress tracking aspects of the app because those were the features I remembered wanting when I was a personal trainer. However, by listening to our customers we were able to see that several other features were important to trainers like nutrition planning and being able to manage client schedules. I was surprised at how quickly prioritization became important because we began to receive a ton of feature requests. That’s an exercise of its own since you want to listen to your customers but you need to critically evaluate each request since the loudest requesters aren’t necessarily your target customer nor do they know what is best.
Since I was bootstrapping, the biggest startup cost was time but I was ok with that since I was learning along the way. I did think that once I began to focus on the project full-time, that I would be able to crank out features at a much faster rate than before it was just a side-project. I was a little surprised early on when the product development wasn’t as fast as I had hoped due to how much time administrative things took - Incorporating, taxes, legal stuff, and, as we grew, the resulting increase in customer interactions.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The launch of the MVP website was pretty easy looking back. I just put together a website, mentioned it on a few forums, and was able to get customers to try it. I think it was easy because we were solving a customer need and it was a very early time in the market with not many competitors. Only a small subset of personal trainers that were tech-savvy seemed to realize this need, so it wasn’t a huge market but we were able to validate there was some demand for it. The response from customers was enough for me to consider it as a side project worth working on here and there, but not enough to warrant me focusing on it full time because I had higher priority career opportunities.
It’s easy to sit around brainstorming ways to make a product better or think of new product ideas. Being able to prioritize and execute those ideas quickly is the hard part and the part that differentiates product success.
I still consider the launch of our iOS app in 2017 to be our first real launch because that is when it felt like a business rather than a class project. This was a bit harder - I spent a lot of time learning iOS development on my own and it was much different than any programming I had done before so it was slow. We did have hundreds of users using the web app and constantly requesting an iOS app, so I knew that people would use it. After many hours of learning, I was eventually able to release it.
We had some mild success with Google Ads, but I also relied on SEO techniques along with consistent blog posts about our product, the trainers using our product, and relevant content to those trainers. At this time, it was no longer just as easy as mentioning our software on a few personal trainer forums since there were no competitors in the space. I now had to develop a customer acquisition strategy.
At this early time in the first year of the business, I thought I could do everything but I learned quickly how hard that is. Looking back it would have been nice to spend more time on digital marketing analysis to hone in on ad optimization to maximize return on ad spend. However, it was just me and I wanted to continue to focus on improving the product. If I had to do it again, I would consider partnering with a digital marketer to launch the iOS app with a splash.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since we are a software as a service company, we must be able to retain our customers. We successfully do this by listening to our customers to understand the new features that would benefit them the most. We are constantly adding these new features.
We also are heavily focusing on customer service to ensure that our customers are getting the most out of our software. However, we have also seen that the customer doesn’t always know how to describe what they want similar to what Henry Ford described when he said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” So we have also tried to identify other out-of-the-box improvements that maybe trainers haven’t identified or described to us.
One example of this is our new FindTrainGain site that allows personal trainers to lead live online classes for anyone who signs up. These participants are then able to engage in fun, interactive fitness classes from the comfort of their home. This is something that helps the personal trainers that use FitSW generate additional income and keep helping people reach their fitness goals despite the difficulties caused by COVID-19.
In terms of attracting new customers, we have had a lot of success with Apple Search Ads for our iOS app and I think it’s partially because the FitSW iOS app has a high customer rating at 4.7 stars. So if you can pair a highly-rated iOS app with Apple Search ads, I think you will see a nice return on ad spend there.
We also have seen good results with Google ads driving traffic to both our website and to the FitSW Android App. Google Ads takes more keyword optimization work but the time spent on this has a positive return for us. These two platforms are our biggest ad spend and where we have had the most success.
We expected to see better results with Facebook Ads and Instagram ads given that both those platforms have a lot of activity related to fitness and fitness influencers but unfortunately, we didn’t see very high returns on these platforms. We believe it is due to how competitive ads on these platforms are in the fitness space.
Our blogs have also helped us attract a lot of attention because we purposefully create content that is valuable to our customer base. The FitSW blogincludes a ton of interesting and informative articles meant to help personal trainers in all aspects of their businesses with articles on topics from How to Lead Online Fitness Classes to Additional Revenue Streams for Personal Trainers.
The FindTrainGain blog is more focused on educating everyday people on health and fitness topics with articles such as Why You May be Stretching Incorrectly and How Many Times Should You Chew Your Food. By creating content that is interesting and valuable for our customers, we have been able to successfully drive new organic traffic into our funnel.
Our advertising and content for FitSW have had to be hyper-targeted at personal trainers which is a relatively small subset of the population. FindTrainGain on the other hand requires a new advertising strategy since it appeals to anyone who might be interested in taking an online fitness class. This is a much larger portion of the population and we are excited to develop and refine this advertising strategy.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Our business continues to grow and we are very excited about our recent soft launch of FindTrainGain. Due to the current uncertainty caused by COVID-19, we wanted to create a solution that enables Fitness Professionals to continue to generate income while helping people stay fit even if a large part of the population does not feel comfortable returning to gyms for a while. We have received a ton of great feedback from fitness instructors and clients and they have all been very enthusiastic about the ability to take part in fitness classes from the comfort of their home. We think this side of the business could quickly become larger than FitSW.
The great thing about the Live Online Classes features that we built for the FindTrainGain platform is that personal trainers on FitSW will find it integrated into our FitSW platforms. They can use it to train clients they already have on our platform or offer classes to the public for an additional income stream and a new way to acquire new training clients. We continue to add features like this to our FitSW platforms to make it easier for trainers to do their jobs and to help clients accomplish their goals.
Even though we see a lot of potential in FindTrainGain, we are continuing to focus on FitSW because we expect a lot of growth there as well. Our customer lifetime value has continued to increase to above $200 and we have a return on ad spend of over 10x in a lot of our campaigns. We are up to around 10k monthly active users across our platforms and we continue to grow.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Some of the most important things I’ve learned during this business journey revolve around hiring and managing contractors and employees and how much work it can be. After we had launched the iOS app, we then prioritized creating an Android app. I interviewed dozens of overseas contractors and found someone who had the technical knowledge to implement our vision.
I expected to be able to devote a few hours a week to manage them but it turned out he essentially needed a full-time Product Manager working with him because he wasn’t the right fit. If the employee or contractor doesn’t get your vision and doesn’t have at least some interest in seeing it come to fruition, it’s going to be a lot more work for you as the Product Manager. As I’ve hired numerous contractors and employees, I’ve learned technical skill is not even the most important characteristic of a developer.
I’ve also learned that as a manager in a startup, that if you hire the right people, a big part of your role is to remove “blockers” or impediments that hinder your employees from doing what they do best. You are there to support them in their roles. For example, if you have a developer that gets your vision and is enthusiastic about implementing the features required for it, you want to make it easy for them to do exactly that. So if you are a small startup and some important but low-visibility dev-ops tasks need to be done, sometimes that means you as the manager take care of them so the developer isn’t slowed down by them.
I also believe that if you can hire the right people, the more you empower them the better. If they buy into what you are trying to do, they will often have keen insights from the specific work they are doing that you may not see. If you empower them to act on those insights, it will often yield great results without them feeling hamstrung by having to do things your way. It has to be the right hire in the first place though.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Version Control: Bitbucket
Email Marketing: MailChimp
Customer Service & Social Media: Hubspot
Payment Processing: Stripe
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
One book that has inspired the way I try to run my business is The Lean Startup by Eric Ries which has led me to always focus on getting our product and new features into our customer’s hands faster. This enables us to learn quickly without overinvesting in a feature that won’t be used.
A podcast that has helped me think about my business is This Week in Startups where I can listen and learn from other entrepreneurs working on startups. Another is MindPump which is a podcast hosted by personal trainers dedicated to providing truthful health and fitness information which gives me insight into how leading personal trainers currently think about fitness.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Three key things that I have learned that stand out:
Nowadays, with all the great development frameworks and libraries out there, it is easy to create something that looks cool and mostly works. The difference between a great product and one that just irritates customers is all the tiny improvements and bug fixes that most people don’t see on the surface but they feel them when they use the product.
I have had developers that would get excited about a framework or library and could whip up something that looked cool and mostly worked and thought they were done. However, that is just the very beginning and the easy part of the work required to create a great software product. Without that understanding and without the mindset that the initial version will need a ton of iterative improvements, the product and developer will have difficulty finding success.
Ideas are cheap and execution is king. It’s easy to sit around brainstorming ways to make a product better or think of new product ideas. Being able to prioritize and execute those ideas quickly is the hard part and the part that differentiates product success.
Sometimes startups can devote too much time to thinking about all the cool product features they could add rather than just executing some key features that need to be done now. It’s a balance for startups between thinking about product features and executing but a lot of time it is easier to procrastinate the executing in favor of product brainstorming which can throw the correct balance out of whack.
When launching a product, you just need to get your MVP out there as soon as possible. It’s not going to be perfect but you need to get it out there to test if people will use it and to figure out what features to focus on. I’ve seen a lot of people get stuck in the never-ending cycle of “I just need to fix this one more thing” or the “it doesn’t quite look polished enough to release” cycle and then release an initial version 6 months or even a year too late. That’s a 1-year delay in customer feedback that could have helped them grow, pivot, or adapt much quicker.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
iOS Developer - We are looking for an experienced iOS developer to work on our iOS apps and to be a part of our fast-growing development team in Colorado Springs.
Android Developer - We are looking for an experienced Android developer to work on our iOS apps and to be a part of our fast-growing development team in Colorado Springs.
Marketing Intern - We are looking to bring on a Marketing Intern to support our Marketing Team in all areas, including social media, events, and digital marketing.
If interested in any of the above positions, please send your resume to [email protected]
Where can we go to learn more?
- FitSW Website
- FindTrainGain Website
- FitSW Blog For Trainers
- FindTrainGain Blog for Anyone
FitSW: Personal Trainer Software has provided an update on their business!
9 months ago, we followed up with FitSW: Personal Trainer Software to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
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