amSTATZ set to debut a LinkedIn for the fragmented fitness industry
By: Administrator 03/05/2013
There’s no doubt that there are more ways to work out today than ever before. Whether you imagine yourself emerging from the other side of a Color Run looking like a tie-dyed t-shirt or hurling cars at people while training for your next Tough Mudder, the growing number of fitness options can be a bit overwhelming for the uninitiated.
amSTATZ, a startup headquartered in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, has built a platform that’s looking to become the LinkedIn of the fitness industry. At first targeting fitness professionals, such as personal trainers and teachers, to help them build a centralized network of clients, the new platform will ultimately be a resource for fitness enthusiasts too, enabling them to find quality health professionals, book appointments, and even discover the events happening in their area.
We chatted with amSTATZ co-founder and CEO Michael Piermont, who told us about how the company came to find its current market, the inspiration he draws daily from historical figures, and the importance of always learning.
What was the inspiration behind amSTATZ?
About a year and a half ago we decided, as a group of co-founders, that we wanted to fix something or create something in the fitness industry. It’s growing but it’s so fragmented.
The first product was to create a kind of sports management system for kids, athletes, and parents to manage their kids at away games. We built a prototype and went down that path but we didn’t like the model we were building.
We discovered simultaneously this huge hole in the fitness industry concerning the growing number of personal trainers and health professionals. Five years ago -- even three years ago, you’d go to the gym, you’d lift some weights, maybe do some cardio, and that was kind of it.
Now there are so many different types of movement exercises and studios and big gyms and small gyms and events, where you train for these Tough Mudders or Color Runs or 5Ks. Fitness in that regard is getting even bigger, but it’s also getting even more fragmented.
On kind of a macro level, we said, “Why don’t we provide business solutions and management solutions for the health professionals in this field?” Your personal trainer, your yoga instructor, your dietician, your massage therapist, going down the line, to make it easier for their clients to book appointments, create greater value out of their sessions, and then stay connected.
Before us, you’d go and find a personal trainer at the gym, maybe one of your friends had one, or maybe you’d find a CrossFit class, you’d go there, you had a good workout, and that was kind of it. Now, on our system, you’ll be able to find a personal trainer, see recommendations, see reviews, book an appointment, maybe pay for it up front (maybe get a cheaper rate), workout, get your workout that you did after the session, maybe get some tips in between sessions (one of our trainers came in and requested a homework feature where they could give clients workouts between sessions), see progress, earn referral points, all that kind of stuff.
A lot of what we’re building exists in other industries, it’s just that we’re going to bring it to fitness and health and that space. We set off to build that, and that was probably a year ago. We’ve got a total of eight employees and one advisor. We’re still in a private beta right now, just kind of finishing up the testing phase, and we should be launching in a public beta within the next two weeks.
When did you know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Actually I always kind of had my own little businesses. When I was younger, even at 11 years old, I used to go to Costco and buy these huge bags of candy, like 500 to 1,000 pieces of candy, and I would sell them on the bus. My brother and I had our own painting business.
I always saw the bigger picture. Before I started amSTATZ I worked for a company called Norvax, which is now GoHealth. As it started I think there were 40 employees and now they have about 400. I got access to see the CEO and the president build the company. That kind of put the drive in me, took it to the next step.
I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit. My father owned his own business. My mom and my brother both have their own investment businesses. I don’t really know anything different. It just kind of set in at an early stage that it’s hard to start your own business, it’s challenging, but it’s rewarding and not everyone can do it, so if you have the ability to do it you should go after it.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to do as an entrepreneur?
We shifted our business model two or three times. The hardest thing to really do is keep everyone motivated on that vision you have, and keep everyone feeling that every day, coming in here, small steps will create a product. On a Tuesday in Chicago in the winter when it’s snowing and something doesn’t work, it’s just part of the process -- this is a huge process.
Just keeping everyone serious, but also the morale up, because it is a long process. Even if you do everything perfectly, it’s still a year or two year process to really get the ball going. I’d say just motivating everyone, but realistic motivation, keeping everyone in tune with your vision.
What keeps you motivated throughout the workday?
I have an interesting process. I get up really, really early, and I read something non-tech related for 40 to 50 minutes. Maybe a history biography or something about the Civil War or something like that. It kind of puts me in a place where I’m thinking about if these generals had to motivate people to literally give up their lives and go to war every day and motivate them, what we’re doing here is just kind of simple. I try to get up and put myself in a place where I understand that we’re building a company, and yes, it’s hard, but it should also be fun and we should also realize we’re lucky to be in this situation.
During the day I write three or four daily goals and I just try to hit them. Some of them are small and some of them are big and sometimes I don’t hit them, but I think it’s really good for people to just write them out every day. Then, at the end of the week, you can find specifics as to why you had a good or bad week.
It’s really just coming up with a process that you feel comfortable with, because my process might not work for everyone, but it’s about coming up with a workflow process that you feel comfortable with, that you will replicate everyday. There are some days where I’m thinking, I don’t have any goals today, but you go through the exercise and you write them down. It really helps.
What do you do to relax after a long day of work?
I’m a big history buff so I read a lot; I like a lot of documentaries. I’m a big sports fan. I recently got engaged so for fun I will be planning a wedding.
Just trying to stay up on the news. I really like cooking so just going out to restaurants and stuff when I can. I would say history and basketball are kind of my two passions, outside of being an entrepreneur.
What advice would you give to any beginning entrepreneurs out there?
Talk to as many people as you can all the time. Sometimes the best contact will come from someone you’re sitting next to on a bus who will lead you to someone else.
Surround yourself with really smart people, really diverse people, maybe people who just have good ideas, maybe people who are owners or operators of their own businesses, even if they aren’t related to your business, and take as much advice as you can. Be confident that you can take that advice and you can make the best decisions.
You’re an entrepreneur, you believe you’re an entrepreneur, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.
Keep reading and keep working on yourself. A lot of people forget that the CEO I am right now at the age of 27 is not going to be the CEO I am when I’m 37. I’ve got to get better every day. If I expect my team to get better, I have to get better as well.
What’s next for amSTATZ?
The next phase is to get our product out there; it’s a subscription model for health and fitness professionals. Start selling the tools to them so they can manage their businesses. The next phase would be to add events, such as Tough Mudder or the Color Run or Fleet Feet, where users can find the local event near their area and participate.
I see us in three to five years being the kind of LinkedIn for fitness. Where LinkedIn brings a lot of fragmented, different businesses, different needs, the recruiters are like our trainers who use it on day-to-day basis, and the end user is the client or the free LinkedIn user.
It’ll be taking the next step with the trainer, getting them on, perfecting that model, and opening it up to the rest of the fitness industry.