An on­line ex­er­cise ser­vice asks if it is time to flex its mus­cles over­seas

The Washington Post Sunday - - CAPITAL BUSINESS - BUSI­NESS RX

A new on­line ex­er­cise ser­vice asks for ad­vice on where to tar­get its ex­pan­sion.

— Dan Bey­ers

The en­tre­pre­neur: Tech en­tre­pre­neur Daniel Freed­man’s new ven­ture started as an off­hand com­ment to his now co-founder, Mike Kott, about be­ing out of shape. Freed­man says he found him­self less fit than be­fore he had chil­dren, when he had time to work out in the morn­ings in­stead of scram­bling to make school drop-offs, when week­ends were for play­ing sports in­stead of at­tend­ing kids’ birth­day par­ties.

“I was strug­gling to get into a rou­tine and tried a whole bunch of dif­fer­ent on­line ex­er­cise of­fer­ings,” Freed­man says. “I al­ways started strong but then dropped off.”

Freed­man and Kott sur­veyed more than 500 peo­ple — in par­tic­u­lar, peo­ple with chil­dren or de­mand­ing jobs that didn’t leave a lot of time for work­ing out. Re­spon­dents pointed to a lack of in­ter­ac­tion and ac­count­abil­ity with cur­rent on­line of­fer­ings, par­tic­u­larly with friends and fa­vorite lo­cal in­struc­tors, of­ten a ma­jor com­po­nent of ex­er­cise. They set out to make the at-home work­out mar­ket less of a lonely ex­pe­ri­ence and more of an au­then­tic con­nec­tion be­tween friends and ex­er­cise in­struc­tors.

The pitch, Daniel Freed­man, co-founder and co-chief ex­ec­u­tive of BurnA­long: “We part­ner with lo­cal gyms, yoga stu­dios and well­ness pro­fes­sion­als across the coun­try to bring their lo­cal classes to the BurnA­long plat­form for at-home ex­er­cis­ing. If you’re al­ready a mem­ber of a lo­cal gym, this is your way of stay­ing con­nected to your fa­vorite in­struc­tor when you are not mak­ing it to class. And if you’re not yet a mem­ber of a gym, this is a way of dis­cov­er­ing in­struc­tors and classes that you can con­nect with.

“No mat­ter what time you fin­ish work or put your kids to bed, there is a class that you can se­lect, on-de­mand, from our cat­a­logue of classes. Ev­ery ex­er­cise cat­e­gory is avail­able — from yoga, barre and Pi­lates to car­dio and strength train­ing, to tai chi and med­i­ta­tion. You also have the op­tion to in­vite friends to join you in pri­vate live-stream­ing video ses­sions: Sim­i­lar to a FaceTime or Skype-type ex­pe­ri­ence, you can see and speak with your work­out bud­dies to help hold you ac­count­able or just to so­cial­ize. When you’ve got a friend wait­ing for you on your TV, com­puter screen, phone or tablet, say­ing, ‘It’s time to work out to­gether,’ you’re more likely to do it. Users also can cre­ate goals and chal­lenges to mo­ti­vate a group of friends, fam­ily mem­bers or co-work­ers.

“Our users range from ac­tive gym­go­ers who also work out at home, to peo­ple who don’t have time to make it to the gym, to users re­ferred by their doc­tors for weight loss, dis­ease man­age­ment, health chal­lenges, or in­jury re­cov­ery and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

“Users sign up and pay a monthly or an­nual fee to have ac­cess to our plat­form. We also have com­pa­nies who of­fer BurnA­long as a ben­e­fit to their em­ploy­ees. This ranges from the Bal­ti­more Ravens to ac­count­ing firms to doc­tor of­fices. Our gym part­ners are pro­mot­ing our ser­vice to their mem­bers as a way of stay­ing con­nected and ex­tend­ing their work­outs at home. The gyms don’t want to lose their mem­bers to on­line com­peti­tors, and our plat­form of­fers a bridge to com­ple­ment the gyms’ in-per­son ex­pe­ri­ence.

“We cur­rently have more than 60 gyms and more than 80 in­struc­tors across 18 states on our plat­form since launch­ing in De­cem­ber 2016. We are rapidly ex­pand­ing. We’ve had both gyms and stu­dios from abroad, as well as po­ten­tial part­ners, ap­proach us to take BurnA­long over­seas. We want to fo­cus on the U.S. mar­ket first and es­tab­lish a pres­ence in all 50 states be­fore we go in­ter­na­tional. Is that the right de­ci­sion, or should we start push­ing BurnA­long in­ter­na­tion­ally?

The ad­vice, Elana Fine, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ding­man Cen­ter for En­trepreneur­ship at the Univer­sity of Mary­land: “Un­less there is a really com­pelling rea­son or it’s part of a dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion strat­egy, I typ­i­cally en­cour­age en­trepreneurs at this stage to stay as re­gion­ally fo­cused as pos­si­ble. Un­less you see go­ing in­ter­na­tional as a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage — if you feel like the U.S. mar­ket is too sat­u­rated with com­peti­tors. Oth­er­wise, think­ing through an in­ter­na­tional strat­egy will di­vert your time and en­ergy and di­lute your mar­ket­ing dol­lars.

“How­ever, if peo­ple are ap­proach­ing you, you might end up go­ing in­ter­na­tional sooner than oth­er­wise. I would not rec­om­mend go­ing in­ter­na­tional as part of your year-one strat­egy, but maybe you could ex­plore it in year two, ver­sus other com­pa­nies who wouldn’t think about such an ex­pan­sion un­til year five or six. For now, de­cide whether to fo­cus on gyms just in this re­gion, or be­cause it’s such a vir­tual prod­uct, tackle the full U.S. mar­ket all at one time.

“You are part of a much big­ger trend of peo­ple want­ing mul­ti­ple chan­nels for the same prod­uct. The value propo­si­tion for a gym is a phys­i­cal struc­ture where you can work out; you’re adding the el­e­ment where users can get the same work­out ex­pe­ri­ence of gym classes on their own time and terms. That’s how every­one wants to do things now. You’re en­abling that, and that’s a huge value propo­si­tion for the fitness in­dus­try.”

Look­ing for some ad­vice on a new busi­ness, or need help fix­ing an ex­ist­ing one? Con­tact us at cap­biznews@wash­post.com.

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