20th January 2017
It was a meeting born out of a mutual passion for fitness, and one that would ultimately inspire thousands across the globe to try a whole new way of training.
Dave Stidolph was putting in the hard yards as a personal trainer in gyms throughout the North East, working long days and doing just enough to make ends meet.
Paul Slater had reached a crossroads in his career. Having sold the South Shields design company he’d built and nurtured for the previous ten years, the now 41-year-old was ready for a different kind of challenge.
What started out as a typical trainer/client relationship would soon snowball into something very different, and their fitness fixations were about to impact far beyond the confines of their own gym.
“I became Paul’s trainer,” explains 32-year-old Dave. “We got to talking and I told him I wanted to progress to something different within the fitness industry.
“I was bored of working in gyms every day and Paul was looking to start up a new venture. He loved my style of training and became instantly hooked on it.
“I’m the type of trainer that puts a kettle bell next to the treadmill. My training was out there and more extreme, but whenever I was doing well with lots of clients, it always felt like rent would go up.
“Some days I would start work at 6am and not get home until 10.30 at night, and it got to the point where I needed a change.”
At a similar junction, Paul was also plotting his next professional move.
He’d hit the business books hard in an effort to find a new path, but after a lifetime of training in various disciplines including karate, the penny suddenly dropped after his first few sessions with Dave.
“I’ve always been interested in fitness,” explains Paul, “and I’ve trained since I was 15. I ran my company for ten years but realised it wasn’t what I wanted to do for another ten.
“I was in a fortunate position to be able to try something new and within five minutes of meeting someone new, I’m always thinking of the next business idea.
“It wasn’t until I started training with Dave that we thought about making an app. At that point we had no idea what the business would be, but we knew that we wanted to take his kind of training to other people.”
Since its inception in November 2015, the Fitness Gurus app has taken on a number of different guises, but at its heart remains a simplistic ethos.
Designed specifically for people who enjoy productive, hard training, the aim is to allow users to connect with trainers in order to meet their goals, be it fat-loss, muscle-build or something in between.
“When we started we thought there has to be other people out there as sadistic as us,” smiles Dave. “That’s what started our search for other like-minded trainers.
“We looked for qualified people then screened them to see what their mentality was towards training.
“We’re trying to crack the connection between trainer and customer instead of that relationship being automated.
“Some apps process a payment then that’s it – there’s no further contact. We’re trying to promote a personal feel with our company and we encourage people to talk to us as often as they like.
“The last thing we wanted to be was just a database of workouts,” adds Paul. “It’s got to be more than that – it’s about the community aspect, motivating each other to train and creating a good gym experience.”
The results, it seems, have been hugely encouraging.
“We get messages all the time from people who have lost weight or hit their targets,” explains Paul.
“One of the big takeaways for us is that, in a very short space of time, people stop worrying about jumping on the scales.
“We’re giving them a new kind of way to live their lives and make training fit in with what they want to do. We’re trying to instil a consistent lifestyle change.
“Via our app, there are more female users lifting weights than there are guys. We stereotypically assumed otherwise, but it turns out the gym is ram-packed with bad-ass women chucking weights around and doing some awesome training.”
With more than 110,000 users in total, some 75 per cent are based in the USA, in key regions such as Chicago, California, New York and Texas.
Elsewhere the company boast fitness fanatics in 6300 different cities. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s hard to keep up, but they’re already taking a wider view and looking at a much bigger picture.
“For a young company with not a lot of money, we’re pretty pleased with those figures,” admits Dave, while Paul adds: “One area we want to jump on is the millennial market in China.
“There’s something like 385 million people going through a workout craze right now, so we’d love to tap in to that.”
Thanks to a spot on the Ignite accelerator programme – their first major stepping stone – input from the Angel Investment Network across the UK followed.
Fit Gurus’ style and approach, it seems, has caught the imagination of investors as well as customers.
“It’s super-hard to build an app,” admits Paul, “and getting people to use it and keep coming back is harder still. But our investors have a lot of faith in us.
“A lot of founders tend to over-egg things, but I 100 per cent believe that there’s an eight-to-ten million sign-up opportunity for this business.
“In terms of people downloading the app and trying it out, we’re more than capable of hitting those numbers.
“All we’re interested in is building a really awesome training experience. We’re not talking Jess Ennis-Hill here – we’re talking about everyday people who enjoy what they do as part of their lifestyle.
“We want to scratch an itch for them by giving them really awesome stuff to do to help them make continual progress.”