With a population of 1.4 billion — equivalent to 17.7% of the entire globe — India represents a land of huge opportunity for the wellness industry.
Thanks to players like Cult and Healthifyme to aggregators such as Fitternity, that potential is starting to be realised with India recently ranked as the ninth largest physical activity market in the world, just behind Australia and above Russia and Brazil, with a meteoric annual growth rate in 2018-19 of 20.9%.
Partly fueling India’s rapid rise up the charts has been Fittr, a home-grown fitness marketplace that has established itself as one of the largest online wellness communities around the world.
The company — previously known as SQUATS — was founded in January 2016 by Jitendra Chouksey, a former software engineer and self-described “chubby IT worker turned India MuscleMania champ”.
Chouksey transformed himself while working a 12-hour day job, leading him to set up a WhatsApp group to help others and publish a free “Get Shredded” book online to prove anyone could get fit with the right knowledge.
Today that community boasts more than 2.5 million members, and has helped transform the health and lifestyle of more than 200,000 people by connecting them with one of the brand’s 650+ certified coaches via the Fittr app.
In September, the company announced an $11.5M Series A round co-led by Dream Capital and Elysian Park Ventures, which Chouksey hopes will accelerate international expansion, especially in the US and UK, and support his mission to make health and fitness more accessible and achievable through a connected global community.
We recently spoke to the company’s Founder and CEO to discover the greatest lessons he’s learned in growing Fittr from its humble beginnings into a global fitness powerhouse.
On humble beginnings…..
When it all started I had no clue. It was all kind of accidental. I wrote the original Get Shredded plan — which is still available as a free download online — because I had a pretty bad injury that put me in bed. It gave me a lot of free time and so I started writing and that’s how I could devote more time to helping people. If it wasn’t for the back injury I wouldn’t have been able to move things forward.
When things started moving that’s when I realised this could be something big, but most importantly I did it because it was just fun. My IT job was paying for my family but it wasn’t something I enjoyed doing. This job, on the other hand, gave me that adrenaline rush, helping people get fit. I just wanted to do it again and again.
On organic growth…..
We have a presence on Instagram and YouTube but Meta (formerly Facebook) is still our largest user acquisition channel. Even then, up until April 2021, we hadn’t spent any money on marketing. Our growth has all been organic and from word of mouth. The beauty of results is once you see a friend or family member getting transformed in a relatively short period of time, you don’t just get inspired, you share that with hundreds of people.
Even though we are growing organically, that network effect is making it look like we are growing really rapidly. It’s all off the back of results. That’s one thing that separates us from the competition. We are extremely results-oriented. People end up getting transformed using the right technique, regular food and just working out from home. Once people learn that it’s really that simple they just want to tell everybody they know.
On fundraising and profit…..
We have been profitable since day one. We used to operate at a gross margin of 40-45% and roughly 10% EBITDA. Last year in 2020 we had topline revenue of about US $9.3 million and this year we’re likely to do somewhere between $18-20 million. The reason we have been profitable, frankly, is because we haven’t done any kind of marketing and we were not funded. We were always saving cash. If you save cash it always goes back into the business and the business keeps growing. It’s just a matter of running a very tight ship and using the money wisely.
On the pandemic…..
I don’t think the pandemic really had a major impact on our growth. We have been growing steadily over the past few years. We made $1 million in our first year, then $2.3 million, then $4.5 million, then $9 million. In 2020 we raised $2 million in pre-series A funding from Sequoia Capital India’s Surge, an accelerator programme for early-stage startups in India and Southeast Asia, and were able to make key hires that helped us grow a little faster.
Before that, we were all founders and didn’t have the necessary expertise but the fundraise allowed us to hire industry experts. They really helped improve our organic funnel and conversion. That drove up the numbers a little bit. Now this year in 2021 we are continuing to hire more experts and are also likely to spend some money on marketing, so we’re hoping to achieve 80-100% year on year growth.
On listening to customers……
I have tried to take a back seat more recently but I have found that people love interacting with me. I also want to talk to people and understand their problems because it’s not just about fitness — there are also psychological problems and behavioural problems. Every time I talk to somebody they provide me with more insights for the business.
One of the things that has kept us ahead and relevant is that we’re always talking to people. We’re always talking to our community and customers. That allows us to constantly innovate.
On democratising access to fitness, nutrition and mental health…..
I would have been much fitter at an early age if I had access to the right support and guidance. It’s not that difficult. It took me 20 years to get into the shape I am today but people don’t have to spend 20 years. Fitness is extremely simple. The fact that there are people out there trying to make it more complex is probably because they don’t understand it. You just need awareness and the right kind of support. I’m trying to give people what I didn’t have. It just works. It’s creating jobs, it’s making people fit. What better job could I do?
On keeping it simple…..
A lack of awareness makes people think that fitness is a luxury. Anybody from any background with limited resources can get fit. You don’t need expensive supplements, you don’t need access to the gym. The secret is your daily routine. I’ve been working out from home for almost one and a half years now since the pandemic began and I’m 6-7% body fat and exercising every day. It’s just about developing the right, sustainable habits.
That behavioural change is what we are trying to bring in by first helping people get fit, and second by educating them on how to count calories, the kind of training they should do, by keeping it interesting and incentivising them along the way so they don’t lose motivation on their journey. That’s where the whole community also comes into play.
On converting customers into coaches…..
Here’s a key insight. Cumulatively, 60% of our coaches are ex-customers. People don’t just have an incentive to get fit, they can also get a job by becoming a fitness coach.
Our coaches are paid extremely well. It’s a remote job and an average coach can make between $1,200-1,400 a month. Top coaches end up making $6-8,000 a month. The fact it’s not just about customers but also the coaches getting a decent job in a country like India is what’s working for us. It’s a two-sided community-based marketplace. We take care of the coaches, coaches take care of consumers.
On international expansion…..
One thing that’s been a key learning for us whenever we try to launch in a global market is we don’t have the necessary expertise and we don’t understand the demographics. And so we want to partner with somebody who has been there, done that — that’s where Elysian Park comes in, we want to leverage their experience.
They also represent a sports team [as the private investment arm of Major League Baseball franchise LA Dodgers’ ownership group]which will help us access a network of coaches who are established. With the help of those coaches and with the platform we offer we will be able to create markets in new territories slowly and organically.
On the ingredients for success…..
You have to be consistent and make it a routine. You don’t get fit in a single day, you have to keep doing the same thing over and over again. It’s the same with business. You might have good days or bad days but you wake up and you keep doing what you have to do to move things forward.
Another thing I’ve learned is that at every stage of the company, your expertise might become irrelevant so you have to hire relevant people to stay relevant overall as a business. Get the right people and stay consistent.
I personally just love doing this job. This has been one of the best things that has ever happened in my life and I just want to keep doing it again and again. It has given meaning to my life so that’s why it’s so important to me.