Mauro Frota, Co-Founder and CEO of BHOUT


In this Q&A, you’ll hear from Mauro Frota, co-founder and CEO of BHOUT, a gamified punching bag and fitness-boxing club concept focused on community engagement. Mauro weighs in on why he bootstrapped BHOUT, the club’s franchise expansion and his mission to hook everyday users by pumping the fun into fitness.

Tell us about BHOUT.

Mauro Frota: BHOUT is the first AI boxing bag mixing gaming and fitness. It’s a hybrid business model, with the app at its heart, connecting real-life users to the digital world. The product is sold to consumers and companies, such as gyms and hotels, and we also have the BHOUT Boxing Club that we are growing through franchising.

It took three years to develop the bag. It feels like you’re sparring a human because of its material and filling of foam and water, and combines computer vision with sensor tech, processed by machine learning algorithms, to track the strength, speed and technique of every hit. A unique feature, the bag enables us to deliver a personalised BHOUT Score that allows users to compete with others and track their progress.

Our mission is to drive consumer engagement during physical activity. In the fitness industry. it takes three to six months for 40–65% of gym members to give up. We’re focused on retention through user enjoyment, driven by gamification.

To make this possible, we delved into psychology research, nudging science and gaming design and obsessed about what we could do differently to engage and excite people.

The BHOUT Boxing Club concept offers 45-minute HIIT training sessions comprising four combat sports rounds for cardio, with strength exercises in between and meditation at the end.  We align psychology and mood with music, colourful lighting and coach communication alongside gaming features to help power Bhouters’ momentum.

The hope is to evolve into a gaming ecosystem where people play single and multiplayer games enabled by mixed reality technology. And our first club in Lisbon has already proved the business model. Our customer retention is four times the fitness industry’s average – and we know we’re doing something different because we haven’t lost any customers, and the club is full at weekends.

An alternate use case, BHOUT’s technology may also play an important role helping physiotherapists measure chronic neurological disease developments in fighters, such as Parkinson’s.

What led you to pursue this opportunity?

MF: I come from a fitness background. I learned Okinawan karate, Muay Thai and jiu-jitsu as an amateur athlete, and later on, I trained MMA fighters. After studying exercise science, I became a personal trainer, went on to coach PTs and was also a gym owner.

One night I dreamt about a boxing bag that gives points on impact. From that moment I started researching the idea, but the technology wasn’t there yet.

It also became clear to me that the fitness industry was not designed for helping everyday exercisers succeed. They would quickly stop exercising, and gyms accumulated dormant customers as a means to run their business.

We believe that’s a product design problem. We need to be able to excite the common consumer, as well as fitness-savvy people. When we look at other industries, such as gaming, they’re successfully engaging users. So, we’re aligning as a gaming company with fitness at our core so we can entertain and excite people while almost subconsciously exercise.

How did you turn your idea into a company?

MF: We started by building the club’s concept. I worked with a third party to access the sensor technology for our leaderboard system.

Next, we rented space inside an iconic fitness club in Lisbon to develop our club’s concept. We tested everything, and when it gained traction, we built our first solo unit.

As founders, we’ve bootstrapped the build. [Co-founder] Pedro Barata, an architect, played an important role in managing the project, and we also had friends help us along the way. The world’s first BHOUT Boxing Club opened on 9 August 2021.

In a 2K-square-foot space, we have 700 active members, a 50% EBITDA and a 97 NPS (Net Promoter Score). BHOUT is now expanding the club concept globally while building factories to speed production of the next-gen smart bags.

During construction, we met Pedro Oliveira, who became BHOUT’s first angel investor. Soon after opening, we found we needed someone with tech firm experience to run the club’s operations and execute marketing activities, so Pedro introduced us to Salvador Barros, who became our first hire as Head of Growth, all while we fundraised for our pre-seed round.

Pedro also introduced us to other angel investors. One of them, João Menano, was a finance entrepreneur who exited his company to Google. I convinced him to invest, and that had a ripple effect. One reason we stood out was because I had responses ready for all the hard investor questions, which showed how deeply everything had been thought through.

Making a long story short, successful gaining funding has been key to our company’s expansion. We accomplished a €385K pre-seed bridge round with the first VC, Portugal Ventures, coming onboard. And over the last ten months, we focused on raising our €10M seed round, co-led by Explorer Investments and Lince Capital.

How do you reach your core customer?

MF: We identified a number of core traits behind BHOUT members, focused around healthspan, engagement and connection.

The first group are those who are frightened by signs of aging and want to find an avenue to fight back. Perhaps a former athlete, or even frequent gym-goer in the past, we help this person rediscover a competitive streak and find strength in a new community of fellow Bhouters.

Next, the community aspect of the entire BHOUT ecosystem is a huge draw. We can help connect people digitally and in real life, building a support network of friends and competitors for those who’ve become “too busy” in their lives.

Targeting both men and women, single or with a family, in their 20s to 50+, we provide a workout that doesn’t feel like another box to tick on the to-do list – and that resonates with an exerciser who just wants to feel better, get healthier and have some enjoyable “me-time”.

What’s next on the roadmap?

MF: Over the next six months, we’re thinking ambitiously.

On the product side, we aim to pre-sell the first BHOUT units to consumers (B2C), as well as fine-tune our offering so it’s deliverable to companies (B2B) as well. From there, we’ll accelerate production and ship the product by H2’24, and we’ll commence pre-sales with companies, gyms and hotels.

With BHOUT Boxing Club, we’ll open two new clubs – one in Portugal and another in Spain. It’s also our goal to sign the first 15 franchise agreements (out of 70 interested clients).

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