Insider No. 56: Insights From the Industry’s Top Executives

With today’s release of episode eight, we’ve crossed the two-month mark of the Fitt Insider podcast.

If you haven’t been following along, every Tuesday a new episode goes live. Like this newsletter and the Insider website, we take a deep dive into the business of fitness and wellness. Except, when it comes to the podcast, you’ll hear my brother and Fitt’s co-founder Joe Vennare chatting with prominent entrepreneurs, investors, and executives across the industry.

So far, we’ve had an incredible lineup of guests who’ve started and scaled companies or invested in the next generation of fitness and wellness startups. Looking ahead, there are no signs of slowing down. In addition to the episodes we have banked, we’re recording interviews next month at the Fitness & Active Brands Summit in Los Angeles, and January is almost entirely booked with new guests — exciting stuff!

What you missed. But, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, I thought it was important to revisit some of the takeaways from the first few months of the podcast. With that, here’s a look back at the standout quotes and conversations from a few months of the Fitt Insider podcast.

Connected Fitness

Speaking with Bruce Smith, CEO of Hydrow, and Khalil Zahar, CEO of FightCamp, we went behind the scene at two leading connected fitness companies.

At Hydrow, Bruce sees connected fitness as a means of producing better results in less time, while also incorporating community and routine into everyday life. Going beyond the rower, Bruce told us Hydrow could release rock climbing and cross-country skiing products that utilize Live Outdoor Reality or augmented reality to create an immersive environment.

Meanwhile, Khalil is focused on cementing FightCamp’s place as the leader in martial arts and boxing. As he points out, boxing and kickboxing are among the fastest-growing fitness franchises. And in the at-home space, FightCamp is just beginning to scratch the surface of this demand. With that, Khalil is working to make the FightCamp ecosystem so compelling that, as he puts it, “everything else feels empty.”

Improving Access

From boutique studios to audio-guided workouts, 305 Fitness CEO Sadie Kurzban and Aaptiv CEO Ethan Agarwal have two different approaches for increasing access to fitness.

For Sadie, who started 305 Fitness out of her college dorm room, boutique classes made her feel worse, not better about herself. Dancing, on the other hand, was a way to laugh, have fun, and break a sweat. Flash-forward to the present day and 305 Fitness is inclusive and empowering, turning every class into a party. Moreover, Sadie has created an instructor certification and pop-up studio strategy that lowers the price point and expands 305’s reach.

At Aaptiv, Ethan has massive ambitions for democratizing fitness. As he explained, access to high-quality exercise options shouldn’t depend on where you live (in proximity to studios) or your income level. With that in mind, Aaptiv makes all of its fitness content available for $15/month or $100/year. Ethan rationalized his company’s approach, concluding, “Our [addressable] market is larger and our retention is better. We are delivering immense value for how much you’re paying.”


A common thread running through this first batch of episodes was an emphasis on personalization.

WHOOP is the most obvious example of this trend. According to Will Ahmed, the company’s founder and CEO, the wrist-worn strap monitors heart rate variability, sleep, and resting heart rate. But, Ahmed emphasizes, the data is the phenomenon, not the hardware. With that, WHOOP is able to produce a daily strain and recovery score for users, charging a subscription for access to the data and giving the hardware away for free.

Circling back to Aaptiv, Ethan Agarwal echoed this sentiment when he said, “I think the future is personal. People are overwhelmed with options and they need clarity.” Ethan goes on to say that, as the fitness landscape continues to shift, whether it’s studios, gyms, apps, or connected equipment, “whoever provides the most personalized experience will win.”

As further evidence, Amanda Eilian, co-founder of Able Partners, an early-stage investment firm focused on the positive, healthy living space, see personalization as playing a central role in the future of health and fitness. In her words: “There’s no one diet or fitness plan that will work or be optimized for everyone, so that lends itself to hardware devices like the Oura Ring… The more you can measure, the more you can optimize, and it helps people realize there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.”

If you build it...

Lastly, and unbeknownst to them, two guests hit on the idea of “scratching your own itch.”

At Sufferfest Brewing Company, founder and CEO Caitlin Landesberg pioneered the idea of “functional beer”. As a trail-running endurance athlete and outdoor enthusiast, Caitlin created what she refers to as a health-conscious and eco-conscious company that’s centered around the kind of lifestyle she personally lives.

Caitlin’s approach is the kind of differentiator Able’s Amanda Eilian happens to look for in early-stage founders. According to Amanda, Able “has a bias toward founders who are coming at a problem from a place of personal passion or personal experience.” Amanda perfectly captured this attribute when she said: “We invest in companies that are revolutionary, not evolutionary… often creating a new category.”

Tune in. Of course, we’ll continue incorporating takeaways from the podcast into this newsletter where it makes sense. But, to get the full context, we hope you’ll tune in each week to hear the entire conversation. So, give it a listen, rate and review the show, and let us know what you think. In the meantime, be on the lookout for episodes with Lauren Foundos from FORTË, Jim Huether of Hyperice, Ed Buckley of Peerfit, OPEX’s Jim Crowell, and many others.

⭐️ Pimple Power

Valued at $1.1T, beauty and personal care is a prominent part of the $4.5T wellness industry. And now, like the industry at large, personal care products continue to evolve. Among the many newcomers and new concepts, there’s a growing trend you should have on your radar.

Acne positivity. From stars to flowers and other colorful stickers, pimple patches are everywhere. Instead of concealing acne, companies like Starface, ZitSticka, and squish. are calling attention to blemishes.

Whether or not they’re effective at reducing breakouts is debatable. Still, these companies are succeeding in popular culture—especially on Instagram—by combining levity with treatment to help normalize acne.

For context: ZitSticka recently raised a $5M Series A led by BFG Partners. Starface is backed by Bobbi Brown, Briogeo hair care founder Nancy Twine, and Able Partners, among others. And squish. was founded by Charli Howard, a model and “body positive activist”.

Zooming out: Pimple positivity is indicative of a broader beauty trend that has seen influence shift from big brands and retail channels to upstarts and influencers on social media. While ULTA Beauty and Estée Lauder struggle, YouTubers Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson recently crashed Shopify with the launch of their makeup line, and Kylie Jenner sold 51% of her cosmetics company to CoverGirl parent Coty for $600M.

📣 Last Call!

In case you missed it, we’re heading out to Los Angeles next week for the Fitness & Active Brands Summit, December 4–5.

Need to know: This two-day event offers panel discussions, private meetings, and keynote presentations from industry-leaders like Barry’s Bootcamp, ClassPass, Xponential Fitness, [solidcore], Gympass, North Castle Partners, L Catterton, and many others.

  • Download the agenda for all the details.
  • Last-call discount: Get 20% off with code FITT20
  • Let’s meet up next week. Email me >>

🏔 Climb On

Aptly timed with the release of our report on “The Shifting Fitness Landscape”—a look at the emergence of experience- and community-based fitness activities—The New York Times explored the world of “social climbing”.

In short, and in line with our observations, rock climbing gyms are growing in popularity. The NYT goes on to cite the Climbing Business Journal, writing: the commercial climbing gym industry grew at a rate of 6.9% in 2016, 10% in 2017 and 11.8% in 2018.

As we pointed out, climbing gyms like Brooklyn Boulders have turned into full-fledged wellness communities and gathering spaces complete with co-working, Wi-Fi, fitness centers, cafes, and more. Moreover, concepts like BKBX tap climbing culture to create adventure-themed workouts, going well beyond the typical boutique studio.

The punchline? Increasingly, working out in real life will combine sweating, socializing, and escapism — even if that’s just the perception of adventure or the outdoors, like in this case. In fact, the Times article goes on to quote one recreational climber who said: “We barely climb… No one here actually likes climbing, we all just come here to hang out. The climbing is ancillary.

True as this trend and that quote may be, real rock climbers are having none of it. Triggered by the New York Times’ take on the matter, Outside Magazine responded with a strongly worded article.

Takeaway. Despite an impassioned rebuttal, it doesn’t change the fact that most people will never scale El Capitan, nor do they want to. In reality, we want to sweat, socialize, and fulfill a sense of adventure or escapism. Concepts that check those boxes while overdelivering on the experience and amenities will thrive in a shifting fitness landscape.

📰 News & Notes

💰 Money Moves

  • Impossible Foods, makers of the plant-based Impossible Burger, is reportedly seeking fresh funding of $300–500M at $3–5B valuation. More from Fitt Insider: The Future is Plant-based
  • Silofit, a Montreal, Canada-based network of private, on-demand fitness spaces, raised $1M in seed funding. Go Deeper: The Shifting Fitness Landscape
  • Remrise, makers of plant-based sleep aides, secured $8.2M in seed funding led by Founders Fund. For Context: The Billion Dollar Business of Sleep
  • Smart mattress developer Eight Sleep raised a $40M Series C led by Founders Fund.
  • inne, the Berlin-based femtech startup, raised $8.8M in Series A funding. While you’re here: The Women’s Health Revolution
  • Fermented Sciences, maker of organic hard kombucha brand Flying Embers, closed a $25M Series B funding round. Read our Report: The Rise of Wellness Alcohol
  • CAVU Venture Partners, a leading venture firm for “better-for-you” brands like BaiONE BrandsVital ProteinsHealth-Ade, and others, raised a third fund of $250M.
  • Planted, a Zurich-based startup creating mock meat from protein and fibers of yellow split peas, closed a $7M seed round.
  • v2food, an Australian plant-based meat startup, raised $35M in Series A funding.
  • Foodvisor, a nutritional coaching app, secured a $4.5M investment.
  • Mendi, a CBD recovery brand, announced its $800K seed round.
Get the latest health and fitness industry news

Keep up with industry news, trends, investment activity, and job openings — in one weekly newsletter.

    No thanks.