Startup Spotlight: Public Recreation
Public Recreation is an outdoor fitness concept launching micro gyms in outdoor areas. They offer unlimited outdoor strength training, yoga, and boxing classes for $60 a month.
How it works: Public Recreation eludes a traditional brick-and-mortar business model by using short-term leases to turn underutilized public space into outdoor fitness studios. Users register for classes and check in online, eliminating the need for a front desk.
Funding: Seed (Y Combinator S18)
Model: $60 monthly fee for unlimited classes
We chatted with co-founders Jennifer Pattee, Adam Green, and Emilie Buckley about:
- The inspiration and value of an outdoor, pop-up gym concept
- Offering a simpler, community-based fitness solution
- Aspirations to scale nationwide
What inspired you to create Public Recreation?
Each of us had our own transformative experience around fitness. We wrestled with the same obstacles most people face today. But ultimately, we found a workout we looked forward to and wanted to share it with the rest of the world.
We saw a huge opportunity in the future of cities. It came down to the question: “what does a city designed for health look like?” We worked backward from there, building a highly impactful company with an active hand in developing a healthy cityscape.
What’s special about the Public Recreation experience?
We’re on a mission to make fitness accessible to everyone and change lives within our community. For a lot of people, going into a gym or a studio isn’t something to look forward to — we do it because we have to. By taking workouts outside and creating fun workouts that are super engaging and effective, we’re unlocking an experience where people actually feel excited. It’s something people can really look forward to.
For starters, since we’re outside, we really become part of the neighborhoods where we’re located. Secondly, everything we do is about building and sustaining real human connection. Part of what drives our focus around community is our research around the value of exercising with friends — increased accountability, consistency, and motivation all come when you know people will notice if you’re not there. And that’s how you build a routine — by showing up over and over again.
When people first arrive at our classes, they might be strangers, but our instructors’ goal is for everyone to leave with a new set of friends. So, everyone’s getting stronger, everyone’s getting their cardio in, and everyone’s getting closer with people who also happen to live in the neighborhood. It’s also why we call it Public Recreation — it’s a workout we can all do together.
What is the business model?
We work with property owners to turn underutilized public spaces into what are essentially “gymless gyms”. In each location, we set up a locker filled with fitness equipment like kettlebells, weights, and medicine balls. Then, our instructor shows up, pulls out the equipment, teaches class, and puts everything back into the locker. We’ve stripped a gym down to the essentials—dumbbells, mats, basic gear—and focus on what people want: really awesome classes taught by energetic instructors. By re-imagining the traditional brick-and-mortar model, we cut our overhead to almost nothing.
We then pass those savings onto consumers and pay our instructors a lot more than they make anywhere else — two to three times the industry-standard wages. That’s how we get the best instructors from top-tier studios like Equinox, Shadowbox, and SoulCycle, along with their following. In 18 months, we’ve signed up over 1,000 members.
Where is Public Recreation in the fitness landscape?
For many high-end gyms and boutique studios, it’s all about perfecting the body and building a brand around exclusivity. But there’s a lot of people who want to be accepted as they are, get healthy, and have fun — those body-centric values aren’t speaking to them. We’re addressing a massive market of people looking for a more holistic and inclusive approach.
Some people treat fitness as a complex problem that requires a complex solution. From what we’ve seen, that isn’t working. It’s just producing a lot of fads, including a number of emerging tech-based solutions, but we think there’s room for something much more simple.
We’re always looking to reach more people, and now we’re exploring more tech-savvy ways to support people and build community. This includes solving for people’s time-crunched schedules — which is a problem for just about everybody.
We’ve also learned a lot about what it takes to transform people’s view from “doing fitness” into building a healthy lifestyle that’s truly sustainable. With that, we’re excited to see how what we’ve learned will translate to other mediums and platforms.
Ultimately, our goal is to help people go beyond being simply fit but also happy, self-actualized, and resilient. We think fitness is the perfect springboard to personal growth and are beginning to see how we might deliver that experience at scale — which is super exciting.
Public Recreation has three dedicated sites around San Francisco, with three more in development.
Check out Public Recreation on their website.
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