Startup Q&A is an interview series showcasing health, fitness, and wellness companies.
In this Q&A, you’ll hear from Austin Cohen, founder & CEO of FlexIt, a virtual personal training and health coaching platform. Austin shares the open opportunity in providing flexible, 1:1 training across strength, nutrition, physical therapy, and more. He also discusses how partnerships with teams in the NBA and NHL have had a trickle-down effect in obtaining users.
Can you tell us about what you’re working on at FlexIt?
Austin Cohen: FlexIt is the ultimate tool for motivation and accountability, helping users reach their health and wellness goals through live, one-on-one, private sessions with elite fitness and wellness professionals.
Our Virtual Personal Training platform offers a range of modalities including strength, HIIT, yoga, nutrition guidance, physical therapy, barre, Pilates, stretching, meditation, and more.
While other virtual fitness experiences provide generic, pre-recorded workouts or large group classes, FlexIt’s Virtual Personal Training provides a truly personal, real-time experience that caters to individual wellness goals and preferences.
How did you come up with the idea? What key insight led you to pursue this opportunity?
AC: I’m the kind of friend who is constantly inviting others to the gym and helping people build healthy habits. I’ve always had a love and appreciation for fitness and have long tried to share my passion to help the people around me feel their best.
In 2017, I herniated a disk in my back following a deadlift. I had two neck surgeries, had to wear a brace, and worked rigorously with a physical therapist. Post physical therapy, I found that my fitness regimen had to change to account for my injury.
While it was an extremely difficult part of my life, it taught me that fitness isn’t one-size-fits-all. Everyone, not just those with injuries, can benefit massively from the right guidance in their corner. Everybody (and every body) has their own needs, differences, and goals.
That became our mission at FlexIt: to make sure that everyone could access customized fitness tailored to one’s unique bodies and lifestyles.
How did you turn your idea into a company?
AC: That sparked our first app, In-Gym Access, which let people go to any one of thousands of partner gyms and pay only for the time they used. It meant people could access the fitness they wanted, how they wanted. It was a solution I myself wanted, and gyms needed — I could try out different facilities without worrying about paperwork; gyms could open their doors to new potential clients.
To help that take shape, I put pen to paper. I welcomed a ton of feedback from family and trusted business associates, did a lot of networking to develop contacts in the fitness industry, and drew from research studies from my work with Columbia Business School to make sure the concept and market size were viable.
Once I felt confident in my concept’s potential, I started further building out the branding concept and recruiting the right talent, most notably my longtime friend turned business partner, Justin Turetsky (now COO).
I mapped out deadlines and milestones for our launch, which was a huge success at CES 2019 in Las Vegas. From there, we enjoyed our first few press hits and began to see hundreds of early customer sign-ups.
When the pandemic shut down brick-and-mortar gyms worldwide, our mission stayed the same. When we couldn’t bring people to the gym, we started bringing the “gym” to people with Virtual Personal Training.
By connecting people to their favorite trainers and health professionals, we continued to provide that same access to fitness flexibility. We saw that the industry was only providing generic, prerecorded workouts and large group classes. Personal trainers, who specialized in 1-on-1 interaction, were being left behind.
By giving them a seamless, two-way, live platform, they could correct form, guide, motivate, and energize their clients so they could continue to work out their way, safely, and effectively.
Virtual Personal Training is now our most popular product, and we’re continuing to provide In-Gym Access as the world opens back up. They’re both different facets of the same mission: to give people easy ways to get their best workout ever, Wherever, Whenever®.
How big can this get? What’s the addressable market and how do you go about capturing it?
AC: FlexIt has huge potential, but our mission isn’t to create an Apple- or Amazon-sized business. Our focus is always on introducing an accessible, flexible, convenient service to the hundreds of millions of adult Americans who do not go to the gym.
Active gym-goers only make up a single-digit percentage of the adult population in the United States. And it’s even smaller globally. There is a myth that most people “go to the gym,” but in fact, the majority of Americans’ most strenuous form of exercise is going for walks or taking the stairs.
FlexIt is challenging the status quo by introducing a contemporary platform with practical wellness solutions to develop a holistic health plan. We’re empowering users to become better versions of themselves through unrivaled accessibility and accountability. With the addition of Connected Training™, FlexIt Nutrition™, FlexItPRO™, and many other upcoming initiatives, FlexIt is developing into an all-in-one platform for personalized fitness and wellness.
Given the breadth of modalities, offerings, and use cases the platform satisfies, FlexIt’s potential is nearly limitless. It’s an ideal solution for newcomers, on-the-go fitness enthusiasts, corporate wellness partnerships, in-person events, health education, and so much more.
Anyone who could benefit from a personalized game plan from an accomplished professional—and seeing it through—will find the perfect fit on our platform.
Who is the core customer? How are you acquiring customers? And how will you grow the customer base?
AC: While we service a wide range of demographics across the board, our core customers are those who are interested in improving their health but need that extra personal push, professional guidance, and/or external motivation to get there.
Looking at paid growth, we market on traditional digital marketing channels. We focus on people who want to make a change in their life; whether that’s for a wedding, personal health, or injury recovery, we want to encourage and facilitate that change.
In-person events across the country introduce local and influencer communities to exactly that, demonstrating the high-quality training we can provide.
Partnerships have also been key to our strategy since inception. We like to go broad when it comes to target audiences given the nature of our potential consumers.
Our American Express offer is a good example of this — where we can reach millions of people at one time. American Express Gold, Platinum, and Centurion members get $100 back when spending $200 with us and are connected to FlexIt through the American Express communication channels and rewards portal.
Meanwhile, working with other companies in the wellness space like Therabody gives us a chance to showcase the FlexIt experience to potential clients facing the same personal health and wellness issues, providing them a convenient, simple solution.
A big opportunity, partnerships with athletes and sports teams introduce people already interested in the fitness space to our product while establishing our credibility as a platform used by elite athletes.
People have been seeing our swag and merch everywhere, from the NBA to the NFL to pro soccer and golf. Our more recent partnerships with (our new head of athletic performance) Jason “The Jet” Terry, ISSA, the Florida Panthers, and many others exemplify how we can reach target audiences through our alignment and introduce them to the future of fitness.
Looking at your road map, what are some of the milestones you’re targeting over the next 3-6 months?
AC: Over the next few months, we have several exciting initiatives underway.
Our priority is increasing brand awareness through a number of marketing channels and creating engaging content to establish ourselves as the premier destination for accessible health solutions for every goal and preference.
We recently launched a podcast Just FlexIt, which will introduce listeners to thought leaders, top athletes, entrepreneurs, fitness industry experts, celebrities, and more to discuss the industry, sports, entrepreneurship, and goal-setting.
We will also be establishing our own online resource called The Next Rep to distribute high-level content on personal fitness, training advice, lifestyle content, as well as insight into our partnerships.
Our work with teams like the Denver Nuggets G-League affiliate the Grand Rapids Gold, the Florida Panthers, and many others are letting us distribute that content amongst a huge, engaged audience of people, while our partnerships with Arlo Hotels, Therabody, and other wellness-focused organizations help to establish us as the most portable, most accessible, and most holistic health offering out there.
Stay tuned for more exciting features around the in-session experience — we want to leapfrog the experiences consumers thought were possible by heightening immersion and other tracking tools to help customers glean information that motivates and guides them in their journeys.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers?
AC: Some people know FlexIt got started with a very different business model, but our mission of delivering seamless, non-intimidating, convenient solutions to get healthier Wherever, Whenever™ has been the same since inception.
We want to make the fitness and wellness industry more consumer-friendly and approachable, and we’re positioned to help thousands, if not millions, of people in the process. In the long term, being healthy will help our society, cut medical costs, and make people happier. Let’s all work on this mission together!
Related reading from Fitt Insider:
Issue No. 169: Fitness Comes Full Circle
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