Evan Walther is a self-described fitness fanatic, but upon moving to Cape Town found it difficult to find true variety when it came to classes and sessions.
“I’ve been involved in sports since a young age. Fitness and being active has always been something that has been really important to me.”
Walther previously went professional at triathlon, but had some injuries and took a break. After becoming involved with startups and marketing in the United States (US), he came to South Africa to work with Springleap. After leaving the company at the end of last year, he decided he didn’t want to leave the country and began thinking about what was next.
Fitness once again held the key, with Walther now co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of startup FitKey, which launched in February.
“I’d seen some other models in the US, Germany and other places where people are doing similar to what we’re doing and I thought I’d love doing that, and it’s a great opportunity for South Africa,” Walther told Disrupt Africa.
“South Africa has a really great fitness community. Everyone is really concerned about being fit, being healthy, being active, which is amazing. But at the same time when I first came here it was very difficult to find all the activities that were available to me.”
Though obtaining a gym membership is easy, Walther says there are many more alternative options available to keep yourself fit in South Africa. It is just people don’t know they are there.
“What we found is a lot of these guys are small operations, run by one person, maybe with two or three trainers, and these guys are experts in the specific thing that they are doing. There are so many people into this, there is an ecosystem that supports it, but these guys aren’t necessarily marketers,” he said.
FitKey was born after Walther partnered with Josh Shimkin, now chief operating officer (COO) and a man with a background in digital marketing in the US. The startup is still in beta with only 50 users, but already has paying customers.
The platform works through users paying a monthly membership fee – currently ZAR250 (US$20) but likely to go up to around ZAR500 (US$40) once FitKey comes out of beta. The user then downloads the app on iOS or Android, and is able to scroll through the calendar and search classes based on type, location and time of day. The user can then book the class through the app, and is not required to pay anything extra to attend the class. However, there is a maximum of three classes per month per studio.
“We don’t want to cannabalise our existing customers. If you want to start going every week, you need to start thinking about paying for extra drop-ins or getting a membership,” Walther said.
He said people could use FitKey to assess available options when it comes to primary membership of gyms and classes.
“It can be somewhat intimidating for someone to go to a new class for the first time. You don’t know if they’re going to pressure you into signing up for a long contract,” he said, adding FitKey allowed users to cancel their membership at any time.
“It’s a very low risk way to try out a lot of different things.”
For trainers, FitKey essentially sells unsold class inventory, providing new marketing opportunities.
“We’re essentially paying them to give them leads. It needs to be a win for everyone and we want this to be sustainable,” Walther said.
“Very few of them are filling up classes. There are no risks for them. They are getting people in the door. And that’s really the hardest part for any gym or class. And once they get them through the door and they give them an awesome experience they’re going to want to come back.”
FitKey, self-funded so far but in the process of raising funding of between ZAR1.2 million (US$96,000) and ZAR2 million (US$160,000), is currently active in Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Somerset West but plotting expansion.
“We really want to get that up and humming, and before summer we want to be in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban,” Walther said.
The first step is to open FitKey up to wider usage, something Walther said is likely to happen in the next month or so.
“We’ve got hundreds of people that have signed up to use it, we just haven’t let them in so far.”