Interview with Caroline Levy Limpert (WG ’07), Cofounder of FITiST
Wharton Journal: Thanks for speaking with us today. What is FITiST, and how did you come up with the idea behind the business?
Caroline Levy Limpert: FITiST is the first bi-coastal luxury online fitness and wellness platform offering one-stop access to the best in New York and Los Angeles. Our approach is based on the core philosophy of muscle confusion, mixing up multiple exercises in order to deliver fast, measurable results. Think of it as an entirely new kind of gym and gym membership. We have a universal fitness calendar that aggregates all of your favorite classes into one schedule, so you can book all in one place.
WJ: Tell us about your early days. How did you get started, and what did you do to gain traction early on?
CLL: We started FITiST because we began to see a proliferation of boutique fitness studios, coupled with the rise of customization and online shopping and booking. The approach to fitness and wellness has shifted and grown over the years and we saw an opportunity to create a new type of fitness and wellness membership that aggregates the best of the best fitness and wellness options in your city into one convenient membership.
Given the rise of the boutique studio, we launched with a two-pronged marketing strategy: PR and word-of-mouth marketing. The media gravitated towards our business from the onset given that working out at boutique studios had become a trend and we were the first to market an aggregator for the industry. Word-of-mouth is incredibly important in the fitness industry. People like to talk about their workouts, where they are going, how they are seeing results. It’s the new dinner table conversation. We capitalized on this by tapping into a strong base of New Yorkers who loved to workout on the burgeoning boutique fitness scene.
WJ: How do you think about customer acquisition in your space?
CLL: As an aspirational brand with an average purchase of $200+ and repeat purchase rate of over 60%, we believe that once a customer comes in our door, they become a loyal FITiST. Working out as a FITiST is a way of life – it is more fun and more effective. Even though we have a relatively high LTVC, this does not mean we have to spend and spend to acquire a customer. FITiST is an online brand, but you workout offline in bricks and mortar businesses, so we acquire both through online marketing channels (social, SEO, etc.) and offline (events, word of mouth, guerilla, etc.)
WJ: The fitness landscape has changed dramatically over the past few years, with a big shift in emphasis away from full service gyms (the Equinox’s of the world) and towards boutique studios (the SoulCycle’s and Pure Barre’s of the world). How do you see things evolving over the 5 – 10 years?
CLL: The boutique studio has become the new gym because it is more effective, more engaging, and a better experience. It’s amazing to see the growth of the industry from when we launched in the summer of 2011. There has been an explosion of studios. In the next 5-10 years, we see boutique fitness studios exploding nationwide in secondary and tertiary markets. We also see a movement towards taking the boutique experience online – replicating the success of the online learning movement.
WJ: What advice would you offer to all the aspiring entrepreneurs at Wharton?
CLL: 1. Accept you’re going to be overwhelmed.
One of the things we always say is “if this was supposed to be easy, it would have been done before.” This is usually followed by “when it rains, it pours.” Accept the craziness. And, the minute you start to doubt it, remember the days in corporate America when you did one job, one role, 8+ hours a day, 235 days a year.
2. Prioritize. Realize that everything will not get done, but that’s ok.
A start-up is a lot like building a house. There are things that must get done (i.e. the foundation, the roof, etc.) and things you want to do (that new closet, super cool built-in). Outlining your long-term strategy or planning that exciting partnership that will help kick off the summer takes a back seat when you have technology issues or unhappy customers. (You need walls for support, right?). Planning that cool event can wait until tomorrow – prioritize what is key today.
3. Acknowledge that anything that gets done is progress. It does not matter how big or small.
We are big believers in the “to-do” list. But, we also also keep a “have done” list. It is important to not only focus on what needs to be done but take time to reflect and relish your accomplishments, both big and small.