This is a follow up story for Exercise Simple. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hey guys it's great to be back with the Starter Story, my name is Stephen Bilko and I am the founder of Exercise Simple.
Exercise Simple is a free app that is available in all of the app stores; on-demand, 30-minute workouts that require no gym, no equipment, no credit card; just the help to get you healthier, stronger, and happier. Our beta version, our 1.0 version has been out for a little over a year now and we are wildly excited to be entering the next phase of startup life, which for us, is fundraising and enterprising.
Over the last year or so our growth has been, for a tiny little startup like ourselves, something that we are very proud of. And if you were to look at one metric that we're proud of, it's knowing that we are now helping people in 70 countries around the world.
And so for a bootstrapping startup who is just following the passion of a crazy-napkin-idea, turned spiffy-PowerPoint, turned into a holy-smokes-we-are-really-doing-this startup, we're pretty darn proud to wake up every single day and know that what we built is truly helping people get healthier happier, and stronger and changing lives around the world.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Business has been growing and like I said we now have teammates in 77 countries. I think the last time that we spoke it was somewhere in the 40 or 50 range. And so for us to add another 25+ countries has been a monumental achievement.
Don't stop, don't quit, go after it, chase your dreams. You’ve got to, not only just believe those, but they’ve got to make up the fabric of your being.
Our Instagram success has been pretty darn remarkable as well. We went from having something like twelve hundred followers on Instagram to somewhere north of 20 thousand. And so for us, that's been great; that people are super receptive and appreciate our message and the authenticity of our approach.
We are finishing the last bit of our beta testing with our version 1.0 right now and we are transitioning to building our version 2.0. We are fully engaged in fundraising mode. And some of our biggest successes again have been directly related to Instagram and having our social networks love and appreciate our real-life approach of being present and acknowledging that although exercise may be difficult, in reality, it's super easy when you make it a priority.
We've had great traction and great interaction with an entirely new population of followers that are becoming family from Instagram. We are focusing a lot on telling Mary's story; as a mom, as a wife, as a woman co-founder, and showcasing our approach as a family for the audience to see the totality of the story. And bringing more of the family story into a play, so people understood the family dynamic in the authenticity of not only building the app but the everydayness of what it takes to be successful in that long-term approach. So yes we've had an incredible response from our social platforms, Instagram specifically.
We also have brought three more crazy successful folks onto our Board, which we are wildly excited about.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Wow -- our biggest lessons of the year continue to be how aggressive one needs to be as a founder, coinciding with how patient one needs to be as a founder. Those are things that Mary and I as a family, as co-founders, the husband, and wife, talk a lot about. And to the team as a whole, about being aggressive and being patient.
Everything that you read about the roller coaster of a startup is exactly as it sounds. It's a crazy roller coaster every day, every week, every month, every year but we wouldn't trade it for the world. Some of the lessons that we have focused on internally involve controlling the controllable and not putting too much emphasis or too much focus on what is outside of our control. Some of the things that we've learned, or challenges or obstacles in particular in the last six months, especially have been this fundraising game is just brutal. It is so cutthroat; so much more cutthroat than I would have ever expected.
And you know the lesson for us, is not to take it personally, this is the way that that particular business, that particular industry operates. It's interesting, it's difficult, it's fun, it's exhausting, it's eye-opening.
Some of the forces out of our control that helped. you know with luck, timing. etc., for us specifically is the COVID global pandemic. It has been an incredible big boost to our following and our users on the app. We're looking at it positively because this is the new norm and it helps tell our story a little easier, to not only family and friends but it will greatly improve our corporate pitch.
So although we are bummed about the current status that a lot of people find themselves in and the economic uncertainty that comes with that, we are proud to be a beacon of light, a beacon of hope for people who desperately want and desperately need a healthy outlet for exercise and the accompanying supportive community and coaching that comes with a healthier lifestyle.
Some of the internal habits that we really focused on since the coronavirus in our home and then that spilled over to the startup world have just been controlling the controllable and having ownership of our consistency. With Mary and I having three young kids at home, we have a six-year-old, a four-year-old, and a two-year-old. Let me just tell you that it's been wildly crazy and it's been super cool.
But wildly crazy and so for us as entrepreneurs, running a startup, and having three young kids not only in the home, in the home office, but also trying our best to give them the school experience that they've been missing out on; has been probably the biggest challenge that we've had to look at.
But in that challenge, that obstacle, for us presented a huge opportunity and that meant that we just got a little tighter with our schedule, we got a little more streamlined with our planning, we got a little bit more focused on our consistency in our lives. And we look at this crisis and pull as many positives that we can and I think that a lot of those positives that we are holding onto are helping improve our business and our business flow.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Plans for the upcoming year, for the next five, involve expanding our platform to not only help the individual on the individual market in the App Store Marketplace, but we are 100% focused on building out the best corporate wellness platform. And so that 12 to 60-month business plan for us is heavily invested incorporate wellness and helping companies deal with the new normal and for us, we are well-positioned to step right in to help small companies, mid-sized companies, and these large Fortune 500 companies.
What excites us the most about that five-year strategy is knowing the market right now is wildly overpriced and wildly underperforming and knowing that our beta version has exceeded all expectations for technology, for infrastructure, for UX, for user feedback and retention; we hit all of our marks and then some.
And for us to walk into any sized company we confidently know that we can help a large percentage of their employees get healthier and happier and stronger. And in turn, what that does for them, not only gives them healthier, happier, stronger employees but it lowers their healthcare costs a lot, in some instances, fifteen hundred bucks a year. So we're super excited about what we're building with our enterprise version 2.0.
Another big focus in the next five years will be our new school-aged kid's program; knowing the new norm for our public school system that our kids need movement and so seeing a huge underserved population of school-age kids where they aren't going to be able to function in health and PE class and so we are super excited about the opportunity to build out a platform that will help these school systems and most importantly the students that they serve to get the consistent exercise they need in their life.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Some of the books that I've gotten into over the last six months--one was Venture Deals by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson. Venture Deals has been a great book for founders to get into the nuts and bolts of venture and investment deals and liquidation events. It was recommended by an entrepreneur that I had a great meeting with within the spring, and finished it in a couple of days; it was awesome.
Another book that I'm just getting into right now is called The Great CEO Within by Matt Mochary. I enjoy the book a lot; it gives a great framework and guidance on how to run your team; some ideas on how to shape your program, etc.
The best book that I've read this calendar year is That Will Never Work by Marc Randolph. Marc is one of the Netflix co-founders and gives just an incredible behind-the-scenes real-life look of what it was to build Netflix.
I read that book in a day! It was like you were having a coffee with a guy and just reliving some of his startup stories. But for me one of the best parts to it was hearing so much of what we're going through, they went through. And knowing that with an unshakable faith in a crystal clear vision of where you're going, the dream is right there for you to go after. And so someone like Marc Randolph for me is a great inspiration to continue to chase what seems to be unattainable because he's living proof of the mountain top.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Any folks that are struggling to be an entrepreneur or to grow their business; as always, the bumper sticker advice continues to remain true -- don't stop, don't quit, go after it, chase your dreams. You’ve got to, not only just believe those, but they’ve got to make up the fabric of your being.
But for me and the last year specifically, one piece of advice would be "tell your story". Tell your story to every single person that you can tell your story to, whether or not you think that they can help--tell your story! And we've met so many people who just heard the story from a friend or who happened to hear it at the kids’ school, at the bus stop. I had referenced the book that I read with Marc Randolph the founder of Netflix and so I hounded the guy on social media and hounded him and how I kept telling him our story and you know what it paid off.
Last week the founder of Netflix gave me his email address and has my pitch deck in his inbox. That's as big of a win as you can get. Let's hope that we get traction, investment, and networking from that, but that's the true advice of 'shoot for the stars'.
One thing that I've been telling the team on the weekly since COVID hit, is we need to go after and swing for the home run, every time, every single day, you got to swing for the home runs; you gotta shoot for the stars; whatever sports analogy you want .. throw a Hail Mary ... you've got to go big for it. So folks are struggling to grow their business. Are they super consistent in making these big asks? Are they telling their story to any and every person that will listen?
You have to make sure that you remain super consistent in going after every stinking avenue that you can. And so many times entrepreneurs are scared, nervous, hesitant to tell the story or to ask for help. And so for me, it's every day all day asking for help and telling our story.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always looking for caring coaches; folks who desperately want to help others get stronger, healthier, and happier. We have a great group of super talented coaches, some with traditional exercise, kinesiology backgrounds; others, like me, are very non-traditional. But, the secret sauce is having folks that truly care about helping others.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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