The Challenges Of Launching A Bootstrapped Fitness App

Published: August 11th, 2022
Mikey Lau
Founder, Train In Blocks
Train In Blocks
from Wallingford, UK
started March 2020
Discover what tools Mikey recommends to grow your business!
social media
Discover what books Mikey recommends to grow your business!
Want more updates on Train In Blocks? Check out these stories:

Hi, my name’s Mikey and I’m the founder of Train In Blocks. I started the company more than two years ago to create the best personal training software.


Our flagship product is a web application that simplifies clientele management for health and fitness professionals at an extremely affordable price point. We have come a long way since our humble beginnings and have kept up with much of the recent developments in web technologies to reduce overheads — which in turn makes our products much more competitive with other alternatives.

We currently have 3 paying customers each having around 10 clients who shared positive reviews of our service.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Train In Block’s journey started when I was at Southampton Solent University. Having worked in the industry for over three years I learned so much about how important it is to stay fit and healthy. I was lucky enough to have had the chance to work with all kinds of populations like general, clinical, and athletes.

A real challenge we face at the moment is a lack of time to work on the business. We all have full-time jobs and work on Train In Blocks as a hobby. We have loads of good ideas but we’re so time-poor it’s difficult to execute them.

It wasn’t until I started working with more clients that I realized there was a need for a web application that handled tedious tasks for personal trainers at an affordable price — especially for those who are starting out. In my second year at university, I was determined to find a solution that could help my peers jump-start their careers in health and fitness so that they can focus less on exercise programming and admin. Doing this would allow them to dedicate more time to helping others and making a bigger impact.

Initially, the product was a simple automated Microsoft Excel document that I shared with my colleagues to see how it impacted their day-to-day tasks as a PT. After getting some feedback, I gathered more information from experts who have been in the industry for many years before committing to develop this idea further.

As of today, I’m currently operating Train In Blocks alongside my full-time job as a Software Developer as well as finishing my degree in MSc Applied AI and Data Science. Though my days can get hectic — I love every bit of it. Being busy keeps me on my toes and challenges me to find better ways to work and optimize my workflow. Furthermore, working on different projects allows me to bring in improvements and ideas to Train In Blocks — which will create more value for our users.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Joe who is now a co-director came into the picture as a developer to get an MVP built — after which he became a director. I was responsible for creating the designs at the start using tools like Figma and adopting a design system that suited our product. Over 4-5 months during the lockdown and many hours, we managed to bootstrap a business and sign up users from Day 1 — some have even remained with us to this day.


We built the application with Vue.js and hosted it on Netlify. You can check out the repo on GitHub. To store all of our clients' data we set up a MySQL database and developed an API using PHP.

The main difficulties with setting up an application of this size surrounded the authentication flow. Tools like Firebase are geared towards allowing anyone to sign up for your application whereas we needed people to pay first, then get an account. We used Stripe Webhooks and Okta to achieve this.

I took computer science at GCSE, so wanted to help Joe build the application. He taught me how Vue.js worked and I slowly picked things up managing to implement features in parallel.

Our product centers around being simple but powerful — all at an unbeatable price point. Whilst our competitors are charging £50+ for unlimited access, we are only £9.99 a month due to key design decisions that helped lower overheads.

The initial MVP isn’t that much different from the product we have today. We’ve been through a few minor UI iterations, and have added features such as templates (reusable bits of text), trainer portfolios and client accounts, and image uploads, among other things.

Version 1

Today’s version

One thing we struggled with was getting users to differentiate between an app and a progressive web app (PWA). Train In Blocks is a PWA that can be installed on any device directly from your browser, however, mentioning the word “app” to users confuses them, making them think they can download it from the App store or Play store. We try not to use the word “app” in our marketing for this very reason, but we do have a native application on our roadmap.


Describe the process of launching the business.

Since we started with around £3k to build and run our SaaS business, we had to spread through word of mouth and organic traffic on our social media platforms. We built a website where users can find more information and sign up and you can see the GitHub repo here.

We also made a launch and promotional video that we posted on Instagram and it was well received. We then boosted these posts to help further raise awareness of our services.



The business was financed through the initial stake. Later, we applied for a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style grant that Southampton Solent University was offering to start-ups. After many weeks of applying and completing the final interview — we won! Hence, we received additional funding which supported our marketing activities which amounted to another £3k.

The biggest lesson learned was how unpredictable a launch can be. We met our expectations but would be lying if we said it was perfect. Luckily, being a smaller business, we were able to adapt quickly and reorganize appropriately to solve the issues. For instance, during the onset of the first lockdown here in the UK, the fitness industry suffered a big hit and many PTs were finding it difficult to adapt to the new online coaching environment. Hence, we’ve implemented features and have adapted to improve our online coaching programming experience.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

For the first couple of years, it was just me and Joe running the business, we tried various marketing techniques such as the promotional video, various social posts in an academic style, Google AdWords, Facebook advertising and Bing ads.

Google and Bing ads are very expensive and due to our limited financing, we’ve been relying on promotional discounts. You generally get a ~£100 promo if you spend £25, this tends to last around 2 weeks for us. From Google Ads, we got started in basic mode and saw thousands of impressions, but that dropped off significantly after the first day.


We decided to revisit it a year later and found the advanced mode of Google Ads. We targeted the keywords of our competitors, utilizing pages on our website developed to compare features between us and them. We saw a lot more clicks this time around on both Bing and Google and even got a new sign-up from Bing. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any other conversions.



Boosting posts on Facebook is relatively cheap and results in a lot of impressions. We use this to raise our brand awareness and have seen general success.

Suffice it to say, we struggled a lot with our marketing and we knew it was something the company needed to work on. At the back end of 2021, Joe hired a marketing contractor, a copywriting contractor, and a social media company.

Our marketing manager, Hannah, plans our general strategy and comes up with new ideas for the whole team to implement. We set up email automations in Mailchimp, sending tips and tricks to new users after a few days and a survey at the end of their free trial. As well as sending out any new blog posts to all of our subscribers. We’re in the process of creating an automation flow for our new leads too.

Hannah improves our SEO by suggesting writing guest posts such as this one. She also now creates social media campaigns.


Jamie, our copywriter, writes 4 blog posts a month on our website about key news and events, and tips and tricks for not just PTs but anyone into the fitness lifestyle. He also helps us with other text we need for our marketing activities.


One thing the company is committed to is posting on social media every week. We don’t just post product shots – that gets boring quickly and I’m sure we’d lose followers. We’ve made our social media more of a lifestyle and educational page – it represents what the brand is all about and goes into the teams’ personal life a little bit, which I think is cool since the brand is more than just software. I do see recently that we’re getting more interactions and sign-ups from social media. Each follower that we gain is another chance to earn a subscription.

We started by using a company to manage our Social Media but in the end, we found keeping this in-house to be of better value to our followers.

We know what the biggest pain points are for personal trainers, and we create and share content that addresses it. This is so important if you want to add value through your social media presence. This goes for our blog too.

Posting links to our original and curated content that personal trainers find helpful. Sharing tips and tricks that we know would help them out. When we serve our community, it builds a loyal, trusting relationship and it has helped attract more people to Train In Blocks over time.

Running a bootstrapped business is very different from having investors back your idea. It generally comes with a steeper learning curve and slower progression. It’s important to stay motivated — especially during times with less business activity.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

As of today, we are yet to break even but getting along steadily as we keep a close eye on our expenses. We have our monthly retrospective to discuss upcoming tasks as well as improvements that could be made to the team’s workflow. Being a smaller team, we communicate regularly on our Discord server to get progress on blockers or gather resources for a marketing campaign.

Our plans for the short term are to sign up 5 more users and to reach out to at least 100 PTs and coaches by the of this month.

As for our long-term goal, we are looking to break even and have hundreds of trainers on our platform, but amongst that, we wish to expand our features — eventually shipping a native IOS and Android app. We want to be able to optimize the workflow of the app so that trainers can spend less time using it, and have more time on the gym floor training clients.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

We built the application over the first lockdown but during the second and third morale got low within the business and things got put on pause for a while. During this time our competitors brought their prices down and introduced new features making them more competitive. We now need to work twice as hard to attract new clients. We also didn’t have a social media presence during this time which resulted in a lack of brand recognition with our users.

A real challenge we face at the moment is a lack of time to work on the business. We all have full-time jobs and work on Train In Blocks as a hobby. We have loads of good ideas for features inside the application and marketing campaigns but we’re so time-poor it’s difficult to execute them.

The best decision we made was deciding we need outside help for our marketing. I was solely managing the marketing side of things and couldn’t spend time on the application, which is what I prefer. Acknowledging that my skills were lacking in the marketing department, and deciding to contract Hannah and Jamie has resulted in a better business position within the sector.

We’ve been successful at getting some leads and sign-ups, but marketing a start-up business is hard graft. When we first hired them we were having meetings once a week to catch up on progress. This proved to hinder our performance as we were spending more time in meetings than actually doing work. Once we switched to a monthly schedule, performance shot up.

Social media is crucial for businesses these days. Having a strong online presence is a must-have if you want your brand to stay at the forefront of consumers' minds. Unfortunately for business owners, managing digital marketing on your own isn’t very feasible due to a lack of time and experience. A lot of work is required to produce quality content that will get attention.

We spoke to a lot of social media agencies but most charge upwards of £300 which just wasn’t realistic for our budget. We did work with one agency for a few months but unfortunately, things didn’t work out. We then decided to take the social media back in-house and Hannah has been managing our campaigns very successfully for the past few months.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use JIRA as our project management which ties in closely with our GitHub repositories to automate tedious tasks. Since we’re a small start-up and only have 2 developers, automations have become a huge part of our company workflow. We’ve experimented with Zapier and other similar tools.


We also use Mailchimp for email marketing, Notion for documentation, Canva and Figma for designs, and Discord for comms.

As for our tech stack, we have a Vue.js frontend with Typescript and Tailwindcss — all of which are hosted using Netlify. The backend uses PHP with a MySQL database. For our website, we use Nuxt.js with Tailwindcss which is hosted using Netilfy but we also use the CMS feature offered to manage our blog posts.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Neil Patel’s resources for digital marketing tips, trends, and strategy has helped us build a successful online marketing strategy.

Stephen Bartlett is an aspiration for me, he’s a very successful entrepreneur and hasn’t let any past prejudices stop him from making his millions. He’s big in the tech world and knows how to make important decisions at the right time.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Since this is my first venture, our journey has taught me much about running a business and the relationships you have with your users. Of course, you need to keep your users happy, but we’ve found that people who stayed with us share similar core beliefs. In our case, it was to keep exercise programming simple but effective. In turn, it will help you target the right people — or even discover them.

Running a bootstrapped business is very different from having investors back your idea. It generally comes with a steeper learning curve and slower progression. It’s important to stay motivated — especially during times with less business activity. Additionally, if you’re working in a smaller team, expect your idea to change and adapt. It’s not a bad thing, it means that you’re riding with the trends and staying relevant to your industry.

We all work multiple jobs, but skills are transferable. I often find myself solving a problem for one issue and being able to apply that to a problem at Train In Blocks. I think it can be easy to brush issues under the carpet, whether that’s personal, professional, or business issues, but you must acknowledge them and learn from them. For instance, for every social media post we put out, we learn what works, and what doesn’t and adapt the future posts to maximize reach and engagement.

We’re also very young, I’m 22, Joe is 22, Hannah is 25, and Jamie is 31. Because of this we sometimes get viewed as naive or lacking the skills necessary to run a business. This is far from the truth and we’re all as qualified as someone who has worked in the industry for 10 years. Running a business is indeed extremely difficult, but that’s why I think we have what it takes because we have been working together to achieve something at Train In Blocks and I couldn’t be prouder of the team.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are looking for a Social Media Assistant at Train In Blocks.

It's a varied and interesting role where you’ll be all about providing support and contributing to the team and you’ll be up-to-date with digital trends, and managing content distribution across our social media channels. You’ll join a driven, supportive, growing, and committed team who takes pride in delivering great work. Hopefully, as you can see, we’re still starting up the business so would not be looking for very many hours from you at the offset. We’re open to negotiation but we pay our other contractors £10/hour for 5 hours a month.

  • Assist with creating, scheduling, and publishing content for our social media
  • Play a role in building social media campaigns, including cross promotions, partnerships with other companies and fitness influencers
  • Manage content and its distribution across our social media channels, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn
  • Support the Marketing and the wider team with admin tasks as needed
  • Research a wide variety of companies and contacts across the sector
  • Gather up-to-date information on our sector and our competitors

Where can we go to learn more?