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Editor’s note: Nike Accelerator Spotlight takes a look at the ten startups participating in the Nike+ Accelerator, a three-month startup program based in Portland, Ore. and put on by Nike and TechStars. GeekWire is featuring each company leading up to the June 10 demo day. 

Many bad ideas percolate inside college dorm rooms. Phil Black and his roommates, however, created something that’s now the genesis behind a budding startup inside the Nike Accelerator in Portland.

fitdeck123While in school, Black and his Navy SEAL roommates would use a 52-card deck and play PUG (Push-Up Game). They’d place the cards face down on the floor and flip them over, one by one, doing push-ups according to the card number. Whoever flipped the most cards won.

Now, Black has turned that idea into a card game that makes tries to make exercise simple and fun.

Founded in San Diego six years ago, FitDeck offers 40 different card decks that cater to everyone from hardcore athletes to everyday mothers. The decks, which offer routines and instruction, are grouped into different categories like fitness, sports, performance and nutrition, depending on what your exercise and training goals are.

We caught up with Black, a former Navy SEAL instructor and Harvard Business School graduate, to learn more about FitDeck.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: FitDeck is a simple, convenient, and fun way to create exercise programs right from your mobile phone.  FitDeck (a combination of “Fitness” and “Deck”) consists of “decks” of digital playing cards that, when shuffled, create new and exciting workouts anytime and anywhere you want.

Inspiration hit us when: The inspiration for FitDeck came from a game my college roommates and I played in our dorm room. It was called PUG – short for Push-Up-Game. Every night, we would shuffle a deck of playing cards and then place the cards face down on the floor. We would then begin doing push-ups according to the number on each card as it was flipped. The object of the game was to flip more cards than anyone else before collapsing. PUG became an overnight sensation with students across campus. The popularity spread because of the social, competitive, and serendipitous nature of the game.

Our “secret sauce” is: The simplicity of our program. Unlike many other fitness apps, users can begin their FitDeck workout within 15 seconds of opening the app.

FitDeck founder Phil Black.
FitDeck founder Phil Black.

How do you plan on using the Nike+ platform and NikeFuel?: We designed a FitDeck title with custom exercises that optimize NikeFuel Points earned during a workout. Users can set a goal of 300 FuelPoints within our application and immediately generate a full bodyweight workout that will achieve this goal.

Who will use your product?: With 40 different FitDeck titles available, we have an extremely diversified customer base. Our most active customers include busy executives, industrial athletes (military, police, firefighters), moms, teachers, coaches, fitness enthusiasts and athletes.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: We could have entered the mobile space earlier. We have learned a lot by being patient and soliciting user feedback from our large customer base, but now it’s time to go.

baby-stroller-leg-liftThe smartest move we’ve made so far: Listening to our customers. Our customers have been great sources of feedback, inspiration, and energy. They have helped guide our product development cycle, feature prioritization, and future vision.

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner?: Jobs gets the nod. His discipline and maniacal focus on simplicity and user experience is what we try hard to replicate. It’s easy to get sucked into a spiral of feature-creep that doesn’t serve the needs of the customers, and Jobs would be a great person to keep us in check.

Would you rather have Michael Jordan, Muhammed Ali or Tiger Woods in your corner: Michael Jordan. MJ’s competitiveness, energy, and work ethic are hard to match.

Rivals should fear us because: We are patient. We listen to our customers. We deliver an experience that is “real-world” social, not just online social.

We are truly unique because: Our mobile application is based directly on a “physical product” that has sold nearly 500,000 units. It’s not just an idea that we brainstormed over lunch. The user experience has proven to be successful with a physical deck of playing cards. This user experience can be enhanced in new and exciting ways in the digital world.

Inside the Nike+ Accelerator office in Portland.
Inside the Nike+ Accelerator office in Portland.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Love it or leave it. If you don’t truly believe in the product or service, don’t bother getting started. When the tough times inevitably come, lack of passion will kill you.

The greatest tech-related invention in sports is: The 60″ HD Television. Today, watching an NBA basketball game on television is otherworldly. The richness of the experience, slow-motion, and multi-angled views are just awe-inspiring.

Our favorite sports-related app/platform right now is: WatchESPN is a recent favorite.

Your first impressions of Portland are: Seems like there are almost as many bikes as cars. I love that. Traffic seems very limited and there are always people walking, biking, running or milling about.

Previously on GeekWire: Portland just isn’t where young people go to retire: It’s where they get their VC money, too

Past Nike Accelerator Spotlights: GoRecess helps you find, book classes … FitCause lets you donate to charity by walking to work … Coachbase lets you draw up plays, strategies with an iPad

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