Before he decided to launch a business that changes the way people find personal trainers, Dan Li was not exactly in shape. Work, not health, was a priority for the former Microsoft and Amazon manager who couldn’t even run 15 minutes without becoming winded and almost fainting.
Three years ago, Li decided to hire a personal trainer. That decision led to a transformation of sorts — both physically and mentally — as Li ran three half-marathons and two triathlons in 2014 alone.
“My whole experience made me realize that personal training really, really works,” Li said. “I wanted to bring this to everybody.”
Now, he is.
Li and his personal trainer Nick Tyree are the co-founders of Guided Fitness, a new Seattle startup that reduces the cost of personal training sessions and increases the amount of revenue trainers earn.
Li, who most recently led a team of 30 at Amazon that worked on the Fire Phone, explained that personal training at traditional gyms is “really expensive,” with an average cost of $75 per hour in Western Washington.
“Most people can’t afford that,” he noted.
However, Li said that on average, about $50 of that $75 goes to a gym, with about $25 going to the trainer — or even less for those that are just starting out.
Guided Fitness, on the other hand, eliminates the profit that gyms make today with its marketplace that matches personal trainers with those looking for fitness help. The startup takes a 10 percent cut of each session, with the remaining cash going straight to the trainer.
The train-when-you-want, pay-as-you-go model is not only more affordable than the traditional method of finding a trainer through a member-only gym, but also gives customers more flexibility. For example, they can ask trainers to conduct a session wherever is most convenient — inside their home, at work, at their apartment complex gym, etc. Guided Fitness also partners with gyms in the Seattle area that let customers pay a one-time flat fee if they would rather meet there.
Trainers on Guided Fitness’ platform charge as low as $25 per hour. Li said there are customers who can now afford a trainer on a regular basis even if they don’t earn a huge salary.
“They used to train once a week, but now they can do it three times per week,” he added.
Trainers, meanwhile, can earn more money while operating on their own schedule and basically running their own business. Guided Fitness offers them cloud-based software that helps schedule appointments, handle payments, and more.
“They just do training,” Li said. “We handle the technology.”
Guided Fitness also built a Match.com-like algorithm that pairs new customers with personal trainers based on what their goals are, what type of workout they want to have, and what type of trainer they are looking for. Trainers also go through a rigorous vetting process.
“I’ve trained with every single trainer,” Li said, who noted that there are about 14 on his platform now. “I want to build relationships with them and learn from their needs.”
There are certainly a number of startups trying to upend the traditional gym membership model as it pertains to personal training. For example, Seattle-based Fleetfit brings trainers to your home, and Stockholm-based Vint offers a peer-to-peer fitness marketplace.
Li said Guided Fitness differentiates itself on price, flexibility, and the way it finds you the right trainer.
“We’re trying to reduce friction in the system,” he said.
There are about 30 regular customers on Guided Fitness’ platform. Li is bootstrapping his 3-person company for now, but is looking for investment.