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Seattle startup Trainiac launched its personal training app this year. (Traniac Images)

If you really want to get a fitness program going, it’s not enough to just count your daily steps. Instead, you need a personal trainer in your pocket. Or at least that’s the opinion of Akshay Ahooja and Frank Fan, co-founders of Trainiac, a Seattle-based fitness startup.

The Trainiac app connects people with a personal trainer who creates an individualized workout program for them — and makes sure they stick with it. That’s the piece that sets Trainiac apart, said Ahooja, who is 31 and the company CEO. People can find good workouts, he says, but “The motivation aspect is a trickier one.”

The Trainiac app launched earlier this year and is available for the iPhone. Ahooja and Fan, chief technology officer, met while working at Facebook and founded Trainiac in January 2016. (The business started as Stryve, and they are in the process of legally changing the name). The startup has three additional employees, including founding designer Stephanie Hughes, another Facebook colleague.

Trainiac users select a certified trainer who helps them establish goals and then puts together a training video that draws from a library of 400 exercises including weight lifting and circuit workouts. The trainer follows up to make sure the program is a fit and can review videos submitted by the customer to confirm that the person is doing the movements correctly. The program costs $50 a month, but is available for a limited time for $30.

“Working out regularly is something we as co-founders have struggled with and couldn’t find a good long-term solution for,” said Ahooja, who works out 3-5 times a week through Trainiac. “It’s a very important problem for us personally and for the world, so we decided to go after it.”

Team Trainiac from left to right: Stephanie Hughes, Frank Fan and engineer Brian Czaicki. (Trainiac Photo)

We caught up with Ahooja for our Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Trainiac is an app where you work with a certified personal trainer one-on-one over video and text messages. Your trainer will build you custom workout videos you can do on your own time, and will motivate you to stick to your workout routine.”

Inspiration hit us when: “What we came to deeply understand was working out regularly and staying fit requires two things: Knowing what to do, and having the motivation to do it.

Knowing what to do is having the right workout, that fits into your life, schedule, etc. Motivation is a tough one, and we knew it was critical. It’s one thing to start working out, and a whole other to see results and make it a part of your lifestyle. We spoke with a lot of our early customers, ran tests, as well as read into external studies. We wanted to understand, what keeps people exercising regularly over a long period?

At the end of that the conclusion was obvious. Sticking to a workout routine requires having an expert trainer by your side. For folks who don’t workout regularly but want too, having a trainer is the only predictable way to get and keep results. We need to enable a much larger portion of the population to have access to trainers.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We bootstrapped at first. Then we raised our seed round in the summer, totaling $600,000. And we’ve gotten value far capital from our group of investors. It’s been fantastic. We have a proven team of investors including Andrew Wright (lead, advisor), Geoff Entress (Pioneer Square Labs), Curious Capital, Ray Muzyka (co-founder, BioWare), etc.”

Akshay Ahooja, co-founder and CEO of Trainiac. (Trainiac Photo)

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Everyone works one-on-one with a certified personal trainer via video and text messages on Trainiac. Having this partner in your fitness journey is incredibly important to get the right program for your goals, and to stick to it to see the results.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Enabling the asynchronous conversations using video and text messages between the trainers and their clients has been key. For us as customers, we’re all really busy and scheduling is very tough for most of our lifestyles.

On the other side, a personal trainers’ time is pretty fragmented. Clients or classes in the morning and evening, maybe a few scattered during lunch. Trainers are the experts, and aren’t being utilized at full capacity. It’s estimated that of the 250,000 certified trainers in the U.S., on average they’re working at 30 percent capacity. Our tools help trainers scale to reach a lot more people. They love it.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Learn early who’s in your target market and don’t try to build for everyone. Sometimes that means letting a customer go. It’s tough to do that as a startup, but its really important to keep your focus.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bezos: Customer obsession.”

Our favorite team-building activity is: “Discussing product ideas is constantly a hot topic. We all get really into it and it’s a blast.

The team eats lunch together every day. There’s usually a mix of folks bringing lunch from home or buying from a spot downtown. We’ll all convene after grabbing food and eat together.

And whenever a new team member joins, we go out for an awesome happy hour to a place with a view (e.g. The Nest!).”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “The hustle! Startups are all about movement, every day.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Focus on the problem. Ideas evolve over time, as they should. Keeping the center of gravity on the problem you’re tackling keeps you grounded and laser focused.”

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