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From Left: Stephanie Hughes, founding product designer; Akshay Ahooja, co-founder and CEO; Aurora Sekine, director of personal training; and Frank Fan, co-founder and CTO (Trainiac Photo)

Like many workers in the busy tech industry, Akshay Ahooja had a hard time establishing a consistent workout routine. He got serious about fitness in the lead up to his wedding, working with a personal trainer. But once that was done, the routine melted away, and Ahooja was again left searching for a way to fit regular exercise into his life.

So he decided to start a company to fix this problem for himself, and the many others likely experiencing the same frustration.

Ahooja and co-founder Frank Fan, who worked at both Microsoft and Facebook together, teamed up to found Trainiac to help people make fitness a regular part of their lives. They built an iPhone app that connects people with certified personal trainers who create personalized plans to meet goals and provide accountability.

Trainiac last month closed $2.2 million in funding as part of a seed round from a group of angel investors and expects to raise another $800,000 in the first quarter of 2020. Those investors so far include veteran Seattle technology executive Andrew Wright, Pioneer Square Labs Co-founder Geoff Entress, ex-Socrata CEO Kevin Merritt and Bluemoon Ventures President Edward Yim.

The six-person company tried out a lot of tech-focused concepts to help people work out, including bots and artificial intelligence. But they kept coming back to a more simple solution: personal trainers.

“The most effective and well-known way to get into a long-term routine is to work one-on-one with an expert,” Ahooja said.

Trainiac’s office at the WeWork Westlake Tower location in Seattle. (Trainiac Photo)

With this realization, the company set out to find the best way for people to connect with expert trainers. Trainaic has 50 trainers on the platform right now. Ahooja wouldn’t say how many users the app has, but he did note that customer growth is up 600 percent year-over-year.

The startup is focusing on consumers, and the plan costs $80 a month. Ahooja says the startup’s target customer is someone who has realized exercise needs to be an important part of their life but hasn’t figured out how to make that work.

Trainers are contractors, and they get paid based on how well their clients do, measured by metrics like how frequently they work out and whether they continue to subscribe to the platform. A version of the app for trainers focuses on helping them adjust from working with clients in person in a gym to virtual training.

“We’ve put in a tremendous amount of resources and focus in training trainers in being fitness coaches online and what it means to make a client successful in this new world,” Ahooja said.

(Trainiac Photo)

Trainiac aims to be “the center of everything somebody does in fitness,” Ahooja said. It has an integration with Apple Health, so it can connect to more than 50 popular training apps like Nike+ and Strava for tracking runs and other types of workouts.

The Seattle area is quickly becoming a hotspot for startups vying to carve out space in the rapidly growing $4.5 trillion wellness economy:

  • Pioneer Square Labs Entress, one of Trainiac’s investors, also invested in Sanctuary, which operates what it describes as “the most personal, immersive wellness studio experience in the universe.”
  • Limeade, an employee experience software company based in the Seattle area with a major wellness component, went public earlier this month on the Australian stock market, raising more than $68 million in an IPO that puts its market value at $335 million..
  • Volt is raising cash to expand its fitness training app that offers customized workouts for a variety of sports and training goals and relies on artificial intelligence to escalate exercises as users get stronger.
  • Aduro recently raised $22 million to expand its take on wellness: Asking employees what goals they want to achieve and offer to help.

What remains lacking, especially in the digital fitness app market — which itself is estimated to become a nearly $15 billion business by 2026 — are high standards that give customers and trainers a clear idea of what exactly they are getting out of an app, Ahooja said. A search for online personal training returns pages and pages of results but they lack the one-on-one dynamic with trainers and personalized plans.

“There is this assumption out there that if you give trainers technology it will all work out, or if you replace that trainer with AI it will all work out,” Ahooja said. “For a client to really build a long term habit of fitness, it’s not about just throwing more and more options at them. It’s all about helping them build out something that works for their lifestyle and their own personal struggle.”

With the transition from big tech to Trainiac, Ahooja says he has finally established a sustainable routine that fits with his lifestyle: Weight-lifting and body-weight exercises three times a week, two Peloton biking sessions a week with some hiking and basketball thrown in.

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