Almost two years after it launched local startup Fitkey has almost a 1000 paid subscribers, with about 3000 users signed up to the browse the site.
It all started when Ohio-born Evan Walther, who has a background marketing for tech startups in the US, came on a two-week holiday back in 2014 and fell in love with Cape Town.
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Walther is due to speak tonight at Startup Grind Pretoria (see details here).
With the city being close to nature and with its abundance of good restaurants, it was so much like Cornell University in Ithaca in upstate New York that he decided he had to stay.
To ensure he had work he decided to start his own business, and after struggling to leave his year-long gym membership contract he hit on an app which allows subscribers to try hundreds of fitness options — from gyms, climbing walls to salsa and yoga studio and even pole dancing for women.
The result was Fitkey which he launched in September 2015 after piloting it with friends during the previous three months.
Using the app and by paying a fee of R645 a month subscribers have access to affiliated studios and gyms, and can enjoy an unlimited number of classes, with a maximum of three per studio.
Subscribers are not locked into any long-term contract and can cancel their subscription at any time.
There’s also a lite option for R345 a month for those who are already locked into a long gym contract but who want to test the product with a more affordable version. The lite version allows subscribers to access only up to five classes in total, with a maximum of two per studio.
He believes South Africa is an innovative place to be, pointing out that a number of local fitness studios — such as Cape Town-based trainers Sweat1000 — have launched studios overseas.
However a big challenge has been to grow online subscribers. He says in South Africa the startup quickly hit a ceiling in acquiring online customers, above which it became necessary to pay more in marketing to obtain these — where in the US, with it’s bigger online population, this would not necessarily have been the case.
Walthier says he’s used a combination of online ads and a recent online and television promotion the startup ran with WeChat, as well as other co-promotions, to market the app.
Another challenge has been the difficulty of setting up an online payment system in South Africa, he remarks.
For example in the US there is no one-time password (OTP) system like there is in South Africa where banks send users that wish to make online payments, SMS or emails with authentication passwords. At times SA users don’t always get the OTPs, which causes some frustration among customers, he says.
It’s also been difficult in South Africa to access capital as a startup, he says.
“There are lots of people who call themselves angels or VCs but there are very few who are willing to do really early (stage) deals. So it’s more about growth capital, which in the US is like private equity,” he notes..
Walther says he has signed up over 100 affiliated companies such as gyms and fitness studios in Cape Town and another 125 in Johannesburg and about 18 or 19 in Pretoria. He says he plans to venture next into Durban.
The question now is whether Fitkey can gain a foothold and grow across the country.