Amid a pandemic that has closed down fitness centers worldwide, a spate of companies has muscled their way into the booming at-home fitness market.
In just the last two weeks, three-year Future, which promises at-home customers access to elite training, closed on $ 24 million in Series B funding; and Playbook, a nearly five-year-old fitness platform that helps personal trainers stream their content (and charge a monthly fee for it), raised $ 9.3 million in Series A funding.
Now, serial entrepreneur Jason Goldberg — who has founded a number of venture-backed startups — is taking the wraps off another live-streaming platform and marketplace. Called Moxie, it connects fitness instructors of all stripes with existing and new students, then enables them to stream classes on a subscription basis — and to keep 85 percent of the revenue for themselves.
Of course, according to Goldberg, it’s all far more sophisticated than that. Indeed, Moxie’s 45 employees were working on a very different company until COVID-19 took hold in Europe and the U.S., following its initial outbreak in China. (Moxie is based in Berlin.) After some soul-searching, the team pivoted completely to fitness, and they’ve been testing and tweaking Moxie ever since.
It’s a compelling proposition, even while other startup founders are also chasing after it. While a year ago, fitness instructors spent 90 percent of their time in studio settings, they now spend 90 percent of their time teaching online, which means they need really solid tools to do their jobs well.
While earlier in the pandemic, many of them turned to Zoom, emailing students links and taking payments via Venmo, it was a janky experience for everyone involved.
With Moxie, an instructor, says Goldberg, can live stream classes, as well as record them; access playlists that Moxie has already licensed through third parties (and that Moxie can smartly dampen sound while an instructor is talking to students); and access internal customer relationship management tools that make it easy to track and communicate with students, along with automatically collect payment from them.
The benefits are resonating, according to Goldberg. He says that largely by finding and pitching instructors on Instagram, Moxie has already attracted more than 2,000 instructors of yoga, pilates, and barre-centered classes among others, and that they are now teaching more than 6,500 classes for a range of prices that the instructors can set themselves.
Classes on average range in price from $ 5 to $ 10. Goldberg says that over the last four weeks, customers have been spending an average of $ 60 on the platform per month. (Moxie uses Stripe for payments and AWS to store and stream video.)
Investors like Howard Morgan, Geoff Prentice, Allen Morgan who’ve backed Goldberg time and again like the idea, clearly. Along with Tencent, they’ve provided Moxie with $ 2.1 million in seed funding, and Goldberg suggests he’ll be ready for more capital soon.
Whether new investors will need to be convinced that Moxie is “the one,” given Goldberg’s history, remains to be seen.
As longtime readers might know, Goldberg launched his career as a startup founder with Jobster, a recruiting platform that raised about $ 50 million before laying off half its staff and selling for undisclosed terms to a site called Recruiting.com.
Goldberg then founded a news aggregation service Social Median, which was was later acquired by a German LinkedIn competitor called XING for undisclosed terms; Fabulis, a social network for the LGBT community that pivoted to become a daily-deals site (and later shut down after spending $ 1 million in seed funding); and most famously Fab .com, a design-focused e-commerce site that was valued at $ 900 million by its investors at one point, but later went out of business.
In late 2016, Goldberg launched a messaging app called Pepo that enabled anyone to create and join live messaging communities and that raised around $ 3 million from investors, including Tencent. Indeed, it was a newer iteration of Pepo that Goldberg and his team decided to abandon in March for Moxie.
Certainly, his various endeavors underscore that Goldberg has no shortage of — dare we say it — moxie. To many investors, that’s the most crucial ingredient in growing a nascent company.
In any case, he doesn’t seem worried about fitness platform’s prospects. “We have no shortage of people who want to invest in Moxie,” he told us during a call yesterday.
The following is excerpted from “Undaunted” by Kara Goldin Copyright© 2020 by Kara Goldin. Used by permission of HarperCollins Leadership. www.harpercollinsleadership.com.
I wasn’t thinking about founding a company or building a business. Nor did I picture myself as a national advocate for health or dream of being recognized as a leading entrepreneur. And I certainly had no vision of becoming a major player in the beverage industry.
I was just focused on one goal.
That’s usually how a business gets off the ground successfully, even ones with a lot of capital behind them. The founders of “Time” magazine, for example, wanted to create a news magazine that a busy person could read in an hour or less. Amazon started as an online bookseller.
My goal was simple: show people that drinks can taste good without tasting sweet. Obviously, I couldn’t do that by myself, slicing up tons of fruit and filling up my fridge with pitchers of water.
I had a lot to figure out, and it wasn’t like I had nothing else to do. That spring of 2004, I was looking after our three kids—Emma, five; Kaitlin, three; and Keenan, two.
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I was also fielding requests from tech companies who wanted me to take a job with them and come back to work full-time. Because of my experience at AOL, I had a reputation as an innovator in online shopping and e-commerce. I got calls from people at Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, and other major industry players who basically wanted me to do for them what I had already done for AOL.
I was flattered and tempted by the offers, but ultimately I turned them all down for various reasons. I didn’t want to travel a lot while the kids were young. I wanted to focus on my health. I had commitments to the community.
While those things were certainly true, there was another fundamental reason I didn’t pick up on any of the tech offers. It would mean doing something I already knew how to do. I didn’t want to repeat myself. I wanted to do something new and potentially life-changing. Something disruptive.
That’s what I had loved about my previous jobs. When I landed the position at Time Inc., I knew next to nothing about publishing, sales, circulation, corporate empires, management, or New York City. When I started at CNN, I knew little about television, cable news, big-name entrepreneurs and movie-star activists, or fast-growing media companies. When I joined 2Market and eventually AOL, nobody—including me—knew much about the internet, online shopping, tech startups, or megamergers.
I had been attracted to each new position precisely because I didn’t have all the answers about the business or the job. Each one presented me with an opportunity to gain experience and to learn. If I took another tech position related to online shopping, I would probably gain a little knowledge that I didn’t have before, but I didn’t think it would be life-changing. In fact, I thought it would be boring.
So, as I focused on my family, staying healthy, and volunteering, I took baby steps toward creating this thing that I felt really could be meaningful. Not just for me, but for lots of people. My fruit-infused water. I didn’t tell any of my friends or family about my idea to turn it into a marketable product. I didn’t even tell Theo the extent of my thinking. He thought I was just having fun “screwing around in the kitchen,” as he put it. And that’s pretty much what I was doing, because I definitely didn’t have a product that was ready to go in a store. But I felt that there was something there, and I kept tinkering.
One of my first steps was to figure out how to make the water a little more attractive. Fresh fruit floating in water looks pretty nice, but to get the flavor into the water I had to let it sit for a day or two in the fridge, and with berries I had to muddle up the fruit. The big question became how to get the right amount of flavor without letting the fruit sit in the water.
I did some research on the internet and learned that there were companies that made fruit essences used as flavorings for foods and beverages. I ordered samples and soon had a collection of little glass bottles. I would choose an essence, squeeze a few drops into a glass of cold water, take a sip, then make notes about the flavor. The notes turned out to be pretty much a waste of time, since almost all the flavors ranged from terrible to merely okay. They did not taste like real fresh fruit.
I also tried some essences from a small supplier that marketed its products directly to consumers as flavorings for water. When I got the samples, I was disappointed to see they had some artificial flavors along with the natural essences, but I tried them anyway. Although they didn’t have the natural taste I was looking for, they were a bit closer than the natural essence samples I had received from the big flavor companies. I thought maybe the company could help me formulate a better natural essence flavor.
I called the company and was surprised to get the owner on the phone. Turns out the flavor business was a side project for him, and he bought the flavors from an independent consultant. I asked if he thought he could work with his flavor guy to make the type of flavor I was looking for.
“You know, I’m pretty sure he can help you, but this isn’t really what I do.” There was silence for a moment. “Why don’t I just put you in touch with him directly?”
I thanked him, because it was a generous thing to do. I got in touch with the consultant. He couldn’t help me right away, but we had an incredibly helpful conversation, and he got me thinking about flavors in a totally different way. Ultimately, what I learned helped us come up with the recipes for our initial products.
The biggest unknown for me was bottling. How would I make the leap from making up small batches of water in my kitchen to producing it in quantity and bottling it? I had no idea.
I had never been involved in the creation of a physical product before, so I started to research bottle designers and bottling companies to see if there were companies who would work with a startup. I collared anybody with a connection to the food and beverage industry and peppered them with questions. I picked up industry jargon along the way. The most important term I learned was co-packer. I knew I would need some kind of bottling partner and had been calling bottling companies for information about their services. They all said they couldn’t help me, but they didn’t really explain why. Finally, a helpful guy at a bottling company enlightened me.
“You’re not looking for a bottler.”
“What do you mean?”
“The companies that call themselves bottlers or bottling companies are usually doing bottling and distribution. They work with big companies like Coke, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper and don’t like to just make the product, especially if it’s a small, unproven one. Co-packers just do bottling, and some of them are willing to work with small companies or new products.”
Co-packers, in other words, are for-hire manufacturers who work with all kinds of client companies to create branded products. You provide co-packers with your specs, and they do whatever needs to be done. Some can do everything, including sourcing ingredients, designing your label and packaging, formulating the product, filling the bottles, and shipping the cases. In addition, they have all the necessary certifications to ensure quality and safety.
This was another example of why I loved getting into this new project. At AOL, everybody was asking questions of me and expecting me to supply the answers. Now I was asking the questions. Which meant I was learning. Every day. That is how you stay fresh and motivated. Always be learning. An important lesson, for sure.
Another great thing about constant learning is that it builds confidence. Even the non-answers and rejections I got strengthened my resolve—perhaps they were the most motivating of all. Some of my favorite success stories are about people who are initially laughed at for their ideas or discouraged from pursuing their dreams.
One day in September 2004, I realized that I had learned enough and had confidence enough to make my vision a reality.
You can do this, I said to myself. You’re smart. You can figure it out. And you can help people by helping them enjoy water.
I sat down and wrote up a short business plan, a road map for what I wanted to do.
Theo and I had always brought work home and had always helped each other with our careers, but all of a sudden, we found ourselves embarking on a mission together, to help America fall in love with water. It felt right to be doing this with my husband, my best friend, and now my business partner.
One of the first things we worked on was naming the product. I had initially planned to call it WaWa. The next idea I had was “hint.” I liked it because it was a simple, four-letter English word that could be used a lot of ways. For example, you can give people a hint. They can take a hint. What I was trying to do was help people drink water instead of sugary drinks. Later, we launched with the trademark Hint: Drink Water, Not Sugar.
Theo applied for the trademark in late October, but we wouldn’t know if we had secured the mark until after launching. Now we were down to seven months before my due date, and I wanted to make sure we had product to launch in stores before the baby arrived.
Those early flavors were not even close to the ones we produce today, but they were way better than anything available on the market. We proclaimed a few of them to be “final” (at least for the time being) and turned our attention to designing the bottle and looking for a co-packer. I got in touch with several co-packers and told them I had developed a new line of unsweetened flavored water. I asked if they would be interested in doing a test bottling of a thousand cases. The only answers I got were “No,” “No way,” and “That’s been tried before and it isn’t going to work.”
Then, in November, I got lucky. I connected with a relatively small co-packing operation in Chicago that manufactured a range of food and beverage products. It was woman-owned, which I liked, and I went through my pitch with Lisa. Fruit extract. No preservatives. No diet sweeteners or sugar. She was interested. She said they used a “cold fill” bottling process, which would ensure that the fruit flavor wasn’t altered by heating. She also agreed to accommodate a short run, at least for the test. Lisa was a great resource, putting us in touch with a company that could make bottles for us and providing contacts for a closure manufacturer, a box manufacturer, and a label company.
We scheduled an initial production run for early April 2005, since it was going to take a while to get everything lined up. The next four months flew by. We finalized our formulas. We designed a unique bottle, which looked a bit like an old-fashioned medicine bottle and worked well with the equipment at Lisa’s plant. And we settled on a closure, a clear, twist-open sport-cap, custom made for Hint.
I was committed and excited. I had newfound resolve and some funds in the bank to pay for the initial materials and run. In April, Theo and I flew to Chicago and watched as the first bottles of Hint came off the line. I have to say, seeing our physical product moving on the line was exhilarating, even though I was almost eight months pregnant and felt like I might give birth at any moment.
People ask me, “How did you create a whole new category of beverage while pregnant and with a budget of only $ 50,000?” The truth is, I did it pretty badly. It would take many, many millions of dollars and fifteen years to get from that point to where we are today, but I did accomplish my goal of making something that people could hold in their hand, that they could drink, and that could help them fall in love with water. That was the beginning, not the end, and I’m here to tell you that, sometimes, if you think too much about the end, you will never get past the beginning.
“Undaunted” is available now wherever books are sold and can be purchased via StartupNation.com.
The post Hint Founder Kara Goldin Says When it Comes to Entrepreneurship, Just Get Started appeared first on StartupNation.
Today we interviewed Luca Salgarelli, the founder and CEO of the Italian startup Inxpect. Founded in 2016, Inxpect is working on innovative 3D safety radar technology for robotics and industrial automation. So far, the startup was already able to raise about €12 milllion in funding and continues to be on a rapid growth journey. Inxpect was…
The post Reinventing the way people interact with machinery – Interview with Inxpect founder Luca Salgarelli first appeared on EU-Startups.
As the COVID-19 pandemic horizon stretches onward and a return to normalcy appears ever more distant, adaptation is the only option. Founders must prepare for a lengthy economic downturn, a slower sales pipeline, extended fundraising timelines and a deeply disrupted workplace — circumstances no one was planning for at the start of 2020.
Simply staying afloat will be difficult from now into the foreseeable future, and scaling your startup will be even more challenging due to the knock-on effects of the pandemic on the business environment. How do you invest in additional capacity if sales and funding cycles are extended? How do you source quality hires without meeting them in person? How can you be sure your team engagement stays high when no one is in the office? And even more confounding, how do you proceed onward and upward when everything seems uncertain?
In the best of times (and particularly in the worst), the responsibility for growing a startup falls to the founder and his or her ability to pivot. This is evident with the startups that have flourished during the pandemic, including home-fitness company Mirror and plant-based food producer Impossible Foods. Each was propelled by positive market tides as well as founders with the vision to see this crisis — awful as it might be — as an opportunity for growth. This unflinching mindset is fundamental to managing uncertainty.
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What makes founders essential when fortifying a startup against unpredictable risks?
Why founders matter
Founders presumably understand their startup better than anyone else. As such, investors often see the founder as the person most attuned to a startup’s potential and the obstacles in front of it. Employees can glean a similar attitude; ideally, they catch a founder’s vision and coalesce into a team, animating everything a company does in that image. No wonder people look to founders first to navigate fledgling companies through crises.
Beyond setting the right strategy, however, founders must also be an example for the entire company to follow. In practice, that means setting a trajectory for the startup that people feel excited to achieve. It means imagining what the future looks like and engineering a company to thrive in tomorrow’s world. It also means adapting to the unexpected with bold, confident responses.
Studies show that entrepreneurs are audacious by nature and more certain of their own ability to control outcomes than others. In crisis times such as these, great founders continue to ooze these characteristics, helping the entire startup feel assured and, perhaps most importantly, in control.
Key traits of effective founders
Many founders are full of ideas and enthusiasm, yet some propel their startups toward growth while others fizzle out. Here are some traits that distinguish the very best startup leaders:
Great storytelling skills
A startup doesn’t need an allegory to succeed (one that begins in a mythical garage, for instance), but it does need a great storyteller: someone who can communicate the vision of the company to employees, investors and customers alike.
Don’t confuse this with needing to be a world-renowned motivational speaker. The goal is to craft a compelling narrative, and this can be achieved without tremendous inborn talent. Like most skills, storytelling develops through practice. Take every opportunity to practice (i.e. conferences, interviews, pitches, follow-up calls) evangelizing about your company. Learn to seamlessly connect the future of your company (and whatever it takes to grow) with its history and founding principles.
A strong sense of foresight
If the goal is to scale fast, promising companies need to stay strategically ahead of the markets they operate in. Thus, foresight is an essential skill for founders, and it stems from understanding an industry in-depth: the market forces, competitive landscape, technical roots and customer profiles.
Deep foresight takes dedicated time to cultivate, so founders must make space in their schedules to ponder the big picture and long-term arc of their industry. A great example of deep foresight is Zoom; the company set out to transform an unloved industry (videoconferencing) and was positioned to seize that opportunity when it suddenly arrived. Zoom was designed for the future, evidencing just the kind of foresight it takes to grow in the face of changing global circumstances.
The ability to adapt
Startups are born to adapt; the trajectory never plays out as planned.
Change can be challenging and disruptive, but effective founders are unfazed. They embrace change, seeing it as an opportunity to evolve and expand upon their first principles.
Startup adaptability is engineered. To build for adaptability, design operations that approach problems systematically and can be optimized for flexibility. And always criticize processes, rather than people. It’s also a good idea to have several parallel strategies in place to insulate yourself from any single point of failure.
For example, one of the startups I advise runs a barbell strategy for business development to ensure it is simultaneously working on prospects that will pay off in a few months and ones that will pay off in a few years. The team is lean, but can manage a number of potential revenue outcomes by proceduralizing commonalities in the work so no single person is stretched too thin.
Many problems seem insurmountable, especially those that many of us have faced in recent months. Founders shouldn’t underestimate the obstacles in their path, but they shouldn’t see them as impassable, either. The best startup founders don’t crumble in the face of adversity. They overcome it, one step at a time.
People can learn the traits of successful entrepreneurs, and very few people (even among famous founders) embody all of them without trying. Every founder can retool for unforeseen market environments. And right now, they must if they’re serious about scaling up a startup on their own schedule instead of one set by circumstances outside their control.
The post 3 Signs a Founder Has What it Takes to Scale a Startup During Crisis appeared first on StartupNation.
Acapela, a new startup co-founded by Dubsmash founder Roland Grenke, is breaking cover today in a bid to re-imagine online meetings for remote teams.
Hoping to put an end to video meeting fatigue, the product is described as an “asynchronous meeting platform,” which Grenke and Acapela’s other co-founder, ex-Googler Heiki Riesenkampf (who has a deep learning computer science background), believe could be the key to unlock better and more efficient collaboration. In some ways the product can be thought of as the antithesis to Zoom and Slack’s real-time and attention-hogging downsides.
To launch, the Berlin-based and “remote friendly” company has raised €2.5 million in funding. The round is led by Visionaries Club with participation from various angel investors, including Christian Reber (founder of Pitch and Wunderlist) and Taavet Hinrikus (founder of TransferWise). I also understand Entrepreneur First is a backer and has assigned EF venture partner Benedict Evans to work on the problem. If you’ve seen the ex-Andreessen Horowitz analyst writing about a post-Zoom world lately, now you know why.
Specifically, Acapela says it will use the injection of cash to expand the core team, focusing on product, design and engineering as it continues to build out its offering.
“Our mission is to make remote teams work together more effectively by having fewer but better meetings,” Grenke tells me. “With Acapela, we aim to define a new category of team collaboration that provides more structure and personality than written messages (Slack or email) and more flexibility than video conferencing (Zoom or Google Meet)”.
Grenke believes some form of asynchronous meetings is the answer, where participants don’t have to interact in real-time but the meeting still has an agenda, goals, a deadline and — if successfully run — actionable outcomes.
“Instead of sitting through hours of video calls on a daily basis, users can connect their calendars and select meetings they would like to discuss asynchronously,” he says. “So, as an alternative to everyone being in the same call at the same time, team members contribute to conversations more flexibly over time. Like communication apps in the consumer space, Acapela allows rich media formats to be used to express your opinion with voice or video messages while integrating deeply with existing productivity tools (like GSuite, Atlassian, Asana, Trello, Notion, etc.)”.
In addition, Acapela will utilise what Grenke says is the latest machine learning techniques to help automate repetitive meeting tasks as well as to summarise the contents of a meeting and any decisions taken. If made to work, that in itself could be significant.
“Initially, we are targeting high-growth tech companies which have a high willingness to try out new tools while having an increasing need for better processes as their teams grow,” adds the Acapela founder. “In addition to that, they tend to have a technical global workforce across multiple time zones which makes synchronous communication much more costly. In the long run we see a great potential tapping into the space of SMEs and larger enterprises, since COVID has been a significant driver of the decentralization of work also in the more traditional industrial sectors. Those companies make up more than 90% of our European market and many of them have not switched to new communication tools yet”.
Hey startup founders,
How do you handle burnout these days?
This happens to a lot of ppl I know (me included), especially since "hustle culture" is pretty prevalent these days.
But the long term success of our companies/projects often depends on how healthy we are internally/mentally…
Anyways, I'm hosting a 'Founder Conversations' event where I'll share some of my favorite tips of how to manage burnout and we'll also go into break-out rooms where you can connect with other founders and discuss further.
My Zoom account limits me to 100 event attendees so this event is 1st come, 1st serve!
Hope to see some of you there, especially if you are facing burnout/stress/anxiety lately (or have tips to share!)