For many would-be entrepreneurs, starting a new business often comes from the desire to address a certain market gap with a new product or service. While this was somewhat the case for Alberto Pardo Aguilar, a then-consultant working in the UAE, what truly motivated him was something more personal: the desire to challenge oneself, especially within a field he was passionate about.
“I felt extremely attracted by the idea of building my own company, creating something new and disrupting an industry I have a deep passion for,” he said.
Alberto founded Fitlov, an online aggregator platform offering fitness and wellness personal trainer services on-demand, in early 2018 with his INSEAD classmate Fouad Farah, with $100,000 (AED 367,300) in bootstrapped cash. Fouad left the company after a year and a half, and Alvaro Zapata, who was both Fitlov’s chief operating officer and Alberto's childhood friend, has since joined the venture as a co-founder.
In the following years, the startup has undergone a journey of growth, and secured a $500,000 Pre-Series A round in late 2021 via angel investors. It also was part of the third cohort of the Flat6Labs Ignite seed program this year.
In a conversation with the Abu Dhabi SME Hub, Alberto sheds light on Fitlov, as well as his entrepreneurial journey so far.
Alvaro Zapata (left), and Alberto Pardo Aguilar (right), the Fitlov co-founders.
You worked as a consultant before deciding to take the plunge as an entrepreneur. What pushed you to finally make this transition?
Working as a management consultant helped me build my business and leadership skills, and I loved my journey in consulting, but at some point, I realised that my position was purely an advisory role. I am someone that loves a challenge, and I felt extremely attracted by the idea of building my own company, creating something new and disrupting an industry I have a deep passion for.
I was able to start the company while I was still working full-time at Boston Consulting Group, and that allowed me to gain learnings and traction in the first 2 years. By then, Fitlov was an established startup - we had managed to raise a $500k investment in June 2021, and that was the perfect timing for me to take the risk of leaving my full-time job and jumping into this venture all in.
How did the idea behind Fitlov come to be, and what market gap were you and your co-founders trying to address?
The first time the idea came to my mind was in 2017, while I was living in Singapore. Back then, I saw the first fitness marketplace apps come to life, such as Classpass or Guavapass, and they mostly followed the aggregator business model. I tried these services myself and I loved the idea of having an array of fitness options in one app. However, I always had a very busy lifestyle, so commuting to several fitness studios was not a sustainable option for me.
That made me think: how can I offer “[all-encompassing] fitness [services] on-demand,” so that consumers don’t need to waste time commuting, and would instead have fitness services and solutions come to them? Personal training at home has existed for a long time. However, it is an industry that hasn’t been digitalised, and that is the huge opportunity we are trying to address.
There are around 60,000 fitness professionals in the GCC, and we saw that they are struggling to manage and grow their businesses, doing all the work manually. At Fitlov, we have designed a product that offers an all-in-one solution for trainers, where they can not only get clients, but also use our tech to do much more, through the inclusion of a booking system, CRM options and payment gateway features.
Today, what are Fitlov's core services?
We offer personal trainers on-demand, anytime, anywhere. Our app allows users to find and avail the services of all types of fitness and wellness professionals. Our trainers are available to fulfil general fitness needs, but also all cover specialisations like yoga, pilates, swimming, boxing, etc.
Additionally, we just added a whole pillar of wellness services, including sports massages, meditation, nutrition, and life coaching. Our vision is to provide any fitness and wellness service on-demand, and we do that by offering full visibility of onboarded professionals, their experience, certificates and consumer reviews. Most of our services are done in person, with a professional that comes to you, but we also added several services that are done online (e.g. nutritionist consultations and life coaching).
Why did the founding team decide on the as-a-Service business model, and what are its pros and cons?
We aggregate fitness and wellness services by definition, but what makes us very different is our business model, and how we select and engage the professionals we aggregate. All of our professionals are freelancers, and that gives us several advantages: we can scale up really fast at no cost, we are able to attract the best talent (in fitness, the best professionals are freelancers as they earn more), and we can expand cross-border easily the same way platforms like Airbnb do.
The disadvantage is that you have to put together a very good structure and engaging model for these fitness and wellness professionals, so that they feel supported and form a sense of belonging to the platform. Luckily, we have been in the market for 4 years, and that helps us understand what role we should play with our trainers and how we can help them.
How would you describe your entrepreneurial journey so far? Any notable challenges you've faced and lessons you've learned?
In simple words, it’s both the most rewarding and most challenging experience I have ever had.
Being a tech entrepreneur is a whole different profession, and it requires certain skills that you can only learn on the job. We faced multiple challenges, and that’s normal, but quickly you realise that every challenge has a solution, and you have to focus on solving one at a time and move forward.
For example, ever since I first thought of Fitlov, there were around 10 startups created in the UAE with a similar idea. Today, almost all of them have gone out of business. The idea is important, but in reality, what matters the most is the execution, and how quickly you can distil learnings and evolve. I could write several pages on the lessons I have learned, but perhaps the most important one is to have a really strong passion for what you are trying to build, as this will help you push through all the obstacles you will faces and will make you feel fulfilled and motivated every day.
You were recently selected as part of the latest cohort of the Flat6Labs Ignite seed program. What did you achieve through this participation?
We are very happy to be part of the Flat6labs family, and having gone through the program I can say it brought us tremendous value. We participated in the program as a chance to reshape our company strategy with the help of world-class advisors. and this is what we have accomplished. I can't reveal all the details about the future of Fitlov, but I can say that the Flat6Labs program has helped us clarify many burning questions that we had in terms of what we want Fitlov to become.
Looking ahead, what's next for Fitlov?
I think today, we have built a really cool and innovative product. In a way, it's like a Deliveroo for fitness and wellness, and we are seeing really good traction on both the consumers' and the trainers’ sides. With the app ready and stable, we are now at the stage of focusing on growth and geographical expansion, so we are preparing to enter multiple GCC countries and test which markets are the most attractive for our model.
We will definitely be expanding our offerings, as our vision is to provide any fitness & wellness service on-demand. We have set a target for ourselves to be the #1 app in the world for consumers looking for trainer services, and for trainers looking to sell their services online. To do that, we have to work on our product, and add features that add value to both sides, so you can expect the Fitlov app to evolve quickly.