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Fitness isn't a new concept by any means, but it isn't the easiest goal to achieve. Despite "exercising more often" being one of the most popular resolutions every year, it's not always the one people stick to. Jeffrey Liu, the CEO and co-founder of fitness subscription company GuavaPass, believes the solution to this perennial problem lies in making it more engaging. And the best way to do that, according to the 32-year-old American and Hong Kong dual-national, is making it more social.
When you first started GuavaPass in 2015, what made you think it'd be a success?
Before I moved to Singapore, I was working at an e-commerce startup called BeachMint in Santa Monica. I got my first taste of group classes while there, as I would join colleagues at the SoulCycle across the street after work. As a classic gym-goer who favoured treadmills and solitude, I was amazed at the energy level in the class. If I slacked off, I'd look around at everyone around me pumping away and you feel like you have to keep up. I realised the social element is what makes group classes so much fun.
I met my co-founder Rob Pachter - he's from New York - through a mutual friend. We're both passionate about healthy living, and we started to take classes in various studios around Singapore. We were pleasantly surprised by the maturity of the culture here, given that most had only been around for a couple of years. When we talked to the owners of these studios, we were further encouraged by their interest in our concept.
You now have over 800 studio partners in 10 different countries, and 150 in Singapore. What is it about GuavaPass that sets you apart from other fitness offerings?
The first version of this platform was an aggregated deals website that mostly just drove traffic to studios that needed it. We wanted to build an ongoing relationship. So we visit each studio on at least a monthly basis, and we have what we call a Studio Happiness Team which functions like an account management team. If the studios need more help, we provide that too.
For example, we tell them, "Hey, this type of yoga format is currently trending, so you might want to offer more of these classes," or "12.30pm time slots are more popular than classes that start at noon, so why don't you shift your timing by half an hour to increase attendance?" It's almost like a consulting job!
What's your personal fitness routine like?
I used to run a lot in college, but when I started working in finance, I didn't have time so I dropped it. Now that I'm refocusing on my own personal health and wellness alongside the company, I'm committed to being a more avid runner, and to do marathons in the future. Apart from that, one of our main team bonding activities is going to classes together, so I go to yoga classes to increase my flexibility and mobility, and bootcamps for strength training too. It's a little bit of everything.
What's a life hack you swear by?
Power naps, definitely. It's not kosher in a traditional work environment, and I wasn't allowed to sleep in the middle of the day when I was in finance so I relied on caffeinated beverages. People have started to understand how much naps can help with productivity now, and personally, I feel about 10 times more productive once I've had a 20-minute shut-eye.
What's the biggest challenge you face in running GuavaPass?
It's all about focusing on the right thing. At GuavaPass, we have an idea board where any time someone has a suggestion, we put it up. In a given month, though, we can only tackle one or two things and when you have a list of about 300, it's difficult to prioritise because you want to implement everything immediately.
What ideas are you working on now?
We have a GuavaLabs 2.0 opening in March this year. It's going to be at the OUE Downtown in Shenton Way, and we'll be one of their first tenants. Other tenants will include a farmers' market and a fitness studio, it's actually a purely health and wellness building - the first of its kind in Singapore. The space is over 3,000 sq ft so we can offer bigger classes and more initiatives once we're there.
We'd also like to start working with individual personal trainers instead of focusing solely on studios. We haven't finalised the business plan for it but we want to create a platform to help these trainers grow their business. We're aiming to launch that in 2017.
What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?
You have to believe in what you're doing. 99 out of 100 people will tell you your idea won't work, so you have to have a thick skin, but also be able to understand the reasoning behind their skepticism. Once you know why they think it won't work, you can spin it around to improve your product.
Another hugely important aspect is being able to put your ego aside. Earlier on in our growth strategy, we did a soft launch of GuavaPass in Sydney and Melbourne, but it was more difficult than we envisioned. So we could either keep pumping in capital or bow out gracefully, which we did. As an entrepreneur, you just have to be comfortable with setbacks and be able to change your focus to the bigger picture and what you need to do to make that happen.