“I Run My Business Out Of My Cell Phone:” How Mobile Is Powering a Fitness SMB

Like many local businesses, the fitness and wellness industry has seen many new tools to manage backoffice/scheduling, demand generation and social media/community building. Our mutual friend Rob Bailey connected me with Jennifer Pattee who, as founder of San Francisco’s Basic Training, is using everything from crowdfunding to Yelp to power her business.

1. Founding Story – how did Basic Training get started? You were in tech before, working at companies like Apple. Most folks wouldn’t want to give up that opportunity.

The short story of my life is I went from college to Americorps to Congress then back to school. Then IDEO, Apple, and many temp jobs and freelancing gigs in between. Then I launched my company, Basic Training. (www.basictrainingsf.com) We just celebrated our six-year anniversary.

The life I have now is a lot like the life I had in college. I didn’t know it at the time, but college offered me a blueprint for perfect health. I lived in the woods, went to the ocean almost every day, rode my bike for transportation and spent just the right amount of time working, studying, running, partying, hanging out with friends.

After college, everything got thrown out of balance. I was completely focused on my career, it really took a toll on my body. Eventually I started running and competing in adventure races, and a lot of people told me I was crazy — I could hurt myself and jeopardize my career. The irony is that I ended up injuring myself at my desk. While it’s true I had a job a lot of people would kill for, the hours in my day when I felt most alive were running on the trails before work with my friends. I realized I couldn’t give up the best years of my life doing something that lost its meaning. So I trusted my gut, listened to my body, and changed careers. Now I lead my clients down the same path.

In starting this company, I looked at everything that was wrong with our physical culture, and asked myself how I could make it different, make it better. I never set out to be an entrepreneur, solving problems is just what designers are trained to do. My  approach to fitness emerged from the answers I found, and my company grew out of that.

These days I’ve come full circle. The work I am most excited about is where I can be a catalyst for change at a macro level. As an SF native, I’ve always wanted to help the city that I love by disrupting the status quo. Today CEOs, neighborhoods, even developers are asking for my help in creating new systems. Companies realize that wellness isn’t just a perk anymore. If they want their employees to change the world, they need to support their physical well being. Communities are learning their health depends on building a local “movement culture.” Even developers are discovering that embedding opportunities for movement into the built environment adds vibrancy, lowers crime, attracts more people, and sells more units. The business case for active design is very compelling because it doesn’t have to cost a lot.

2. How has technology played a role in customer acquisition? Have you ever run deals via Groupon, others? 

Our biggest technology success story was crowdfunding our community pop-up fitness space (http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/pop-up-fitness-hub-hayes-valley–2) on Indiegogo. People from all over the world rallied to help us take over a parking lot in Hayes Valley and turn it into an outdoor play space. We’re launching it this Saturday June 7. Please come. www.basictrainingparty.eventbrite.com

Other than that, I feel like 90% of our clients find us through their friends. They’ll see changes start to happen in the way their friend looks and operates in the world, and say “Ok, what are you doing? Something’s different. You’ve changed.” Or, “What? You’re running now? You? Since when?” People have also given us a lot of love on Yelp. Thank you everybody for that. http://www.yelp.com/biz/basic-training-san-francisco-2

3. Can you share some of the software tools you use to run your business? Scheduling, payroll, etc? Why did you select these services?

I run my business out of my cell phone, so I’m excited for the next generation of small business tools designed for mobile. What I need most is a product that aggregates all my contacts, emails, and sales pipelines that’s also super simple and elegantly designed. Giving RelateIQ a shot. Other than that, I’m pretty old school when it comes to scheduling and payroll. We end up using paper calendars and carrier pigeons in the studio a lot.

4. Social media seems to be big in the fitness world – both the studios and clients sharing their workouts. How have you approached community building for Basic Training?

Social media has been great, but we don’t share workouts very much. I think part of the fun of our program is you have absolutely no idea what you’re in store for every time you show up.

We mostly use social media to change the way people think about exercise.

You say the word “exercise” and people think “boring, repetitive and hard.”  But in our world, working out is a chance to run and play with your friends, get outside, and see our city in a whole new light. We see things in class that would blow your mind. Dolphins, rainbows, sunrises, sunsets. Not to mention the occasional surfer changing out of their wet suit at Fort Point. We get into every nook and cranny of San Francisco, Marin, and Mt Tam and discover things that cause you to pause and think, yes, I really do live in one of the most incredible places in the world. Instagram and Facebook have been great for sharing all that. I think it helps drive attendance and brand love. We don’t tell people how they should live and what kinds of decisions to make, but we have no problem nudging them to death with inspiring photos until they can’t take it anymore and finally show up for a class.

It’s also fun watching how people respond to us on Facebook. People “like” it when we finish running 100-mile races. But they really love to see those post-race Tecates go down and the occasional debauchery that follows.

5. If a startup was selling a new technology, how do you like to be pitched? How important is word of mouth? Free trial plans? 

I love it when a company has really thought through every step of the user experience when delivering their product to market, and word of mouth is my favorite way of finding out about new things. That’s how I found out about some of my favorite tools, like Strava, Fitstar, and Fitbit. I care less about the way it’s pitched. For me it’s all about considerations like — what problem is this solving? How well is it designed? Is it reliable? How much love and care has this company put into its brand and customer experience?

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