Paul Bianco’s GymSnoop Is On A Mission – Help People Find Gyms With Transparency
Bootstrapping his startup GymSnoop, tech entrepreneur Paul Bianco is interested in making the health and fitness industry more transparent in New York City as well as select markets within the United States. Having had the experience of being a member at various gyms throughout the NYC area, Bianco launched GymSnoop with the aim of having members disclose details such gym membership fees, condition and quality of equipment, as well as the overall cleanliness of gym facilities.
Initially, Bianco as under the impression that he would become an enemy of the health and fitness industry in New York, but that’s not quite what has developed since launch.
In one month Bianco and his team built a prototype and in about two and half months, he had a usable product. Now, Bianco’s running the day to day from his bar stool although it doesn’t mean he’s taking it easy.
Busy running the show at GymSnoop, Paul took some time talk Killerstartups about what’s it like founding a startup New York. Here’s what he shared with us:
In your own words can you explain the primary benefits of GymSnoop for consumers as well as for gym owners?
GymSnoop allows people to see what current members of gyms and fitness clubs pay, which provides them with leverage when negotiating their own membership rates.
The fact is, gyms very rarely list prices and fees on their websites, and often won’t even quote a price over the phone. It’s a pretty opaque industry. So people in search of a new gym are forced to physically visit each gym they are interested in, go on the grand tour, and sit down with a sales representative of each place. It’s a time consuming process that I’ve personally been though many times before.
Further, when a gym representative quotes you a price, how can you be sure the “one day special” rate they quote you is a fair price? You’d be surprised at some of the data we’re seeing. I’m talking about people working out right next to each other paying 30-40% more or less than one another. That’s a lot of money.
As for how this helps gyms, honestly, I originally thought I was going to be the most hated man in the fitness industry. But the feedback I have received from gyms so far has been a pleasant surprise. By having prices readily available online for anybody to see, gyms believe they will receive higher quality prospective customers through the door as less qualified buyers will naturally weed themselves out. That means less time and money spent selling.
We allow gyms the opportunity to claim their GymSnoop listing and add pictures, offer deals and discounts, connect with prospective customers and show the world what they have to offer. In other words, they get to tell their side of the story. The goal isn’t for people to find cheap gyms; it’s about quickly and easily finding gyms that meet their budget and needs.
When did you first get the idea for GymSnoop and how long did it take before you launched the beta?
I moved in early April 2012. For a gym-goer like me, a new town means a new gym. It took me weeks to scope out all the gyms in town. Had GymSnoop existed, the whole process would have taken a few minutes. I felt I could have spent all of that time shopping for a gym and sitting with sales representatives, you know, actually working out.
The idea for GymSnoop was born late-April, and I had a prototype by the end of May. The public beta was launched in early July as we worked out some kinks and populated it with information. So going from idea to actual tangible product that people can use today took about 2.5 months.
As a site that encourages candid user input regarding their experience in a gym, how do you vett user content?
The hardest part is ensuring gym prices reported by our members are accurate. We have checks in place to ensure all input prices are reasonable based on certain thresholds. The hard thing is, sometimes people really do pay very different prices. We also allow our members to report to us when something seems fishy / blatantly inaccurate. It’s more of an art than a science.
Who’s on your team and how did you connect with them?
In addition to myself, the team consists of a developer and an assistant that work on a project basis. I found my developer by chance through an online forum, and my assistant on Elance. I have been extremely lucky as both have blown away my expectations and have been absolutely vital in the creation of the site. I manage the day to day, dialing up my developer when something that needs to be done is beyond my skill level… so that happens a lot.
And do you have previous business experience that has informed how you approach running GymSnoop?
I’m actually a Certified Public Accountant and have worked in consulting and finance. I guess I’m not your “typical” tech entrepreneur, if there is such a thing. However, I’ve always been a geek at heart and self-taught myself a little bit of coding.
I think the most helpful thing is the fact that I have had a lot of startup ideas in the past, and even began to execute on a few. My experience with researching and developing those mini-ventures was my version of Startups 101.
How do you go about marketing the availability of a site like GymSnoop in the NYC area?
Getting an initial base of interested users was essential. This was done basically with a landing page and targeted online advertising. Our landing page had a really high conversion rate which was not only helpful to building up a base of initial users, but was also really promising because I knew we were building something that people actually wanted.
Are you bootstrapping GymSnoop or are you funded from outside investors?
I have not really considered fundraising at this point but it’s a thought for the future.
What adjustments have you had to make as the user base grows?
I think the main adjustment has been tweaking the user experience along the way. I watch friends and family use the site to see what can be improved. My goal is for the site to be so easy to use, even my Mom can use it.
I also have goals set up with Google analytics which shows me where people abandon the sign up process, so I can optimize conversions.
So how do you approach the challenges of running a startup?
Time is by far the biggest obstacle. There never seems to be enough hours in the day.
Are there characteristics beyond price that users have expressed wanting in a gym that have surprised you?
Actually yes… I did quite a few surveys prior to launching the beta and I found that more people actually care more about gym’s equipment quality and overall cleanliness ratings than the price. That’s why I added those rating metrics. It’s not just about finding cheap gyms; it’s about bang for your buck.
What’s the day to day like of running GymSnoop and how do you go about organizing your list of priorities for each day?
Initial development was crazy. Market research, planning, acquiring initial users without having an actual product, and development were all happening at once. Now it’s more about tweaking and growing.
Is there a particular routine that you follow that allows you the maximum output in a workday?
It’s really easy to get sidetracked with things that don’t really matter. Every now and again throughout the day, I think of Parkinson’s Law of Triviality. Do I tinker with what color I am going to use for a certain GymSnoop graphic, or do I take care of the elephant in the room? I do my best to do the latter just by being cognizant of the importance of various tasks.
Can you talk about some of the future plans of GymSnoop and how you see GymSnoop evolving?
Short term is to expand and grow within select markets across the US. Long term is for GymSnoop to take the entire gym shopping experience, and bring it online.
As a startup in NYC, do you feel the environment is particularly well suited for your startup or startups in general?
NYC is a great city with a lot of smart, creative people. The hard part is pulling people away from high paying corporate jobs to work on a startup – and it’s not because they love their current jobs. I think people here have interest in doing this stuff, but it’s tough to take the risk due to the impossibly high cost of living.
So what advice would you offer someone interested in launching a startup?
I don’t want to sound cliché, but the most important thing is actually going for it. You will fail at 100% of things you never try. Ideas alone are a dime a dozen.