Interview – Nick Corneil – Redefining the role of a website to grow a SaaS business?
Nick Corneil is the founder of Trainer+ which is a web and mobile platform for gyms and personal trainers with the goal to change how personal training is sold. More than just online workout tracking, the platform allows training providers to offer an ideal client/member experience and automate fitness management.
Nick has spent his whole life in the fitness and sports industry, growing up on the sidelines of aerobics classes, and playing professional football in Europe. Before getting into the tech startup world, he worked as a personal trainer, gym manager, and operations manager for a chain of gyms. Then he decided to combine his passions for technology and fitness to pursue his goal of making fitness professionals more effective and a relevant part of the circle of care.
In this episode, Nick shares his journey how he founded Trainer+ and what is his vision going forward. We also discussed their online strategies and how they have redefined the role of their website. Tune in…
See the full interview below…
Pathmonk: In today’s show, I’m meeting Nick Corneil, the founder of Trainer+. We’re going to talk all about fitness SaaS, here today. I’m Lukas your host as always. I want to tell you about Nick before we get started. Nick is the founder ofTrainer+, it’s a web and mobile platform for gyms and personal trainers to sell fitness content and support online. He really grew up in the fitness industry and worked as a trainer, a gym manager, and a director of operations before moving into the tech world. He brings a lot of real life expertise and experience within that industry before he turned that into a software product which is the product that we’re talking about today. This gives them a very unique angle, a unique blend of skins, skills, which is number one, being part of the fitness industry for a long time and now transferring that skills into the technology world, but building out a very, interesting product. So Nick, welcome to the show.
Nick Corneil: Thanks a lot, man. Happy to be here.
Pathmonk: Tell us about the company, the product, what is it all about?
Nick Corneil: Sure.Well so we built a platform for gyms and trainers, and mostly it was to empower personal trainers and fitness professionals to scale their value more. We started with just a platform for trainers and their clients and them being able to prescribe and track workouts and assessments. It ended up scaffolding on top of that. A set of features for gyms and the platform continues to evolve .It started much like a B2C play. Now we evolved more into an enterprise version and a SaaS model, for gyms. Being that most trainers work at gyms, that is a better marketing channel for us. And, and we’re continuing to evolve, we’re actually launching a consumer facing product, in the coming week. And, and looking at becoming more of a marketplace for that content to generate leads for the fitness industry where they can sell support through our platform. It’s a, yeah, it’s always as any tech is, it’s always a work in progress and it’s always an evolution. That’sTrainer+ in a nutshell. It’s just based of what we’ve learned as we’ve gotten the product out into people’s hands and them asking us and us learning about our customers a lot and what their strengths and in a lot of cases their weaknesses are and where we can kind of fill in some of those weaknesses with tech.
Pathmonk: You mentioned already there that you’re working closely with a lot of customers. Who would be the people who would benefit most? What types of trainers? You mentioned coaches within the gyms, but I’m assuming also I guess individual trainers maybe tell us about a typical user
Nick Corneil: We tend to have two different types of users. One of them is the independent trainer. They’ve got their own business.They’re looking at evolving their business and generating more revenue and more leads from online training. That’s the biggest challenge in fitness, both for gyms and trainers is that right now the way that it’s done is they sell their time in one hour blocks, right? So they sell this session based one hour block-based service and that’s very limiting.Very few people can afford to buy packages of sessions. They have a very low engagement rate and even gyms have a very low engagement rate for their gym base. What we do is we create all kinds of new ways for them to sell that engagement. Trainers are kind of the main customer. There is that independent trainer base that uses our platform. We find that there’s a lot of gyms who are even more incentivized to move online, to both engage more of their members that are in their facility, but also use their brand to reach outside and start to sell online training. That’s our other customer segment. We do have an enterprise version for larger chains where they’re looking at: “Okay, we want to open up these new online services, and then have our trainers come and use your tool”. At the end of the day, it’s still the trainer who is our main user. Our main customer segments end up being the gyms and independent trainers – two different customer segments.
Pathmonk: You mentioned there is two customer segments, so I’m assuming there might be two different customer journeys or ways how they actually find Trainer+. Can you tell us a bit about that, those two ways on how those individual groups find you?
Nick Corneil: Yeah absolutely. With individual trainers, we tend to find most of the discoveries happening actually in the app store. We have some pretty good ASO for certain keywords, like personal trainer, client tracking, we show up kind of number three in the app and play store there. A lot of individual trainers when they’re just searching for apps in the store, that’s where they tend to find us. Where with gyms it’s a bit more of a research based where they go onto Google, they search, they find platforms that are based on this, they come to our website, then they see what our platform is about and engage us for a demo. So, the website drives more of the gym and enterprise traffic and not individual trainers. We find that we get more acquisition for the individuals from the app stores themself. The acquisition done on the enterprise side is actually done through setting up a discovery call and then a demo and then going through the more traditional SaaS sales cycle in that sense.
Pathmonk: Got you. That will be then just, the gyms are coming through the website basically…
Nick Corneil: Our acquisition ends up being, and I guess we’ll probably get more into this, but the website is where we get organic discovery happening from gyms. Whereas, we also have on the strategic side ways in terms of conference and trade shows where we end up meeting a lot of this managers, owners of gyms. That starts as a conversation that gets into like an email and demo, follow up cycle in that sense. Even in that sense when we first make a contact, one of the first things I send them is, okay, well here’s the website, go check it out or here’s the link to the app. Go and go and play around and see what our platform is about it. Usually people using the platform is the best sales point I can have. Which is where the demo becomes a pretty key one for enterprise people.
Pathmonk: How would you, in this marketing mix of the events and speaking engagements, what role would you say does the website play? Is it a key channel then or is it more an information hub on the side?
Nick Corneil: It still is. What I find in talking to customers, when we get to that demo stage is that no matter where they’ve met us, whether it’s organically online or whether it’s at one of these events, of course they take our business card, they take our flyer, right.The next thing they ended up doing is going to the website. Or passing it to their colleague and sayin go check out this website. From the website they sign up to the app and do a free trial and end up booking a demo.The website does end up being a key part of the journey for everybody.
Pathmonk: In regards to, metrics there, because it’s a part in the middle of the journey, I would be curious what type of metrics are important for you for on the website because yeah, where would you focus on because there’s tons of metrics that you could focus on. What is key for you?
Nick Corneil: Yeah. That’s a really interesting challenge for us because we find that we get a whole array of people that come to the website. Not everyone that comes to the website is a trainer or a gym owner necessarily. In fact, most people that do come to the website aren’t necessarily gyms or trainers.There’s this segment of people that then go and discover more information, and then go to sign up. A lot of the metrics that we look at on the website, are really, when that person lands on the site, do they go to the page for gyms or trainers and then subsequently, how many of those people go to sign up and what our conversion rate ends up being through that. It is, it is admittedly of a black hole sometimes. It’s tough to tie things like mixed panel and Google analytics, which are two tools that we use together.How do we know that this is, that we’ve identified a fitness professional, which of these two segments is it, and then what led to sign up and convert. There’s still some work to do in terms of how we can incentivize those types of users right away when they get to the site to identify them properly and capture that lead information, to be able to follow up. Not just, hoping that they sign up but actually say, okay, is there some more information we can give you? Can we send a video about something or whatever it might be to tie them in.
Pathmonk: Could you tell us about how you try to identify this or maybe any challenges that you overcame in terms of increasing the conversions? Because I can totally see that you have these different groups coming and different groups need maybe different types of information. Like how do you try to increase the conversions on the site.
Nick Corneil: Sure.I think the main thing that we’ve found effective is actually focusing on where they’re coming from. A really good example of that is, it’s one thing to have like the whole fitness segment and then there’s this segment of it that’s fitness professionals and then there’s this part of it that’s tech savvy, business savvy, early adopter types, right? So when we, it’s really hard to identify what that person is. We’ve tried some things like making calculators on the site for like if there it say how much they could make by using our tool and things like that of ways of up seeing if we can push towards that segmentation. Really what we found is it’s acquisition. When we go to somewhere like Reddit for example, and there’s a subreddit for personal trainers, we know that if they’re a trainer who’s on Reddit, they’re probably tech savvy.They’re probably more forward thinking. If we see people come from Reddit to the site, they tend to convert, better than somebody who just randomly found us through organic search on Google.
Pathmonk: It’s really the source that is giving you an indication of which group they would fall and then based on that, ideally providing the best information to them. Any more challenges that you would have on conversion rate that you could share? Any war stories, any website changes, something recent…
Nick Corneil: A ton. It’s all, it’s an ongoing battle, right? So, I think what’s interesting about the way our conversion works is that we allow people to sign up for free and actually get their first two clients for free. Because we really believe in people just once they use the tool and they start getting value from it and seeing value from it, that’s what’s going to lead them to inviting that third and fourth and fifth client, which is when they become a paying customer. The biggest thing, the biggest challenge we’ve found is that people like trainers and gyms come to us and say: “Oh, I know I want to move my business online, but sometimes they don’t have a, the concept of what that is.” There’s two different like rounds of education that we need to do. On the one hand there is educating them in terms of like: “Hey, there’s this new way of thinking about training. There’s these new sources, there’s these new revenue streams where you can actually sell your service in a new way”. A lot of that goes into the onboarding. They sign up, what our set of onboarding emails is, what, how in depth our guide is. Even though there’s a guide in the top right, not very many people find it. They’d rather reach out to us through instant message, or email us and say: ”Hey, how do I do this? And it’s well, you can just click on the guide and the top right.You know, see the video on it. There’s been, we’ve had to do a lot more work than I thought we’d have to do initially on just on that onboarding process and getting people the information they need and educating them on that.That’s where I found when I go and I speak on the future of personal training and fitness and where this industry is going.
There’s analogy I use quite often with a blockbuster and Netflix, right? Which is, so when, when Netflix first came out, blockbuster thought, okay, well we’ve got to, nobody’s ever going to want to order their DVDs in the mail. They resisted that for a really long time. Eventually they came around to developing an mailing service. Netflix just, switched to streaming and killed blockbuster. We find that the fitness industry people have this concept of, I want to go online, but they’re thinking about how do I sell my one hour blocks more online? Like they’re not thinking of, okay, how can I sell a new service online, as opposed to just trying to find more people to buy my time in one hour blocks or try to sell them some one size fits all solution, which is the old way of thinking and fitness. That’s where a lot of the technology is trying to drive one of those two things. Whereas we’re saying, look, there’s all this middle ground that you’re missing on. There’s a huge percentage of the population is looking for something in between that. That’s where, getting people to think about more of like streaming as opposed to mailing DVDs. That analogy, going its way through. That’s been the biggest challenge and that’s where why we continue to evolve the platform and are looking at, even looking at more of a marketplace where we just say: “Hey, this is how you can sell. Just go sell it through our platform and then deliver it through our platform as well. That’s what, that’s the transition that we’re going through right now.
Pathmonk: What are, I’m curious as a quick followup, what types of service packages or ways that you see, coaches and trainers will be selling fitness, two years, three years, five years down the line. What are some ideas that you’re having about that?
Nick Corneil: Awesome question. The real value of what a fitness professional brings to the table is on the one hand, it’s accountability and motivation, right? They hold people accountable to do what they’re supposed to do. They motivate them to continue to push and go further and get to that, those habit change lifestyle change milestones, which are, 60, 90, 180 days out. Part of that is that accountability motivation.The other half of it is applied knowledge. Hey, this is what you should be doing now based off your goal and then how you react to that stimulus, how your body reacts to it and how you progress. They know how to adapt that plan over time. It’s really about think those two values. Right now they sell their time in our blocks.That’s the only way they know how to do it. We see it as, Hey, if you can give them a plan and then have a way that they track it, which is through our app and give some feedback about each exercise, each workout, then the trainer can come in and make the modifications to the plan on going.That’s that applied knowledge piece of it. There’s also an implied accountability because the trainer is going to see if you track your workout or not and what you did.The new services that we see are everything from just like talking to a trainer and then giving them a program and then the person being on the road if they’ve already got that intrinsic motivation to coming in weekly and checking on the program and making changes to it.There you’ve got the accountability plus the knowledge to doing something like monthly programming.They have like a monthly meeting, they give them a custom program.They may even do a one in person session with them to show them the exercises and then and then the rest of it happens online. We see those as being the three main in-betweens, like a program online accountability and then custom programming and the accountability online as being three new services in between. Just like finding workout programs on your own and discovery mode, which there’s a ton of and more of with Instagram and YouTube and everything else and like buying weekly sessions.That’s the services that we see evolving.We see a lot of our customers starting to evolve in cell and from the consumer side, we’ve done a ton of research on the consumer side and that’s what they want.You talk to somebody and they say, I’m already going to the gym. I just want to program, or I just want a trainer to tell me how I should change that program over time? Or they say I can’t afford training, but I’d really like a program be shown how to do it and then at least have that accountability. That’s where we see where it’s going, where we know what the consumers want and it’s tech that allows trainers to scale that.They just have to break that notion of selling their time and one hour blocks and start selling services based off the value that’s perceived from the end user. I mean if you think about it from the end user standpoint, if they’re paying, like a hundred 50 to $200 a month for a trainer, but they’re getting all the same value as what, the 500 to a thousand dollars they’d be paying typically in the current model.People, you say, Hey, for $100 you’re going to get a personal trainer that’s every day in your phone.That’s kind of a no brainer. Most people can afford that and they like that it’s our job just to facilitate that relationship is as seamlessly and as frictionless as possible.
Pathmonk: I can totally relate to this as an end user. I mean especially if you train like myself, let’s say over many years, you have to get new ideas, you have to set up new plans and it’s a lot of work to always do this all by yourself.
Nick Corneil: Noise too, right? Like you go out there and there’s just so much noise on YouTube and Instagram and everything else.It’s interesting cause when I was a gym manager and I floated this idea w I sold fitness kind of in this way initially, before we developed the tech.What I found to my surprise was it was my, it was the members who were coming already five days a week and were pretty diligent that were the ones that were like, Oh, I’d pay $100 to get a program from that trainer.I just don’t need them overseeing me all the time.He saw the value in getting the programming from it.So that was one interesting.The thing that was an early learning in what we did and where we see there’s that segment of the market. The other segment is that the more inexperienced people, the more sedentary population and that population tends to need some more incentive like a doctor who’s told them to do it or prescribed it, or insurance covering it or maybe they’ve had a health condition or they’re, or they’ve got like early onset diabetes or something. And so there’s an extra incentive there.That’s again, like we’re where we move into more of this content play. With our, with our platform, we’re starting to do specific health condition content, and longterm the bigger vision is how we see the healthcare world and the insurance will actually cover, fitness as prevention. So we understand the path to that. It’s going to be delivered through a tech like ours and through a validator like ours where we can validate that the fitness professional both has the expert content.And the expertise to deliver it.We think that we’re going to get there faster than the traditional grassroots methods and the way that everyone is, the whole fitness industry is kind of clamoring to unlock some of these healthcare dollars.
Pathmonk: I can, like I said, I can relate to it as an end user. would be curious, maybe switching gears since we are slowly coming to an end of the interview .I would be curious as you, as a business founder, maybe one question for us, you coming from a fitness industry, moving into the tech world, going back into that time, what were, what would you wish you would have known or what is the most important things that you learned. You brought in the market knowledge, but it was probably a lot of new things as well. What advice would you give yourself if you would do the transition again?
Nick Corneil: Learn how to code.I mean if I could have written code right from the get go, things would have gone a lot faster. But I mean that’s a big ask. I think the biggest learnings for me have been about management.? Right so just like how to build UI, UX, how to listen to users and how to iterate on that and how to get there faster. I had a lot of preconceived notions about where like, it’s funny cause a lot of my preconceived notions were validated in what we’ve done over four years, five years. I had a lot of my own biases that I came in with. Like I know this is how fitness should be delivered. We kind of tried to build a product to do that.The, the fitness world wasn’t ready for that yet and they still kind of aren’t. We’ve ended up having to build a lot more features than I thought for that. Whereas I think if we would’ve just right from the get go had more, if I would have more open mind to okay, you tell me what you need and I’m going to give you some of that and then we’re going to steer people in the direction that it needs to go. I think that would’ve, that would’ve helped. On the one hand, now that we’ve kind of validated where we, where we’ve gone to, we probably more research about just what consumers really wanted and starting to cater to that right away.We focus much more on the trainer and the and the gym and like, this is what we, this is the feature set we think they needed. As opposed to listening to the end user and saying, well, this is what they want. We focused on making the tool as easy for the trainer as possible, where now we’re focusing more on how we make the tree the tool more sticky for the end user because if people would have been using it and loving it and coming back and go back to the trainers and saying, I want a new program, I want, like, I want to use this, then it would’ve pulled more trainers and gyms up, as opposed to trying to give them the tool and then encourage them to go up into the market. I think that’s the biggest advice I would’ve had is one, trust those instincts and what consumers want. Build something that caters more to that side of things.Be more open about, what exactly people do need as opposed to try and , fitting it into that mall. I think those are the biggest learnings I would have.I would have advised myself five years ago to where we’ve gotten to the two today and it sounds really practical, like very practical advice that is so easily can be done wrong, right? When you have your ideas about the product or when you think what the customers want.I think this is really practical advice.
Pathmonk: I really appreciate that you took the time, telling us about your product, about your journey as a founder, as well as you, how you’re thinking about growth.Thanks a lot for being part of the show today.
Nick Corneil: I really appreciate it. For anyone who’s out there.You’ll find it us in the app and play store.That’s just for, that’s for people to discover exercises and workouts and can subscribe to content. Unlock, over 1500 exercises, about 150 workouts and can request support from a trainer. So that’s the new consumer product. It’s Fitness+, in the app and play store. For trainers in gyms out there, they can find us at trainerpl.us and discover more about how they can use our tool to evolve their business.