Virtual communities strengthen and disrupt existing institutions. We’ve seen them place new resources and connections within reach of previously unconnected individuals and organizations. It was only a matter of time before the fitness community harnessed this development. We have entered an era in which networked electric-powered devices not only are being used to strengthen businesses but also local face-to-face communities. Devices like Fitbit, the step counter and sleep tracker, spur people on to daily fitness goals by tracking progress and vibrating with victory.
The fitness industry is ripe for this revolution – perhaps more than any other – since it’s all about individuals and businesses on the move. Capitalizing on that movement is only logical. Large club legacy systems aren’t agile enough for the increasing specialty fitness studios popping up around town or the individuals looking for a variety of fitness experiences. Teacher/coach quality counts and facilitating registration for one-off deals helps individuals sample the culture at top local fitness studios. And, that’s just one step towards enabling individuals to take control of their health and wellness routines.
Finding Your Routeam
Routeam is becoming a central, online fitness marketplace strengthening personal community relationships through event and class registration, communication and group/individual coaching. The idea is simple: Routeam provides real-time connections between individuals and their personal trainers/teachers/coaches and workout buddies on the move. In addition, its affordable infrastructure extends the fitness professional’s reach beyond the studio into nearby neighborhoods and workplaces.
“Routeam lets people do more of what they love,” says co-founder and serial entrepreneur, Coach Dustin J. Canter. “It helps certified wellness/fitness coaches and studio owners spend more quality time with fitness clients and less with marketing, selling and low-value transactions, such as class registration.” It also enables individuals to personalize their fitness routines.
Engaging with Community
Dustin is all about community and strategic connecting. I first met him at a Startup Grind event in February 2013. Routeam combines Dustin’s passion for entrepreneurship with a commitment to fitness. After college, Dustin had been featured on Biz Kid$, a TV series about young entrepreneurs for forming a local storage business and bagel shop near the University of Illinois. He learned from his successes and mistakes and returned to DC to regroup and learn more about health and wellness as an industry.
Dustin and I connected on LinkedIn after a friend recommended an indoor cycling class I lead. We met at In the Capital’s “DC Upfront” Education Summit, he took the class, and afterward filled me in on the development of Routeam with co-founder Andrew Conklin, a federal contractor looking for a change.
A runner who had heart surgery at age 1 ½, Andrew takes wellness and fitness seriously. “I had been working part-time on a tech platform to make it easier for students to sign up online through one profile for yoga and fitness studios around DC,” he explains. Discovery conversations with several studio owners convinced him the idea was worth pursuing. Andrew says he started the DC Nightowls co-working meet-up in 2011, in part, “to have a place to work on this project.” Dustin, who had also begun pursuing a project around helping people achieve health and fitness goals, met Andrew at a couple of DC Nightowls co-working sessions. The two clicked and started an ongoing conversation. People don’t just need fitness routines, Dustin reasoned, they need to be part of a local team to help and hold them accountable for ongoing fitness goals. They need a “Routeam.”
Dustin and Andrew, who coined the company mantra “Be Healthy,” joined forces in 2012. The following year, Andrew dedicated himself full-time as co-founder to strengthening the DC fitness community. “Dustin has a very strong vision for Routeam and understands the growth milestones of a business,” he observes.
Dustin’s also got a keen instinct for team building.
Building Routeam’s Team
Sean McGinnis helps keep Routeam and its business clients organized. Despite being in the same graduating class at the University of Illinois, Dustin first met Sean through a mutual friend in DC. Director of finance and business development at a local environmental consulting firm, Sean also contributes his finance and business management skills to help foster understanding in the global community. Since 2011, he has served as Treasurer for the Water Resources Action Project, a 100% volunteer, nonprofit that builds rain collection systems in schools in the Middle East. “The idea is to connect schools through these water collection systems and create cultural exchange through the shared experience of managing this scarce resource,” he says.
As Routeam began to evolve, Dustin recalled that Sean also had a passion for health and fitness and arranged a meeting to discuss how he could help build the company.
“Dustin’s great at keeping in touch,” says Sean. “When the idea for Routeam turned more into action, Dustin came to me and said ‘Here’s what I’m thinking.’ I told him right away that there are areas where I can add value to the company. My involvement has been business management, financial management as we have evolved from day one.”
As a side project, Sean has organized Routeam’s foundation for financial procedures, interacting with customers and clients through reporting with cash-flow solutions. “Dustin and Andrew are very creative minds,” says Sean. “As the business has evolved, I’ve been there saying ‘these are the things that we need to be mindful of’ and assisted them along the way.”
Connecting with Community
As Chief Technologist with a history as a “community activator” Andrew has invested time and effort into developing a series of eight tech interns as he builds out Routeam. He met current intern, Nadia Chilmonik, a rising senior at George Washington University, as he represented Routeam by rolling out a yoga mat at the GWU startup career fair. “Nadia passed over some bigger brands to work with us,” he says. The computer science major is technical intern #7 and joins the ranks of computer science master’s students Fenhan Wang, Junyi Hu, Yu Song, Himanshu Adhwaryu, and DC Nightowls transitioning from business backgrounds, Jon Koehmsteadt and Doug Phung.
Helping students get beyond C++, .NET, Java and the other older programming languages that schools teach costs startup mentors valuable time and productivity. Dustin and Andrew choose to see this as an opportunity to develop outstanding programmers; hopefully, some future Routeam contractors.
“There are so many kids out there that want experience and a mentor,” says Andrew. “Unfortunately, the established courses in our local schools don’t cover much modern development. A lot of startup companies don’t have the patience, mentors or interest to take on a kid without any experience in their startup-friendly language or framework because it takes 3-4 intensive weeks to get them going. Hopefully, the more established schools will start to roll in Ruby on Rails, Responsive Design and all of these extremely important concepts that only the professional development boot camps are covering right now.”
Andrew is happy to help. “Anybody with determination and passion gets a shot with my tech team,” he says. I put what I’ve got from my past experience as a software engineer and a community activator to make them great developers for as long as they are affiliated with Routeam. I encourage them through core development and their own side projects. Nobody is born with this skill. It’s practiced, it’s learned and practical guidance can accelerate them.”
Evolving Naturally with Routeam
Nurturing talent at Routeam isn’t limited to technical skills. Last fall, Emily Stein, a registered yoga teacher and certified health coach with an MAT in Education from GWU, used an early version of Routeam to register clients and support her through the lean, early years most coaches face when building a new client base. It wasn’t long before the company started working with Kaiser Permanente to provide small group personal training at one of its existing wellness program locations. Emily recognized the company’s potential and wanted to help Routeam expand its wellness programs and community reach.
“I wanted to do communications and marketing and help Routeam grow the business,” she says. At the same time, the new communications and marketing director learned she was about to became a new mom. Emily appreciates Routeam’s support as she finds her personal approach to work-life balance going forward. In the process, Routeam’s co-founders extended the caring culture with which they approach clients to its own team.
Ask for More
Which brings me back to last March when Dustin came to my cycling class. He showed me how far along Routeam’s mobile app had progressed and talked about taking Routeam to the next step. I offered to help out with some writing. He channeled his inner coach and said. “Thanks. But, I want more than that from you.”
Dustin is building the team that can position Routeam to help the local fitness community grow. It’s going to take a sustained, multi-pronged approach to introduce and connect fitness/wellness centers and individuals so they can thrive, mingle, collaborate and grow in a competitive market.
Going forward, Routeam will contribute to support local, active fitness culture by allowing individuals to go online to seek local training buddies with similar schedules and group training interests. “It’s an unobtrusive sales process,” Andrew observes.
Finding Out What People Really Want
Routeam’s Chief Wellness Officer is Andy Shields. With a clinical psychology degree from Washington University in St. Louis, Andy worked as a researcher and spent four years as a health and wellness coach with corporate programs through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City. He won’t tell you that he passed on going to Harvard to play baseball for Wash U, but Dustin might.
This year, Andy made the move to work on developing questionnaires for Routeam clients and prospects to understand their pain points and which features and capabilities studios, organizations and individuals that could help.
He explains: “I want to take the knowledge I’ve gained working with individuals and use that data to cater our products towards the greatest amount of individuals, rather than the masses.”
Andy’s also exploring Routeam’s potential with large organizations. “Our job with large organizations is to present them with many different ways to help people become engaged in whatever programs they offer,” he says. “We’re partnering with the best and figuring out what to offer.”
Layering studio infrastructure needs with fitness community tools, Routeam does the following:
- Enjoy local high-end private fitness studio classes or training. Coaches are certified and vetted to meet the standards for corporate wellness programs. Could online client ratings be far behind?
- Sample the personal culture of local fitness/wellness studios. They have the option to access their workout routines and records from any device online. Studios enjoy the platform’s unobtrusive sales process.
- Organize training buddies with an option of using a mobile app to meet and engage the right level coach.
For business platform users:
- Use affordable mobile-based infrastructure to run, track and market fitness classes and coaching services.
- Support community interaction by organizing mixers or coordinating large, live community events.
Cities Thrive Through Communities
We already see the natural connections around shared activities that enhance life in transient cities. Near the Farragut North Metro stop in Washington DC, especially when the population swells with interns, at 8:30 pm distinct groups emerge: runners, uniformed cyclists, softball teams and a tai chi class in the small park across the street. Anyone can pull together a group. Individuals can post an ad on Meet-up to meet at a time and place.
Now, the fitness industry is poised to enhance communities by promoting better fitness and health, not just tempting people to pay for access to equipment and tracking every step.