Applying to AlphaLab (and not getting in)

AlphaLab is the premiere start-up accelerator program in the Pittsburgh, PA area. Applications for the winter term at AlphaLab where due at the end of October. Below is my application. I did not get accepted into the program, take from this what you want.

Questions are in bold. I have omitted the “team” section because my partners did not want their information shared online.

Current Status / Plans

Where are you in terms of prototype or product development?

GymBro has been on the build, measure, learn track for the past 10 months. We processed our first order in January of this year. I will be the first to admit that we were in over our head at first and we lost about 6 months of progress from February to August when I decided to freelance out the development of our back-end to a senior at Pitt.

This student was not committed to the project and as a result all deadlines were missed and we went without a fully functional website for those 6 months. The fact that we even got orders during that time amazes me. The way that we can win over customers from Bodybuilding.com is to offer an impeccable user experience, and to this point we haven’t.

I also learned a lot from the freelancing fiasco. When I made the decision to freelance out I thought I was getting the back-end infrastructure that would sustain GymBro for the next five years. What I learned during that experience was that first, infrastructure is most important. You can have the greatest idea and solve the most meaningful problem in the world, but if your process for solving it does not function then it is useless. We spent six months being useless. Second, you only need that “back-end for the next five years” when you have a service that you are going to stick with. At this point GymBro could iterate from a subscription service to a mobile app, so building a flawless back-end is currently irrelevant.

Since those issues I have rebuilt the website with WordPress which I am very comfortable with. WordPress allows for me to do front-end development while taking care of the back. In the few months we have been working off of “new.gymbro.co” we have had an extremely successful promotion, processing over 60 orders in 2 days and generating over $2000 in revenue. We have also learned from customer feedback that our new platform is an absolute step in the right direction, although not perfect.

What have you learned from direct interaction (including online) with your target customers/users? What are the next hypotheses you plan to test?

I use two main tools to interact with customers and potential customers. First, I send emails everyday to customers asking them about their experience and making sure everything went smoothly. I also ask how and why they chose GymBro for their order, and if they currently have any fitness or supplement related problems they are facing.

In addition to these emails I enjoy doing market research through surveys. I have set up in front of the gym at Pitt and asked questions as people walked in and out. I have tried to understand purchasing habits, stimuli that entice purchases, and the perceived knowledge that consumers have for the supplements they take.

From all this, the next step is to provide consumers with a service that takes the stress out of having to make recurring purchases for supplements. Through our 10+ months of sales we have learned that selling subscriptions to supplements is tricky. Consumers do not take supplements as religiously as intended and as a result we have had customers cancel their subscription because they still had a large quantity at home.

We need to be able to provide subscriptions that arrive every two months, three months, four months. We need to allow for users to change flavors, sizes and brands. If we provide a seamless platform for consumers we will be able to make a subscriptions platform work.

Yet subscriptions are not the only answer. PushforProtein (pushforprotein.com) is a MVP I built this past weekend that serves to make supplements purchases from mobile devices as simple and seamless as possible. Applying a “Yo” like application to supplements is another idea. Imagine an application where customers literally pressed a button on their phone to order a product they take regularly? That is what I am attempting to test with PushforProtein.

Another idea could be for our company to send push notifications to users by tracking supplements usage as it relates to data collected by ever expanding fitness tracking devices and software. As more and more people track their workouts and daily caloric expenditures there is an opportunity to suggest what supplements would most benefit them and offer a platform for those purchases to be made. Imagine a user has our application installed. After tracking a 5 mile run on a hot, humid day we can suggest to them the perfect supplement to take right as they finish. We could provide real-time supplement advice to users.

Technology is outdated when it comes to the supplement industry. There is rapid growth and development when it comes to fitness and nutrition, yet supplementation is lagging behind. We need to fill that void.

What do you anticipate to be the most challenging technical hurdle(s)?

Changing constantly. I am only capable of so much (average front-end development, and some WordPress wizardry), we will need to watch every movement on our website and optimize.

Also, application development for IOS and Android is something I have no experience with, yet something I would be willing to learn.

Where do you expect to be by the end of AlphaLab? What are the interim goals and timeline that will help you to get there?

In one sense I want GymBro to be at the next stage of legitimacy during AlphaLab. The day we did $2,000 in revenue GymBro felt more legitamate, the day we get funding it will be more legitimate, the day we create jobs we will be more legitimate. This cycle is intended to go on until my mom stops harassing me to do my chores when I am at home.

In another sense I want GymBro to mature and genuinely solve a problem. This company was founded on the “cool idea principle”, we weren’t solving a problem, we just thought subscriptions were cool. Now, as time has gone on I want GymBro to solve something important and meaningful. That is part of the build/measure/learn feedback loop, we still need to pinpoint exactly what problem and solution is needed. During the 20 weeks at AlphaLab we will pinpoint our problem, build the solution and constantly test and validate what works. By the end of those 20 weeks we will have a service that others will try and copy because it fits the market space so well.

Product-Market Information

Describe your company in 2-3 sentences.

At GymBro we are empowering consumers by providing efficient and effective solutions for purchasing dietary supplements.

What market are you targeting? Describe your initial customer/user.

GymBro serves tech savvy, health conscious individuals. Our initial customer is someone who is interested in fitness and open minded to purchasing physical goods online. We acknowledge the growing market for female supplementation, and we anticipate a name change occurring.

What problem are you solving for this customer? Describe the initial use case.

GymBro aims to offer a new level of convenience for consumers. Currently we provide a simple, honest, and “quality first” approach which differentiates us from our cluttered and claim filled competition. We envision expanding on this and creating a service that provides insights into proper supplementation based off of real time activity tracking. We need to stay true to our quality, simplicity, and convenience to fully differentiatae us from our competition.

What makes you truly unique? Why will your customer change from the status quo or choose you over a competitor? Please identify competitors as applicable.

GymBro must offer a seamless user experience, and unparalleled user on-boarding. BodyBuilding.com is the mainstay of the retail supplement industry, yet with Stripe Checkout, Apple Pay, and more advanced checkout platforms coming to fruition BodyBuilding.com is at risk of being taken over by a similar, yet more user friendly company.

In addition to this, technology is rapidly changing the way people track their own personal fitness and diet, yet that same technology is not being applied to supplements. GymBro will offer this advanced technology and modern user experience to gain users and grab market share.

Other competitors include:

  • GNC.com
  • TigerFitness.com
  • MuscleandStrength.com
  • Amazon.com
  • Vitaminshoppe
  • A1supplements.com
  • Walgreens

More specific competitors include:

  • Jackedpack
  • Jacked-in-a-box
  • BuluBox
  • CampusProtein.com
  • GamePlan Nutrition

 

GymBro Progress Report

About two weeks ago my company, GymBro processed more orders than our cash flow could handle. This was really, really cool. For anyone who has started up a company this is the type of problem you never want to run into, yet are somewhat accepting of. I’m here today to outline the path we’ve taken to grow GymBro to this point.

Background

A little background about myself before we begin. I am a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, I’m studying Business Information Systems and Information System Design. I’m not really sure what all that means but I work on programming and business, win-win right? My partner, Martin is a Pitt sophomore as well, finance major, I think. We co-founded GymBro in our dorm room during the second semester of last year, January 2014 to be exact.

Developing our idea

We didn’t really see a problem that we set out to fix, rather I pitched the idea of a subscription service for bodybuilding supplements to Martin. He liked it, kind of. Neither of us were really sure if people wanted a subscription service, but I built a website to test it out. This was our assumption, and we had to try to get real people to either validate it or prove to us it was false.

Three months of testing on our MVP proved that there might be potential. We initially laid out our website like any other supplement website (check bodybuilding.com if you are unfamiliar). It was cluttered, there was sensory overload, cognitive dissonance at every turn, and then when you wanted to buy something you had to enter extra information such as the length of your subscription, how frequently you wanted it to come, etc. The whole process of ordering a product from our website took too long, too many clicks involved.

At this point our customers were my mom, Martin’s friends from high school, and a few of my buddies at Pitt. Seriously, we sold product to maybe 15 people. The number is irrelevant, it is the feedback you get from these people that is invaluable. We learned the following…

  • People want simple
  • Our subscription service suggests “convenience”, our website needs to emulate that
  • People want the truth
  • People buy supplements with goals in mind
  • People want quality

For us, as college freshman we went into this process with hundreds of assumptions. It is only through talking with your early adopters and initial customers that you can learn how to refine your product or service. This is an ongoing process. The list above is a short summary of what we learned from our initial launch. The next step was to take this information and apply it. We freelanced out to a Pitt Senior who is an extremely impressive back end developer. This was a mistake. We trusted a college senior to build our website on a freelance contract. What we didn’t think about was the fact that he was a college student, and (no offense to other college students reading this) he didn’t care. He didn’t share the vision that Martin and I had. He made a website, essentially another MVP. There were errors, bugs, issues left and right, but somehow, someway we increased our customer count close to 100 over the next five months. This was more friends and family, we had yet to get a customer that we didn’t know through someone.

Gaining traction

That all changed about two weeks ago. Martin and I both knew that if GymBro was ever to scale we would need a different website, something simpler, easier to use, more convenient. We decided to have a promotion on a new product in the market to drive a lot of traffic to our design prototype and watch in real time how users reacted. The result was our highest grossing two days of sales ever.

Our objective with this new design was to give customers the opportunity to checkout and complete their purchase in under 5 “clicks”. On our old site, the minimum was 17 to just get to checkout… We watched in real-time as people went from the homepage to checkout, to confirmation email. We had people checking out, giving us their hard earned money in under 5 clicks, and it worked.

Again, the same process as before with my mom would occur after a purchase-we asked all these people about their experience. I actually gave people my personal phone number in the confirmation email, and I ended up having multiple conversations about what we did right and what we did wrong. We are currently taking all this information, which was surprisingly positive, and applying it to what we do next.

That is the process, learn from your customers and adapt.

Where we are at today

We have refined our concept and vision. GymBro started out with no problem to solve. We have learned from all of our interactions with users, and customers that there is a problem, a problem that we are getting closer to solving every day. People want what was outlined above, they want a service that is simple, modern, and honest, not Bodybuilding.com, not GNC.

Martin and I are college sophomores who are working a field we are extremely passionate about, learning everyday about how to better our service and fill the void that our target market sees. It helps that we love supplements and that we love working out-we want to create this solution for ourselves as personal users as much as we want to as businessmen.

My bedroom serves as our warehouse, we have had freight trucks come to our college house to deliver goods. Martin and I spend a few hours each week working on GymBro, either packing boxes, calling sales reps, or sampling products. We love doing this, it’s fun, and it keeps us out of trouble.

What’s next

AlphaLab is a startup accelerator in Pittsburgh, PA that Martin and I plan to apply for the winter term. I have already gone to a few information sessions and met with the program manager. The response we get when we talk to people about GymBro and our philosophy is resoundingly positive.

The hope and goal is to get a seed investment to put towards improving our distribution channels, branding, and our online infrastructure.

Hopefully this time next year I will be writing a post about our series A round of funding, but until then this is all I have to share.