Spotter: Julia Stent

Giving personal trainers an additional revenue stream and supplement brands more customers, Spotter helps PTs earn cash for recommending supplements

Name: Julia Stent
Company name: Spotter
Location: London
Date Launched: February 2018
Twitter handle: @spotter_online

Tell us what your business does:

Spotter simplifies how fitness professionals earn cash from online product recommendations of sports nutrition products and equipment to clients.

We have partnered with almost every major supplement brand on the UK market to make products available at the best prices and with discounts – so as the trainer makes money, the client also saves money.

The site lets trainers send highly personalised product recommendations to clients in seconds via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, iMessage, text or email. This also helps them go that extra mile to deliver a great service to their fitness clients.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I work with the fitness industry as a mentor for London Sport. I also have an MSc in strength and conditioning, and I’m a CISSN qualified nutritionist.

My experience has made me painfully aware that trainers have a really tough time financially while they're building up loyal client bases, which can take years.

It's well known in the industry that a large proportion of personal trainers don't make it past their first year of business due to financial troubles, and ONS data reveals 54% of health businesses don’t survive longer than five years.

Even for the more established, it can be difficult to break beyond the model of selling time by the hour and find new ways to diversify and expand.

On the flip side, fitness professionals are a hugely influential source of recommendations for supplement brands. There are tens of thousands of PTs (personal trainers) across the UK, but for supplement brands they are a highly fragmented and difficult-to-reach audience.

Spotter’s co-founders and I have worked together for years in affiliate marketing for various price comparison businesses, and we felt like we could really help solve this problem and make earning from supplement recommendations simpler and accessible to everyone.

How did you know there was a market for it?

To kick off, we ran months of user testing and focus groups, drawing on our existing network of fitness professionals. My colleagues from my masters degree were a superb captive audience to try out the site in between lectures!

Our two engineer co-founders pulled out all the stops and, in just three days, built a working prototype of our very first version of Spotter so I could take it to a major industry conference.

Everyone I showed the demo to there – including personal trainers, supplement brands and nutritionists – loved the idea.

We spent the next six months getting to know our audience, testing out our user experience in beta with real personal trainers, and refining before we officially launched to the market this year.

What were you doing before starting up?

Four of us worked together previously at various price comparison companies, including uSwitch. Our fifth member is a nutrition industry expert and the founder of athlete nutrition tracking app Nutralete.

Between the five of us, our previous company experience includes senior roles at uSwitch, Facebook, Vodafone, Sky, Amazon and Dennis Publishing.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

I didn’t wake up one day and decide ‘I want to be a start-up founder’. Instead, I saw what I felt was such an obvious problem with the fitness industry and saw a way to improve it with technology.

I was really lucky to have such a great team I could draw on, who all wanted to get involved when I shared my idea.

How did you raise the money?

What money?! I’m proud to say that Spotter has been entirely bootstrapped to date. We share the company equity as co-founders, but none of us takes a salary from the business. We all have other roles that pay our way. For example, I’m a director-level commercial strategy consultant.

In my opinion, the major costs a start-up faces in its early days are product development and marketing.

On the product development side, I’m in a very privileged situation as my co-founders are user experience, product build and platform engineering experts so we never had to outsource design or development.

On the marketing side, the beauty of our model is that our marketing channel is the referrals from personal trainers and, pre-launch, we engaged with them personally so there’s no big spend on Google or Facebook just yet.

To get to a live site that we’re ready to shout about, we’ve spent a grand total of under £2,000 and I’m proud of that.

Describe your business model and how you make money:

Very simply, the commission made on the sale of every product recommended and then purchased is split. Spotter takes 25%, while trainers receive the majority at 75%.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

I would say that our biggest challenge has been operating as a disparate team. The five of us work across different locations, on different continents and in different time zones.

Added to that, we all have other commitments: the employers and clients who pay our salaries, young families… one of us even has a record contract.

Overcoming these challenges has taken a lot of thought and experimentation to find what works. Having the right processes in place to communicate is vital – Slack and Trello are the lifeblood of our business.

As CEO, my biggest challenge is making sure we share the same the vision and judging when it’s the right time to pull everyone onto a cross-continent video call versus having an asynchronous Slack chat.

What was your first big breakthrough?

On a personal level, my biggest breakthrough was going to each of my four co-founders, telling them about this idea I’d had, and them all saying they’d like to join in.

It can be easy to have an idea, but having the support and time commitment of people you like and trust – who also happen to be extremely good at what they do – is a breakthrough.

As a company, I think our first big breakthrough was getting such positive feedback from the supplement retailers we went to. We had very early conversations with brands like Myprotein, USN, MaxiNutrition and PhD and all of them agreed Spotter is a genuine solution to a real problem they have – how to reach and work more effectively with fitness professionals.

They gave us very early commitment to higher commission rates for our trainers, exclusive codes for their clients, and samples of products for them to try.

This was before we’d built our audience so it was a really positive step for us. Those relationships have continued to blossom over the last six months and we’re excited about some major plans with our retailer partners this year.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

  1. Go in with open eyes. I think back when we started building Spotter; I didn’t realise just how much of my life and thoughts Spotter was going to occupy. It’s a huge commitment.
  2. You’re going to get emotionally involved in your start-up’s success, and that’s okay. I think, particularly as CEO and the spokeswoman for the business, it can feel like a lot of responsibility at times. Lean on your co-founders, family and friends for support and counsel.
  3. When you have a problem, find someone else who’s solved it. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time you get stuck. It’s easy to bury your head in your business and feel like solutions need to be produced internally. I believe the best start-ups have connections with lots of businesses and a network of experts they can draw on. This is actually a huge advantage of us all having other roles at the same time and colleagues we can learn from elsewhere.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

Known by every personal fitness trainer as a valuable portal for recommending products and an additional revenue stream.

We’ll also be a content hub that educates trainers about which supplements work and why, and offers valuable business advice for the early years.

Spotter will also serve as a strategic partner to retailer brands who want to reach fitness influencers, and gain insights on what this audience really wants and needs – so all parties win.

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