PayasUgym.com: Jamie Ward
Tell us what your business doespayasUgym.com is a website and smartphone application that allows customers to purchase discounted pay as you go gym passes for a huge selection of gyms in London and soon, throughout the UK, with no membership, no fees and no inductions.
Where did the idea for your business come from? In a former life our work meant we would travel a lot and work on client sites. At the time all of the founders were training for swimming the Solent so we needed places to work-out. We found it impossible to easily find a gym, buy a pass and turn up. We thought this could be a great idea, especially if we could deliver savings for the customer
How did you know there was a market for it?We spent a lot of time talking to the gyms and potentially customers (3,000 in fact) to quantify the demand. The customer feedback was hugely positive and the gyms loved the idea of a new risk free revenue channel.
How will you differentiate yourself from the competition?By existing… no-one else does what we do!
What were you doing before starting up? I previously worked for the Nectar Loyalty Scheme from its very early days. That taught me a lot about business but also working in an entrepreneurial environment which gives you the capacity to makes things happen. I then moved into professional services advising in company acquisitions and disposals. This gave me rigour in my approach to business and taught me a lot about performing due diligence to a high standard for any market or project that you undertake.
Was it hard to leave your job?No, living with no wage with a baby on the way… that was the hard bit.
Have you always wanted to run your own business? Definitely. It's empowering and scary knowing the success or failure of your company (to a large degree) lies in your hands.
What planning did you do before you started up?Lots and lots of planning, diligence on the marketplace, surveys to potential customers and speaking directly to the gyms. The business plan had to be extremely solid as we needed to raise funds to launch. Business plans will move with time but you need to understand every fact, figure and statement you put in there as you'll be questioned on every single bit.
How did you raise the money? We raised the money through angel investors. We spent a lot of time going to investment events and presenting to potential investors. The process is not easy and I would advise anybody planning to raise funds to go through a professional network. We used Envestors. Of course people turned us down. The saying in raising funds is you need to speak to 100 people to get one interested. It wasn't quite that bad for us and we closed our funding almost one year to the date of having the idea. We actually received an award from Envestors in recognition of the success of our funding.
What challenges have you faced how have you overcome them? Challenges are daily in the life of a start-up business, you just have to have the confidence that you'll overcome them. Operationally we've been pretty good (luckily) and had no issues. Finding customers is always hard especially given the price of the marketing. Finding strategic partners and using their consumer channels can help but as a start-up it is sometimes difficult to have anything to trade. The best advice I can give is to engage with a channel that gives you access to large groups of customers. For example, if you're a new car wax, go to a taxi firm rather than direct to the individual consumer.
Where is your business based? Our office is based in Putney and we strategically put in there as it's under 30mins run from all of our homes. It's a given you'll be working long hours, weekends and find it difficult to stop looking at your e-mails / stats on you iPhone when at home. Different people have different techniques but personally I have a young daughter and I try to spend time with her in the morning before I leave and make sure I see her for some time every day.
How have you promoted your business? We've been lucky to have lots of PR. We're a new concept that helps consumers get fit and save money so the media likes talking about us which has given us great exposure. However PR gets more difficult to get as the business develops.
How much do you charge? Every one of our partner gyms has a different price. When we engage with a gym we start by looking at the membership price and the pay-as-you-go price if they have one and then negotiate the best possible discount that works for the gym and our customers. Sometime we get it right, sometimes we don't, and in those cases we go back to the gyms and discuss the pricing again. We also listen to what our customers say. If they think a gym is overpriced we feed that back to the gym. After all, we want to create a win-win scenario for our gym partners and our customers
What about staff?We have three members of staff not including the management team and sometimes we employ contractors. Your staff need direction and if they are a burden it's probably because you haven't spent enough time giving them clear instruction on objectives and targets. It can be difficult to pull yourself away from your own work but always beneficial.
Where do you want to be in five years' time? payasUgym.com will be a well-established fitness brand in the UK and beyond. I think investors love to hear you have an exit plan but in reality in the early stages it's not feasible to know when, how and why you would exit. Knowing that you want to exit at some stage and making sure your shareholders get a great return is enough.