The Entrepreneur: Alister Rollins, MoveGB

The successful health and wellbeing entrepreneur talks tough decisions, "going slow to go fast", and creating a flexible, fun workplace for staff...

Founder: Alister Rollins
Company: MoveGB
Website: movegb.com
Description in one line: The Every Activity Membership
Previous companies: The Retention People (the leading data analytics and loyalty provider to the fitness industry)

Business growth

Within three bullet points, describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • MoveGB is the every activity membership that unlocks 1,000s of fitness venues across the UK – giving the user unlimited access to mainstream gyms, boutique studios and more, all under one monthly membership
  • Move has the UK’s largest range of activities under one membership, with over 300,000 users and more than 6,000 physical activity providers
  • MoveGB’s mission is to provide a service that lets users live more energy-filled and exciting lifestyles, following passions and finding new experiences

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Creating a flexible, caring and enjoyable workplace that allows our team to thrive. I love seeing how driven, passionate people can get such satisfaction and growth from working on a difficult problem with purpose. I believe an organisation’s role is to look after the happiness of its ‘dependents’, including myself, and that comes from really caring and developing everyone in the team.

We challenge what work is at Move, including when you work and where. I love this trust and flexibility, and I love seeing how it allows people to thrive individually and as part of a team. Challenging the status quo of traditional business models and building this trust with the team is definitely one of my greatest achievements and is something that is continually evolving.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

WACs! Weekly Active Customers and customer satisfaction/loyalty (we use Net Promoter Score). Then the business health metrics – revenue, margins, cac to ltv ratios, cash flow.

Why WACs and NPS first? WACs allow us to monitor our customers activity. The health and wellbeing industry is a fraction of the size it should be and that comes down to the fact that a lot of businesses do not monitor the usage of their services.

Motivating yourself to be active can sometimes be hard, therefore businesses need to encourage their customers to use their services, otherwise no-one wins as the customer will eventually churn. So a focus on ensuring everyone is getting value from our service is key for us.

Why such a focus on customer satisfaction/NPS? The world is more connected today than ever before, I believe all businesses, regardless of size, are now operating in a ‘market of customer connections’ therefore it is more important than ever that customers have a good experience with your brand, and if they don’t, businesses must be ready to react quickly and show empathy to maintain the loyalty of their customer base.

It can be challenging as a small growing business to keep investing in this area as it’s one hardest areas to link back to ROI (especially compared to marketing spend etc). however there are numerous studies proving high NPS is linked to rapid growth and I believe it’s important to invest in what you believe is right.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We have a pilot in NYC and Shanghai. We aim to be the world’s largest business nudging behaviour by providing a service to increase health and happiness.

Describe your growth funding path:

We believe in taking the smallest cheque possible to get to the next stage of the business. It’s important to not put too much fuel into an engine until you know it works! ‘Go slow to go fast’ is a key belief within Move. Our goal is to make sure we have an engine which is so efficient it will take us to the stars before we fill the tank with fuel.

We have taken Angel funding, and VC funding to date. We will be looking at growth funding soon.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

We believe massively in freedom, autonomy and trust. The office is a tool not a mandatory requirement, so remote working and communication technologies are huge for us. These include the full Google suite, Asana, Facebook for work and more.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

Move aims to become THE trusted service for people’s health and wellbeing. We are executing a UK roll-out and planning expansion into other geographies over the next three years.

The most powerful businesses in the world today, Facebook, Google, Netflix etc. are using the brightest brains on the planet to influence our behaviour so we stare at screens! This isn’t because they are bad companies – far from it – it’s simply because this is how they are monesitised.

We believe the world needs an entity that profits from increasing activity and real world social connections – the two most important factors in health and happiness. Our mission is to empower the brightest brains in the world to build services that nudge our behaviour towards lifelong wellbeing.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Making decisions to let people go if they are underperforming or not right for the business. If a team member is struggling with a role it can be damaging for the business, but ultimately it is damaging for their career and life happiness as well.

We all struggle with looking in the mirror and being realistic with ourselves about our strengths and weakness and ultimately making tough decisions that guide our lives. Leaders have to act quickly and help individuals to get back on the path they want to follow in life. It’s always hard to do this, as like with any relationship it takes time on both sides to really conclude there is no longer a fit and one side has to address that first.

What was your biggest business mistake?

I learnt the hard way with my first business how long it can take to find product market fit; it was almost four years before we really started to succeed. With Move we were lucky to be living in a world with so much sharing of knowledge, and there are some great processes and frameworks start-ups can use now to guide them through every stage from concept to exit.

I believe in going slow to go fast, so we started in just one city in the UK – Bristol – and iteratively built the service until we found the model that would keep people more active and for longer, so both sides of the market benefit.

We knew variety was key, but we originally went too broad, including go-karting, abseiling weekends and more. We used a credit system, almost like a digital Oyster card, but found it made it harder for people to understand what Move was all about; and as with many new models we found the power of simplicity always wins.

Our purpose is life-long health and happiness so it was important to ensure we removed barriers and restrictions to make staying active as easy as possible. Inspired by successful content platforms like Netflix and Spotify, our model is an unrestricted access to all venues – our form of ‘content’ is physical activity.

Other marketplace models use restrictions like limited visits per venue or not offering peak as a way to discount price, but ultimately everyone loses as people aren’t able to go to all the activities they want as frequently as they want so end up being less active and dropping out sooner. We believe true health and happiness should be made frictionless even if that means paying a bit more for it.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

You have to go slow to go fast. Too many entrepreneurs these days are so driven to become the next fast growth rocket ship that they forget you need a really amazing engine to get there.

How will your market look in three years?

The health and wellbeing industry is always changing. The great thing about Move is that we are able to move dynamically with the trends in the market; we have a broad range of partners ensuring that we have something for everyone.

We also pride ourselves on creating new partnerships that cater to the latest trends in the market. Just like Amazon catering for all types of products or Netflix for entertainment, Move caters for the changing trends of the wellbeing industry. One thing we have seen over the last year is the increasing demand for mindfulness, with yoga and meditation classes becoming more popular, this and sports-based activities like bouldering, climbing and boxing.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Have a true purpose that you are passionate about and then check the market is big enough to sustain a good business if you solve this big problem. Don’t do this to make money – you won’t stick through the rough times if money is your only motivator – and don’t trick yourself by trying to fit a purpose to an idea you think will make money: purpose must come first.

Then build a real business so you can self-sustain the long and difficult road to solving this big problem you are passionate about. Whatever you do, don’t get roped into the hype of fund raising. If your engine is leaking fuel when you put your foot down, it will leak faster and you will become dangerously addicted to filling the tank the further you get into the race.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

This is going to sound cliche, but seriously, it’s my Move membership. Time is so precious, you can’t get more than 24 hours in a day – but you can fight time with energy.

Fitting in activities that get your heart pumping and put a smile on your face is huge for me. So having the flexibility to go to boxing when I need to punch it out or yoga when I need to clear my mind and body at any venue in town, whenever I am free, is a huge luxury; plus I love the relaxation at the local spa after a tough workout or work day!

Executive education or learn it on the job?

Learn on the job. Expect and plan for failure – you either earn or you learn.

What would make you a better leader?

The most common feedback I get in 360s is not letting people know a ‘hard ‘ vs a ‘soft’ opinion. I am an ideas man and a debater so I often question an idea to help me understand its strengths without making it clear which idea I actually support. Overall though I believe in hiring people far smarter than me, sharing the vision and then getting out of their way.

What one thing do you wish you’d known when you started?

Understanding how long it would takes to really nail a scalable marketplace platform business. Building a marketplace platform has been a lot more challenging than my previous business due to the fact that you effectively have two entire businesses in one. This is due to having to manage the full customer lifecycle of both sides of the market and when they meet you have complexity in choice architecture.

And managing the huge range of diverse offerings, both in price points and actual services, can be challenging. I am lucky at Move to be surrounded by very smart, passionate and driven people constantly working on these challenges.

One business app and one personal app you can’t do without:

Business – Facebook Workplaces. It’s a closed version of Facebook for your company, and because it works just like Facebook it was adopted very quickly by the whole team and acts as company wide messaging platform, replacing email and the ‘water cooler’ chats – gifs feature heavily!

Personal – Audible. I listen to a new business book every week or two.

Business book:

Too many to choose. I will often read three or four books on the main topic that we are addressing in the business at the time. For pre-seed or seed-stage businesses I always recommend starting with The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.