After getting frustrated spending hours trying to find a fitness class or sports club, Steph knew she was on to something. After months of deliberation, the Newcastle university graduate quit her job as an area manager in Aldi and GoSweat was born.
Hi Steph, thanks for agreeing to share your story on YHP. Can you give us some background information about yourself?
Sure, I’ve always been intrigued with how humans behave in different spaces, so in 2011 I started studying Human Geography at Newcastle University. Three great things happened during my studies, firstly I got to play A LOT of sport, secondly I met my co-founder, Alex Hind, and thirdly I got a 1st - which kept my Mum happy!
After I graduated, I joined Aldi as an Area Manager. I did their prestigious Graduate Scheme and then managed three supermarkets, and a 120 employees for two years. Despite the long hours and black and white culture, I loved it. It was a tremendous learning curve, with huge amounts of responsibility and I enjoyed rising to the challenge.
However, that learning curve petered out and I had no intention of becoming my boss so much to the surprise of my director, I handed in my notice. I had a new vision, and that was GoSweat...
How did the idea for GoSweat come about? And what are you trying to solve with it?
GoSweat was born off the back of personal frustration and disbelief that such a service didn’t already exist. Why, was it so easy to discover places to stay (Airbnb), beauty salons (TreatWell), restaurants (TripAdvisor), takeaways (JustEat) but so hard to find your local fitness classes or sports clubs? It just didn’t make sense.
The final straw was when, I’d spent hours (literally) opening tab after tab on Google, trying to find my local netball club. I was living in Manchester at the time, and eventually found one which looked perfect. I started to enrol, when I noticed that it wasn’t in Manchester, UK but Manchester, New Hampshire!
And thus, GoSweat was born.
Tell me about the early days, the type of challenges you initially encountered?
The early days of GoSweat were challenging. To start with it was just myself and Alex Hind, GoSweat’s now CEO. So we desperately needed to find a third, technically, co-founder who shared our vision and could help us build the tech we needed.
Finding a co-founder is much like dating. You have to find them - normally done through stalking LinkedIn, Meet-Up events and networking. You then have to meet them - think coffee dates, walks in the park, exercise classes… And finally you have to decide whether you’re on the same page, in regards to the companies vision, mission and growth. After all this, you then have to decide whether this is a relationship worth pursuing and if so, how?
We kissed a LOT of Frogs, until we found our Prince - aka Kent McClymont, GoSweat’s now CTO, who previously worked as Tech lead at Ocado and Director of Engineering at Beamery.
What is GoSweat?
GoSweat connects people looking for exercise, with Sports Providers offering fitness classes or Sport clubs. So anything from Candlelit Yoga to Silent Disco Bootcamps, and even Quidditch, we’ve got it all.
You can discover and book them just in the same way you would a hairdresser using TreatWell or a place to stay using Airbnb. By searching what you want, where and when you want it.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
The benefit of working for 80-90 hours a week at Aldi, and being paid a ridiculous salary, whilst living at your parents and having no time to spend it, is that you get to save a lot. Plus, it’s all about being scrupulous with your spending, and understanding what you need to outsource and what you can do in-house, or what you can beg, borrow or steal, for the time being.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
From the moment we started GoSweat it has been like a roller coaster - with a lot more ups, than downs. When we first started, Alex and I were doing a lot of research into the industry. Talking to anyone who would listen about our idea, and seeing what they thought of the Sports Industry and how it could be made more accessible. As part of this we spoke to a dozen ex-founders, who had tried and failed to do ideas similar to ours. We wanted to learn why they had failed, and how we could avoid those pot holes.
How did you initially get traction?
The big question - How to get traction! The saying ‘build it, and they will come’ just doesn’t hold true in the technical era we are living in. There is so much noise out there, that you have to make sure your offering is not only the best, and easiest to use, but that it is also the most accessible.
We started small, with a beta area, where we could test our marketing tactics, so when we came to scale we knew what worked well and, more importantly, what didn’t. We triled offline ads - billboards, flyers, posters, as well as different social media campaigns - Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook. We also letter dropped 2,000 handwritten letters, which was a great hit.
But our true traction came from referrals. Customers who had used our product, and loved it, and told their friends about it, who told their friends about it, and so forth.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
This is where the power of hindsight comes in, as sometimes it is the small decisions that make the biggest difference. Take our immement partnership, with one of the UK's leading mobile phone providers loyalty apps. The partnership has been fantastic for brand exposure and national growth, but came off the back of a cold email. The decision to send that email didn’t feel very crucial at the time but it has been fantastic for growing GoSweat’s user base.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
There have been two highlights to my entrepreneurial journey so far, the first is having been able to build such a fantastic team, of passionate individuals around GoSweat. Whom are all so talented and dedicated to our mission - to make discovering sports simple.
The second is the tremendous response we have had from Sports Providers wanting to list their classes on GoSweat. In the last month, we have seen Sports Providers increase by 1200%, which just goes to show what value GoSweat is bringing to the Sports Industry.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the GoSweat team for 2018?
GoSweat is well on it’s way to becoming the largest Sports Marketplace in the UK, and we hope to achieve this by summer 2018.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1) Let go of your comfort zone -
Okay, go along with me. Imagine the most uncomfortable situation you could put yourself in. Okay? Then make that situation even more uncomfortable. And do that again and again until your skin is crawling and stomach turning.
For me that would be jumping out of a plane - I hate heights - covered in spiders, wearing something pink! It’s just not my colour.
Growing your own startup, can feel like this - you have to let go of your comfort zone, and learn to thrive in that uncomfortable space, where uncertainty is the only thing you know. That’s where great things happen!
2) Don’t be afraid to ask
Along with letting go of your inhibitions, let go of the fear of rejection. What is the worst that can happen? They say no, and you move on. But imagine the alternative, they say yes!
3) Be helpful, not for what it can do for you, but just because.
So often networking, and the whole business world, can feel like a series of exchanges. If you do this, I’ll do that. But what we did things just to be helpful. When I introduce someone, to someone else, I’m not doing it because I want something in exchange, but just because it is helpful.