It might have started as a light-hearted joke but the idea of harnessing your community to help solve a problem shows what is possible in a small amount of time.
Realising active people in his community were struggling to find success with the dating apps available in the market, founder Brendan McCormack took on the challenge of solving this problem by delivering a dating and matchmaking experience for fit and active people through their app, Fitafy.
We sat down with McCormack to get the full story of how he came up with the idea, raised funding and built his team just as Fitafy was relaunched live back into the market.
You’ve closed a $430,000 seed investment round, so how will the funding be used?
Brendan McCormack: “We’ve got a pretty straightforward go-to market strategy and keeping the company lean at this stage in the business. We’re going to be very strong with our acquisition because that’s the stage that we’re in as a business, that makes up around 50 per cent.
“The development costs is about the same because we have an incredible development team based in London, this team have worked with the likes of Manchester City, Kanye West, Ferrari, Jamie Oliver. We have already had success with our MVP so we wanted to go all in with the best development team we could find and deliver the most amazing user experience.”
Tell me about the data team, there’s a pretty big story behind how you got them.
BM: “The data team is 173TECH. It’s led by Candice Ren who was the former head of data analytics for Bumble/Badoo. Candice was with that company from its inception. Being head of data analytics, she just has so much experience and insight, not only with data and tech, but specifically with the dating app verticals at such an in-depth level.”
So the story about how all of this came about…
BM: “This whole thing started off as a joke on Instagram Stories. I have quite a solid audience on social media that I’ve built over the years within the fitness scene in Perth (formally Perth Fitfam), I’m quite engaged and known within that space and I would frequently do Q&A sessions on Instagram. My wife is also from the fitness industry and I guess we were seen as a healthy fitness couple with a good relationship.
“I always get asked questions like, ‘how do you meet other fit people’ and ‘what’s your advice for meeting fit people but not on Tinder or Bumble,’ and I like to be quite humorous in my communication online and keep it light hearted, so I’d give fun or jokey answers.
“But one time one of my followers, also a friend of mine, asked for help finding a date for a work party. And I said, ‘you know what, I know the guy.’ I tagged both of them into a post, and said ‘go and meet and to let me know how it goes.’
“I’m a big insights person. I like to see how my posts are performing whether people like it, what sort of engagement and I’m looking at the insights on these posts and I’m just in hysterics. This post got over 10x the engagement and straight away and I had people messaging me asking, ‘this is awesome, can you help me out?’
“I couldn’t stop laughing at how interesting people found this whole dating thing and that they wanted to also find someone that was fit or active. Yet, I was looking at the insights thinking how insane it was. It was a light bulb moment. The entrepreneurial brain in me said: ‘fit people are actually having a problem with dating apps.’ Then it was suggested I do a Fitfam Findr Friday where I help someone find a date.
“Every Friday, I would get someone’s permission, they’d send few nice photos along with a little bio and on Instagram I’d use the ‘swipe right flame’ feature within Stories to help promote them on my platform. The rules were: number one, we had their permission and number two, no creeps, no hook-ups and absolutely no dick pics. This was all meant in fun and in good humour, but it actually worked.”
But there is purpose there. People responding in any which way meant there is some kernel of demand.
BM: “Yeah! And that’s what I thought. As I was doing these Fitfam Findr Fridays I would get more and more people asking for help.
“Yet, within half an hour of doing that initial story I was already thinking that this is actually a problem that needs to be solved. So I spent a lot of time starting to research the dating app world. I never thought I would ever be the founder of a dating app but there was nothing which really served the purpose of helping active people meet, none of the current dating apps did that effectively.
“The problem was that fitness users would have a bad experience because number one; there was a strong hook up culture and people were after a short-term fling and number two; people weren’t honest on their profiles. Fitness people want to date someone who’s equally as active so they can share that fitness lifestyle.
“It’s no different to apps like Jdate, which is a dating app for Jewish people. Then you have Muzmatch, which has been quite successful, and they do that with Muslim people, which is a really good interface, which provides specific features for Muslim dating. Yet, there was nothing that did that successfully within our space. So, I thought okay, let’s do this.
“I started doing customer discovery and speaking to fit, single people and asking about their dating experiences, and after meeting about 40 to 50 people our team and I were like, ‘hey, this is actually a problem.’ The answers started to be the same, we would sit there and it was like we were in the same meeting over and over again, meaning there was a common problem to be solved.
“I knew Spacecubed did a pre-accelerator and it was six weeks long. I thought in my mind, the traditional pathway would be getting within the community, get into the accelerator program and then make billions of dollars right? So, I jumped into the program and completed the final session the night of my wedding. At this stage you could say I was committed!”
Ultimately if we’re looking at a map of the startup journey it looks like New York subway or London tube system.
BM: “Well, yes! So I did the six weeks and as I got towards the end of the accelerator, we’re building the database at the time, we’re talking about the Fitfam Findr launch. But I realised that we needed a tech person within the founding team because when we went for investment, we wouldn’t be taken seriously if we didn’t have one.
“I was having a conversation with some colleagues at the gym talking about where we’re at the moment, when I went home, I got a message from one of the guys I was talking to and he left a message saying, ‘hey, I didn’t want to mention anything at the time, but I’m actually a computer scientist and a coder. I’m an engineer by day, but I’m actually a computer scientist and coder, I’ve developed a software company from the ground up. So, if you want help or advice, just let me know, but only if you really need the help.
“All the founders actually came from the same gym just by the sheer coincidence of network. This whole project has been a combination of networks and coincidences really.”
Amazing story. Brilliant! So you see the gap in the market and how did you push on from there?
BM: “So how do we differentiate? First of all, fit and active people want to date other active people and they don’t have an opportunity to do that effectively at the moment, especially in the online space. So, when we launched a minimum viable product, we got traction fast which showcased that fitness people would prefer to be on a platform which is dedicated for them.
“We need to be able to get a big reach fast, so we have a vibrant community of active people who are looking for healthy dating opportunities. This is the unique advantage in the fitness industry, it’s a very viral market built from communities of people. We’ve refined our distribution channels that are targeted to our audience and we believe that we’re going to have a better time reaching the right people for a lower price.”
It’s then crucial to nail the user experience, making sure people can match and find a common bond over fitness. What do you hope people experience?
BM: “The hope for is that somebody finds a match, which turns into a long-term or a healthy relationship. We’re big on healthy dating and healthy relationships. I think that the dating app industry, while it can be a great tool, can be abused at the same time. The experience that we don’t want users to have is that it’s where you can come for a short-term hook up.
“We want people that are active, and remember fit and active can look many different ways, it’s not about abs and fake tans, but people that value an active lifestyle and find someone who’s a great match for them and essentially who also shares the same values.”
With the investors you obtained capital from, apart from the funding, what other skills or expertise do they provide?
BM: “First and foremost, our investors are very supportive and believe in our vision to the core. They are successful within their own businesses and investments, so they offer guidance and experience. They are more than cash partners and are really a part of the family. It has been a big deal for me to work with partners who share the same values and our investment team was a perfect fit for this stage of the business.”
You bootstrapped the business until you got investment. Could you have gone down the venture capital (VC) route?
BM: “We could have for sure and maybe venture capital will be a route we take next. But once the news of the 173TECH partnership came out, the raising process for us was pretty rapid. I don’t think we would have had such a smooth process if we opted for a VC at this stage.”
Do you have target markets in mind? How do you purposely go from market to market even though it is essentially a global app, but there’ll be a geographical approach?
BM “As you grow, you need to be mindful of the areas that you’re putting focus in, because it’s location based. If you go too broad and you’re reaching people in all different countries, they’re going to have a bad experience because they’re not going to find people who are local to them.
“The wants and needs of fitness people means that we need to be more selective with how we grow. They might be willing to go from to a different city, but I would probably say not to another country. Perth was an early testing market which is the ultimate sandbox to test in, but Australia is still a sandbox within itself.
“The other thing with Australia and being a location-based app is that the cities are so spread out. It’s a very small market in general, and is outside of the top-10 of our preferred markets to go into, but it’s our home and it’s a good chance to be able to test in isolation before we hit international markets.”
Tell me about the lessons you’re learning on your entrepreneurial journey.
BM: “A key lesson from the technical side is don’t spend too much time building something that people don’t want. The reason I say that is because I spent close to four years plugging into something which provided a lot of value to the community but there wasn’t a viable revenue stream or it’s something that wouldn’t get investment.
“Everyone has a ‘great idea’, but it doesn’t mean that it’s going to work. If you haven’t launched and validated your idea either: one, you’re going to hold on to that idea and you’re never going to do anything with it. Or two: you’re going to go too big too early without validating the idea and end up working to a lost cause for years. My advice is launch early, test often and if it doesn’t gain traction, just drop it or pivot, don’t fall in love with your own idea. Let the market decide.”
Finally, if we can look ahead. What does the next six to 12 months look like? You’ve hit some key milestones already so what do you target next?
BM: “For the next six months it’s about launching the Fitafy brand nationwide, driving acquisition and forming strong brand partnerships. We want the name Fitafy to be synonymous with healthy dating for active people worldwide. Anyone who lives an active lifestyle should instantly think Fitafy is the app for me’ when it comes to healthy dating and relationships.”